The evolution of digital content distribution

From curation (portal), search, subscription, social to recommendation, let's find out how content is being distributed from past to present.

I was reading the Attention Factory book that talks about the story of China's ByteDance and TikTok, there's an interesting take by the author on the evolution of digital content distribution.

It is about how digital content distribution has evolved from the curation (portal) since 1991, search since 1995, subscription since 1999, social since 2003 to the recommendation since 2011.

At the backdrop of this evolution, we are also witnessing the much talked about transition from Web 1.0 (one-way broadcast) to Web 2.0 (user-generated content). 

God knows whether we are now at Web 3.0, or simply Web3 a.k.a. metaverse?

Coming back to the topic, it is important for media practitioners (media owners, agencies, bloggers, or content creators) to understand the history, and digest what's happening now.

The evolution of digital content distribution

Curation (since 1991)

Main player: Yahoo

Web portals like Yahoo, AOL are the flagship products of Web 1.0 (one-way broadcast), when the Internet was just starting to be accessible by users around the world.

The portals act as the gateway of the Internet, they wanted their site to be the first page you fire when you open your browser - to find information and navigate from there.

Just like the prints (newspapers and magazines), the information is organized and published by humans - the editorial team behind the web portals. 

Search (since 1995)

Main player: Google

When the Internet is growing with more and more information, it is no longer feasible for humans to manually index and organize the content.

This coincides with Web 2.0, starting with the blog era when anyone can set up their blogs and start publishing content online. This was when the information explosion happened.

Yahoo and Altavista were the first movers in search, but Google with much better indexing and search algorithms - changed how people search and consume information ever since.

Subscription (since 1999)

Main mechanism: Email, RSS

Email was initially used for work communications, then used by marketers to communicate with their subscribers, members, and customers who subscribe to their newsletters.

RSS provides a similar mechanism for you to subscribe to multiple news sources instead of visiting the site one by one - it's mainly used by the media practitioners though.

With RSS has never really become mainstream and the mailbox is becoming cluttered, subscription hasn't really been adopted by the mass audience.

Social (since 2003)

Main player: Facebook

The rule of digital content distribution has been totally rewritten by the emergence of social media - when information is highly decentralized.

Anyone (brands, publishers, individuals) can easily create or distribute content on social media, information is personalized too as everyone gets their own news feed.

Besides news feed on Facebook or Twitter, digital content can also be distributed via instant messaging apps like Telegram, or sites like Reddit based on upvoting mechanism.

Recommendation (since 2011)

Main player: TikTok

When the information is becoming overloaded, content needs to be personalized and delivered to the users based on their interests - without the need of hitting the subscribe or follow button.

While tech giants are working on improving their algorithms, TikTok has championed its recommendation engine (used by Toutiao earlier) to make content discovery effortless.

With its Discover and Google News app, Google too has been working on its own recommendation engine after shutting down its RSS-based Google Reader almost 10 years ago.



Silver Mouse: The evolution of digital content distribution
The evolution of digital content distribution
From curation (portal), search, subscription, social to recommendation, let's find out how content is being distributed from past to present.
Silver Mouse
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