Studying the link economy

I talk a great deal (too much, some would say) about the link economy as the essential architecture of media on the net. Now we are launching an ambitious research project at CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism to bring facts and modeling to the discussion. The goals:

• to learn how to optimize the value of links—on both sides of a click;
• to explore a framework to enable content- and audience-creators to negotiate a mutually advantageous exchange of value—that is, a content marketplace appropriate for the net;
• to investigate alternative methods of content distribution and value exchange—asking whether it’s best for readers to come to content or whether there are alternative ways for content to travel to readers; and
• to investigate the link’s impact on the economics of the larger news ecosystem—e.g., how it can make news more efficient (this is where I say, “Do what you do best and link to the rest”).

To begin the discussion and the research, here is my treatise on the link economy. We’ll take this to media companies, aggregators, and others asking for data on their links and we’ll then use this to recruit researchers to analyze that data, test assumptions, and make recommendations.

The hypothesis

There are two creations of value in media online: the creation of content and the creation of a public—an audience*—for that content. Online, content with no links to it has no value because it has no audience. It gains value as it gains links. Thus something of worth is created on each side of a click.

That’s the start of the treatise; the entire text is below.

The treatise continues to list questions about each side of the click, from the perspective of the link creator and the link recipient. Then it looks at an alternative view: rather than making readers travel to content via links, content (with branding, ads and revenue, analytics, and links attached) travels to readers. That leads to much larger questions about where the value in media really resides today: in the content or in the relationships and information about them that media create.

I’m eager to get your feedback and ideas about how to pursue this. If you have data about how various kinds of links perform, we’ll be eager to work together. If you are an analyst researcher who can help, please step forward. I’ll continue to keep you informed on this work……

Link Economy Treatise