by Nuno Simaria,
Chief Technologist at Slow Growth
04 Jan 2022
5 mins reading time
Ask Slow Growth is a periodic rumination on technology related trends. It offers opinionated answers to well-thought questions posed by our partners. The goal of this publication is not to state a definitive answer but to approach topics in an exploratory fashion, in order to provide material for reflection to our readers. You can your questions to: email@example.com.
Jessica Schultz, General Partner at Northzone asks: “Recently I’ve been giving some thought to the passion economy1 space. How do you think this new trend reconciles with big, centralized social media platforms?”
One doesn’t have to think back too far to recall the web syndication boom of 2005-06. In the aftermath of the blogosphere explosion, web syndication, a capability popularly delivered initially by the RSS protocol, emerged as a necessary solution for users to consume content without having to visit hundreds of individual websites.
The aggregating nature of RSS feeds was just what users needed. The protocol was adopted broadly by both producers and consumers of content. RSS reader apps may have even contributed a great deal to the success of early iPads.
But this growing success went on to become highly problematic. By reading content on aggregating apps instead of the original website, users were, unknowingly, denying content creators a big chunk of their deserved ad-based revenue, the only viable revenue source at the time. Adding insult to injury, reader apps would offer free versions of their aggregators with their own advertising, thereby generating their own revenue stream. Capture of value had shifted to the aggregator, in detriment of the authors.
The closing of Google Reader, the tech giant’s beloved feed aggregator, all but announced the death of web syndication. Social media platforms were also quick to drop RSS support, and so were newspapers and most major outlets. Aggregators quickly lost value to most users by being unable to provide first-tier content, and direct web traffic was mostly restored, although the blogosphere never got its spark back.
In some aspects, today’s internet feels similar to the one which predated feed aggregators. There’s a dizzying amount of content based social platforms to choose from. Spectators are still inspired to become creators, like they were with blogs and podcasts.
But in most aspects, it’s nothing like it. We have now developed extremely effective ways to generate value from great content. Platforms provide powerful APIs allowing for fully traceable content exchange. The barrier of entry for content creation is extremely low. If, in the past, being a blogger required non-trivial knowledge about HTTP and WordPress configuration, today, modern content creation apps are usable by virtually anyone.
It is now the creator, and not the consumer, who can benefit from an aggregating product of sorts. Something allowing them to create once and publish across multiple platforms and, unlike reader apps, preserve the workings of their respective business models.
And if we abstract the problem further, when do you go from being part of the audience to becoming one of the authors? At ten followers? A thousand followers? A million followers? We have all become content creators and we are all overloaded by the amount of platforms available, like we were by the blogosphere at the start of this century.
The passion economy is moved by small scale creators and audiences engaging with one another. A product that caters to it is a product that places the creators of content at the center, makes content publishing and engagement management as easy as possible, maximizes audiences and amplifies revenue.
Products catering directly to the passion economy, such as Patreon and OnlyFans, have become established platforms in their own right. The reason for their success being that they bring creators and audiences closer together. Audiences get to actively influence the work of the creators, whether by directly funding it or offering concepts for new content.
However, they do nothing towards helping creators maximize cross platform impact. In that regard, they just add to the number of platforms available and to the further fragmentation of the audience.
As for existing aggregator products, there are two distinct categories, depending on their purpose:
Fan out, where content is created once and then published across platforms, offering a centralized place to manage engagement and view consolidated metrics. The best example of this category is Hootsuite, who has been leading a crowded space of content publishing tooling for a while.
Fan in, a reviving trend, where content is aggregated from across platforms, potentially summarized, curated or filtered, and then served. Engagement with the original content is retained, surfacing some form of value add for the users. Apple’s new feature Shared with You aggregates content across apps to display at the right time.
A full solution for the passion economy means fully solving for creators and audiences, which means, in sum:
Also relevant: Davidson, Adam. The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century. Knopf, 2020. ↩