Information Overload: Blogs As Content Navigators, Information Filters, Trusted Niche Guides
We are drowning in a sea of information.
It's a growing torrent that no single person can possibly drink.
Photo credit: Alvaro Heinzen
In the book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman identifies a turning point in the history of mass communication, the invention of the telegraph. Prior to the telegraph, most of the information people took in was relevant to their lives, and the main way they took in information was through reading it.
With the invention of the telegraph, suddenly people started to be bombarded with information that had no direct bearing on their lives; it neither caused nor required any kind of direct action.
Suddenly people would learn about earthquakes in faraway places and hear of the lives of government officials in other countries, although this gave people a global perspective, at the same time most of the information was just facts, facts that they could not put into action.
Information became a commodity; it was no longer highly valued because it was everywhere, and most of it was irrelevant to people's daily lives.
To use the title of a book by Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat: it is more connected and globalized then ever before. Today, an earthquake, in one part of the world can have a direct bearing on the stock market in another part of the world, directly impacting people's lives.
Now more then ever, it is important to know what is going on around the world and to have an understanding of how to deal with it on both cultural and economic levels.
What Postman is pointing to is the high percentage of information we are confronted with on a daily basis: information that we are not looking for, nor can we do anything with. Even when we find what we are looking for, we may have too much of it to deal with it effectively.
In his book, Information Anxiety, Richard Saul Wurman says that, "A weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England."
How much information or how many messages are we hit with today?
This is an estimate of advertising which does not take into account the rest of the information that we are flooded with.
It's too much, how can we make sense of it all and find what we are looking for? Not many people have the time to sift through and entire copy of the New York Times each day; at best we can look through it to see what is important to our lives, careers, families or what interests us.
Richness or Reach
In the book by P. Evans and T.S. Wursters, Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy, authors speak about richness and reach: how companies could offer either rich information that is highly specialized and geared towards a niche market or they could have reach, more generalized information that is not as rich, but has a broader appeal.
An example in commerce would be the retail store CompUSA. They have reach: a number of different products from different manufactures all under one roof. A person could buy a Dell Computer, a Canon printer, a Motorola cell phone, a Sony video camera, Microsoft software, and hundreds of other technological products. They do however lack richness, CompUSA has few sales people that have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the products, mainly because there are so many products and they appeal to such a wide audience.
The Apple Store on the other had has richness, it caters to a niche audience, people who want Apple products. Their sales people are highly educated and trained on both Apple hardware and software. The Apple store doesn't carry hundreds of different products by different manufactures. All these factors contribute to the richness.
Companies have to make a trade-off between how rich they will be and how much reach they will have.
Communication with consumers is being turned on its head. People now search for or Google what they are looking for.
The old adage of, build it and they will come, no longer holds true. There are too many options.
People are trying to weed out all the irrelevant information in their lives, while not spending too much time at it.
In a Wired News article, entitled, "Googling the Bottom Line," Adam Peneberg reports on a study by "oneupweb.com" a search optimization firm. The study was conducted to measure the results of a website as it moved higher in the Google search rankings. Peneberg says that, "Oneupweb found that the first month a site appeared on the second or third page of Google results, traffic increased five times from the previous month and in the second month, traffic was nine times greater. The number of unique visitors tripled when the company moved from page two to page one, and in the second month doubled again to more than six times the traffic it received before it broke the top 10. More importantly, Oneupweb discovered a correlating impact on sales: 42 percent more the first month, and nearly double the second month."
The article relates the experience of the company, Eastwood, which is a client of Oneupweb that sells automotive refurbishing tools to a niche market. It has optimized its website so that search engines like Google can pick it up more easily and in the last five years online sales has made 44 percent of total sales, which has also increased 40 percent. The Eastwood site gets about 1 million hits a month.
On the Google home page Google says that it searches 8,058,044,651 web pages.
No one human can process all this information. How can we find what we are looking for?
Photo credit: Nick Winchester
It is impossible to deal with that amount of information, if the search is narrowed to "iPod Reviews," in 0.26 seconds 78,100,000 results will be listed: still too much information.
Narrowing the search to "iPod shuffle reviews," in just 12 seconds 6,050,000 pages of information will turn up.
If a person was to look only at the first three pages of the Google results, it is still 30 websites to look through to check to see if the desired information is there and trustworthy. Google has reach; it has the ability to search 8,058,044,651 web pages to find information.
