October 09, 2009

Why And Where We Share: Distributing Quality With Impact, Intent

Regardless of whether you first came in contact with my content here, or through other streams, you know that the vast majority of my online life has to do with the creation, filtering and distribution of information. In addition to authoring new stories here on the blog, I try to be an active and avid consumer of RSS feeds, and updates from social networks including FriendFeed, Ecademy, Socialmedian, Twitter and Facebook. In turn, I make a very serious attempt to redistribute the best content of all that I see back out to these same networks. Even if the volume of data I am taking in and pushing back out is high, it is certainly not random. Every time I hit a "share" button, or I hit "post", it is calculated. I thought it might be a good idea to discuss this a bit more.

First, some statistics.

20,000 Items Isn't That Many If Divided In Smaller Chunks

In the last 30 days, according to Google Reader, from the 703 subscriptions I follow, I read 20,090 items and shared 766 items. This means that on an average day, I am taking in 700 to 900 items (less on weekends) and sharing about 25 to 30 items.

This data, for the last 30 days, shows 3.8% of all items get shared, or just under 1 in every 25 posts. And while it may seem that 703 subscriptions is a lot, it is, in my opinion, a very healthy segment of the tech Web. If subscriptions that I follow go too long without relevant data worth sharing, I do remove them from my feeds, while also always being on the lookout for new sources. So you can consider my shares to be the top 4 percent of what I think is the top 20 percent of tech news, making the result greater still.

Second, the flow.

When I hit "share" in Google Reader, a few things happen.
  1. The item is added to my shared link blog.
  2. The item is available for comments within Google Reader for approved contacts.
  3. The items are shared on my FriendFeed, Facebook and Socialmedian.
  4. The items are sent to the @lgshareditems account on Twitter.
One button hits as many as five networks - so yes, there is impact. I am cognizant that if I share too many items overall, or share too many off-topic items, it will harm the quality of my downstream feeds, and people will either stop engaging or unsubscribe.

On Twitter, Brett Kelly Noticed A Bump in Engagement

But there's more to sharing than Google Reader, as you know. Sharing can also be done through comments and likes on FriendFeed, which bump a story back to the top of the feed, and expose it to other people. The greater your following, the greater the potential for downstream impact, meaning if you have an active account, then it's possible to look back on your activity and see others taking action on those items - much like the wake of a speedboat on a lake, as your zipping along leaves ripples behind. The retweeting phenomenon on Twitter has been well documented. Also, I share the bookmarks I make on Delicious to the same social networks - FriendFeed, Facebook and Twitter. One save hits four places. I wouldn't take so much effort to get the flow right if I didn't know that it had impact. One of the pleasing byproducts of being consistent and focused is that content creators say they get a traffic or visibility boost from my shares. My goal is to reward good writing, reporting and quality, and to also reward those who have opted into the streams, that they receive quality content.

Holden Page Saw His RSS Numbers Spike

So how do I decide?

1) I Share Items On Topics Relevant to the Downstream Audience

The first filter on whether a story gets shared is if it is on a topic I assume my readers would find interesting. Even if I may be interested in baseball, humor, politics or food entries, they don't get shared into the downstream feeds because the readers are looking for news on technology. Most specifically, coverage of new startups, Silicon Valley companies, social media and networking tools, RSS, business and statistics data.

2) I Share Originating Sources Where Possible, Not the Echo

If a company like Apple, Google, Digg, Facebook, or Twitter makes a new entry, it is no doubt going to be respun by dozens of downstream tech writers. If I see this happening, I will find the original unfiltered post and share that to bring their message directly.

3) I Share Items That Are the First to Report News Or Have A Unique Angle

In the tech blogosphere, it is not too uncommon for many different sites to talk about the same story - especially if it is about one of the most-popular companies. In the event of massive duplication, I try to share the first of the respected sites that gets the story right and done well. Because of this "echo chamber", I am extra focused on finding new stories from people who are going against the grain - covering new companies that don't usually get a lot of ink, or are thinking about the day's news in a different way. I also am happy to reward sites that get unique Q&As or interviews with tech leaders, or are the first to pull down data from the SEC around funding or M&A activity - passing on true journalism rather than opinion.

4) I Share Items That Targeted Quality Over Speed

It is easy to tell when a blog post was quickly slapped together to be first out the door, or just to hit a post quota (a common issue at multi-author sites that are ad-driven). As soon as I can ascertain that a post is on topic, has an interesting angle and has been thoroughly researched, it is a pleasure to send it downstream. This is even more true when a more obscure blog acts in a mature way and deserves to be highlighted.

5) I Avoid Sharing Items That Are Built for Controversy

As I have tried to do here, I aim to keep my downstream feeds argument and rhetoric free, wherever possible. If headlines and photos and angles on stories are overwrought for the sake of driving debate, controversy or nonsense, they are skipped. I do not want to reward bad behavior.

In Conclusion:

I talk a lot about sharing and data flow on this blog, because I recognize the new world of blogging goes beyond these pages. Today's best bloggers are participating in the downstream networks, both as content creators and as information filters. It takes effort to be in the first wave of filtering, to try and separate the wheat from the chaff, and drive quality to other networks, but it is very rewarding to know it provides value. Over time, I look forward to finding even better ways to filter, organize and display third party content that has passed through me first.

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