I used to be fond of saying that the best advice for content-centric businesses on the web was a simple commandment:
Above all, be interesting – everything else will follow from that
Being interesting is still necessary, of course – if you’re trying to create a content-centric business and your content isn’t interesting, you’re in big trouble.
In the era of the Assembled Web, where consumers expect to find content, community, and commerce pervasively and persistently throughout their online experience, is it enough to just be interesting?
I think we’ve got to set our sights higher than just being interesting, and aim to be useful. The new commandment might be something more like:
Above all, be useful. Provide value – what your audiences understand as utility on their terms – and everything else will follow from that.
This applies to companies which are only now realizing they are media companies as well as formerly-only-media-companies who are now realizing they need to be more. Put differently, if every company is a media company, that those businesses which were already media companies also need to think about what other utility they provide above and beyond the experience of interesting content.
Two quick examples, from the world of iPhone applications. (The same tenet – above all, be useful – would apply equally well to Facebook applications, iGoogle widgets, and plain old web applications).
Whole Foods’ recipes application not only uses the phone’s location to do traditional store locating, it also allows you to search recipes based on what ingredients you’ve got at hand.
Sit or Squat (sponsored by Charmin) also takes advantage of location to help you locate the nearest public restroom, but adds community in the form of user ratings and comments. If you’ve ever been traveling in another city and in search of a clean bathroom (maybe even one with a changing table) you can imagine how useful such an app can be.
Both applications also, of course, provide a branded presence on the users phone to their sponsoring companies – but that’s secondary to the primary utility they provide.
As you evaluate web strategies and offerings, what role does utility play? What difference would it make for content-centric businesses to shift focus from “create compelling content” to “be useful”?