The Cost of Content

How much is information worth? Who can share content, and who can access it? These are million dollar questions—sometimes literally.

Last week, The Guardian published an article criticizing Facebook’s test of a new newsfeed system. In this system, a user’s newsfeed includes posts from their friends and from paid promotions. Organic content, which rises through popularity and relevance, is barely visible.

For small businesses, including small publishing houses and bloggers, this is worrying. Up until now, businesses knew they could grow their audiences by creating quality content. Now, they might have to pay for visibility, something many can’t afford to do.

Also last week, FigShare, an open data repository, released their annual report on the state of open source data. While Facebook considers making businesses pay to share content, the open access community—where information is free for both content creators and users—continues to grow. Since FigShare’s last report, more researchers are aware of open data sets, and more are making their own information freely available than ever before.

Facebook and FigShare couldn’t be more different, but they represent two sides of a conflict as old as Web 2.0, maybe even older.

On the one hand, some corners of the net are increasingly corporatized, monetized, and monopolistic. I won’t name any names, but I’m sure a few giants immediately spring to mind. Users might be able to access information for free here, but only because their own data has value. As one of my digital humanities professors once said, “If a site is free, your information is what’s for sale.”

On the other hand, the open source movement is pushing for broader access and greater legitimacy.