A friend of mine posted a while ago his reading list for 2015, this got me both envious and got me thinking about the state of the written word in this new digitalized world we all live in. when was the last time you actually read something of value? I’m not talking about Facebook posts and Tweets, I’m talking about an idea profound enough to stay with you longer than a day, not so many, ha? Don’t feel so bad, it’s not you, it’s the Internet.
Does this mean there’s no written content of value on the internet? Of course not, it just means that the distribution model of content on the internet is flawed and in need of an overhaul to make discovery of content easier and more convenient, but before we get to that, let me look back a bit on the history of digital written content discoverability to understand what’s happening today. If you’re a millennial, you might want to skip a few paragraphs here.
The Age of the Hyperlink, Google, and SEO!
Back when people used to talk about the Internet, not on it. Internet users globally were a very small group of people, and those selected few had even fewer Internet pages to visit, simpler times indeed. Back then, the hyperlink was king! People linked to each other’s content, talked about the great content they read on the Internet in their workplace, and tried primitive search engines and web directories when they wanted to look for something specific. Needless to say, this couldn’t last for long with the exponentially fast growth of the Internet.
Google took that very simple concept and scaled it into the business that it is today. If you’re writing something of value, people will link to it, hence, if there are more links to your content, it must be worthy content that you’d want to discover on Google’s search engine. It was a beautiful time, didn’t last for long though!
Black hat SEOers realized early on, like any algorithm, there’s room for error, and that’s exactly the problem. You are discovering content that is crawled and provided to you through an algorithm, those are not real people hand-picking articles for you to read, those are articles with crammed hidden meta tags and highly optimized keywords, and regardless of how advanced an algorithm is, there’s always room for error.
Google is obviously still fighting the good fight, unfortunately however, I believe they are losing to the masses of black hat SEOers and ‘Growth Hackers’ out there. Yes I realize how hypocritical this must sound coming from a digital marketer who’s constantly preaching the value of SEO, but still, finding a decent article on Google is becoming harder than finding a meaningful sentence in a Lil Wayne track.
Content Discovery Through Social Media
So, we’ve established that algorithms are flawed, but what about people? What about ‘Friends’ who shared interests and therefor, shared interesting content with one another! Well, people did the trick to an extent, whether it was Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network, it worked, for a while.
“48% of all Internet users are on Facebook, at least once a month”
Masses of people however are a completely different story. Today, 48% of all Internet users are on Facebook, at least once a month. That is where they both produce and consume written content, in addition to doing everything else as well. Being a business, and wanting to maximize revenue, Facebook decided to limit the visibility of your content on the platform, and only show 2% to 8% of what you write, but how do they decide which content to show and which content to hide? Engagement! Which brings me to the next flawed algorithm, Facebook’s newsfeed.
You can crowd source a lot of things, just not content. Maybe one day though, when the human race decides that there are more important things in this world than Kim Kardashian’s ass! Or if, by some miracle, we evolve enough as a specie and stop falling for clickbait titles, social phishing scams, and video thumbnails of cleavage.
So, where do we go for quality content? Not popular content, but factually correct written content with smart and critical arguments wrapped in appropriate metaphors! Well, I have a few sources in mind and I would love to hear yours as well.
One is direct traffic. When organic and social traffic is flawed, direct traffic remains the purest form of flattery for a content creator. So whenever I find a decent writer providing uncompromising content, I make sure to stalk them everywhere I can get their content directly, outside of the scope of a platform, RSS feeds and email subscriptions mainly. Go ahead, think of your favorite writers and add them to your feed (Or, starting using a feed reader, if you’re not already), subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on Twitter and Medium, buy their books, add their podcasts to iTunes, and spread the word about them to make sure they survive and prosper.
Another source would be niche communities, Nop, obviously not 9Gag and 4Chan, I’m thinking more Quora, Medium, StackExchange, and Tumblr (If you’re into that sort of thing). Niche is the operative word here, because the minute those platforms go for mass appeal, content quality will soon after decline. Just make sure you follow the right people and publications for a desirable experience. To quote Evan Williams from his recent guardian story:
“If you look at feedback loops like likes and retweets, they’ve been very carefully crafted to maximise certain types of behaviours. But if we reward people based on a measurement system where there’s literally no difference between a one-second page view or reading something that brought them value or changed their mind, it’s like – your job is feeding people, but all you’re measuring is maximising calorie delivery. So what you’d learn is that junk food is more efficient than healthy, nourishing food.” – Ev Williams.