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Business - Written by on Tuesday, June 2, 2009 10:00 - 5 Comments

Denis Hancock
Should you care about what the amateur outties write? No… and yes.

One of the themes that I’ve been talking a lot about recently is that “broadcasting” has gotten an unfairly bad rap as many people associate social media with conversations and user-generated content. As I investigate how social media platforms evolve, I’m continuously finding that these developments, while significant in certain situations, are far less important than people tend to think – and that the future of social media may have a lot more in common with traditional “broadcasting” strategies than is commonly believed. Video viewership patterns on YouTube was one example (with content from “traditional” media sources tending to dominate user-generated content), and the popularity of top celebrities, writers and companies using Twitter as a broadcast platform is another.

The underlying idea here is simple. The vast majority of us cannot create good / entertaining content, no matter what we may believe. Just because millions upon millions of people create blog posts, videos, and tweets on a daily basis doesn’t mean they’re interesting to many people, or even being viewed. And while the rise of social media has led to an abundance of new content, every abundance creates a new scarcity.

In this case, what I think is becoming ever-more scarce is easy to identify – time. I think we’re crossing a major tipping point where people engage with many of these social media tools, get quickly overwhelmed by it all (knowingly or not), and fall back onto select few sites and people who provide the best content people are looking for in the proper context – and it has how these sites and people leverage social media that will be critically important to determining it’s future.

What got me thinking about this again today is Mark Cuban’s most recent post- Who Cares What People Write? To quote the first paragraph:

In this day and age of blogs, aggregation sites, personal recommendation sites, link publishing, twitter and more, its not unusual to get a news alert email, or to wake up and google a person, place or thing and find hundreds of references originated in just the past 24 hours. Does it matter ? Could something be published hundreds, if not thousands of times on the net and be read by no one ? Fewer than 100 people ?  Fewer than 100 people that you care about ? The answer is yes.

What Mark goes onto talk about hits at the point I’m talking about, using terminology most commonly associated with belly buttons in a way that only he can quite pull off. He classifies three types of people on the web: “professional outties”, “amateur outties”, and “innies”. The professional outties are the major sites that are trying to (and have a reasonable chance of succeeding at to some degree) make money off publishing content read by a large group of people they build a relationship with. Amateur outties are the people popping up all over social media trying to be discovered – wherever there is a platform, they will search it out and try to speak on it. The “innies” are the passive consumers of content (whom are assumed to be the VAST majority, which I agree with), that read, watch, and listen to content online.

Mark argues that this “innie” group generally ignore the “amateur outties”, only paying attention to the professionals – but the “amateur outties” are the ones creating the most volume on social media, which is what most companies and people talking about the social media space are paying attention to. Hence, the disconnect.

While I agree with a lot of his argument that this amateur group is receiving a disproportionate amount of attention, there is some additional nuance that needs to be considered. For example, sites like Digg and Reddit represent the “aggregated wisdom” of what he might consider “amateur outties” – and while their individual voices may not be heard, their collective choices are, on very popular sites. Such sites are distinctly changing media consumption patterns for many people, pulling them away from the “professional outties”. I know from my own experience monitoring traffic on a variety of sites that many of the readers that are “sourced” from such sites don’t stay very long, and are difficult to build a relationship with – which makes sense. They have decided to let the “wisdom of the crowds” (augmented by reputation, etc.) select the best content for them, and if another site publishes something of interest they expect the crowd will find it for them. This is an important change.

The second is that relative ease at which an amateur can become a “professional”. While it is much harder than many people think to start a new site an build an audience, it is clearly much easier than it was a decade ago. Why this is important is that people can fall into a trap that says “all” amateur outties aren’t important, because whenever one does become important they are just reclassified as a professional. And of course, there are plenty of cases where enough amateur outties jumped on an issue that it did become an important driver of the viral distribution of information.

So I’m sort of arguing out both sides of my mouth right now, because I guess I’m trying to make two points. On one hand, I agree with the notion that we pay a little too much attention to the sheer volume of content being created, and not enough to what people are actually paying attention to – which often comes from “professional” sources. On the other, this argument can go to far as well, and it’s important to pay attention to what the amateurs are creating as well – particularly when they’re working as a group OR might be quickly turning into professionals themselves.


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Steven Burgess
Jun 2, 2009 22:09

So, Denis, are you an amateur or professional outie? And – what difference does it really make? Cuban is both – and, so, I think, are you. And me. The important things are – how effectively do we communicate our ideas and how effectively do we communicate the fact that we have those ideas.

Cuban will vacillate between a professional and amateur outie. So will you and I. CBS, on the other hand, will always be a “professional” outie, but only as a corporate blob. Same with Fox, MSNBC, etc.

Jun 3, 2009 6:20

There’s a producer’s point of view on “what matters” and a consumer’s point of view. The producer is thinking of advertising dollars and effective contact with their target market. When I read the mainstream news, all I can think these days is “I wonder who paid for that story” because the more professional they get, the less sincere they get. Once the money and political interests start talking the content gets dull and predictable no matter how creative and entertaining are the content writers.

From the consumer’s point of view, yes they want entertainment, but also they want freshness and respect and upfront honesty. Amateurs deliver more of a real-world perspective. Don’t underestimate that the “innies” talk to each other as well. There’s a deluge of private communication going on out there that doesn’t show up on anyone’s radar, but word gets around. The world is bigger than counting hits on your web site.

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Social Media Gender Stereotypes
Jun 5, 2009 8:17

[...] This is perhaps the most significant finding, as it contradicts all the hype surrounding Twitter’s interactive platform. Despite being touted as the leading outlet for two way communication, stats sadly reflect a much more traditional one way broadcast model. However, I do give credit that Twitter is still in its infancy and that the majority of the population is still struggling to transition fully into web 2.0, but for the most part, participators remain passive (see Dennis’s recent post on innies vs. outies). [...]

Jun 10, 2009 11:08

Good question Steven. If I was to give an honest answer… I suppose I’d probably be considered an amateur outtie in most respects, attempting to become a professional. Though I wonder if people trying to work in / cover this space need their own categorizations all together?

Tel – great point. Maybe the net benefit of all this stuff is that the professional outties, in whatever form they might take, start paying more attention to what the customers actually want? To go off on a tangent, it’s something I constantly wonder about in relation to TV – once upon a time there were a few commercials, now I see programs where the combined commercial breaks are absolutely mind boggling. It can look nice on the income statement for a number of years, but you might just destroy yourself long-term in the process…

Jun 11, 2009 6:40

“It can look nice on the income statement for a number of years, but you might just destroy yourself long-term in the process…”

Or the people concerned have already seen the writing on the wall and are discounting the long term, in favour of milking it hard while they still can. Make enough money short-term you can find some sucker to sell the business to and invest that money in something else.

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