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

Comments (42 Responses so far)

  1. I must say I quite like on your solution for the noise level – I can see posters stating “Stop Before You Blog”. I’ve always liked the ‘combination’ blog post or tweet, where’s there’s commentary with link(s) included, or the tumblelog method of doing things – treating a blog as an actual web log, rather than a diary.

  2. This is still a filtering problem.

    Fundamentally, everyone should have the right to publish whatever is important to them, and whatever they feel might be important to other people. It doesn’t have to be both. It might be a piece of content that isn’t important in itself, but the ability to publish it and have people find it on the web is important. All of this is legitimate; it’s freedom of speech. Or to put it another way, publishing just because you can is a perfectly reasonable reason to do so.

    I think it’s very disingenuous to describe what you perceive to be content noise as being similar to forms of pollution, as well as being offensive and elitist towards the people who are producing it, when what you actually need is a better way to get to what you want to read. It’s only a small step from this argument to effectively denying people the right to publish because you don’t believe they produce enough signal.

  3. I have NEVER gotten a satisfactory answer (from bloggers) to the following question:

    “Why, oh why, do you mongoloids repost the same stories with absolutely no value whatsoever, added?”.

    Answers, all ridiculous:

    ‘pressure to post original copy makes it a temptation to fill column inches’.

    ‘why not, why do you care, you nothing blogger’

    ‘if I don’t, my competition will; I can’t appear to be silent on the issues that my competition is posting on’.

    Now, wait on that last one, I asked one very successful blogger (he actually makes money and I dont), “but you add nothing to the commentary, at the most you add one line, like, ‘Mike Arrington says…”

    “well”, the problogger answered me, ‘then I do it for the link and search value’.

    Is that the best he could come up with? Sheesh.

  4. [...] this opinion to be laid onto this page is a post by Scott Karp on the quite well-regarded website Publishing 2.0. Karp’s assessment is not focused very much on the cycle of discussion among bloggers, but rather [...]

  5. I can’t control my reading habits so you need to shut up…

  6. The line “follow the money” comes to mind…and I am not sure if there is a solution until it is an economic one.

  7. A worthy goal. Unique insights and analysis (and links thereto) are the holy grails. But for two reasons, conservation will be difficult to accomplish:

    1. money (or the hope of money)

    2. ego (though it gets tiring to wade through the copious offerings of certain self-absorbed windbags to get the few decent nuggets)

  8. Someone’s got to create the original content to link from. Who is to say what content is valuable?

    The problem is not that too much is being created: our problem is we consume too much.

  9. @Taylor Oh I don’t know, when the top story on Techmeme is “Someone At Apple Sneezes” and there are 93248329048203948 linking blogs, it’s probably safe to call that a wipe.

  10. [...] blogging have to take a lot of time? Scott Karp posted an interesting piece at Publishing 2.0 about what he calls the “web content conservation movement.”  In [...]

  11. Scott, You should print up some T-Shirts that say: “Stop Polluting the Web.”

    I’d buy one. :)

    Thanks for keeping this discussion going.

  12. The conversation started with: “Most bloggers are just trash” (possible a classic Dave Winer mis-understood message of Godzilla proportions).

    I’m glad to see that the bitchmeme has evolved into something positive. Constructive criticism. We need to know when to post. Some people are doing it for money though so it doesn’t apply to them; competition will take it’s course there and they will have to add some value.

    I have been doing less blogging (though more Twittering which doesn’t apply as much as it’s a communication vehicle not an information vehicle) and more research and self tech-education and program creation vs content creation lately. It’s a good discussion but I won’t blog about it. I don’t have anything really to add to it, and others should follow suit. Quality posts are going to be my main objective moving forward, I don’t really have time to blog all the time anymore.

  13. it is like you are psychic, can read minds, there is no way you want to do that, because almost all people have the most boring, banal, trivial, useless thoughts imaginable

    the tubes are just enabling this ability for those not natively psychic, and the solution is the same …. discrimination

  14. Excellent — now I have a good excuse for not updating my blog as frequently as I should!

    But what’s the distinction between duplicate content-creation and duplicate linking? Craig Stoltz mentioned your post and finished by saying, “Which seems like an ideal time to end this utterly derivative, frankly low-value post, which I felt I needed to do to keep my blog fresh.”

