I work in the online space – call me a content manager, multimedia editor, social network guru, arrogant Aries, infuriating ENTJ, whatever – and regularly analyse and compare new offerings from internet startups, particularly those in the hyperlocal and social networking genre. I am personally interested in the future of the media.
My blog is obviously about a small geographical area, the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia, as well as being an archive of my rants about the stupidity of the majority of humanity. I don’t try to make money from it. I do think I can provide a service to my local community. But I digress…
Today’s rant is about the selfish and pathetic ways that hyperlocal social network sites steal, manipulate and misappropriate user generated content in mostly unsuccessful attempts to monetise it or otherwise exploit it for the gain of the aggregator, not the content creator. Enemy of the day is localhero.biz. They took a feed of a story from Metroblogging Melbourne written by Neil containing a photo I took that was based on my orignal post about Little Creatures.
Neil kindly and professionally abided by the terms of my Creative Commons Licence and accredited the photo to me in the Metroblogging Melbourne site. In aggregating Neil’s story into localhero.biz, they stripped the accreditation, thus violating the licence and ignoring the professional ethics of journalism.
I emailed them and pointed this out and asked for it to be fixed. No response. No action to correct the problem. Now they are aggregating my RSS feed. I can’t stop them but I can tell the world about their gutter rat publishing ethics. Pete from Localhero has improved the way it links to the sources of the posts it aggregates.
I had a similar experience with onlymelbourne.com.au. They built a list of Melbourne blogs and described mine by listing a static copy of the text of links on my blog. It’s a list of irrelevant and useless words and phrases that means nothing to their readers, and they don’t even know why they did it. I emailed them and they could not explain what they were trying to achieve. They were argumentative and refused to change it. Stupid is as stupid does…
A puzzling strategy about these businesses is their failure to address the audience. They try to develop ideas about making money but mostly forget about how the internet works – it’s a platform where people publish information and people consume it. brunswickstreet.com.au is a prime example of a banal business idea that will fail because it offers nothing to its supposed audience. If you run a business on a street mapped by streetsonline, don’t waste your money buying advertising on their site – no one will ever see it.
In my recent post What’s for dinner? I critiqued three restaurant aggregation startups, and indicated that they all fail the hyperlocal relvance test – accurate search, relevant content and genuinely local focus. Now I’ve found another seemingly Melbourne based site doing a similar thing. docoloco aggregates user generated reviews and opinions about local businesses: restaurants, shops and service providers. Like the others it is deficient in these ways.
First, it takes without giving. By this I mean it asks for user content creation, but does not allow users to get their content out to reuse it in different ways in other platforms. No RSS feed, no widgets, no sharing. The power of aggregators like Flickr and Youtube is that they acknowledge that users own and control their content. These services provide a variety of easy ways for users to reuse and redistribute their content. The services provide a hosting and aggregation role and allow users freedom to control their content.
In contrast, aggregators that lock up user generated content are selfish and stupid and will increasingly be ignored by content creators. If I take the time to write content in their platform I want to get it out again to republish in my blog or elsewhere. Otherwise I will simply continue to place it in my own platform where I can do what I want with it and deliver it to others via an RSS feed.
This is the principle that will kill Facebook and make Open Social the basis for future UGC ventures. Content creators own their ideas and work and want control, flexibility and portability. They will choose where to place their content, and they will not allow it to be exploited by others without being given something of equivalent value in exchange. Without fair incentives people will not generate content for social aggregators.
Second, these sites are secretive. They don’t tell you who runs them, where they are really located, or what they are trying to achieve. Their business models are unclear, as is the value proposition to the user. The sites are often poorly constructed with little thought about whether users will want to add content and whether other users will be driven to find it, consume it and appreciate its usefulness. These things don’t just happen. User behaviour is complex but mostly rational. Users respond to valuable content and ignore sites that provide no value to them.
Third, these site value the idea over the content. They all launch far too prematurely and expose an audience to an empty site. The reaction is indifferent or negative, the audience never returns, and the magical buzz of word of mouth is never created. No mass audience is ever built and the site sits unused until the rodent entrepreneur runs out of money.
Social networks clearly have utility, but exploiting members and participants to make money for the owner of the aggregating business is far more difficult. Advertising is the only business model that currently works, and that is far from stable. The more platforms like Facebook manipulate the content they contain against the wishes of their members, the quicker they will become extinct.
Addendum – Peter from Localhero.biz has contacted me and we are working through the creative commons licence issue. Thanks Peter for getting in touch and also thanks Neil for getting us together!
Addendum 2 - I have met with Pete from Localhero.biz and talked about our sites and the hyperlocal phenomenon. He’s a nice guy and has some interesting ideas. We’re planning to work together more to continue building hyperlocal services in Melbourne. I’ve also been in regular contact with Neil from Melbourne metblogs, who is also keen to be involved.