The content continuum and why I’m worried about the direction of the online world

At the risk of sounding (even more) like a crotchety old man, I feel like the online world is moving in exactly the wrong direction.

I would argue that there is a direct correlation between the amount of effort a creator expends and the quality and value of that creation.

For example, I listen to both recorded books and podcasts. In one instance, I’m listening to words that an author has carefully honed to a fine edge with years of work. In the other, I’m listening to someone talk into a microphone. There’s no question which is higher quality.

(This isn’t to slam podcasts–the downfall of books is that they can’t be current, and they have to focus on topics that are big enough for a commercial audience. I enjoy listening to niche podcasts–“Writing Excuses” and “The Kevin Pollak Chat Show” come to mind immediately.  But it’s also the case that some of the best podcasts are as carefully composed as a book–podcasts like “The Moth,” “This I Believe,” and “The Tobolowsky Files.”)

In my mind, I’ve assembled what I call the content continuum, from most to least creative effort:

News Stories
Blog Posts
Quora Answers
Reddit/HackerNews Threads
Facebook Posts

You could quibble over the placement of some of these; some blog posts are as carefully crafted as an Atlantic article, while YouTube comments generally have negative value. But I think the order is directionally correct.

My concern is that the modern social web is pushing people inexorably towards the lazy end of the continuum.

Blogging was great, because it democratized publishing. But fewer people seem to blog these days. Many bloggers freely admit that Twitter has siphoned off their writing. It’s not because it’s a better medium for expression–it’s because it’s easier, and provides a quicker dopamine hit.

Facebook Likes take this trend to the extreme–each individual Like provides almost no useful information, yet they proliferate because they take a single click, and still deliver that dopamine surge.

The great shame is that Web 2.0 made all of us authors. People who never thought of themselves as writers, and might not have written since high school or college, suddenly began to express themselves again.  It would be tragic if our pursuit of ever-more-efficient dopamine delivery destroyed that progress.

2 thoughts on “The content continuum and why I’m worried about the direction of the online world

  1. Anonymous

    Chris, there is hope as Evan Williams is promoting "Medium," a solution to the very problem you identify:

    What makes Medium different from Blogger is that it sorts blog posts by topic rather than author. It combines the best features from Pinterest, Tumblr and the new Digg.
    . . . .It takes Pinterest's idea of collections and brings it to text. Users can vote up content, like Digg or Reddit, so only the best posts are presented above the scroll.

    Your post SHOULD appear on Medium. Then you've helped solve the problem of proliferating low quality content.

  2. Chris,
    On this something I find that is useful but not really in existence is good mechanisms for "medium" promoting. For instance, it is much easier to Tweet than to blog. However, in reality good blog posts do come out of Tweets.

    The problem is that it is really easy to build up a large stockpile of a certain medium (tweets, blog posts, etc.) but easily converting them to something more concrete is hard. I feel mechanisms that support this could give a lot of power to the "digital age"

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