Anselm Hannemann

Anselm is a freelance web developer located in Munich, Germany. Besides his work, Anselm loves to work on Open Source projects like the Front-End Framework INIT. He is a part of the RICG and is involved in the opendevicelab.com initiative. Anselm also organises a publishing conference called PUBKON. You can meet him at conferences and read his articles on Smashing Magazine or .netmag.

Anselm tweets @helloanselm.

Published Thoughts

The Value and Importance of Content

What does the internet consist of? Who provides its content? Who writes it? And why do bloggers write articles for free?

It all comes down to people loving what they do and wanting others to know about it. As a web developer, you have probably learned most of the techniques you are using from the internet, from people you respect for sharing their work and knowledge with you.

Now, we all know it is hard to find good resources online (technical articles, for example). This is where content providers jump in. There are numerous content providers and, as ridiculous as this may sound, everyone here profits from them.

Take the examples of Smashing Magazine and .net magazine, two of the biggest content providers in the web design industry. They collect articles from different authors, edit them and publish them in a single place, easily accessible to readers. This is undeniably a good thing: the authors get paid and can start to make a name for themselves. The readers profit from a collection of high-quality articles all in one place. The provider profits both from the authors’ content and financially, be it in the form of direct payment from readers or advertising revenue.

But there are some simple rules required for this to work. The system we just described, as the old saying goes, works fine until it breaks. Content providers are hosted third-party platforms. Authors have no direct influence on them and the content they have provided may well simply disappear at some point. When this happens, there are suddenly a lot of problems:

  • Readers can’t find the content anymore.
  • Authors are upset because their content has disappeared.
  • If the comments disappear, discussions on articles no longer make sense.
  • Articles spread around the internet. When they do, authors reference them in their own work. But now, all the links to the original article are broken and the newer articles lose their context or even their meaning.

These exact issues have often come up. It’s never ended well. I’ve often asked myself how to solve the problem. Unfortunately there is no simple answer. To start off, we are going to have to change our mindset a little bit and make content independent from these large-scale hosted third party platforms.

I sometimes wonder if I should just write articles on my own blog. The thing is, it’s much more enjoyable publishing on a platform with thousands of readers. So, for me at least, the issue is whether I want to spread a message to the masses, which is only doable via content providers, or whether I simply want to share it with a few friends and casual readers. The latter works fine on your own blog. Sadly, the other really doesn’t.

But there may be a solution that doesn’t involve losing most of your readership: Content providers usually want to secure all rights in return for publishing a writer's work. This means you as an author probably won’t be allowed to re-publish it elsewhere. If you are getting paid for your content this might be OK. If you’re not, though, it’s pretty disappointing, especially if your content is then removed from the provider's site and so becomes unavailable to anyone.

I’ve struggled to work out what a solution might look like, but one idea is this: authors publish their work on their own sites and content provider sites then just copy it from them and provide a link to the original. That way, if the content provider shuts down, the article is still reachable. It works the other way too: if the author shuts down their blog, the content provider would still have a cached copy. It is currently just a rough solution and there are problems that need to be solved but I really do believe this could form part of a solution to the issues we face right now.

But until someone solves them entirely, I can only encourage you all to always make backups of your articles and to try and avoid contracts where you lose permission to publish the content yourself. Happy writing, we need it!