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Richness and Reach

Richness of information is the process by which transparency is exercised. It is delivered because of the Interent's reach.

The economics of information and the economics of physical things differ fundamentally from each other. When a tangible good, like a bottle of beer, is sold, the seller does not own it any more. When an idea, software or a research paper is sold, the seller still possesses it and could possibly sell it again and again.

Information can be replicated without any noteworthy cost and can be distributed over the Internet at a very low cost. Other than information, tangible goods are location-based and many times wear out.

In the traditional economics of things, products, are subject to a universal law – the trade-off between richness and reach.

Because information is embedded in products in a physical mode of delivery, companies can choose to have a very “rich” product or to have a lot of “reach”, i.e. have a wide audience either in terms of geographical reach or breadth of customer target groups. The meaning of “richness” can vary depending on the context; for example a scientific research publication or a highly sophisticated stereo offer rich in information. The scientific research paper has a very small audience in a given location while the sophisticated stereo will be very specific and expensive. Hence their “reach” is low.

Along comes the Internet. The more the bundle of tangible product and information becomes separate, the more obsolete becomes the trade-off between richness and reach. A good corporate Internet strategy will hence add both richness and reach to the existing business strategy at the same time.

In 1997 Philip Evans and Thomas Wuster (Blown to Bits 1997) articulated a view that the Internet disturbed what they called the Richness Reach trade off.

For digital products the trade-off between richness and reach does not exist. We can add as much richness as we want and still have global reach. A very “rich” business can be described as a very specific one. In fact, for new web site business on the Internet it is necessary to be very “rich”. For most this also means the site has to be specific i.e. to be very “niche”.

The more specific the theme or topic of a web site, the more targeted will be the visitors that come to the web site from search engines and social media references. On the one hand it will be easier to be on top of the search engines with very “rich” niche content, on the other hand – whatever the revenue model of the web site may be – the conversion rate will be higher as traffic will be targeted. Because “reach” is a given on the Internet and only subject to the limitation of language, we have to truly excel in “richness” in our online businesses.

Whereas in the pre Internet day it was only possible to interact with a bank through its local branch, today we conduct business online and direct with the computer at headquarters. Where once people browsed in a book in shop and discussed books with an assistant, today there is choice of millions of books all in one virtual store, recommendations of similar books and the opinions of readers to help decide what to buy. The online books store has both richness and reach but the shop can only be available to a nearby population.

Interestingly organisations like Amazon and eBay gain a lot of their richness not from content they provide but content offered freely and interactively by site visitors and customers. They have added richness because they incorporate social media. Recommendation's and other trust signals such as votes, star systems and histories of effective transactions are offered by the wider community and are delivered from a single central computer and not a chain of shops, stores and auction houses.

The Internet thereby offers a breadth and depth of richness which is available to more than a billion people worldwide.

In addition, the quality of richness and reach can be identified and evaluated in a wide variety of ways.

The richness of information will be monitored by communication experts using analysis of web sites, monitoring of Usenet, Blogs, tags about the organisation, its issues brands and people in online community portals from YouTube? to Digg and beyond.

In Public Relations there is need be involved in two areas of richness development. This first, needless to say is in the creation of rich content. Words, pictures, videos, diagrams, voice and music all add to richness available to the public and Internet technologies. This is largely the opposite of advertising which does not have much by way of 'richness' in order to gain reach throgh media like newspapers and billboards.

The second part is in the engagement of people who will add to richness in their own online communities. This is achieved in a number of ways. It may be in the creation of forums, discussion lists, blogs chat and or wiki's among the many channels that are available. In addition it can be in the development of online resources that make content transparently available using technologies like Search engine optimisation, RSS and tagging.

There are groups of people who are attracted to online content (richness). They can be people acting alone and groups that are involved in blogs or other social media. They are not market segments in the traditional sense. Individuals creating an online presence such as a blog are the nexus of social groups (visitors and active contributors to the blog or blog post) with common values; which is not to say they are representative of the group. Most such groups are very small with a number of people who contribute in a conversational way and through links between actors that spread the conversation to a wider audience. Often, this interaction is very small, often contact is one off or sporadic. The total numbers who are contributors or involved in spreading the words are small. The numbers of people who are aware, read or see this content might be of a ratio of one hundred to one according to Jakob Nielsen.

There is a phenomenon that has emerged which is the ability of social media to drive people towards value systems. Like bloggers, watch and comment on like bloggers. The value systems have considerable mutual appeal and it is a powerful means for achieving reach.

In many cases it is possible to monitor bloggers or social media groups that are at the nexus of information about niche products services, issues or events who have considerable influence on other bloggers or social media participants.

Reach is achieved in many ways. Of course there is the business of making web presence evident to people seeking information. Techniques like hyperlink exchange, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Affiliate programmes and online and offline advertising are common in practice.

In addition there is the engagement of the online community which brings people close to the organisation by way of visiting the organisation's web site, premises or commercial and other product, brand and information partners. Reach is often developed by being part of existing or developing conversations among the many communities that develop online.

Richness and reach are important elements in developing corporate transparency.

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