I just finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch, which is required reading for every online publisher and marketer. Here is an interview of him by Greg Jarboe about the book
In the chapter The Great Unbundling Nick talked about the demise of newspapers, news organizations, and many traditional news containers. Some of those containers offered a packaging which allowed the creation of free premium content subsidized by profitable backfill content.
The same chapter also talks about what we use to replace these intermediaries - our clickstreams, RSS subscriptions, search, and personalization algorithms. Some offline studies in communications have proved that we are more likely to listen to information that reinforces our worldviews. In addition research has shown that we become more confident, biased, and extreme when we find others who reinforce our worldviews.
Consider the following about the future of online information quality
- overtly biased information is more remarkable: and is thus likely to gain more comments, more links, more subscribers, and is easier to remember
- shock testing: much like overtly biased information being remarkable, headlines can easily be tested for performance with little to no cost. I have created headlines that ranked #1 on social news sites when those headlines were only marginally related to the article I was promoting.
- quality and bias are the same to algorithms: any sign of quality that search engines often ties directly into bias. Just because something has many links does not mean it is "of quality." Ranking a bunch of left wing nutball stuff and right wing nutball stuff is a way to claim you have result diversity, but it does not create or nurture business models for creating more rational and balanced information.
- marketers track performance: Publishing largely consists of topic selection and publication format. But with so many ways to track performance, publishers are becoming marketers and affiliates who can track the performance of content based on links, pageviews, and earnings. And they can use all that feedback to further arbitrage profit centers while giving less coverage to important topics with limited commercial viability.
- half truth: If a lie or half-truth is more profitable than the truth someone will sell that story. One of my affiliates went so far as declaring that I am a scammer to try to sell my ebook. What more might that person do to arbitrage my brand if they did not like me? How many affiliates typically emphasize the downsides of a product (unless they are using X is a scam as their sales strategy)?
- your truth is confirmed: with millions of people publishing information online you will find someone who confirms your facts, even if they are not true. Any person who cites a falsehood makes it easier for others to discover (and believe in) the same lie.
- everything can be discredited: just about anyone or anything which has risen to social significance has someone talking badly about it. We all make mistakes and the web has a memory longer than our lifespans.
- similar language usage: people who have similar biases will tend to write information and seek out information using similar words
- the fight for timing: with so many people competing for attention being first is often more important than being correct. Just yesterday it was claimed that a record label quit and uploaded their catalog to Pirate Bay, but that news was fabricated. Even if you are wrong those links and the page views do not disappear.
- sound bytes: with so many people creating information more information is being consumed in smaller chunks lacking in context. If it long who has time to consume it?
- the blend: the borders between content and advertising are blurring as ads get more interactive and we learn to ignore ads that look like traditional advertisements. Organizations like the US military created video games as recruiting tools aimed at 14 year old children.
- personalization: through the channels we subscribe to, words we search for, and sites we visit search engines make it harder to get outside of our comfort zone by showing us what we already know and believe.
- exploitation algorithms: Large online media companies know a lot about us, and where they lack information they can mathematically model us based on our interests and habits. Scientists are studying marketing on a neurological level. Google has a patent for targeting ads directly to our psychological flaws based on things like risk tolerance during game play and offers a nearly unmarked text link as an ad unit.
Couple the above with sharply increasing wealth disparity in the US and it makes the web look like a pretty bleak tool for fostering democracy and better understanding of ourselves and each other. How interactive should ads aimed at children get? Should relevancy algorithms give us what we like even if it is false? Is it ok if ads lie? Will marketing advances make us better, or will more people be given pharmaceutical drugs to cure them of their personality?
Might there be a business model in reminding people to slow down and look at things from another angle? When things really bother and frustrate me I try to consume information from someone from an alternate perspective to give myself greater balance. But many people are stuck in debt and do not have enough time to read a 200 to 500 page book unless it offers immediate profit potential.
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