May 4th, 2008

The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The Web

by

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Internet company issued the following statement today in response to Microsoft Corporation’s announcement that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Yahoo!: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 today announced that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Yahoo!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 (NASDAQ: MSFT) today announced that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Yahoo!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.

Comments (32 Responses so far)

  1. Scott – great article – I had about 20 discussions on the same topic last night over 3-4 hours.

    One note/question – did the seattle times link to the “best” coverage or the “loudest/biggest” coverage? It certainly wasn’t the best coverage in my opinion.

    The difficulty is that as you suggest, everyone wants their pageviews – so it’s like everyone has to pull back for anyone to pull back.

    My rule on CN is simple – if I have nothing to contribute I don’t post. And I know where I am on the totem pole, the news will be read 4x over before they get to me – so its critical i add additional insights.

    I also don’t ever copy full press releases – I saw a lot of this yesterday with the biggest blogs/newspapers. Yet they still all get the love – amazing, right?

    This issue will only get worse sadly as more and more people compete for the eyeballs.

  2. Exactly. It’s why I’ve gone a lot into two areas:

    1. Video over on fastcompany.tv which is all original content and can’t easily be duplicated (today’s video was done in Israel, for instance).
    2. Community conversation on FriendFeed and Twitter.

  3. So we were picked up in all this (see Broadstuff under the Paul Kedrosky story) because we said there was nothing we could add to it all ;-)

    As Allen Stern notes above, its not worth writing the main story when you are a “micro-cap” blog, its far easier just to link to it, especially if it is being discussed ad nausea.

    Any piece of specific analysis in our post? Yes – the difference in interests between Management and other Stakeholders. And who will be called to account once the stock prices re-set.

  4. Scott… You are absolutely right… Google is more a conduit rather than a creator of information… And so are the thousands and thousands of meta, news aggregator that churn out content. I would be fascinated to know how many primary sources of information are actually available online.

  5. [...] Publishing 2.0 – The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The Web [...]

  6. More people want to get their information and news from more sources, not less. If the opposite were true, as you imply here, then Reuters would be the single news resource in the world. It isn’t. Everybody wants to get their news from their preferred source. For small bloggers with an audience of three (author, mother, random guest) the point of blogging is not in providing news and competing with CNN. They just want to express themselves.

    The fact that Madonna is a star with a large audience doesn’t make it less interesting for other people to sing too.

    My idea: people spreading news (word of mouth) is good and will only increase as blogs and social networks become even more popular. This trend is not bad but good.

  7. [...] Ler | Read The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The Web [...]

  8. Excellent observation, Scott. I run into this discussion occasionally, mostly involving traditional media people who are confounded by aggregation. I’ve long held that there are two types of aggregators: smart aggregators and dumb aggregators. Both have their place, but what makes a smart aggregator smart is that human “editing” is involved, whereas technology can handle dumb aggregators. Hence, the role of the newspaper editor — to borrow an old media position — becomes one of filtering aggregated content to help end users understand. It can be a lot of work in the case you use here, but that’s the value prop.

    If, in fact, trying to get information from the Web is occasionally like trying to take a drink from a fire hose, then there exists a business model for the mechanism that turns it into a drinking fountain.

  9. [...] today, continues his exploration of the over coverage of breaking news stories with a piece called The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The Web. In this case, Karp uses the Microsoft-Yahoo non-merger aftermath as a means to display how [...]

  10. Scott,

    Excellent article – my question (using your example of the local Midwest city where a factory that is a major employer announces that it is shutting down) is how can one easily determine what is original whitout wading through say 500 stories about the subject? That’s where a large problem lies and I think a great business opportunity is.

    Jeff

  11. [...] Scott Karp points out, there is too much of the same thing, and too many people competing to be at the top [...]

  12. Jeff,

    I’m moving on that opportunity. It is taking time, but building contextual authority, knowing that a topic is about a Local topic and picking the local news source is part of that. I’m also looking at context by category, TMZ knows more about Sex Tapes than CNN. Chicago Tribune knows more about Oprah than the Hillsdale Daily.

    Try isayhello.com and see what you think.

    Today’s Colbert Greatest Living American story is a great example of knowing context.

    http://www.takingthebridge.com/2008/05/responses/search-results-that-are-right-not-bombed-i-am-not-the-greatest-living-american-despite-what-google-says/

  13. [...] Trying to synch my phone and computer is a burden. As Scott Karp displayed in a post yesterday, trying to discover which among 2,000 different news stories on the same topic is a [...]

  14. [...] The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The Web. Scott Karp uses the overkill on the Microsoft-Yahoo dust-up to make a pitch for originality and thoughtful journalism by both traditional and new media. This is a big challenge for media: they need to recognize that “their” news is available from dozens (hundreds) of sources to anyone with an internet connection; at the same time they need to serve the declining number of locals who rely on them for comprehensive coverage. [...]

  15. [...] Vanochtend net een zeer interesante posting van Publishing 2.0 gelezen met de fraaie en zeer correcte titel: The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The Web.  [...]

  16. [...] The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The Web – Publishing 2.0 “there is a zero sum game for attention on this story… 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.” (tags: internet journalism news aggregators business economics links) [...]

  17. [...] près de 3.000 articles se rapportant à la rupture des négociations entre Microsoft et Yahoo. 3.000 articles «sur la même chose»  remarque Scott Karp de Publishing 2.0. Et cela sans compter les [...]

