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I had a great chat with Sam Ford from MIT yesterday about spreadability. Turns out he and Henry Jenkins are writing a book about it, with the same ideas that I’ve been having over the last 6 months — and we didn’t know about each other until very recently. Funny to see how that happens.

One of the things we talked about is that for something to spreadable, it has to be guided not governed. Reason being that if a peice of content is governed, then it is so heavily guarded and restricted that it can’t be taken into new channels and filter into new areas that are beyond their reach.

This video, with Ben Huh — the maestro of spreadability who runs ICanHasCheeseburger, is excellent as Ben talks about what makes media spreadable — lower barrier to entries and the lifting of restrictions. He’d know about that.

The lesson? If you want things to spread, you have to let go.

Archived Comments

  • http://krn.cr Kristian Carter

    Scott – agree, and interesting to see it couched in that light.

    An example I often use is the BBC’s ‘Strictly Social’ vs. ITV’s X-Factor on Social Media.

    The BBC set up their own platform for managing social engagement, and thought that they would be able to access the data – and avoid paying for an analytics platform, and at the same time getting to surround the user with other content.

    X-Factor set up an account on Twitter, and let people have a discussion around the subject.

    People failed to migrate from where they already were (Twitter) to a new platform. BBC’s desire to control the message and its delivery was what killed it.

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    Do what you do best, on the platform that suits your business need.

    4Chan has become a little “We must has this MEME”, interesting that a MEME effectively spells “Me, Me!”. I believe we can identify 4 key facets of any ad campaign, or “art” this is effective for Generation Y, early adopter type consumers.


    If you do all of that, and do it well, even then you can’t guarantee success in the spread-ability gold rush. Ultimately, the creative originator is not in control. The first follower, and evangelists will carry it to where it needs to go. Is your message something they can internalise? Is it Simple? Is it Human? Is it Open? Is it Quirky?… Then you have a chance.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Kristian – thanks for the comment.

    That’s a really good example. In my framework on Guidance vs Governance I explain exactly this point – that closed systems inhibit sharing and that you will suffer because of it.

    The full posts are here:

    My thought is that we become more spreadable by lifting restrictions of time, place, channel, system, structure, etc.

    So in your example, X-Factor lifting the restriction of platform.

  • / Scott Gould

    Love this little framework – will mull it over and see what I can draw from it

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Thank you for posting this video, Scott.

    Let’s discuss it because I struggled to understand what was being presented. The concepts and ideas sounded fascinating, but went way over my head.

    These are important topics and I don’t want to miss key learning because I don’t understand what’s being presented. I’m on of those people who needs it in plain English.

    Talk soon.


  • / Scott Gould

    I probably should write with a bit less jargon on what this means – will get to it

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    Important to remember it can go horribly wrong (Go Compare, We buy any car spring to mind… all trying to be simples).

    We need people in business to have the audacity to challenge the idea, that large projects must also be vastly complex, and come with a huge administrative overhead. Incubate & evolve needs to replace bolt on another widget to our 1970s mainframe. Apple are the masters of incubate and evolve. Things don’t see the light of day until they are ready, but then they evolve consistently from ipod, to ipod nano, ipod touch, itunes, iphone… There was no one revolution you can put your finger on, simply lots of solid evolutions.

    This approach to product development may not be in reach with the amount of in flight projects, and project office governance large organisations have… but it needs to be an aspiration. The startup “Just execute” model of doing business is coming, and its got it’s sights fixed directly on large corporate revenue streams.

  • http://twitter.com/Sam_Ford Sam Ford

    Glad you enjoyed our conversation, Scott, as I did. I appreciate your posting something directly about your points of “guidance vs. governance.” As with “spreadability vs. reach,” I think this is a helpfuil distinction. It’s related to some points Henry made in his book “convergence culture” and that we extrapolated on a bit in a white paper I wrote with Henry back in early 2006 called “Fanning the Audience’s Flames” (http://convergenceculture.org/research/c3_fanni…), where we look at the differences between a prohibitionist vs. a collaborationist approach to intellectual property and owning a brand/media property. A prohibitionist approach is primarily about protecting the brand, even sometimes from their most active supporters, while a collaborationist approach is about embracing the audience as grassroots intermediaries as well. Of course, the right balance is somewhere in between, as there are a variety of reasons a brand has to be protected to a degree, especially based on the way IP/copyright/trademark is written up. But most brands lean so heavily toward protecting their property that they don’t allow it to be shared or chastise those who would share it.

    In any case, Henry and I are working with a third author–Dr. Joshua Green of UC-Santa Barbara–on this book project at the moment. It’s based on a white paper (http://convergenceculture.org/research/Spreadab…) from back in 2008 that the C3 team wrote (finished right after I left to join Peppercom Strategic Communications, where I am Director of Digital Strategy). See more on the concept from an article I wrote at Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/sam-ford/conver…) and our Webinar on the subject from December of last year (http://vimeo.com/7585932).

    Thanks again, Scott, and–as we work on this book–look forward to our further collaboration!

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Sam

    Yes it was great to talk, and so thrilled to see we’re of like minds. I’m also thrilled to have found people, like I said, who are making academic and frameworked sense of this, rather than the usual toe-deep analysis!

    Thanks for the links – I will have a good read and get these ideas on board.

    I’d like to pick out a key phrase you’ve used: “Of course, the right balance is somewhere in between.” This is something I’ve been mulling over. I put governance and guidance at opposing ends (see /pr-2010), but I think there must be a middle (or left-middle / right-middle) place that gets the balance of both worlds. The reality is that an extreme of guidance will kill you!

    How do you think this balance looks?


  • http://twitter.com/Sam_Ford Sam Ford

    I think the key is that brands need to focus on issues that truly do challenge their intellectual property. Let’s use piracy for media companies as an example. If brands go after everyone who quotes from their material (i.e. posting a short clip from their overall show), everyone who uses their image in a video montage or mash-up, everyone who posts a fanvid or tribute or parody video, and so on, in my mind, this is leaning much too heavily on the side of governance. The problem here, in my mind, is that it distracts their attention from what I would consider blatant piracy: when people are trying to profit off the resale or reposting of their material. We could also add to this list wholesale sharing of their work, but I have seen compelling arguments that brands would be better served to watch and learn from how their content is circulating “illegally” for free rather than try to shut it down, to learn from it and to build official distribution models after it. Research indicates that, the vast majority of the time, “free” is not the primary motivating power of recirculating content. This is based on MIT’s Ian Condry’s work on anime fandom and how anime fans actually created new markets for content through its illegal circulation with fansubbing.

  • / Scott Gould

    Very good.

    So it is knowing where that sweet spot is that yields the most return for your effort.

    TED seem to have this pretty well done. They know that while the conference is very ‘governed’ and that there are a lot of restrictions to getting in, their videos are very ‘guided’. They know what to place where