Content: Original or Reused?

by Alison Lueders

One of the bits of advice you often hear is, “offer original content” if you want to draw people to your website. Offer something that they can’t find elsewhere.

This makes sense, but recently my work has included content aggregation – scanning broadly on a subject and filtering down to just a few key bits of information for dissemination – and content condensation – as in, summarizing a 250+ page book into a 10 page summary for a small group. Neither of these resulted in original content, but the value for the respective audiences was substantial.

For as long as I have been in business, people have complained of “information overload”. And it IS a huge challenge. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt noted last year that we now create 5 exabytes of information every 2 days. An exabyte is a 1 with 18 zeroes after it – an incomprehensibly large number. We read about “big data analytics” and “cloud computing” as tools to help manage all this, and I hope they do.

Yet even as our tools get better, there is still value in a human filtering through a subset of information to identify the best, most relevant material for a given client or readership. Tools can’t recognize, serendipitously, when things that might appear to be unrelated could, in fact, be or become related. That’s where creativity, imagination and experience come into play. And that kind of leap is something still beyond the reach of the content aggregation tools that I have seen.

The value of content condensation is more straightforward. It saves time for the reader while still imparting a substantial chunk of the intelligence contained in a full-length book. Something is always lost with condensation, but it can be useful in jump-starting a conversation in class or spurring questions. Time is the resource people lack most, so content condensation, while not sexy, can be quite valuable.

So while I do add original content to the 5-exabytes-every-2-days mountain, I also scan what’s out there and bring the best to the attention of my time-starved customers. They might otherwise miss both relevant and thought-provoking information that can help grow their businesses, or take them in new directions.

As a web editor, what portion of your time do you spend managing original content versus content from secondary sources? Which do your readers value most?

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2 thoughts on “Content: Original or Reused?

  1. Good article, Alison. I have done all these content options, and for Web Editors blog I do original and a version of condensed. The original draws from my own experience and expertise, the condensed draws from the talents of the outside world but may also benefit our readers. I think both are valuable to subscribers when presented well. Some authors see aggregate and condensed presentations as plagiarism of their material, so what I do is only summarize the main points of an article and then link to the original. That way our readers have the benefit of a synopsis but access to the full article, and the original author doesn’t lose potential readers.

    Another thing to keep in mind with condensed articles is the Google Panda effect, which is filtering your website for “low substance” or repeat material. If Google gets the idea you’re just repeating material and not posting original articles, it will penalize you. While you may view offering shorter versions of articles as a service to your readers, Google doesn’t.

    • Hi Alan – thanks for explaining how the Panda algorithm interprets things. I always include a link to the original article, but this certainly tips the scales towards “original”, in my mind.

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