Online Information Economics

The technology and popular culture criticism blog Boing Boing had a recent post on search rankings. It mentions that five years ago, a bet was made that blogs would rank higher than the New York Times website. This indeed came true, largely because the New York Times chose to restrict their content through a signup and paid subscriptions rather than to make the information free. Now, the New York Times has changed their methods and made their site open, but they’ve already lost out on the advertising revenue and on the reputation value for being a free information source.
In an online environment, information that can be most accessed is most valuable, so free information has more value by being freely available and then mashed/added to another system that generates revenue. Making money from free information does mean learning new ways to work and new ways to use information, and that’s been a difficult change for many companies. Hopefully, more corporations will soon see that information should be free and that new, emerging markets which make information more usable, entertaining, or comprehensible can be marketed at a higher rate.
The new online economics could also make for greater recognition of usability, which could enhance information vendors and sources and then reverberate into other areas. Ideally, small changes like this could build into a cultural recognition of the value of giving-things-for-free in terms of the return of reputation and community. Gift economies do seem to have a system where things are given for free, but that concept of “free” still results in a return on investment (ROI) and that’s what companies should soon be leveraging in their online information ventures.