The Very Real Possibility of Headless Web-Media Brands

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

By Published on .

With Halloween upon us, I thought I would partake in the festivities by channeling Washington Irving. This is a scary, yet realistic, story called "The Tale of the Headless Media Company."

Once upon a time, we would browse from site to site, visiting each online media palace one at a time. But suddenly, the supply of information outstripped demand. The "destination web" died, and in ushered an age of "media brand agnosticism."

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
No longer could media brands hope that if they build it, we will come. The next great media company will need to be all spokes and no hub. Yes, I am saying that media companies can exist without having their own website, or head.

Case in point: Lately I've noticed many of the people, blogs, news services and more that I want to track can be found right inside Facebook. I've even filed them under a friend list called "feeds." This is convenient since their updates are integrated into my stream right beside the people that I follow -- friends, family, coworkers, etc.

Such a model has tremendous potential. Media can exist as a constellation of connected apps and widgets that live inside other sites and offer a full experience, plus access to your social graph and robust community features. Media companies can interconnect each of these outposts too, so that your community on Facebook can talk to the same on Twitter.

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Facebook might be the first venue where this starts, becoming a mini news-reader for millions who don't care about RSS feeds or Twitter. Over time, this may obviate the need to create large news sites. It's easier to create a rich interactive experience there than start a new news site and hope that people come to you. They won't have time to find or visit you.

In some ways, it looks like a return to the old days of AOL, when media companies rushed to develop a presence on other third-party platforms. Ultimately the web won out, but eyeballs are aggregating on social networks and the connection exists for them to talk to each other.

In fact, it's possible for a headless media company to not just exist, but thrive. That said, it will be very difficult for existing media companies to make such a move -- it's scary indeed.

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