In an age where content rules, we’ve reached the point of stagnation. Yes, user generated material is still the lifeblood of the internet as we know it, but no longer is content the refreshing, educational, value creator that it once was.
In a 2010 article, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt noted that “Every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” While user generated content; tweets, pictures, blogs, etc. all add to the excess, the glut of information has continually driven down the level of quality, ultimately resulting in a flood of mediocre content.
However, this onslaught of pedestrian information isn’t simply an intangible talking point. Nearly three years ago, a McKinsey study valued the surplus at $171B, a number that has surely increased since the article’s publication.
Initially, the excess material did very little, it remained dormant, languishing on blogs, many of which had failed to properly manipulate Google’s search algorithms, leaving them uncharted and unseen. Yet, as social media evolved, savvy internet users learned to drive site traffic and optimize content for search, opening the floodgates and drowning the internet in content.
Once the dam had broken, an oversupply of redundant information surfaced as a small group of thought leaders consistently innovated and a mass of “internet gurus” regurgitated their ideas as if they were their own, publishing them on blogs, forums, and social networks, while rarely expanding in any meaningful way.
Today, as internet users frustratedly peruse the web searching for “new” articles, they often find that something published yesterday highlights the exact same information as a piece authored six months prior. Although, this repetition is nothing new, the frequency at which it occurs is unprecedented. Much the same as an influx in the housing market causes property values to plummet, a glut of monotonous content degrades the significance of an original thought.
Since much of this excess comes from people who are far from experts, a majority of user generated material is marginal at best. That being said, the same surplus that erodes innovative thought, is also what makes the social web great. So, as networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn foster open dialogue and act as a forum for unregulated discussion, it is important to remember that in doing so, they are spawning millions of pieces of lackluster content.
It is a viscous cycle. Mediocre content has become an unfortunate necessity. It is unfortunate that the regurgitation of a unique idea by self-proclaimed experts ultimately reduce the worth of an initial notion, but, it is a necessity, as the open, social dialogue created by subpar material, cause the exact same pieces of content to act as springboards, encouraging readers to expand upon their theories. If there is a gap within a hypothesis or an argument is flawed, the uninhibited exchange of ideas will inevitably result in a resolution.
Three days ago, Allison Benedikt published a provocative manifesto, explaining why parents who send their kids to private institutions are “bad people.” While noting her argument wasn’t “quite as outrageous as it might seem”, John Carney, a senior editor at CNBC had an alternate view of the situation. Among several intelligent rebuttals, in his response, Carney explained that “Benedikt’s premise that creating a public school monopoly would improve education is demonstrably wrong. Monopoly education would, like every monopoly known in the history of humanity, produce a poorer quality product at greater cost. Competition improves education.”
The example above not only highlights the open exchange of ideas spurred from content (Allison’s piece was far from mediocre), but John’s argument about monopolization can be adapted as well. To his point, competition fuels both innovation and quality. That being said, if we were to eliminate 85% all user generated content, leaving only what is (mostly) unique thought, competition would drastically decrease. As a result, quality would fall, innovation would slow, and stagnation would ensue, leaving us right back where we started, in a vicious cycle fueled by the unfortunate necessity that is mediocre content.
At the end of the day, the timeless adage still holds true. Regardless of whether the chicken came before the egg or the egg before the chicken, both mediocre content and the innovative ideas they spawn and destroy, are integral pieces of the social lifecycle.
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© 2012 Brendan Brandt. All Rights Reserved.
Picture via Ogilvy.