    Is there a point at which duplicate linking becomes just another bit of derivative pollution? Or is duplicate linking never pollution in the aggregate, but sometimes pollution on individual sites? F’rinstance, by the time I see the same story linked a third time by TNR, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein, I start thinking they’re just copycats. Yet that multiple linking is important for aggregators.

  15. @Josh

    Excellent question.

    First, I think Craig had tongue firmly in cheek with that comment. His selection of links does have real value.

    The same item linked by TNR, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein has value on one level in causing that item to rank higher in search. Memeorandum.com also reads each of those links as a “vote”.

    The inefficiency for you as a reader of those sites is in having those links appear in separate, disconnected blog posts.

    But what if each of those links appeared on the same ranked content item in an aggregator, where the links or “votes” were attributed to each of those journalists? The value of those links then would be higher because of the duplication, rather than lower.

  16. I swear I wasn’t trying to plant a Publish2 plug!

    But that makes sense. For the (relatively few) readers who visit those disparate blogs, it may seem redundant. But for the (potentially far more) readers who will increasingly get their news from aggregators (a certain one in particular, let’s say), there would be meaning in the overlapping links.

  17. Nice post, Scott. Dare I say that the post itself qualifies as to what should have been filtered ;-)

    I think the bigger issue is what’s indexed by GYM, etc. There is no “filter” for sorting, omitting SERP entries that are outdated.

    Google “yankees mets score”

    Do you get the results from last week’s series? No, but a box score from a game on May 19, 2006 is at the top of the organic results.

    At least with print, I can toss the paper in a recycling bin.

  18. Only publishing blog posts that make a valid contribution to a discussion is part of the reason why the scholarly blog has been taken up by so few commercial publishers. As with articles submitted to scholarly journals, the blog post must actually add something to the debate and not just clutter “adding to the noise”. The conservation/pollution analogy in that setting is most apt.

    To stretch the analogy you could argue that the presence of pollution in the scholarly debate is more harmful than that in the popular culture. Lots of repetitious and inaccurate blog posts coming from non-expert sources adding opinion but no facts about the next Star Trek film are of less consequence or concern than similar posts about the findings of a new drug trial or macroeconomic theory. Polluting an already polluted area of ground is worse than polluting a nature reserve.

  19. I’m torn on this for many reasons, the first being that I don’t mind the echo if there is an original take on it. But, at the same time it drives me nuts when I see something like “check out this link on topic via somebody else” which points back to some body who is echoing somebody else. I’m guessing there are SEO and or Marketing reasons behind this, but I have my own feed reader.

  20. @Rob, interesting point, but you’re looking at the wrong place. Plain ordinary Google is not for “news”, by its very nature you’re not going to get the latest and greatest real-time news. If you want the news you need to use the part of Google that updates in semi-real-time. Try the same search in Google News and you get a much more reliable result, albeit it’s probably not exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s definitely more timely than the normal SERPs.

    Surprisingly though, Google doesn’t have one of it’s little utilities there that figures out what you’re looking for and just dumps the box score at the top of the results, similar for searching for a stock symbol.

  21. For a really good news story, i go out and find eight or ten articles. Someone is bound to say something new and interesting about it. For example, lately, i’ve been posting astromical news links on my http://suitti.livejournal.com/ blog, with an executive summary sentence. Often this sentence has content not found in the article. It may be a snarky remark, but more often it says something relevant that ties it back to stories on the topic in the past ten years.

    Last time i checked out digg, they didn’t have a way for me to tell what was likely popular for me. I’m not mainstream, so this is useless. I want the netflicks algorithm for content. I’ll go back to my cave now.

  22. @ Eric Rice: I’m with you. Too much noise.

    But that’s a consumption problem, not a creation problem.

    Or perhaps the problem is that it’s too easy to publish and create, and we just haven’t used the technology tools at our disposal long enough to figure out how to use them best. We’re figuring it out and right now, the debate is the best part.

  23. Scott, you are throwing the Twitter-baby out with the bathwater.

    Twitter’s value isn’t in the instant publishing of effluvia, it’s that we can take those Tweets and consume them where we want. It’s the Rosetta Stone for web, RSS, IM, and SMS. If others are sharing too much, you tune them out and don’t follow.