  18. [...] Comment on The Declining Value Of Redundant News Content On The …16 hours ago by Taking the Bridge » Search Results that… […] Scott Karp points out, there is too much of the same thing, and too many people competing to be at the top […]Untitled – http://publishing2.com [...]

  19. [...] de l’info, (ou le retour en grâce du journal ?) Francis Pisani revient sur cet article de Scott Karp, qui fait allusion au fait qu’en trois jours, Google News a indexé près de 3.000 articles [...]

  20. [...] Trying to synch my phone and computer is a burden. As Scott Karp displayed in a post yesterday, trying to discover which among 2,000 different news stories on the same topic is a [...]

  21. When faced with a tidal wave of stories, all frustratingly similar to each other, then my eyes scan for the source instead, and I’ll pick the one that I trust the most. Maybe I’ll pick two or three of my most trusted sources and compare, but by the third I’m only scanning for new material.

    About filtering redundant news, doesn’t Google already try to do this by omitting similar results? You can search for a topic and get 1,156 results, but when you click to see all related articles, Google pares it down to something like 788.

  22. Heidi,

    Google removes duplicates from the same source. And duplicates that are the same reposting of an AP story.

    But if the stories are about the same topic but are not 70% the same words you get them all, and you either get them in Chronological order or in Page Rank order.

    So…. If you write that What’s Next for Yahoo, and I write Where does Yahoo go from here, Google doesn’t see those as dupes.

    And… If you are writing for a PR8 site, and I am writing for a PR2 Site, until 100 people have linked to my story and none have linked to your story you are going to out rank me.

    So in a scenario where I get an exclusive interview with someone, and CNN reports that I had the interview, CNN will out rank me, which you might say was right, since they are CNN, but when you get in to something like the Yahoo Story, isn’t GigaOm more of an authority on the Merger Fall out than say Associated Press?

  23. [...] réduit la valeur économique marginale de tous les autres,» écrit-il en citant Scott Karp de Publishing 2.0. C’est comme les pommes, t’en as mangé une, t’es satisfait et rassasié, tu [...]

  24. Scott,

    I think the Seattle Times blog article you point to is interesting. On such a controversial topic, however, I wish they had gone for a more opinion laden piece which captured short block quotes from the authors they were referencing. I felt that Times article felt very much like a newspaper article + links.

    If you serve an editorial role (ie hitting the most salient point or quote)–is that content redundant? I think the line of redundant may be vague. Some might say the Campbell soup cans paintings are redundant or meaningless pop culture….but others would call them art.

    Cheers!

  25. This is fascinating, in a morbid way, and I’ve just linked to you – Hmm, am I part of the problem?
    (I’m going to argue no because most of my readers may NOT have considered this problem in the way most of your have and I then take it a different way.)

    That “different way” I go with it is this – what’s an average (or maybe, I hope?) slightly better-than-averagely-tech-proficient web consumer/user to do?

    I’m new to the blogosphere, but a lifelong researcher/journalist/social science (emphasis on the social) at heart. I LOVE twitter, facebook, linkdin, digg, del.icio.us, aggregators, alltop (where I found you) and … you get the picture. But at the same time it paralyzes me. I literally don’t know if I’m learning anything/benefitting from the hours I can put in “twittering” or digging thing and checking out what my pals have.

    When I try to learn more, I just sink in this whole deeper either because I’m 1) in over my head with SEO and metamemes or because 2) I find something fabulous like this or journadism or cjr or alltop and bam, 3 hours have gone by of me “commenting” and filling my brain with knowledge so much it hurts, literally.

    And meanwhile, what new facts did I glean?

    Sometimes a chestnut like this one, right up my alley of what I just plain LIKE so it was worth it. But other times. I wonder shouldnm’t I be outside playing?

    Your help, wise people, please!

  26. [...] près de 3.000 articles se rapportant à la rupture des négociations entre Microsoft et Yahoo. 3.000 articles «sur la même chose» remarque Scott Karp de Publishing [...]

  27. I agree wholeheartedly with this. One observation that I didn’t see was that people really only flock to certain sites for their news. So at least publishing links to current stories is critical if you are the chosen filter for that news by a large readership.

    People only have so much time and we largely assume regular web users know how to move through as many sites as we monitor on a daily basis, which isn’t true.

    The view above is like flying over a city in a helicopter. Not everyone has a helicopter nor would they know how to fly one if they did. So regular surfers don’t get this macro view of the web and need stories to show up on the part of the web they visit the most.

    Maybe not total re-posts of stories, but links for sure.

  28. [...] more I think about the issue of redundant news coverage on the web, the more I’m both perplexed and fascinated. Read the following on Facebook’s [...]

  29. [...] more I think about the issue of redundant news coverage on the web, the more I’m both perplexed and fascinated. Read the following on Facebook’s [...]

  30. [...] el excelente blog Publishing 2.0 de Scott Scarp y Robert Young traemos a colación un tema de aplicación cada vez más [...]

  31. Until some common sense guidelines on these issues are created and spread….

    This is inevitable….
    http://www.parislemon.com/2008/05/another-classic-rip-off-job-by-ars.html

    And that seems to be the argument that WashWords above
    is making. The echochamber will always be with us….how do deal with it–in order to progress and to solve info overload in the coming years will be critical.

  32. [...] means avoiding the pitfalls of redundant news content. That means escaping the trap of writing about topics without having a clue of what’s at [...]

Add Your Comment

Subscribe

Receive new posts by email