Move to de-automate web content

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I saw the announcement this week at LinkedIn: On March 15, the professional networking site will discontinue support for RSS feeds in its groups.

And as the manager of several trade groups on LinkedIn, I had to sigh with disappointment, but also nod in agreement. This move marks the trend toward de-automating content on the web.

What is automated content? Around 15 years ago the Internet lacked content. Users had trouble uploading new content and there was the problem of “getting people to find what had been uploaded.” In response, programmers developed RSS and other programming methods to get content from one place to another without needing a user to manually upload the content to each location.

It worked like this: Users posted content on their blog (for example) and other websites that, linked to that blog with RSS, would automatically see that content appear on their website. It was like magic.

When entities like LinkedIn launched, they needed content badly.

Therefore they built a lot of hooks for things like RSS feeds to generate content automatically on their web property. Lots of social media sites started that way.

What nobody (including LinkedIn) saw coming was the creation of the social media marketing industry, where a lot of people started posting content for a living. These people weren’t technically savvy, but they liked doing a lot of work and making a lot of content.

Because they weren’t technical, they didn’t necessarily understand the ramifications of linking a blog to Facebook, LinkedIn AND Twitter at the same time (the results are an infinite circle of content, which is hilarious but not awesome).

Simultaneously they continued generating a ton of content. Soooo much content. Now there is the problem of too much content, repeated endlessly on the Internet. This makes the web very boring for everyone, and that’s bad news.

If the social media marketers had been just a little more technical, they could have saved us all a ton of money and labor. But because they get paid for each posting, it wasn’t in their best interest to automate their posts. So now we’re in a morass of manual text entry.

Remember those secretarial pools of the 1950s? Picture the endless rows of young women at typewriters doing manual duplications and hand-typing every “CC”? That’s how social media is run right now.

For your business, this trend toward de-automation means that the venues are starting to take control. Instead of venues being desperate for content from businesses, now businesses are desperate for the visibility of the venues. To commemorate this shift, the venues now require original content.

The trend also means that the business of social media population is now a recognized industry. Businesses will probably need to hire against or pay a vendor to populate social media now, because it takes too much time manually to generate all of the content needed for a meaningful social media presence. It also means that social media content companies will now need to show real business results for their clients because they are charging real money for the service.

Is it a paradigm shift? Maybe, but more likely it’s the next natural step in a 15-year progression. What will be interesting is this: As social media content companies start delivering results metrics, how do the results stack up against other marketing venues?

Is it really the least expensive way to generate leads and customers? Time will tell.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.