The Transformative Power of Links
What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis. HarperBusiness, 2009.
When Jarvis writes in an early chapter of WWGD, “the link changes every business and institution,” it may sound a bit portentous. But he has it exactly right.
The first time I encountered a hyperlinked Web page, back in the early 1990’s, I thought it was just a lame version of Gopher–a now largely forgotten way of finding various documents around the Internet. What I didn’t get at first was that the innovation was not in the links themselves, but the enormously powerful relationship of those links to the document in which they are embedded. The link, the ability to take readers directly to other sources of information, has revolutionized publishing and journalism. No longer is a document by necessity a hermetically sealed, constraining vessel. And no longer do you need to provide all the background details and related information yourself. Links are liberating for journalists and publishers alike.
Unfortunately, too few people in B2B seem to realize this yet in their practice. The desire to control the reader’s experience, to keep them on our site, has kept us from fully exploiting the power of links. Hence Jarvis’s admonition to “do what you do best and link to the rest.” If a publication is to stand out, he says, “it needs to create stories with unique value.” To do that, it must concentrate its resources where they matter most, and “send readers to others for the rest.”
As Jarvis sees it, one inevitable consequence of links is specialization. Mass media must give way to niche media. Pre-Internet, with a captive audience, you could realistically aim to be everything for everyone. Now, though, publishers will have to focus on a few areas they cover extremely well, and leave the rest to others.
Here, we in B2B have a leg up. Coming from a background in mass-media, consumer journalism, Jarvis sees this as a wrenching transition for journalists and publishers. But for B2B people, most of whom thrive on the niche, the change will seem perfectly natural. This doesn’t mean, though, that the transition is complete. If your niche in print has been covering an entire industry, for instance, maybe in the future you will only cover regulation or manufacturing. Just because you’re already in a niche doesn’t mean your niche shouldn’t and won’t get smaller.
The process of media fragmentation also means that brands become commoditized, Jarvis says. People find everything through Google, enter our sites through back doors, and don’t remember where they found things. Jarvis suggests four strategies for dealing with this situation:
- Play to Google and take its money
- Join networks of niche web sites
- Get people to link to you because you’re so good
- Develop a deep relationship with your constituents so they come back to you directly.
Jarvis’s final words on this subject sum it up nicely: “Serve the niche well rather than the mass badly.”
Next: Part 3, How the Shift to Process Journalism Affects Ethics