(update: The Issue has closed its doors. wah)
Crowdsourcing is another word for clown sourcing. Things have to change. Digg is filled with lolcats and misspelled link descriptions. It’s like Web 2.0 run by monkeys. Google constantly fights the capitalistic art of search engine optimization, making true content discovery more difficult. We have a problem. There’s so much quality content out there, but no way to get to it.
The massive democratic aggregation of content will never be a quality portrait of media, news, entertainment, culture, or sports.
The Old Model
FARK, the original link blog (circa 2000), grew to popularity because of the distinct flavor of the place. It was a linkdump for high school kids who liked stories about animals getting electrocuted while motor homes caught fire. Mr. Drew Curtis |npr interview| would go through his inbox and see if anything made him churtle. If it did, it made it to the list. Today, it still retains the quality of a high schooler’s myspace blog, but I can’t knock it. A stupid post about Fake State mottos I compiled made it to the front page in 2003. Twenty one thousand hits (in 2003 numbers) in one day gave me my first e-erection. Still, most posts are like this:
Improving on Fark
Sites like Mahalo are gaining ground because they provide an (sometimes) enlightened editor to cover a topic. New Web 2.0 or whatever point oh sites try to resolve the problem of mechanistic content discovery.
Google’s response to what we can consider mechanistic content discovery is the ‘knol.’ Building on the success of Wikipedia, Google announced that they will be introducing ‘knol,’ a more conventional encyclopedia with articles written by actual people. It’s nothing new. The knol is just a fancy term for a new ‘About.com.’ All the hype about Google’s ‘knol’ is silly. Google writes:
A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions.
Compare this to About.com’s about page:
Exclusive to About.com, over 600 expert “Guides” steer About.com’s content – sharing their passions, expertise and how-to information with visitors every day. The result is a vast information “bank” that couples the breadth and reach of large content providers such as AOL and MSN with the depth of consumer-focused sites like CNET and WebMD.
The only difference between Google’s Knol and About.com’s ‘Aboutie?’ is that anyone can write a or comment on a knol. To contact an about.com writer, you have to painstakingly EMAIL THEM. I think every expert should write from a ivory tower on a mountaintop, dropping their typewritten pages to secretaries below. But that’s just me.
In content discovery, Web 2.0 was the birth of dynamic crap (DC)
The list of Digg clones is a testament to how amazing this idea of democratic media seems. Just sit back, and promote your site. Have people vomit out links, and let the public decide. It’s kind of like having people fill a warehouse with random interesting things they find. People entering this warehouse of crap press a button to elevate crap they find interesting.
Time for Change
The aggregator and the digg clone is out. People who talk about the next ‘Digg Killer’ piss me off. Digg is not what we need. We need a swift kick in the head, or perhaps a slam in the back of the head with a NEWSPAPER. I’m not saying the web has failed, just our idea of dynamic content. ‘Reliability’ in content comes from experience, honesty, and education. Not from the number of people who chortled. Digg should not be hackable. This list of ways to get on Digg is just what I’m talking about, and it speaks to all social media sites (the list itself is touted as ‘Diggable’). Formulas and ‘post on a Monday at 5pm’ strategies kill the reliability of content.
Enter ‘The Issue’
If you want to shed a tear, please read their mission statement. In a word, it’s beautiful. It goes straight to the heart:
Exposure to alternate perspectives is invaluable in a media source. Without this exposure, the breadth of understanding will always be limited to the pre existing context of the reader. If the aim of a media source is to expand the understanding of its readers, to help them better understand their perspective and those of others, then publishing different points of view is fundamental.
The evolution of blogs, from eccentric personal diaries to influential and reliable news sources, has created the opportunity for a new genre of newspaper-one that can effectively expose its readers to myriad points of view while maintaining the highest editorial standards. The Issue aims to harness these perspectives in order to shed light on the news that affects us all. Our mission is ambitious, but we believe that even partial success will create a valuable resource.
It’s what we need, and there are lots like it. Blogging doesn’t have to be sloppy. The mission statement for 10ZenMonkeys is very similar:
We have declared ourselves a ‘webzine,’ as opposed to a blog, and that was quite deliberate. Because we’re seasoned, professional journalists and authors, and are committed to publishing thorough, feature-length articles, we just thought it fit better…But unlike the mainstream media, our content is very heavily informed by the blogs themselves, which is visible in the themes we explore, such as: technology news and gossip, internet phenomena and controversies, and even our coverage of politics and media. Our voice is firmly rooted in the flux-bound memes of the digital culture.
Caring about Content is Key
Content discovery should be natural and organic. Things you share should be things you care about. Here’s some more services that move in the right direction:
Feedheads takes Google Reader Shared items and ranks them. It’s like Digg, except you’re not directly voting on articles. Because you subscribe to the blog you’re sharing articles from, you’re somewhat more invested in the content you’re promoting. This is good, but does not read the tags you put on Google Reader items.
In the same vein, Read Burner makes Feedhead into a public site, compiling rss feeds from people who share articles. It’s Alpha fresh, so not that many people have put their feeds into it. The site will probably always be dominated by internet articles, because only certain types of geeks share things on Google Reader (like me). We can expect these sites to always look like http://del.icio.us, where the sheer numbers of web designers, internet types, and programmers constantly push articles they would enjoy high on the ‘popular‘ page.
But at the end, we need editors. No amount of technology or algorithm could ever replace a real person who knows what’s worth reading. Believe it or not, other people know better than us. It’s the PHDs who tend to write the most insightful Digg comments, but none of us have enough minutes in the day to seek out their blogs. We can do better than this:
This page was featured on The Issue.
9rules.com has some nice methods, as does scienceblogs.com.
Read Write Web’s feature.