    I’m not so much worried about “polluting” the web. We’re not running out of a finite resource. The Pixel Lobby isn’t going to squeeze us for supply. And my “internet” is radically different than your “internet”, and each is such a minute fraction of what is available. If the universe of possible links doubles, does that radically alter the fact that I’ll (thankfully) never have to read it all?

    I am interested in this notion of “removing the friction from publishing,” but couldn’t you say the same thing about Blogger and WordPress? Email? Universal Public Education? Gutenberg? (All those damned literate peasants, how am I supposed to keep the library current with all their blasted pamphleteering?!?) ;)

  24. i don’t think conservation applies to the web like it does to energy and everything else. it’s up to each individual person to figure out what parts of the web they want to read and what parts they ignore — it’s not up to people like ME to not blog just because 90% of the web would have no interest in reading it. i blog for the 10% of people who know me and enjoy reading what i write. and i follow people on twitter because i love reading random thoughts. if all of that got “conserved”, the web would lose a lot of its entertainment value. for me, anyway. and i daresay for lots of other folks as well. :]

  25. @Eric DeLabar… Agreed but most consumers have no idea these additional tools exists. Just take a look at the amount of domainers (people who just type the URL into the Google search field) still exist today.

    My example of the Yankees-Mets can be extended to any content, Google (and others) need to start making the date of any content was indexed more relevant in their mystery algothrims.

  26. Yes! There does indeed seem to be a need for filtering mechanisms on the public Internet. Using more hyperlinks is a strategy worth serious consideration; with, perhaps a slight modification, meaning the trackbacks. This whole idea of information overload does seem to be gaining trraction, mainly because it’s so obvious.

  27. I agree that Twitter “has added tremendously to the noise on the web,” but it could be seen as a tool to help folks produce less content. Assuming it’s a basic human impulse to broadcast/communicate/publish, and we don’t want to give that up cold turkey, the interim solution could be that instead of writing that 700-word blog post, we just boil it down to 140 characters…

  28. [...] like, there’s this whole web conservation moment going down. The same bullshit about how there’s all this bullshit on the Web and how it’s up to us [...]

  29. [...] bien, el movimiento para la conservación del contenido de la web, lo que pretende en gran medida es crear unas pautas más objetivas que permitan determinar el [...]

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

  31. [...] this opinion to be laid onto this page is a post by Scott Karp on the quite well-regarded website Publishing 2.0. Karp’s assessment is not focused very much on the cycle of discussion among bloggers, but rather [...]

  32. 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.

  33. [...] Read the rest of the post here… No Comments, Comment or [...]

  34. The solution isn’t to reduce noise, it is about better filtering… Where’s my “dashboard”?????

  35. [...] bombarded by all the information and content streams available today, you might want to read Publishing 2.0’s article on the web conservation movement. The basic premise is producing quality content and not just throwing up stuff on the web because [...]

  36. [...] Karp invites folks to Join The Web Content Conservation Movement in his post where he complains: … we shouldn’t just be working on the OUTPUT problem by [...]

  37. [...] viene este título tan tajante. Básicamente es mi respuesta personal a la propuesta que hacen en Publishin 2.0 amparada bajo el nombre de “Movimiento conservador del contenido [...]

  38. [...] “How do you reduce noise on the web? Simple. Produce less content.” Zijn advies: “Join the web conservation movement.” Karp ondersteunt zijn theorie(tje) door een vergelijking te maken met de industri?le [...]

  39. 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…)

  40. [...] There’s also the problem of limited time and attention: I’m barely able to to get through the morning newspaper, and the only magazine I subscribe to (The Economist) can go unread for weeks at a time — if I subscribed to Twitter, I’d very probably miss most of the traffic. But maybe most fundamentally, I just don’t have enough interesting things to say that often. This blog is about it, folks. Status updates at home would look like “Refusing Claire’s entreaties to watch another episode of The Backyardigans,” while tweets at work would be a fairly constant stream of “Editing another article.” I think the world can get along without that, and maybe the Internet ecosphere would benefit too. [...]

  41. [...] Scott Karp. He suggests that it’s not an output problem, but an input problem. How do you reduce noise on the web? [...]

  42. 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?

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