Appear Transparent ro be Profitable, Don't BeTransparent

Are Microformats the Next Big Thing?

John Andrews has a great post about structured data & SEO. My take on the idea (for most businesses anyhow)?

It is an arbitrage play. If you are the first person in a space to do it really well and can parlay that into testimonial links and case studies that is great. But give it 5 years and the search engines will have sucked even more blood out of most businesses.

About marketing a while back I wrote that it is "packaging and the stuff that don't matter" because increasingly packaging is becoming one of the most important ways to create / build / add value.

Standards Based Structure Commoditizes Data

The more you structure your data in standard formats the more value you give away to the intermediary, which will display it all in their search results without giving you much value. Which will also make it easier for well funded competitors to steal your work - without attribution, of course. Rather than giving away tons of raw data it makes sense to put it in a format that is both branded and harder to copy without giving attribution - like an image with your logo on it.

People Steal

I recently saw a person try to promote a tool they made to me which was carrying an image that I made without giving attribution to me. That had a 0% chance of being successful without attribution. I saw another person push marketing one of our web scripts that he stole off of one of our site. Because of how we made the JavaScript accessible, we created more competition for ourselves. How much worse would that competition be if it was just raw verified data?

Where Radical Transparency Has Value

Some customers claim they want radical transparency, but being transparent rarely has any business value beyond

any sense of emotional connection and belonging it gives to potential customers

the ability to sell new wave garbage to the desperate and naive and clueless

As Seth put it

Radical transparency often excites people because of the radical part (it's new! it's scary!) than the transparent part. Playing poker with your cards face up on the table might get you some attention at first, but in the long run it's unlikely to help you win a lot of hands.

Given that, it is far more profitable to appear transparent than it is to actually be transparent.

Transparency as a Marketing Angle

Tim O'Reilly was excited to announce a new government transparency program that claimed "In making this data publicly available, we are providing unfettered access to investment performance to its true owners - the American people," but as I commented on his post

Nice claim in theory. And yet the Treasury and Federal Reserve didn't want to admit how they were spending our money AT ALL. They sat in congress with bogus "I don't recall" statements that would make Alberto Gonzales proud.

Transparency out front while brazen looting is occurring out back is sorta pointless. Its dishonest marketing.

Tim responded with "Applaud their efforts and help them, don't sit on the sidelines and complain. ... These guys aren't accepting the status quo. They are trying to change it." If you looked at the trillions of Dollars that were recently looted by the bankers you wouldn't notice any change, except for the fact that the US Dollar keeps losing value and is now worth change.

Are those bankers pushing for greater transparency? No. They are pushing in the opposite direction.

Once some of those career criminals in the banking system go to jail then I will start to applaud the government's efforts.

Creating Value vs Building a Business

As search engines continue to consume the web I think that trend of commoditization highlights the increasing importance of social networking & branding & building direct trust in the minds of prospective customers.

If the only way a person adds value is through creating perceived value then they are still miles ahead of the person creating tons of value and giving it all away.

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