Whether it is a good time or not to be in the publishing industry right now, is most likely a matter of opinion, probably dependent on the amount of cash in your advertisers pocket, and DEFINITELY dependent on what side of the impending digital divide you are sitting.
However, if you are in search and social media right now i would argue that this has to be hands down the most thrilling time to be working with content publishers.
Good manners are back
Because all the most successful business models behind the internet millionaires are being made available to everyone. All 'the edge' that search engines, social networks and content voting engines (e.g. Google, Twitter & Digg) have had against publishers is being boiled down into nifty whitelabel solutions. In essence, the unspoken loan of content on the web to technology companies, is starting to be repaid at an application level - with data driven tools.
As i write, I am struggling to contain my enthusiasm for both Twitter and, more so, Bit.ly for what Jeff Jarvis would simply call their good manners to "be part of the web". Both companies have launched business specific microcosms of the products that made them famous.
Many voices, many stories
Twitter Contributors allows businesses to attach multiple users to corporate Twitter accounts (potentially allowing a single update stream to become a tower of babel to it's employees), which in effect will makes customer service via microblogging genuinely scaleable, but most importantly for brands, will add a new dimension of authenticity to online interactions with their customers.
Such a customer service model is great for publishers too, as authenticity is the driving factor of a audience building and reader identification. Arguably, homogeneity of authorship within packaged news products is where blogs and social networks have hit the traditional publisher readerships the hardest. Now, the daily workflow and daily insights of a journalist's investigation can easily be integrated into the brand channel and we can all follow and support our intrepid reporters on their journey of discovery, and... er, factchecking, just like we're accustomed to with blogging.
Many webs, many tribes
Bit.ly Pro may seem to black & white hat search marketers alike as the b*****d son of cloaking with it's "no PageRank passing, referrer sucking, can't even measure it properly with webanalytics" qualities but, whilst as a link it is the very antithesis of good SEO, it effectively intervenes in areas were there was no link juice or interesting data anyway.
The outputs from Bit.ly should allow publishers to create statistically based interfaces that will afford online news readerships a deeper experience of exploration and investigation. Attention metrics from all corners or the web will enable stats 'karma points' and crowdsource-type features that allow users to identify with their tribes from wherever they are. The touchpoints between one eco-system and another will be notable, as they will tell the behaviour of peoples they actually identify with rather than the masses. This may foster a sense of belonging with the brand. Contrary to the granular interface Bit.ly seems to offer, it's not the data that is really interesting to publishers - as always, it's what one can do with it. The clever publisher, or marketer working for them (i.e YOU), should upgrade their most read/most commented lists for new most popular on facebook, most popular on twitter, type lists.
Change is good
Who cares what is popular on Digg, when Bit.ly can plot popularity, over time and across other social networks, with less acne per capita? Bring back the cluetrain. As David Weinberger said of online documents and Jeff Jarvis says in this video, "articles are artifacts on the web, which rot like fruit", but the fact remains that measuring the half life of popularity is interesting in and of itself, and a possible basis of many more social experiments.
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