April 20th, 2008

Join The Web Content Conservation Movement


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
  • I'm struck by a few thoughts--

    Producing less content is not the only method of reducing the volume of material on the web, viewed from the perspective of an end-user.

    What about sites which hide their content? I know it's inconvenient that Facebook and other propritary entities seem invisible to Google search engines, and they don't like to share their content with one another, but think for a moment how much of a valuable filter that provides. That very inconvenience serves to corral a boatload of "yeah, me too"'s.

    Search engines that examine things like links to a site, as well as the date the site has been last updated, etc. will eventually filter out the useless garbage. It may not be immediate, but it will happen eventually. Cream rises to the top 9 times out of 10.

    And there's always the end user's own brainpan--do you really read all of the coupons that arrive in your snail-mailbox with the "You might be a winner" letters? What about the Sunday paper--when's the last time you made it through all of the Classifieds? It may be inconvenient for a user to scroll through the unfiltered content, but if they really want to know, they'll do the legwork to be more well informed.

    Last thought--in objecting to the proliferation of echo material on the internet, we seem to still be conceiving of this new media in old terms. That's probably based on the fact that most of us are still browser-beaten into scrolling and clicking through pages, saving links, etc. The advent of RSS aggregators and other technologies will hopefully make it easier to personalize one's web experience so that only the post and comments of interest will appear.

    Now, though, I celebrate the diversity of echo articles on the internet because I know that it makes it even more difficult for the truth of newsworthy situations to hide behind a few carefully edited news articles. No one gets fired if a blogger notes how slimy and weasley a certain politician is. And if others echo the sentiment, it's not so much duplication as reinforcement and confirmation. The network isn't a library--multiple connections to the same node can be seen to serve the same purpose as multiple nodes about the same topic--it moves the idea to the forefront. Is refining the end result (an abundance of web content) that important?

  • The answer isn't writing about less things, it's simply writing less about the same amount of things. According to Jakob Nielsen's recent column, users are reading at most 28% of the words on the average web page.

    So if content creators identify the 72% of wasted words and don't write them, the problem is solved and everyone is happy! Everyone still gets to communicate, but there's no waste. Brilliant!

    But like the old advertising adage goes, "I know half my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don't know which half," how will writers know which 28% of their content people are reading?

    (If you haven't already figured it out, this comment is at least 28% tongue in cheek...)

  • The solution isn't to reduce noise, it is about better filtering... Where's my "dashboard"?????

  • you might take a look at Bit Literacy - http://bitliteracy.com - which has chapters on filtering photos before posting them, and writing emails & creating files and such to be less of a burden to the recipient.

  • Irony... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I... or is it just me? ;-)

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