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The Future of the Web: Brand Content & Browsers

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On Oct 18th, 500 people crowded into the Cedar Lake performance space for the latest New York class of TechStars.

The "Demo Day" as its called is a kind of minor league farm system for potential tech companies. They present their vision, get feedback and instruction from a team of mentors, then hope to network their idea into a business that's worthy of venture capital investment.

It's Barnum & Bailey meets Christies meets Apple Store meets Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Silicon Valley edition. It's also a peek into the future of what might be next, so of course one focus of the day was branded content. "Content is king," isn't just a phrase for journalists anymore.

One presenting company was Contently, a marketplace where writers and otherwise content creators can connect with brands thirsting for something, some times it seems like anything, to fill the void of their websites, social media feeds and videos. It's LinkedIn with a specific focus.

Co-founder Shane Snow walked up to the podium to give his presentation and promptly hit everybody in the face with a lesson that most in the room probably know, or should know, but sometimes takes a slap in the face to sink in. Every business is a now publisher, a content creator, a magazine, a newspaper, and an editorial office where fun, interesting and educational storytelling grows.

Sound daunting? It is. And it bodes well for content creators like Contently and technology companies who make the software to distribute content (Tumblr, Wordpress, app developers, etc). But how does a brand get a handle on this new world order?

In the video above, Gavin Becker says content is not just about putting the summary of what your company does up there, but instead thinking about how you can make that content great. Forget the message for a minute. Does someone, anyone, want to sit and read or watch what you're delivering? Finding the answer to these kinds of questions make storytellers the new strategists.

While all the starry eyed newbies at TechStars chomped at the bit for a future full of Contently content, I couldn't help but think I'd seen this movie before. There was a product called Urbis.com that I worked on back in 2004. Urbis was building a community for writers to help crowd-source the editing and promotion of their work.

Their mission of empowering and connecting writers was the same as Contently. Now with brands realizing content is a requirement, a new market emerged for independent writers. Some ideas just need time to develop in the culture of conversation before they are ready for the big time as businesses. In the wake of Urbis, the business sense of Shane Snow -- his knowledge that the time is now -- will have a chance to be successful where Urbis failed. There's also just a bigger market for branded content than novels or journalism.

Timing is one thing, but there is also the manner in which you attack the void. As with anything on the web, you can't get there without great technology. Companies that fall short are too often the ones offering an underwhelming user experience. And when considering the user experience, you still have to consider the browser.

Googles interactive archive released last month covered the "Evolution Of The Web" and displays a color timeline to represent "the interaction between web technologies and browsers, which brings to life the many powerful web apps that we use daily."

Here, engineers are the stars. It starts with technology and design helps it grow. Both are a requirement for success. Marketers and businessmen don't mean squat if you've got a sh&*ty product. There would be no sticky-notes memorial if Steve Jobs didn't long ago understand he had to hire (and push) the best engineers and designers.

Without that asset, Apple could never realize what Jobs had in his head. We'd likely never know what was possible. It's the same thing with lesser companies striving for that Apple taste. And since the majority still don't have the expertise, they hire people who they hope do and give them conceptual titles like Creative Technologist, which will surely lead them to the fountain of youth.

The world is full of critics, and looking past all the technology and trends its much harder to find the author of truth, the creator of stories that millions believe in, get taken by, and gravitate to. The next great American novel -- is that what brands are now hunting? What's your dream? What's your story? Because that's what you're selling. That's the future of the web.

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