What happens to attribution in social media?

by Mathew on November 5, 2006

(cross-posted from my media blog)

Muhammad Saleem, who writes a blog I recently came across called The Mu Life, has an interesting interview with Matt Sparkes, who works for New Scientist magazine and is in charge of managing the relationship between the magazine and social media, including blogs and “social bookmarking” sites such as Digg.com.

Matt talks about how the rise of blogs and distributed media of various kinds makes it hard to track things back to their original source. And if you work for a magazine (or newspaper) that is trying to keep its head above water online, that’s the kind of thing that makes a big difference — i.e., blogs or bookmarking sites giving you the credit you deserve for a story or post.

Content just falls into peoples laps now. Whereas 5 years ago the legwork of finding great content was replicated by every reader, it’s now centralized. That’s great for users, but if you’re a content producer you need to start worrying.

As Matt points out, a magazine with a large staff and relatively high costs is obviously looking at ways of monetizing its online content, and one of the ways to do that is through page views — but if someone posts something to Digg or Reddit.com or Netscape and links to a secondary source like another blog, then the original creator of the content usually gets bupkis.

The overheads required to produce that content are huge, and we obviously rely on traffic to recoup that cost… When another blog covers that story and links to that first blog, the percentage of readers to reach us lowers significantly. In the same way, if an aggregator such as Reddit links to a blog post about one of our stories, it is not particularly useful at driving traffic.

Journalists are trained to go back to the original source, bloggers and social media users are not.

As Sparkes also makes clear in his interview, social media is simultaneously a threat and a great opportunity. The challenge for traditional media is to find a way of balancing those two things.

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