Twitter as paperboy: The role of distribution in online publishing

Jason Preston, VP of strategy for Parnassus Group and instigator at several Seattle online publishing startups, posted some interesting observations today about the need for distribution in online publishing.

A blog platform like WordPress, or a proprietary website, is a tool for publishing; Twitter is a tool for distribution. Using Twitter for distribution takes the published message a lot further.

This is a useful paradigm, but its limits got me thinking about the powerful role of subscription in the online world. You can subscribe to have Twitter deliver information from a blog just as you once had a paperboy deliver The Seattle Post-Intelligencer — but now you can also go directly to the publisher (blog) and subscribe by email (or newsreader), eliminating the middleman.

Whether I notice something as the teaser for it scrolls by me in the Twitter stream is pretty haphazard. However, when a post from a blog I’ve subscribed to via email appears in my inbox, I’m likely to read much of it.

Increasingly, I’m subscribing directly to the publisher and bypassing Twitter altogether.

I’ve noticed that groups like XYDO and paper.li have figured out the value of email subscriptions and allow you to subscribe to read a newsletter that displays teasers to your online friends’ favorite links. The XYDO and paper.li algorithms don’t always get it right, but, even so, I’m finding myself paying a lot more attention to the content in those emails than to tweets.

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