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Thursday, 06 January 2011 14:50

Will The Meritocratic, Playing Field Leveling Nature Of The Web Fall Victim To The Net Neutrality Scheme? If So, Many High Traffic Low Margin Sites (Read The Little Guys) May Go Bye-Bye

I received a thought provoking email the other day, and thought it would be good for sparking the debate on the future of the web. Please be aware that this is a reader's opinion, and not necessarily my own, but he definitely seems to have thought his viewpoint thoroughly through. I welcome any and all comment. Portions of the email have been removed to preserve anonymity.

Reggie,

You're well aware of the current models, primarily advertising and direct marketing driven by web publishers such as BusinessInsider, ZeroHedge, SeekingAlpha, etc.  Although these combination publishers/aggregators/bloggers have achieved a certain level of success they don't really have a model, at least as I see it, that will supply them with an ongoing stream of steady high-quality content, such as the research and analysis provided by your blog.

If you consider the understandings of the surplus in content as described by Yochai Benkler in Wealth of Networks, Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus or Rachel Botsman's Collaborative Consumption, it seems there is no end in site to free, high quality content.  I believe that the so-called net neutrality regulations are going to change that.  A tiered internet will probably create a situation where casual bloggers will lose visbility as a "pay to play" model emerges.

In this model, creating visitors that come to a site will likely create a financial liability, especially for sites including any video.  Some of the more amateur bloggers find it easier to publish videos that to do actual writing.  I envision these regulations being targeted at that group as free-riders on the bandwidth.  If, say a video blogger is making $500 per month on Google AdSense, then the minute they have to pay $500 to Verizon for their incoming traffic jams, they'll drop from the content supply like a hot potato.

If my theory proves out, then they'll be a dividing of the waters between casual and professional bloggers.  This will (unfortunately in my opinion) create a classic "haves and haves not" model.  Publishers who have passed, say the $500,000 in revenue threshhold will have fewer emerging bloggers to choose from as sources and there will be fewer, if any bloggers that have non-advertising supported sites and the models will be subscription, donation or ad-supported (as most are now).

The key dynamic shift will be in a clearing of the playing field.  Today, you might see the same article referenced with a blog introduction on HuffingtonPost, InfoWars, DailyPaul, BusinessInsider, ZeroHedge, MaxKeiser, etc.  I don't see that model continuing as I believe bloggers will become aligned in exclusive arrangements with publishers, where publishers (say BusinessInsider.com) will be the ones primarily responsible for picking up the bandwidth tab.

When you examine copyright law, digital rights management within a framework of the Creative Commons license and the writing of Duke University Professor James Boyle, you see the model that got us to where we are today.... "share and share alike" albeit loosely administered.  Going forward not only are written content and video content streams going to be important, but also photographs, illustrations and even cartoons will be crucial to maintaining readership.  You'll notice that sites such as ZeroHedge.com get around these digital rights issues by simply not offering graphics.  This approach may work fine for intellectual or scientific audiences (think of a medical journal), but for more mainstream audiences they need to engage more senses in their media than simply reading.  This too creates the need for content management strategies.

Crowdsourcing has been an amazing phenomenon and we'll still continue to get twitter streams from the person who happened to be the first one to stumble upon a bus wreck or tornado funnel cloud formation, but I don't see the average blogger being willing to trudge through the start-up phase of blogging when if they are successful the prize is a $500 per month add-on to your verizon or comcast bandwidth bill.

All that being said, I believe there is an opportunity for the providers of high value original content, (especially in the realm of business, economics, finance, etc.) to open up channels of communication to explore how syndicates might be formed for mutual benefit.  If nothing else, simply a social exchange of ideas on how "carpooling" not only creates a format for idea exchange, it also can cut the individual transportation costs by 75%.

Basically, what the author is saying is that those sites (even those high traffic sites) that don't have a plan for truly value-added content from the net neutrality rules implementation point looking forward will have simply garnered a large amount of traffic that will end up being a financial liability to support.  Many new media types can attest to the fact that the pure advertising business model is both thin and fickle. I would love to have my readers thoughts and comments on this topic.

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Last modified on Thursday, 06 January 2011 14:50

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