As I mentioned in an earlier post on Service vs. Product Design, services are easier to replicate and improve upon than products. Similarly, I think services, especially web services, are easier to create and improve upon than content. My new law, Saffer’s Law, is this:
It’s easier to create a content aggregator than it is to create content.
Hundreds of aggregators can grab content from the New York Times, but it’s much harder to create the content of the New York Times. It probably wouldn’t be hard (at least on the front-end) to make a better auction service than Ebay: the trick would be to move their millions of users (and their content) over to it. Just ask Amazon Auctions.
Now certainly creating (and constantly maintaining and upgrading) a great service is no easy task. But at the center of most web services is a kernel of content (this can be user-supplied) and that has to be good or the service is junk. You wouldn’t trade from an online brokerage if their stock quotes were bad. You wouldn’t go to Google if their search results sucked.
Similarly, at the center of most offline services is a product, and if the product sucks, no great service is going to save it for too long. If Starbuck’s coffee tasted like Maxwell House, you wouldn’t buy very much of it.
In the cavalcade of hype around Web 2.0, we shouldn’t forget that a focus on services at the expense of the content that helps fuel them, could leave us with some very shallow services.