Where the problem lies is that there is too much information.
Blogs Ad Richness
If we start sifting through the ipod search results, the #2 result of the Google search is iPodLounge.com, a blog. I am calling it a blog, because it has the features of a blog dated entries the site offers the ability to link to individual entries etc. However, I am uncertain if they refer to themselves as a blog.
What they do say about themselves is that they are,
"an independent provider of information about Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod digital audio players, accessories, and related software... Based in Irvine, California, the iPodlounge website is owned and operated by Dennis Lloyd, and is not affiliated with Apple Computer or the manufacturers of iPod-related products...Our slogan has been, and continues to be, 'All things iPod.' iPodlounge is committed to providing the world's best coverage of iPod-related products and breaking information, so we welcome your contributions to the site, whether they be through posts in our forums, offerings of new editorial content, or advertising requests."
The site is solely dedicated to all things iPod. If someone were to read the "iPod shuffle review," she would find an extensive review with numerous pictures followed by over 50 comments of what the site's readers feel about the product. In the book The Cluetrain Manifesto Doc Searls and David Weinberger state, "The Cluetrain Corollary: the level of knowledge on a network increases as the square number of users times the volume of conversation."
The more readers use iPodlounge, the richer the resource becomes. The more readers that comment, the more knowledge the network has. Because the iPodlounge has a niche audience, it caters to people exclusively looking for information on iPods. iPod lounge also posts news about what other websites or news services say about the iPod, adding to the richness of the information. iPodlounge a source of information where a visitor can see what other people have to say about iPods.
Most importantly, it's a conversation.
Photo credit: Gerd Masterdt
Bloggers sift through and edit the information for the readers, helping the readers find information from around the web in one place, at the same time bloggers become the "go to" expert.
The more people who value or trust what a blogger has to say, the more people will link to and recommend her blog.
A blogger navigates readers around the web to find information that is relevant to her niche audience. iPodLounge has on average of 16 million page views a month.
Obviously not everyone who blogs is an expert.
Because blogs are relatively easy to set up everyone may have a voice. However the blogosphere can act like a giant self-correcting editing tool. Bloggers can and on many occasions do challenge what other bloggers have to say.
If the information a blogger is giving is not of the best quality or truthful, it eventually becomes exposed.
There is no hiding place.
Once a Blog has been exposed as untruthful people will no longer use that Blog as a resource.
A technological factor that is changing the way people use the web is RSS. RSS is an acronym that stands for Really Simple Syndication. Once a user determines that a particular subject is personally important, he can set up his browser to receive daily updates from blogs and news sources that most interest him.
For example, if the Apple computer company updates its operating system, and if a person who is interested in such a change wanted to find out what organizations like The New York Times, Wired News, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News as well as a number of Blogs had to say about the update, they would have to go to the individual websites to read what each article has to say.
If the same person had an RSS reader he would not have to go to the individual sites as long as all the newspapers listed above and other respected individual bloggers who follow this technology, offer an RSS feed. All these sites would appear on one page, thus eliminating having to waste time gathering information from around the web.
RSS puts all the information you are looking for in one place.
This enables a greatly enhanced, highly targeted means of keeping up to date with information.
The same would be prohibitively expensive in print media. Rather than reading or scanning many magazines dedicated to computers, one can simply narrow one's focus to Apple updates if this is so desired.
RSS offers substantial times savings, cutting down on tedious searching for desired information.
In this example, the individual blogger can capture all this information, have it available on his Blog, add his own commentary on the stories from the information sources.
Some bloggers have become the de facto navigators of information, gathering and winnowing the search process for the end-users of the information.
In the book, Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy, the authors make the point that "Brand navigators, delivering quality content for a subscription are likely to emerge."
You can be sure: whether it be subscription-based or paid for by advertisers, some bloggers will wind up being compensated for the service they perform as they gather information on a subject, get traffic on their blogs and can easily charge money for advertising.
Blogs and the Long Tail
Wikipedia defines The Long Tail as, "Products that are in low demand or have low sales volume that can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough."
The article on Wikipedia goes on to say,
"The same could be said for Amazon's book inventory or NetFlix's movie inventory.
The total volume of low popularity items exceeds the volume of high popularity items relationship between the Long Tail and storage and distribution costs.
