Hey AP, forget Google, think eBay

For a minute there I thought the Associated Press might have a good idea. In an interview with BusinessWeek posted today, AP CEO Tom Curley said the news agency was planning to create its own news portal to compete with Google News, which the AP accuses, along with other aggregators, of “misappropriating” its content. Google News is a far-from perfect tool and there’s certainly room in the market for someone who does news search better.

But then I saw this:

When it comes to compiling online news, the AP wants to out-Google Google. The Web search giant “has a wacky algorithm” for collecting news stories, AP Chief Executive Tom Curley says in an interview. “It does not lead people to authoritative sources.”

As an alternative, Curley plans to create “landing pages” that would host articles from any news sources that allow their headlines on the site. Participating outlets would share revenue generated by ads placed on those pages, “monetizing content in an ecosystem that would be different from the Google ecosystem,” Curley says.

Oops. It’s the old authoritative sources/exclusivity trap again. Gets them every time, it seems. News organizations, from the AP, to the New York Times to Media Wonk’s own parent company, frankly, still have not gotten their heads around the ineluctable fungibility of content online–especially news content, which is produced in huge abundance by uncounted news outlets and organizations in every corner of the globe.

In an environment of ubiquity, use creates value. The idea that you can create value online by preserving exclusive access to “authoritative” information is a non sequitur.

While it’s encouraging to see that AP is at least thinking about the application layer of the online news equation, rather than simply the content layer, I don’t know that trying to recreate Google News, only with a more rigid and deterministic algorithm is really going to work.

Instead of aping Google, the AP would be better served aping eBay. There are doubtless thousands of aggregators, Web site publishers and applications developers out there who would be happy to buy specific AP content but could never afford the full freight to join the collective.

If there were an online marketplace where Content Agenda could purchase specific AP stories we could display in full for a period of time, without fear of legal reprisal, and without having to send people to other sites via hyperlink, I’d set up an account tomorrow. If it became a broader marketplace, where others could offer their content for sale, like eBay merchants, all the better.

There may be a million reasons that specific idea couldn’t be made to work, of course. I don’t offer it as a concrete proposal. It’s simply meant to illustrate that an organization like AP could be ideally situated to create and maintain value-creating applications on behalf of its members. But not by limiting access to its content. By promoting it.