Microsoft withdrawing its offer to buy Yahoo is a sufficiently large story to demonstrate the problem of redundant news content on the web. Google News is currently tracking about 2,000 versions of this story. To get a better sense of why it’s a problem to have 2,000 stories about the SAME THING, I’ve reproduced about ten percent of them below — just the headlines and ledes. If you have the stomach to scroll through them all to see what else I have to say about it, check out the sources as you scroll:

UPDATE: The Google News example is reproduced here instead. You’re reading this in RSS or email a day after I posted it because this post was so large it broke my Feedburner feed. Too much content breaks the web — there you have it. Keep reading for my original argument.

If you’ve made it this far, you may have noticed the absence of blogs from the sources. So this is far from a representative sample of all of the websites that published a version of this news story.

Let’s check out Techmeme, again reproduced in its entirety, because seeing is disbelieving:

Yahoo!:
Yahoo! Issues Statement in Response to Microsoft — SUNNYVALE, Calif., May 03, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Roy Bostock, Chairman of Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO), a leading global Internet company issued the following statement today in response to Microsoft Corporation’s announcement that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Yahoo!:

RELATED:

Microsoft:
Microsoft Withdraws Proposal to Acquire Yahoo! — Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Yahoo! Inc. — Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) today announced that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO).

Kara Swisher / BoomTown:
MicroHoo: The Odd Couple Meetings Led Nowhere — After today’s events, I guess you could say Yahoo and Microsoft tried, holding a series of meetings about a possible takeover that ended up proving exactly how incompatible the companies were. — Kind of like Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, but not funny in any way at all.

Ina Fried / Beyond Binary:
OK, so what’s Microsoft’s plan B? — With Yahoo apparently off the table, it’s time to see what Microsoft’s back-up plan looks like. — Microsoft has said for some time that it has a strategy with or without Yahoo, but it’s a strategy clearly in need of a jump-start.

DealBook:
Guessing Yahoo’s Opening Stock Price — Well, Yahoo seems to have gotten what it wanted. — The company managed to fend off Microsoft’s unwanted advances, even after the software giant sweetened its bid by $5 billion — an amount Yahoo felt still wasn’t enough.

Wall Street Journal:
Microsoft Withdraws Yahoo Offer After Attempt to Bridge Gap in Price — Microsoft Corp. said it abandoned its offer for Yahoo Inc., as the two companies failed to bridge a gap between them on price. — Microsoft Saturday released a letter from Chief Executive Steve Ballmer …

Dawn Kawamoto / CNET News.com:
Report: A peek behind the Yahoo-Microsoft meltdown — Curious how Microsoft’s multi-multi-multi-billion dollar buyout bid for Yahoo sputtered, then crashed? — Kara Swisher’s BoomTown column in All Things Digital has an interesting account of the missteps, sidesteps …

Kara Swisher / BoomTown:
Yahoo’s Nightmare Scenario: I’m From Google and I’m Here to Help! — Here’s what a top-notch source at Yahoo joked to me tonight, after Microsoft walked away from its unsolicited takeover bid to acquire the long-troubled Internet giant. — “Google is now officially our best friend.” — Oh no.

Discussion:Groundswell

Michael Arrington / TechCrunch:
Yahoo’s Tough Week Ahead — At around 4:30 California time today news broke that Microsoft has formally withdrawn its offer to acquire Yahoo (see Ballmer’s email to Microsoft employees here). — Among other things, that ends a three month stock party where the market value of Yahoo jumped …

Yi-Wyn Yen / Fortune:
Blame it on Google — Microsoft CEO Ballmer said the software giant decided to walk away from a bid because Yahoo would become ‘undesirable’ if it formed an alliance with Google. — (Fortune) — Google proved to be the final straw that broke Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s back.

