Where Will Content Lead Us?

Nothing is completely new, it just evolves.  So it is with content on the web: the traditional free print model of allowing access to content as a way of getting readers to do something profitable has been transmogrified under the influence of SEO and Google’s all-powerful PageRank algorithms.

It now doesn’t matter how good your product is, or how satisfied your customers are – if you have any competition, you need Google on your side to pull in the punters. What the web gives with the promise of reach, it takes away with the threat of obscurity. The need for Google visibility is, to say the least, pressing.

What’s particularly interesting is that as a side-effect of this need, the generation (some would say abuse) of “related content” becomes as important to businesses as traditional goods and services. So it’s not enough to sell spanners – you need to have articles about using spanners that get linked to and talked about. How to open a tin can with a spanner, the history of the spanner, using spanners in dressmaking, how spanners won the war, and so on. Such content fertilises profitability on the web because when people link to it, and Google sees the links and indexes the content, you’re visible – hopefully beyond your competition.

So far, so Seth.

But there’s a wider consideration here. Google can detect duplicate content – and ranks that down. This means using syndicated (unoriginal) content as a route to market won’t work. With what looks set to be a deluge of original writing about to appear on the web for the purposes of what is essentially a gigantic corporate honey pot, we will also see a complete re-appraisal of content in general. Figleaves.com will need oceans of content about not only mainstream topics such as what they think the autumn fashion will be in thongs, but also how to use old boxer shorts to insulate your loft. Anything, just as long as it’s related to what they’re selling. If nothing else, this could be a golden dawn for the freelance writer, the contract publisher and the (commercial) blogger. Hell – I’ve juiced Adrian Land a link in this article! It’s easy!

All well and good. But will people read it? The truth is, most won’t – but in fact they don’t have to. As long as Google indexes it as fresh content related to what you are selling, and a decent minority (in Google’s eyes) link to it and keep linking, you’re there. Think of it as “key content” rather than “key words.”

Given this, it is even more interesting to consider the effect of having oceans of original, niche, themed content lying around. Recall that it will be tended by businesses with an interest in its quality. Recall that Google, already one of the most powerful computational entities we have, will be indexing it and looking to improve the way it can discriminate between useful content and irrelevance. Now recall Tim Berners-Lee on the semantic web in 1999:

“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analysing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.”

The path to that vision is going to be the establishment of links layered and filtered through trust mechanisms. Google not only has the ability (in fact it’s thought they are working in semantic relationships into key word rankings already), but the need to do this. And now, for the first time, does every online business on earth. I think this will cause Berners-Lee’s vision to come to pass.