Welcome to the jungle: finding quality in the internet content ecosystem and why editors are so importantNovember 9th, 2006 | by ian |
I agree vehemently with Alistair that folks who spent time decrying the lack of general quality in the blogosphere or on Flickr or the internet in general are missing the point. Average quality doesn’t matter. Who cares if my free stock photo site has mostly crap on it, the question is whether I can get enough contributors willing to make peanuts upload enough content that a tiny portion of the material outshines a traditional stock photo site whose focus is quality and high prices. And whether the search functionality powerful enough to sort through the crap and find the stuff you want. And whether there people willing and able to wade through everything to highlight the good stuff so it bubbles to the top? Assuming that content is produced in vast quantities, is copyable and transformable, it all comes down to whether one believes in the power of selection.
Natural Selection Requires…
For natural selection to occur, two requirements are essential:
1. There must be heritable variation for some trait. Examples: beak size, color pattern, thickness of skin, fleetness.
2. There must be differential survival and reproduction associated with the possession of that trait.
Unless both these requirements are met, adaptation by natural selection cannot occur.
Quantity and variation matter. Look at biological evolution. It builds incredible complex adaptive structures BY MAKING A HELL OF A LOT OF MISTAKES. Evolution relies on a lot of failure: it works best with large populations, rapid generation spans, variability and error prone mechanisms to recombine that variation. The error prone generational process leads to either death (usually), survival (sometimes) or glory (winning the genetic lottery). Selection, whether Darwin’s natural selection or the so-called “artificial” selection by human market forces, sets the guidelines for what’s most likely to bubble to the top. Let’s just distill it to the essential – there is a selective process which has great power in sorting massive amounts of sand on the internet for the nuggets of gold, and thoese involved in this process are the new editors. The role of editing, deciding what is important and how to present it, is far more important than ever before because there is so much junk to filter. Editors are the new trend setters, steering us towards what is interesting. They are also far more numerous, untrained, and work less than folks we think of as traditional editors. They edit in teams: participatory news sites such as Digg and Reddit essentially allow collaborative editorial.
With far more editors, which ones do we pay attention to? Who do we filter out? Well there are editors who do just that on your behalf, if you’re interested, since the process of filtering content is multi-layer. There is a whole ecosystem of editors digesting, filtering, extending upon content. In all likelihood some kind of trust network will emerge from this chaos, because in the end who you pay attention to will come down to who you trust. If you’re easily distracted and swayed somewhat indiscriminately however you may be dragged into a sea of mediocrity. On the internet, your education matters far more than in did in the old world where more things couldn’t get published unless they were at least relatively good. When everyone trusts and read the N.Y. Times it protects a subset of the population from having to figure out for themselves what is worth paying attention to.
So if you write a blog, or simply use a news reader, you’re part of a new content ecosystem of producers and editors. Creating, filtering, enhancing, commenting, editorializing. Selection is a powerful process if it has the tools of variation, remixing, and rapid generation and I suspect we will be as amazed at what emerges from this process as we are about the evolution of the eye.
So if you’re complaining about the lack of quality on the internet, you’re really complaining about not bring very good at finding what you’re looking for, haven’t been able to find any editors or meta-editors you like, or much less likely, you are feeling left out because all of the content producers and editors have different values than you.
At which point its probably up to you to generate the quality content which you are bemoaning the lack of in the first place.
Is anyone else vaguely annoyed by Flickr’s attempted patenting of “interestingness” let alone the use of that word?