Discussion:MacDailyNews and CNNMoney.com

Paul Kedrosky’s Infectious Greed:
Analysis of the Microsoft Decision, Plus Yahoo’s Hari-Kari — Here is my first-cut analysis of what has happened here: — On the friendly front, Yahoo drew a hard line at $37 per share, well above the $33 that Microsoft now says it told Yahoo this week it was willing to go

Discussion:broadstuff

Michael Arrington / TechCrunch:
Email From Steve Ballmer To All Microsoft Employees — The following email was sent to all Microsoft employees from CEO Steve Ballmer at 5:17 pm PDT (see Breaking: Microsoft Withdraws Yahoo Bid; Walks Away From Deal): — To: “Microsoft – All Employees (QBDG)”

Michael Arrington / TechCrunch:
Breaking: Microsoft Withdraws Yahoo Bid; Walks Away From Deal (Updated)

Ina Fried / Beyond Binary:
Microsoft pulls its Yahoo offer
Ina Fried / Beyond Binary:
Microsoft says proxy battle not worth it
Discussion:BloggingStocks

BBC:
Microsoft walks away from Yahoo
Discussion:Gizmodo and TECH.BLORGE.com

Kara Swisher / BoomTown:
BREAKING: MICROSOFT WALKS

Discussion:Digital Daily, Valleywag, Changing Way, Paul Kedrosky’s … and Hollywood Newsroom

We all know how this happened, of course. All of the print publications, including non-niche pubs like the Washington Post, have to create a version of this story for their print publication, and then dump that story on the web. All of the web-native tech sites, competing tooth and nail for page views, are all obligated to publish at least one if not multiple takes on this story. Then there are all the sites that reproduced the wire version of the story.

If each site were, as in print, an island unto itself, this would make sense — if the news outlet did not cover the story then its readers might not know about it. But seen as a whole on the web, which connects each and every one of these websites, and especially seen through the lens of an aggregator like Google News or Techmeme, this huge mass of content about the same story doesn’t make much economic sense.

I am purposely choosing not to write about the story itself, finding it much more interesting to make this meta-observation, but if I had chosen to write about it, I could have reduced the economic value of every other version of the story.

Why? Because there is a zero sum game for attention on this story. Even tech insiders will read a finite number of stories. If I put my version in the mix, for each time mine gets read, someone else’s doesn’t. So each version of the story reduces that marginal economic value of all the others.

Here’s another way to look at it. Imagine a Midwest city where a factory that is a major employer announces that it is shutting down. Now imagine that instead of one local newspaper and one local TV station covering this story instead there are 100 newspapers and 50 TV stations. Reporters from each of these outlets file their coverage of the story. Newsstands in the local Walmart display all 100 newspapers, each with the factory closing story on the cover. Anyone who turns on their TV station can flip channels at 6pm and find the same story being reported, over and over again.

Yes, that’s a silly example, but is it really all that different from what’s happening on the web?
Can you imagine a content economy five or ten years from now that supports 2,000 versions of the same story? Is it any surprise that the company that creates far and away the most economic value on the web produces NO ORIGINAL CONTENT? (Yes, that would be Google.)

Here’s the takeaway for original content creators: BE ORIGINAL

That means when you consider publishing an original news item, be aware of the larger marketplace for that news. If it’s hugely competitive, consider allocating your limited reporting resources elsewhere, and instead find other ways to create value around the story, as the Seattle Times did:

Imagine how much more value local media brands, for example, might create if they did any one or more of the above rather than publish yet another commodity version of the story. Practicing link journalism could leave more time for original reporting that ISN’T being done by other news organizations.

(Of course, the Seattle Times still publishes a print edition, so they had to have their print coverage. And Microsoft is a local story for them, so the original reporting is a rational allocation of resources.)

Here’s the other takeaway: Don’t add to the noise, help reduce it.

An engineer who works on Google News said during a presentation at the NewsTools conference that Google is studing whether the amount of news on the web is actually decreasing.

So while there’s more content on the web, there may be less news.

Final takeaway: Don’t contribute to the commodification of news on the web.