The key factor that determines whether a sales distribution has a Long Tail is the cost of inventory storage and distribution.
Where inventory storage and distribution costs are insignificant, it becomes economically viable to sell relatively unpopular products; however, when storage and distribution costs are high only the most popular products can be sold.
Take movie rentals as an example: A traditional movie rental store has limited shelf space, which it pays for in the form of monthly rent; to maximize its profits it must stock only the most popular movies to ensure that no shelf space is wasted. Because Netflix stocks movies in centralized warehouses, its storage costs are far lower and its distribution costs are the same for a popular or unpopular movie. Netflix is therefore able to build a viable business stocking a far wider range of movies than a traditional movie rental store.
Those economics of storage and distribution then enable the Long Tail to kick in: Netflix finds that when aggregated 'unpopular' movies are rented more than popular movies."
In Long Tail model, the red peak represents the high popularity items, while the yellow represents low popularity items. The volume of low popularity items, exceeds the volume of the high popularity items.
The Long Tail kicks in with GreenCine, the DVD movie rental company in San Francisco that has a blog. Because of the Internet, GreenCine is able to have customers outside their local area. This enables them to have a larger audience who are interested in independent and alternative movies, so GreenCine can reach a niche audience that may actually be larger than the number of people who want to see the biggest "Hollywood BlockBusters." GreenCine can cater to the individual needs of a niche where instead BlockBuster must sell only the biggest hits from Hollywood and cater to a broader audience.
"The Long Tail is not just a positive economic effect; it can also threaten established businesses.
Before a Long Tail kicks in the only products on offer are the most popular, but when the costs of inventory storage and distribution fall, then a wide range of products suddenly becomes available; that can in turn have the effect of reducing demand for the most popular products.
For example, Web content businesses with broad coverage like Yahoo!, CNET or even TheStreet.com may be threatened by the rise of smaller Web sites that focus on niches based on content, and cover that content better than the larger sites.
The competitive threat from these niche "category killer" sites is related to the cost of establishing and maintaining them and the bother required for readers to track multiple small Web sites. These factors have been transformed by easy and cheap Web site software and the spread of RSS."
Blogs stand to benefit in the present media landscape for a number of reasons:
- Because of the overload of information it is impossible for people to keep up with all of it. Information needs to be sifted through and made sense of.
- Bloggers also add richness to the already established reach of mass media.
- Blogs can cater to niche audiences that mass media cannot because mass media must focus on the most important or biggest issues at hand.
- Because of the Internet a blogger can have a niche audience of 5,000 readers a day from around the world.
- A major factor is that blogs have little to no overhead to set up and run. All that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection and a blogger can be up and running, so the distribution costs are cheap.
The Long Tail can already be seen in the retail sector with companies like The White Store in London, which specializes in home furnishing principally in white, and From Rice to Riches a store in Manhattan that sells rice pudding in over 20 flavors and nothing else.
Today consumers can have their every need met and there are so many options to choose from, that companies can cater to niche audiences and have a thriving business because of the richness they offer.
They same is true with blogs.
They cannot compete with the reach of major websites but they can add richness and cater to a micro audiences with narrowly defined needs and who have highly specific interests.
For example, Manolo's Shoe Blog, a blog that is geared towards women's shoes. And that audience is there for a reason: they are interested in women's shoes looking at them, talking about them, and buying them. The readers of the blog are the audience that some women's shoe designers are looking for. According to the site meter on Manolo's Shoe Blog,( a site meter tells how many hits or visitors a day the blog gets), Manolo's Shoe Blog gets almost get 4,000 hits a day, which can average around 120,000 hits a month from women interested in shoes. Manolo's Shoe Blog narrows down the focus and in a sense separates the wheat from the chaff.
In case you missed them the previous chapters of James Torio superb thesis on blogs here are some pointers to the other chapters:
Chapter Two - Which Revenue Streams For Blogs?
Chapter Three - The Economy Of Buzz: Blogs Are Market Conversations
This new chapter is republished with author's permission and it has been excerpted from
Chapter 5 - Bloggers as Navigators
Blogs - A GLOBAL CONVERSATION
A Master's Thesis on the Social Phenomenon of Blogs
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Advertising Design in the Graduate School of Syracuse University.
(c) Copyright 2005 James Torio
Download the full thesis. (PDF - 4.3 MB)