ReadWriteWeb

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Several pieces worth noting.

From back in February, The Smarter You Are, the Less You Click, in ReadWriteWeb. It begins,

If the latest numbers from online ad network Chitika are anything to go by, then we may well be on our way to the world of Idiocracy. According to the study, which compared click through rates to college education, the less educated your audience, the more likely they are to click through on an advertisement.

While this may be good news for some, it certainly seems to spell doom for supporting intelligent content through advertising.

From almost ten years back, Andrew Odlyzko’s Content is not king. Way ahead of its time, even if current winds continue to blow against his vectors. Andrew concludes,

General connectivity is likely to lead to demands for symmetrical links on the Internet. Hence fiber to the home may be needed sooner than is generally expected.

Whether content is king or not has direct relevance for the question of whether the Internet will continue to be an open network, or whether it will be balkanized. If content were to dominate, then the Internet would be primarily a broadcast network. With value proportional to the number of users, there would be few inherent advantages to an open network. The sum of the values of several completely or partially separate networks would be the same as of a unified network. On the other hand, if point-to-point communications were to dominate, and if Metcalfe’s Law were to hold, there would be strong economic incentives to a unified network without barriers. This is considered more fully in Section 4 of [Odlyzko3]. The general conclusion there is that even though Metcalfe’s Law is not fully valid, the incentives to maintain an open network are likely to be very strong. This will be largely because content is not king, and effective point-to-point communication will demand easy interconnection.

An extreme form of the “content is king” position, but one that is shared by many people, and not just in the content industry, was expressed recently by the head of a major music producer and distributor:

“What would the Internet be without “content?” It would be a valueless collection of silent machines with gray screens. It would be the electronic equivalent of a marine desert – lovely elements, nice colors, no life. It would be nothing.” [Bronfman]The author of this claim is facing the possible collapse of his business model. Therefore it is natural for him to believe this claim, and to demand (in the rest of the speech [Bronfman]) that the Internet be designed to allow content producers to continue their current mode of operation. However, while one can admire the poetic language of this claim, all the evidence of this paper shows the claim itself is wrong. Content has never been king, it is not king now, and is unlikely to ever be king. The Internet has done quite well without content, and can continue to flourish without it. Content will have a place on the Internet, possibly a substantial place. However, its place will likely be subordinate to that of business and personal communication.

From GBN: The Evolving Internet: Driving Forces, Uncertainties and Scenarios to 2025. Specifically,

One scenario describes a familiar roadmap in which the Internet continues on its trajectory of unbridled expansion and product and service innovation. The other three challenge that future, and in the process illuminate various risks and opportunities that lie ahead for both business leaders and policy makers. These scenarios are:

Fluid Frontiers: The Internet is pervasive and technology makes connectivity and devices more and more affordable.

Insecure Growth: Users—individuals and business alike—are scared away from intensive reliance on the Internet as cyber-attacks and security lapses proliferate.

Short of the Promise: Prolonged economic stagnation and protectionism slow the Internet’s spread and potential.

Bursting at the Seams: The ubiquitous Internet is a true success story…until capacity bottlenecks create a gap between big expectations and a more modest reality of Internet use.

I had more on this list, but somehow the post got truncated, and I’m too busy now to find Humpty’s parts. So this will have to do.

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Lots of trackbacks (or pingbacks) are spam, and I don’t approve them for the comments section. But some pass the first sniff test, and some are interesting enough to warrant a reply. That’s what happened with the post “To be (a brand) or not to be (a brand)”, at a blog called Daily Breaking News Update. I’m not linking to either, because I think I fell here for a splog (a neologism I like, coined by Mark Cuban, for a spam blog).

What got me interested in the piece, naturally, was this paragraph…

It may be that some of the fallout from the Tiger Woods scandal has made the idea of personal branding seem trickier – people are people, after all, not objects and not cattle. As Doc Searls has argued in two recent blog posts, brands are “boring” at best and “bull” at worst.

The post ended, provocatively enough, this way:

Undoubtedly, building trust is fundamental to business success. Maintaining reputation is crucial, whether or not you want your name to be synonymous with a product, a service or a company.

What are your thoughts on personal branding? Has it become impossible? Or has it become ubiquitous?

So I took the bait and posted an answer in the comments section. Here it is:

I think the Tiger Woods experience demonstrates the risks of hiring a celebrity to personify a company’s brand. Besides Nike with Michael Jordan, I can’t think of a single case where this kind of personification has worked in the long run. Maybe some other readers can; but I’m not sure it makes much difference. Nike will stand or fall on the quality of its products, not on the qualities of its celebrity representatives.

As for personal branding, I still think it’s an oxymoron. Branding is a corporate practice, not a personal one. Build a reputation by doing good work. Put that work where others can judge its value. Contribute to the success of others, and credit others generously for their contributions to your success. Never promote for its own sake. I think it’s a mistake to categorize these practices as forms of “branding,” because they are expressions of humanity and integrity.

Branding works for companies and products in part because those things are not people. Buildings and offices and ballparks and shoes may have human qualities, but are not themselves human. Likewise humans may be industrious or durable or attractive in the manner of good companies, but that doesn’t make them corporate.

You and I are not brands. Our parents did not raise us to be brands. Nor would we want our children to be brands, any more than we want them to be logos.

“Personal branding” is a nice gloss on playing for celebrity. And celebrity is a Faustian bargain. Ask any veteran celebrity and they’ll tell you that. They live in fishbowls and yet, for all their familiarity, are not well understood as three-dimensional human beings. The healthy ones deal with it gracefully. The unhealthy ones use their celebrity as a façade (as with Tiger Woods), as a pass to a virtual Las Vegas where everybody keeps indiscretions secret (as with Tiger Woods), or as an ideal they can never really match (and hence seek surgical alignment, as with too many to count).

Many of us assume without question that celebrity also equates with income. It doesn’t. There is a degree of correlation, but in the long run we get hired for the useful goods we bring to the market’s table. Not because we have a “personal brand.”

Building trust and maintaining a reputation matter. Calling both “branding” is a categorical error.

Then I took a closer look at the blog and realized that it had no apparent author, and the about page was WordPress boilerplate. So I looked up the headline on Google, and got a fog of identical results.

The original appears to be this one, at ReadWrite Start. The byline is Audrey Watters, and that’s the post that most (or perhaps all — I didn’t go down the whole list) of the many citing tweets point to.

But there are all these other re-posts as well (listed in order of Google’s first page of search results):

All were from ReadWriteWeb feeds, obviously. I suppose these might be good for ReadWriteWeb (which deserves the respect it gets), but they also have the effect of deliberately false radar images. They are also part of the Google AdSense ecosystem, within which publications of all sizes try to game the system by re-posting attractive postings that will bait traffic and inbound linkage, goosing up the site’s PageRank to the point where ad placements appear, click-throughs happen, and money comes in.

An interesting thing about all these re-postings is that Audrey Watters‘ byline does not appear in them. So we have the interesting irony of a post about personal branding re-appearing all over the place with the writer’s name stripped out.

Obviously some dysfunctional things are happening here. And I doubt any more talk about “branding” will help, beyond accounting for some of the motives involved.

Bonus link.

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