Flow my tears, fall from your springs,
Exiled for ever let me mourn
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
— John Dowland (1563-1626)
I had an interesting conversation recently with an editor at a major publication. He had a problem. While readership was doing just fine, many of his best columnists were contributing less than ever.
It wasn’t, however, that the columnists had gone to another publication. Nor was it that they had given up on the whole writing thing. Matter of fact, he fretted, they were writing even more than ever.
So where were they? Blogs. Some of his best contributors had wandered off and begun blogging, which was chewing up a lot of their creativity and free time. What could he do about it, the fellow wondered?
My answer: Nothing. My guess was that these people had made the entirely rational decision that they wanted to build their own brand first, and blogs allowed them to do it. They could post what they wanted when they wanted, with no-one between them and their audience.
Saying “nothing” however didn’t mean that I was in favor of editorial nihilism. Far from it. Matter of fact, I took the opposite approach. My recommendation was to turn the process inside out, to recognize that all these contributors were more active than ever. The trouble was that their new content was somewhere other than the editor’s publication — which is a problem easily solved by RSS. Why not cut a deal, I suggested, where the former contributors could tag content as being ready for said publication, and then that publication could regularly do a syndication scan of all these sites, pulling back content cleanly into the host site.
Everyone wins. The financial publication has more content than ever, and contributors aren’t forced to cut their blog readers off from some of their best content. It is a flow model of RSS, one where you leave metaphorical milk bottles on the doorstep, color-coded for various publications to pick up. And the model extends beyond news, to pretty much any kind of contribution you can imagine, from code on outward. The key is the notion of multipoint distribution of creative work with RSS as the distribution mechanism.
Flow my RSS indeed.