Last week, I was ranting at chatting with some Clockworkers about something I dubbed “nontent.” Days later, I saw a tweet by @Carlos_Abler complaining of the same thing, “Sick of Blog article titles dripping w/gravitas, but w/articles a paragraph long. INTERNET: THE LARGEST LANDFILL IN THE COSMOS”
Then, @kylemeyer and I had the following exchange over IM:
Kyle Meyer: seen this? http://wprobot.net/
Meghan Wilker: wtf. that seems redonk! “do a blog without actually doing anything”
Kyle Meyer: most blogs right now are just gathering posts in to lists anyway
Meghan Wilker: my “nontent” complaint
Kyle Meyer: was that a GGG post?
Meghan Wilker: i’m working on one about it
Kyle Meyer: ah. well. perfect timing then
What is nontent? Nontent is the useless crap that seems to be proliferating on the Internet now more than ever. The most maddening example of nontent in the wild are blogs that claim to create content which instead, post lists of links to other blogs (which may themselves be full of lists to other blogs and on and on) or nothing more than one to three sentences of barely-useful commentary. Light on facts. Light on anything useful. But with a damn good title designed to pull in a lot of clicks when it gets tweeted.
The fact that this nontent is now multiplying like rabbits on Viagra is, in my opinion, a combination of many factors.
Boost #1: Easy Publishing Tools
The idea of generating content has been gaining steady momentum as online publishing tools have become more accessible and, as a result, more individuals and companies have become comfortable with the idea of being content publishers.
Heck, we all know that publishing, sharing and linking information is the whole point of the Internet. And now that it’s easy for people of all technical levels to create and share information with tools like WordPress, weebly, Blogger, etc., it’s doing its job better than ever.
Boost #2: Search Engines
Search engine optimization techniques aren’t just about using the right keywords in your content, page titles, and image names anymore. They often encourage clients to generate as much content as possible, as often as possible, in an attempt to keep the search engine coming back to your site.
(Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t always a bad thing. If a company or organization has something of value to say, great. What I’m complaining about specifically are content facades; you think there’s something there, but it’s really a lot of nothing.)
In other words, we created search engines to help us find things. We designed them to give more importance to the newest and most popular things. As a result, the production and proliferation of nontent is rewarded by the holy grail of the intarwebs: TRAFFIC.
Boost #3: Social Media
And how do you get more and more traffic? Why, you get on Twitter, you read an article called “How to get a ba-jillion followers”, and you start tweeting about all the articles you are writing on your blog. Your tweet is indexed by the search engine. Your followers re-tweets of your tweets are indexed. Your blog post (nevermind that it contains only three sentences) are indexed.
Don’t even get me started on services like stufftotweet.com (which is, itself, a shameless rip-off of popurls.com) which help provide us all with links to stuff that PEOPLE ARE ALREADY LOOKING AT. Gar!
None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But, the ease of creating and publishing content and the importance we all lend to what is new and trafficked has also made it desirable for people to create and publish meaningless crap. Nontent. The digital kudzu of the Internet, choking out the valuable content with it’s newness and tweetability. At some point, I hope that we (and by “we” I mean Google) adjust our idea of relevance to mean something more than what is new and popular. I want my top results to be what is valuable, thoughtful and factual.
How to do this is a tougher question. As the ability for us all to create and share content with the touch of a button increases, and as search engines automatically index that content and help us find it, we’ve shifted the power from media outlets to we, the people. But, as part of this power shift, we’ve started to weed out those we used to rely on to curate content. The people whose job it was to separate the wheat from the chaff (like editors) and help us find what we want based on what we mean vs. what we say (like librarians). We must now figure out on our own if our information sources are reliable or not. We now rely on Google to take what we say in keywords and give us what they think we are looking for. We now generate the wheat, and the chaff, and it all seems to have just about an equal chance at gaining attention. Fact and fiction now travel at the same warp speed.
I’m not saying I want to return to the old models, or that I think that in the “good old days” of mass media domination all editorial sources were trustworthy and reliable, but I’m also feeling like the new model is starting to be too Wild West to be trusted. That it’s too easy to game the system.
But, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe we, the people, will police all of this just fine. (Hell, when Wikipedia was compared to the Encyclopedia Brittanica it held up pretty damn well.) Or maybe nontent will just be another Internet pest to be tolerated and managed, like SPAM.
There are certainly plenty of good people and good sites creating good content. Perhaps they will win out over the nontent echo chamber. I sure hope so. The death of nontent can’t come soon enough for me.
Think I’m full of nontent? Let me know. I can take it.