I been thinking of a new (as far as I know) model to look at Web content publishing/consumption lately, and I been liking it. Here goes:
There are 3 levels of content relationships in the Web:
1. Content Readers – many people (everyone who goes online, basically)
2. Content Creators – not so many people (No, not even in Web 2.0. Don’t believe the hype ;)).
This is the new one:
3. Content Participators – fewer than Readers, but a lot more than Creators.
[I’m not sure about “Participators” yet. If anyone has a better word I’d be interested to hear…]
Example #1: A blog post is written by a content Creator. It is read by content Readers, and some of them become content Participators when they post comments, contributing their own input to the page content. Not every comment has a positive effect, but often many do: new insights, relevant experiences, links to related sources, new data.
Example #2: A content Creator starts a Wikipedia article. Content Readers read it. Some of them become content Participators by adding/editing/removing text.
Example #3: The star-rating and user reviews on Amazon products pages, are added by content Participators to Amazon’s product info. Personally, for me these reviews often are the most important factor when deciding between several books on certain subject.
This is not new. It existed long before the Internet ever did. It is pretty demanding to create something from scratch, but less so to improvise on existing content. Few can write a tune, many can play and improvise on it. Writing an article for Time magazine is hard, sending a letter to editor with some opinions or corrections easier.
The point of considering this – personally I don’t much enjoy theory for its own sake – is that this is a good way to look at a Web app you are making and judge its interaction with users.
We usually think of easy access for content readers and good tools for content creators. But there is this big middle layer of people who don’t create but add content, many more than original content creators, and it may be useful to consider their needs and goals.
Content participation is often done casually – just a quick comment on a blog, or a minor edit to a Wikipedia entry, slighty modifying the total content to express your message. If they encounter any obstacles, for example requiring them to sign up to the site in order to comment, they are often likely to just give it up.
If, on the other hand, the site gives them a simple, quick way to add their contribution, they are usually more likely to return again to that item or article, to see what other participators (or the original creator) added. They develop some sense of having a stake in the content. And – if the site will offer an easy way – read new or related content.
Also, this gives them some feel of creating content, rather than just reading it. After a while some of them might enjoy it enough and feel confident to start creating their own content from scratch. When that happens, they are more likely to use the publishing platform that let them participate easily, being more familiar with it.
So how do you encourage content participants? Perhaps a multiple fields for each subject are better than one big empty text input area? How you encourage high quality content participation? Some stuff to think about.