The other day Erick Schonfeld wrote a post about how he’s feeling even more overwhelmed by new web content steams like Twitter and FriendFeed, and how he’s desperately in need of a better filter. I certainly agree with Erick’s clarion call for a better filter — that’s why I’m devoting all my time to empowering mainstream journalists to filter the web through link journalism (so many of the people who are great information filters aren’t doing so on the web).

But it struck me when I was looking at Erick’s screen capture of a seemingly endless series of Twitter and FriendFeed items in Twhirl that we shouldn’t just be working on the OUTPUT problem by building better filters.

We should also be working on the INPUT problem.

How do you reduce noise on the web? Simple.

Produce less content.

If you look at human history in the industrial age, new technologies have inevitably lead to new forms of pollution.

Everyone can have electricity — which means we need lots of fossil fueled power plants. Everyone can have a car — which means that we have more car exhaust in the atmosphere. Everyone can choose from a large variety of packaged goods in the supermarket, produced in factories and distributed by trains and trucks — which means we produce more trash. Everyone can have a cell phone — which means we have to listen to everyone talking on a cell phone.

On the web, everyone can publish — which means we have more content than all the people consuming content on the web can possibly consume.

How did we deal with excesses from technology that damaged the environment? By starting a conservation movement. Remember those stickers encouraging you to turn out the lights?

So why not start a conservation movement on the web?

Next time you’re about to post something to your blog, or Twitter, or Flickr, or YouTube, or any of the 1,000 other publishing platforms, ask yourself this — does this really add value to the web? Or am I publishing just because I can?

Twitter, for example, has added tremendously to the noise on the web by removing what little friction there was in content creation. Random thought popped into your head? Twitter it!

Twitter has also lead to some great content being published to the web that never would have found it’s way into a blog post. But it brought with it all of the excess of more useless content.

Another form of content pollution on the web is duplicate content — you can see this every day in the world of tech journalism, where every tech blog and traditional news brand covering tech all write about the same news event. In a typical Techmeme news cluster, you do find some good insight and analysis, but you also have a lot of people repeating the same information over and over again.

Of course all of these tech blogs feel an obligation to write every major news story because they have to keep their page views up.

But is shoveling as much content as possible onto the web really the best way to create enduring value?

I come back, as always, to Google, the most valuable media company on the web.

Google doesn’t create any new content — it just cleans up our mess, like a giant recycling plant.

Google cleans up content pollution by linking to the most relevant content, determined by counting all of the links on the web.

A link is a form recycling because it references a valuable piece of existing content rather than creating more content. A link reduces pollution just like recycling plastic does.

Digg is very web content “green” — Digg users might all be posting items on their blogs, in disconnected fashion, adding to the noise. Instead, they pool all of their links on a single Digg item, which reduce noise by prioritizing content that already exists.

The highest value Tweets I find on Twitter are the ones with links.

Before blogging became a volume game of posting multiple full content items each day, it was about links — linking to interesting things on the web, helping to reduce the noise, not adding to it.

Will you join the Web Content Conservation Movement? Make the web a more livable place.

When you leave the room, turn off the light. Think twice before you post. Plant a tree. Link to something.

Why should media companies (including blog media companies) help reduce content pollution by creating more links and less content?

  1. Filtering the web instead of adding to the content noise works well for Google’s business
  2. Links are cheaper to produce
  3. Linking is a way for media companies to show their environmental responsibility on the web