Website of the Week: Business Exchange

April 22, 2009
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Website of the Week: Business Exchange

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Social media and the Emperor’s new clothes.

With much of the media industry in crisis, and many gnarled newspaper types strapping themselves to their sinking vessels, a growing number of magazines are shaking things up in a quest to embrace the digital future and supplement declining print advertising revenue.

More than ever before, content is king. Anyone can create and disseminate content in the blink of an eye and at virtually no cost. The media barons of yesteryear almost deserve their own zoo enclosure – they are fast becoming exotic ancestral curiosities (just don’t look them directly in the eye).

The real value in this new digital media landscape rests with networks and the ability to extract what is interesting and useful from the online cacophony created by pornographers, pontificators and penny-stock pushers.

bw_businessexchange_nativeLast August, US business magazine BusinessWeek lifted the lid on Business Exchange, a social media initiative that it had been developing for two years.

For a mainstream title such as BusinessWeek, this was a big step. Overnight it transformed passive readers into active “users”. Hundreds of user-created topic pages were populated with links to outside content (something mainstream media sites, until very recently, considered subversive to their goal of incarcerating readers within their walls).

It would have been even bigger news except that Fast Company (an Anthill favourite) staged its own social media coming out party some six months earlier.

But Business Exchange is somewhat different in that it has embraced the role of aggregator – an area in which conventional media outfits have traditionally deferred to the editorless algorithms of Google and Digg et al.

In handing readers/users the keys to their community, BusinessWeek has obviously built a platform to boost traffic and the stickiness of the site. When Business Exchange launched, Tim O’Reilly (AKA Mr Web 2.0) questioned whether this was a genuine attempt to nurture a vibrant and organic community or merely an attempt to manufacture traffic by donning Web2 threads.

In another post, O’Reilly cuts to the heat of the matter:

At O’Reilly, we always say “Create more value than you capture.” All successful companies do this. Once they start capturing more value than they create, their market position erodes, and someone displaces them. It may take a while but it happens eventually. If Google takes too much of the pie, it will be a great opening for a new competitor. Right now, because Google is creating the most value for the ecosystem, competitors continue to lose share.

It’s worth contemplating this as you explore the topic pages on Business Exchange. (Bootstrapping a Startup is an interesting place to start.) Whether it succeeds and how it evolves will be determined by how much value visitors derive from the community and, of course, how likely they are to return.

That’s something Google figured out from day one.

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