Ah, the Holy Grail of content strategy: content as a commodity. For years, those of us in digital strategy have known that content is both king and a commodity. But it’s been difficult to get others to see our point of view. However, two new interesting social sites make content feel like a commodity by the very nature of the way they present said content.

About Pinterest

Pinterest, the newest form of social media craze sweeping the early adopters’ nation, is starting to achieve critical mass. Helped along by Facebook, fairy godmother or evil stepmother, depending on your attitude, Pinterest is growing at an exponential rate. Launched in March 2010, Pinterest passed 10 million monthly visitors in January, according to ComScore.

Pinterest is an image-centric website designed to allow users to swap content, like collectors trade baseball cards or stickers. Large beautiful images are on display, and users can “pin” those images they like to different boards. You can also pin content you see from almost everywhere else on the Web, including whitepapers, blog posts and videos. Users can follow each other or just boards they like. They can also find other users they might want to follow based solely on common interests.

Can I Hold it in My Hand or Pin it to My Board?

What’s so fascinating about this development is that for the first time in the social web, content actually feels like a commodity. Let’s walk through it: when you share an article on Facebook or Twitter, it’s mostly words, maybe accompanied by a thumbnail image.

On Pinterest, the content itself is the image, so the article or topic it represents feels like a physical object you are holding. While the picture itself is digital and holds no value, online it represents the things you like and feel good about. Emotional engagement plus the feeling of an actual valuable physical object? Formula for gold.

Interestingly, this concept was tried earlier but didn’t catch on in the same way. Bagcheck, a site partly created by Luke Wroblewski, was very similar to Pinterest, except the physical concept was different -- you created bags instead of boards and you put the “stuff” you were interested in inside the bags.

I would argue the reason Bagcheck didn’t zoom at the speed of light like Pinterest is because bulletin boards are different from bags. In bags we transport things we don’t necessarily want nor need people to see. In the real world, we use bulletin boards to hang reminders, important notices and things we are proud of, like our third grader’s 100 percent on a spelling test. So too, in the digital world, Pinterest allows you to show off your boards and your interests to everyone, using a physically attractive image-centric interface.

About Storify

Storify is a different type of bulletin board system: it lets you cultivate other stories from around the social Web to create your own narrative. A form of content curation, Storify makes it easy to search the Web, drag and drop the things you like into your story.

For example, as I write this, there are tons of “stories” on the Oscars, and in each narrative a different perspective on the award show is shared. Some are about the fashions, some are about the Tweets and some are about the awards. By giving users the power to “write” or “curate” their own version of a story, we place ownership of content into the users’ hands.

Why is this Important?

The truth is, the more we make content feel physically real, the more we have the opportunity to monetize it. Already Pinterest is starting to have to answer questions about how they are going to make money. In fact, the site has already experimented with finders’ fees, although they have since stopped that.

What if you combined the two hottest things right now on the Web -- gamification and content? What if you could actually “trade” your content for points, or some other system? Sharing on Pinterest would change, and what you chose to pin might suddenly look very different. And on Storify, what if people could vote on the best “story”? Wouldn’t that change the objective of the site? Could you potentially monetize the site, so that the best stories were available for purchase?

Good news is, I’ll probably have the answer for you in next month’s column, since we seem to be changing the Web faster than Google changes its mind on Google+.

What are your thoughts on Pinterest, Storify and content as a commodity?

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