There are times when I prefer to read a newspaper instead of looking for information on the web. It isn’t just the comfortable feeling of holding paper in your hand while reading (yes, I love real books too). A newspaper has another advantage over web sources. It tends to have a strong editor role which ensures on one hand that news is checked and double checked before it gets printed. And when it gets printed there is (some) pressure to present it as objective as possible.
News on the web is obviously quite different. It’s lightning fast, and unlike with newspapers gets copied easily so that in the end it comes from many different sources. News on the web is user-generated. We all produce news and have simple means to distribute it. While this has obvious advantages it also comes with a downside. The only way news is read on-line is if you can create reach. Newspapers sell subscriptions and newspapers at physical points. On-line there is Google juice. Link and get linked is the name of the game. The more links you get the more reach you will have.
At first glance it is a very democratic game. Anyone can join in. You can start a weblog today and enter the process to get noticed and linked. A good way of doing that is by producing relevant content. In other words, if you write things that interest other people you will end up with an audience that follows your writings.
However, that is only part of the equation. And in my opinion it unfortunately seems to be a less important aspect of the equation. The currency on the web is traffic and linking. The metrics that decide whether or not you are found can be manipulated in ways that are hard to copy in the physical world. You can manipulate this game and quickly improve your reach.
I believe that traffic and links have become too important on the web. Google has brought many great things to the web, but the importance of traffic and links is now leading to unwanted behavior. All kinds of strategies are used to manipulate this equation. Google keeps the algorithm secret. If people knew exactly how it worked it would simply be unusable as a metric. But there are many cunning ways to ensure more traffic to your site. For example, if you would instantly like to have thousands of readers to your weblog (which might greatly improve your “credibility” as a blogger) just take a look at this solution. I’m not going to discuss more “technical” ways of doing that, I’m by no means an expert on that.
If we forget these technical manipulations and simply look at the content itself then it seems to me that it becomes increasingly difficult to find trustworthy content on the web. In order to be noticed in this jungle of world wide web logs several cool techniques can be applied to be noticed.
The Killer app
It’s a war out there so any new release leads to at least a dozen bloggers screaming that it will kill all competition. Cuil was going to kill Google, Friendfeed was going to kill Twitter and Facebook, Google Chrome is going to kill Microsoft, or was it Firefox, or both? The sole purpose of a kill title is obviously to attract attention. I doubt that many startups can afford to have a business plan and strategy to “kill” a competitor. In general I hope entrepreneurs are thinking of building a service that provides great user value. If that is the case competitors might simply disappear. But claiming that a new launch is going to kill something else that has barely reached it’s own diaper stage is pathetic.
One of my favorites. Someone is outspoken on his web log (a prerogative, as it is his web log). Someone else sees an opportunity and nails the first author to a cross. It isn’t even important what the food fight is about. The author is wrong and we are going to let the whole world know about it. Just make sure you scream loud and with lots of bombastic words and for sure traffic is going to go up high. I’m sure Ted Dziuba may have a point, but is it really that important to let the rest of the world know that they don’t understand sh*t about OSes as can be seen here? Doesn’t add much to the conversation imo.
Look at TechMeme or any other aggregator at any time. I bet that you can find copycats on each of the blog conversations going on. Copycats provide no value to any discussion except echoing what has already been said. Being up there, over on TechMeme, is more important than actually having to say something. Some call that branding, I say its a definite turn off.
The Burning man principle
Let’s say you are an outspoken, well known A-list blogger. Let’s assume for a moment that you are also a passionate Tech lover and that you tend to let your personal passion rule what you write about on your personal web log. You may or may not have written something ridiculous, but for sure if you decide to take a stance people are going to burn your ass. Not because of what you say, but mostly because if you are a Z-blogger it is so darn easy to burn an A-lister and get noticed for it. The podium might be yours for one day, but when the storm calms down, the A-list blogger walks away with more traffic and the Z-list blogger remains with his one day triumph.
The Breaking News junkie
Again, one of my favorites. Any post that starts with breaking news, and I mean ANY, is well worth ignoring. The reason is obviously that in 99,999% of the time it is impossible in this world to have truly breaking news. In all other cases, 0,001% or so it might be true, but the Copycat will ensure that we will all hear about it soon enough. Breaking news is yet another way of drawing traffic. It usually consists of some minor unverified detail we really could live without knowing. I hardly ever read breaking news. I always read the blogger that end up analyzing what that breaking news really meant. Much more interesting.
Does any of this ring a bell? It seems to me that a lot of techniques described above have been used for many years already. As we are all hip and on the web we tend to forget that these same practices have been around longer than the web has. It’s called the Tabloid. Sensational journalism was invented there, for the very same purpose, traffic.
Google juice might be the all mighty currency on the web now. But all it really seems to do is turn people into sensational journalists just for the sake of getting to the top. I find that people I trust are often people that aren’t on any list. They aren’t in the game for traffic r links. Instead they write because they are passionatete. For me those writers are on my A-list. The rest is placed in my Tabloid feed. If you have a spare moment and not a lot of expectations they can provide a good laugh. Otherwise, they are best ignored. Google Juice seems to be the driving force behind our new Tabloid culture.
Now all I need to do is think of a sensational title for this post ;-)