After three decades digital content comes full circle
In my career as a journalist and content specialist I have seen the world digital content take some interesting twists and turns and ultimately come full circle.
In the exuberant dot-com bubble of the early nineties, the old Internet service providers became the new content platforms. Traditionally trained journalists like myself and many of my peers jumped ship from press and radio. We were lured by the freshness and immediacy of dot-com and the glossy lifestyle and entertainment content channels, which became the first port of call for home subscribers with their shiny new PCs. During this hedonistic online heyday, dot-com business models were based on heavy investments in speculative markets, which inevitably lost their grounding and ran out of steam – the bubble burst. With every boom comes a crash. The office parties slowed down and so did content production and we were all left wondering what really works online.
Then came the frenzy of ‘everything interactive’. The theory was that content – in order to be valuable – had to make the user actually do something other than read to keep them online for longer. Everything had to be ‘sticky’. Online production budgets were spent on developing gadgetry. Quizzes, polls, timelines, games and animations kept design agencies busy in the hope that their hands-on content would go viral. Lengthy online journalistic features were sadly deemed indulgent and uneconomical and ditched in favour of Flash-driven and ‘dynamic content’. Web content was getting shorter.
In the early 2000s users were also finding their own voice online. Chatrooms, forums and message boards gained an opinion and momentum. Big providers like AOL and Yahoo thrived on the threads of communities. Users realised that they liked to share their own words, whether it be advice, experiences or simply their dirty laundry. These days it’s the niche internet communities that are invincible. Gaia Online the social gaming and anime website remains one of the world’s top forums with over 1.6 million unique views a month, while Netmums in the UK boasts a healthy eight million monthly uniques.
Then user-generated content got bolder. Word Press, Tumblr and Blogger and a whole host of publishing platforms made digital content generation available to all and short, snappy posts became longer ramblings. Blogging is an art form that has held its own as an engaging form of digital content. Just look at the power of The Huffington Post and Mashable and the rise to fame of individual columnists like Perez Hilton and The Daily Dish, to name a few.
But it was the mid-noughties that the face of digital content was really redefined with the advent of Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006). Content found its feet again with these great receptacles for sharing, posting and liking and has since been joined by Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and more. Digital content became all about real people connecting with real people. Businesses have also realised they can find their own highly responsive audience by divulging marketing materials – video, white papers, blogs, on-message features and photos. Users can make or break a product and content marketeers have their work cut out trying to please them.
Technology has certainly moved on from the user in the mid-nineties who was scrabbling around for a dial-up network internet connection, to savvy users who are constantly connected to their life support machine, or smartphone. Content has made its comeback and digital content providers have a captive audience once more.