A Xerox for the Internet

Sometimes you can get very valuable insights from someone out there, if you try to listen instead of continuously ‘shout’ on your own. It’s especially crucial, if you’re building a startup, because you want to understand and learn how your potential market relations (especially potential customers) think about what you have to offer, and how they see the world and what their problems are. In the oft-quoted but still wise words of Steve Blank, “opinion is inside the building, data is outside the building”.

Recently I received an email from Søren Storm Hansen, a Danish blogger, from whose blog I had shared a handful of posts using Google Reader, Ifttt and Kaplak.net. Søren didn’t want his posts ‘republished’ on Kaplak.net. Apparently not because he wanted to keep his readers fixed to his site (he publishes full feeds and every item carries ads) but because he didn’t want “his name associated with services, which didn’t contribute anything”.

As it is of no paramount importance to me personally whether Søren’s stuff is shared on Kaplak.net or not I ended up removing Søren’s feed from my Google Reader subscriptions, so in the future I will not read (and therefore not share) items from his blog. But his request still left me slightly puzzled, because why would you want to risk losing readers or potential readers like this, if you’re a blogger? I suppose even a successful blogger wants more readers? Apparently Søren shares no similar reservations as to whether his readers share items from his blog with services such as Google+ and Facebook, and they’re not even so kind to email him a pingback (which I do precisely because I want the sharing to be noticed which may spur conversation), and they do not carry his ads.

As a blogger I’ve had stuff shared or republished from my blogs in the past too. Some of my writings have even appeared in self-published antologies about web entrepreneurship. I do not share Søren’s reservations about this as I do not believe my ‘personal brand’ is associated in particular with any one particular item, or with any one context in particular (which potentially could damage it beyond repair, or more plainly, risk not to contribute anything to it). Similarly I do not believe in copyright, because I don’t think I (or others) would or should benefit financially from any particular work. Rather I believe I benefit from what may be termed my total brand equity value – what I’ve proven I can do in the past, and so in what I may be able to do in the future. In fact, this is the crucial factor which got me my current job, which has gotten me earlier engagements, and no doubt will help me receive offers in the future.

What I learned from Søren’s request is something along these lines : the distribution as well as the ‘non-distribution’ (control of distribution – in so far as this is possible) of one’s online activities and the contexts they create, seem to be two sides of the same concern : to build one’s online reputation (or ‘personal brand equity’ in advertising speak) to a level where one may successfully convert this to financial benefits, job offers, speaking engagements etc. – and therefore also take steps to protect it. If one specializes in one line of work, one may not be interested in seeing one’s stuff in a context which puts it in another light. The question is though, if the cat is not already out of the bag, once you hit the “publish” button? Meaning – is it really up to you, how your recipients use what you’ve given them yourself?

As many people building websites are, I’ve been preoccupied with eyeballs, i.e. the problem of ‘how many’ a given message or product may reach. I’ve seen Kaplak through the lense of aggregation and syndication of RSS feeds, and as such, my first instinct upon receiving Søren’s request was to jump in and talk feeds and the ‘grey zone of syndication’, as I’ve discussed previously on this blog. But this turned out not to be Søren’s concern. His perception of Kaplak is more in line with a ‘xerox for the internet’ – a place where you can make a copy of an article or blog item and share it with others to read. This certainly makes sense, although this has not been Kaplak’s primary focus – instead we use already established technologies and services such as RSS/Atom feeds, Google Reader, Ifttt and Posterous for the ‘xeroxing’, while Kaplak admittedly (yet) doesn’t contribute much, except try to make a number of shared items available in a new context, where they may ultimately reach recipients, they would otherwise not reach, and reduce costs in creating these new connections, so that products on the ‘slim end’ might benefit from these.

I’d certainly be interested to hear other POV’s on what online sharing (or ‘xeroxing’), aggregation and syndication mean for the value of one’s online reputation or ‘personal brand equity’. In what ways are the ‘xeroxing’ of items on Kaplak.net different from the context, one’s published items may appear in, in say, search results or in one’s feed reader?

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