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Archive for April 20th, 2009

It’s a safe assumption that every newspaper and publisher has access to the basic data created and shared by the world.  Newspapers and publishers can use Freebase or Wikipedia or some other aggregator/syndication service to fill their websites and their papers full of content.  The race for coverage and exclusives is over – every outlet can cover everything simply by mashing it all up.

This availability of all data by all outlets has ruined the differentiation between local papers, category specific publications and most hobbyist content providers.  It used to matter who the editor in chief knew, which city a publisher was in, how fast the vans could get to the scene or whether the product makers liked a publisher’s reviewers.  The ability to get and cover content competitors couldn’t drove audience.  Now, search engine optimizations, clever traffic arbitrage schemes and integration with portals are the drivers of audience for most traditional publishers.  This is a short lived game though – for a variety of reasons.  The main reason is that it’s too hard to compete – everyone is competing for the top spot in Google for the most important searches.  The portals can only feature a small set of links every day. The arbitrage schemes are played out by a great many players, and money talks more than anything else.

The winning strategy involves Synthesis.   “Just the facts, mam” doesn’t cut it.  Interpretation, analysis, synthesis of the causal webs, related ideas, the context, the history.  All of that done via interactive visuals like timelines, charts, trends, projections, simulations.  Every which way to expose fresh takes.

Synthesis still takes unique perspective and skilled people.  Synthesis is what creates shared understanding – i.e. knowledge.  Publishers need to get out of the data business and into the knowledge business.   Knowledge is defensible, data is not.  Knowledge is worth paying for, data is not.  Advertising tangled with knowledge performs, advertising with data distracts.

Are there examples of good synthesis?

It’s rare.

I don’t think cable TV does a great job of synthesis.  Most talking heads are just creating noisy data.  Good synthesis provides insight, demands more questions, finds connections.  Yahoo News doesn’t. Google News doesn’t.

Edge.org does alright.  The Economist usually.  WSJ still does a good job with synthesizing.  CNN, occasionally.  Go to these websites, they aren’t just the data regurgitated. And they are rewarded with traffic.

This isn’t limited to news. Science information, entertainment, business intelligence, weather, and more all need synthesis.   Consider the spread of Compete.com and Quantcast.com versus Alexa.  Alexa didn’t really synthesize the numbers into useful trends, audience slices or any more useful view.

You get the point.  Enough of the “information age”, let’s bring about the synthesis age.  Therein lies the value publishers can bring to consumers.

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