Summary:

In order to benefit from digital media and the disruption created by the social web, content companies and publishers have to think differently about what they do: it’s not content, it’s information, John Borthwick of Betaworks told attendees at paidContent 2012.

Om Malik interviews John Borthwick, founder and CEO, Betaworks.

In order to benefit from digital media and the disruption created by the social web, content companies and publishers have to think differently about what they do, John Borthwick of Betaworks told attendees at paidContent 2012 in New York on Wednesday — and one way to do that is to stop thinking about what they produce as “content,” and start thinking about it as “information.” The problem with the word content is that it tends to focus attention on the package or the container for that content, Borthwick said, and the package part of the media business is the aspect that is being disrupted the most.

Thinking of what they produce as information rather than content to be packaged, the Betaworks CEO said, puts the focus on the value of that information to users, and the package or delivery system — whether it’s a magazine or a newspaper or a mobile app — becomes secondary. Only that way can media companies figure out what and how their users want, he said.

The language drives the way you think about things, and since we’re dealing with a new media landscape, we need to redefine some of the words. For me, the moment you start thinking about it as information, you start to think less about the package and more about the users.

That need to understand what users want was the driving force behind two of the first services that Betaworks created, Borthwick said: Bit.ly started as a simple URL-shortener for social networks such as Twitter, but has become a tool that provides data about what links are shared and which ones are clicked on, and Chartbeat shows editors and writers what articles are getting the most engagement, but in real time rather than hours or days after they have been published. Chartbeat, he said, has become “like a Bloomberg terminal for editors.”

We wanted to understand the data and the “data exhaust” around publishing… to understand the tight loop between commenting, discovery and publishing, and the data helps inform that, but in real time Transforming publishing into real-time changes the nature of what you’re doing.

In order to appreciate that shift, content and media companies not only need to change the tools they are using, Borthwick said, but they have to fundamentally alter the way they think about the “content” business and what value they are ultimately adding for users.

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