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Joshua Young: 2012 will be the year we focus, again, on the writer

“Focus on the user and all else will follow”? There’s more to it than that.

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Here’s Josh Young, who currently handles the contributor network at the real-time media company Sulia, and who formerly headed social news at The Huffington Post.

The first of Google’s ten core principles has framed the way we think about the content on the Internet:

Focus on the user and all else will follow.

Of course, that user is really what technologists and economists both call the “end user.” When it comes to content, that means the reader. This principle presumes that users have information needs and that the information to satisfy those needs already exists. The task is culling, discovering, finding.

This is essentially the idea that content just happens. Search is the easy example, but you can see it in curation, too. The answers are all there — disguised by the blooming, buzzing confusion of even more information — and we just need a better filter.

Almost all content platforms are informed by this principle, as well — at least as a matter of positioning. WordPress has no agenda. Tumblr doesn’t care what you write. Pinterest doesn’t have a say in what boards you pin together. Quora doesn’t care what you ask or answer. Nor does YouTube care what you upload. Soundcloud doesn’t care what you create. Read It Later doesn’t care what you read later any more than Twitter cares what you Tweet. The list goes on and on.

The formula for today’s most successful content platforms is to give a bunch of writers each a soapbox and then to give vastly more readers some tools to find the soapbox best for them. In any two-sided market, after all, an economist might tell you to subsidize the side that’s more price-sensitive and to charge the side that has more to gain from network effects. Blah blah blah.

Of course, audiences will never just happen. Likewise, “Focus on the writer and all else will follow” doesn’t seem like a promising economic model.

But I am not an economist, and I think 2012 will be the year in which we realize that Google’s first core principle misses something important. We will recognize all over again the value in catering to the writer — or, rather, the best writers. We will thus also invest in giving them tools to reach the right readers. Maybe readers aren’t so price-sensitive, and maybe they stand very much to gain from network effects. 2012 will show us.

Image by Steven Depolo used under a Creative Commons license.

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Joseph Lichterman    Aug. 26, 2014
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  • Cytosavant

    Pay attention to your reader’s interests, needs, and concerns and you will learn something. 

    Good writers are a dime a dozen. While paying readers are worth their weight in gold. 

  • Mark Zorro

    I think we focus so much on the end user or the artisan that we forget the triumph of the sales person.  Preachers who find some TV evangelists not practicing the spirit of the faith, don’t focus on sales people who have sold religion.  Academicians who find some management guru’s not up to snuff, don’t focus on sales people who have sold academia.  

    Technologists who resent suits can’t see sales people who have positioned technology and now journalists who preface the word journalism with any prefix that speaks to economics of their profession, don’t see the sales people who have conquered journalism.  

    That last point is something I would have expected journalists to have seen, that the space left vacated by journalists online was taken by those who saw opportunity knock.  Instead of journalists becoming core brands in virtual thoughtspaces, brands were built by sales people that now employ journalists.  

    When preachers miss the boat, when academicians miss the boat, when technologists miss the boat and journalists miss the boat, why do each of these groups think that change is some mysterious thing, when they let change happen to them, because they missed the influence and effectiveness of sales people.

    Sales people (and I mean great sales people) position the mind and surely the mind has been positioned.  In all categories it isn’t the best that necessarily won.  For the belief in the purity of one’s religion, education, technology and journalism, there is a mass out there who care not one bit about the outliers in any of these practices.  

    It is sales people who see this mass and then convert this mass and then all manners of thought are used to explain a rather straight forward phenomena, the sales people won, the rest merely woke up at the moment they did.  

    The best part of this victory or triumph of the sales person is that even my mind is so positioned that I can see language come out of my mouth, which is the very language sold to me.  It is a language that makes a pyramid while beating drums about hierarchy and et al.

    The consequence of sales people dominating our cultural fabric is fear.  Wherever fear is present in droves, something or another has been sold.  The triumph of sales people and how they shaped language, influence and following is a sight to behold, it is a sight that one can learn from.  It is a simple form of learning that most of us, especially myself, still struggle with, you make money when you sell.

    The mass is a sellable entity, there is something quite cute about that – especially if we observe how we consume, even when our best intent is to change for substantial reasons, rather than change for superficial reasons. 

    Change is the constant, so the direction of it, can and is sold.  Even economists whose language and intellect out does philosophers, can become fodder for the mass market.  Now I have thought all this, the major thought revolving in my head isn’t about substantive change, but the superficial one, “I wish I could sell ….”.

    “mark zorro”@thoughtspaces:twitter

  • Jan Seurinck

    I think Google saw this one coming:

  • Anonymous

    Check out Cyto’s comment below. Is he trying to pick a fight? Just plain ignorant? Anyway, everyone’s entitled to their 2 cents and since I’m just one writer among a dozen who are worth 10-cents, I don’t even get to add my 2 cents. Might be interesting to see the guy’s site. My guess is it’s poorly written.

  • Puranjay

    Joshua, I’m enrolled in a master’s program in English, and I’m a little sick and tired of rude jokes by engineering grads about my choice of major, that I essentially picked the “dead” profession of ‘writer’.

    I hope, nay, I even pray that your predictions come true. Not because I fear redundancy, but because I fear desecration of the written word.