Technology is our friend: List vs. Feed: Changes in content distribution or why I don’t think that Apple's “Ping” is meant to be a real social network
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September 7, 2010

List vs. Feed: Changes in content distribution or why I don’t think that Apple's “Ping” is meant to be a real social network

I have written a bunch of blog articles on Homepages vs. Facebook Sites (like this one in German), on news distribution via Facebook and Twitter, an overflowing news feed on Facebook and related topics. The background is that content distribution has changed dramatically in the last few years. No matter if you are a news site, a TV station or simply a brand that communicates about its services or products, getting people to actually notice and perceive your messages has become complicated. Only a few years ago, you would work on your homepage on the one hand and spend advertising and search engine money to get people to your site. There, your information would be published and perceived. Nowadays, an information might be published somewhere in the web originally, but it is not bound to its place of origin. You would find pieces of content embedded, copied and duplicated at many other web locations.
Additionally, there are thousands and thousands of ways to get to these contents. News feeds – filled by friends, not by editors – account for a growing share of traffic. 

Most (news) sites I examined in a recent research listed Facebook as their traffic source #2 behind Google, with a constantly growing share since the universal like button has been introduced. With all social networks combined, like Twitter and some local networks in the respective markets, many sites got more traffic from friend recommendations than from search engines, and other sources see an even more radical pace in this development like the chart above from Compete. 
This becomes very clear with viral phenomenons like the exceptional tipp-ex hunter-bear-story.

As of Sept 7, 1p.m., the Youtube video reached 3.1mn views. And was recommended over 308.000 times on Facebook. A rough 1 to 10 ratio if all traffic came from Facebook. But note: We are not talking about viral content only, but also about “normal” web content: brand messages, news, videos, even products.
And of course this blog article, that would have been read 10 times less if the link was not published on Facebook and Twitter.

This content, like many others, is distributed user- and recommendation driven, while “traditional” content distribution is conducted “list driven”: it is published somewhere in the web, placed at a certain location defined by a navigation and therefore “listed”, just like it is listed in search results. Search is used intentionally, while content in feeds comes without our explicit activity (besides adding a “source”, mostly friends, to our news feeds). While lists may be good to make content accessible that is searched for, the feed-oriented, social content distribution adds the unexpected component: accidental relevance. The social graph integration on is a good example of using both ways: a huge, google-optimized navigation and a site-internal search engine on the one hand, user recommendations and feed integration on the other hand.

This means that the importance of a location where something – a news story, a blog post, a product offer, a brand message – is published loses in importance; the presence in a feed gains importance. 

Ever since people use Facebook, they get more and more messages from brands and visit less and less brand websites. They watch more and more Youtube videos and use the Youtube navigation tools less and less. Traffic comes directly into the deepest depths of your navigation and leaves from there.

For any organization that aggregates, lists, and categorizes content from which it wants to be perceived, this means a dramatic development. This includes brand websites as well as magazines; it includes tv station websites as well as shops; it even includes itunes. Personally I believe that Ping is not a social network but it just adds that social “feed component” to music search, thus enhancing content commerce, generating sales of music (and somewhen films, apps, books) to someone who would have never found that content if it weren’t for friend recommendations in feeds. An 8-digit-number of songs alone, adding TV shows, films, books etc. in future, cannot be handled with lists and categories alone.

As a traffic source, Google is a “list of the internet” sorted according to a user-expressed relevance metric (a keyword entered), while a news feed (Facebook, Twitter) is a “list of the internet” sorted by time with an accidental relevance metric expressed by our choice of feed sources (friends, brands etc.) - which by the way is the reason why realtime web and social web are bound so closely together. This counts for Ping, too. They are just trying to establish their own newsfeed before they might be dependent on one big player.

The ability to distribute content is not anymore solely based on advertising and Google budget; sometimes it is not even based on the pure quality of the content anymore. It is – at least partially - based on the ability to get into news feeds of as many people as possible.