Monday, June 25, 2007

The Limitations of "Free" Content

So much of what you read about businesses and sites in the brave new world of Web 2.0/social media, etc., is about how great it is to get the faceless (or even the Facebooked) millions to create all your content for free. Here in this corner, though, it is still considered to be true that "you get what you pay for."

I was blog-surfing this morning and came across a small example -- a very small one -- of the drawbacks of purely user-generated content: in this case, the lack of simple proofreading, which brings down the perceived level of quality of the writing. That may not sound like any kind of big deal, but the point is it's one of those elements that gives your readers wings -- inducing them to fly away from your site.

The overall point here is that user-generated content requires an editorial layer, to make sure your featured material has a reasonably consistent level of quality.

I wrote the author in question, in this case in the blog of the Social Media Club, which otherwise seems to be a pretty smart commentator on the scene. The post was a live-blogged report from last Friday at the Supernova conference in San Francisco, where it is claimed a set of movers and shakers joined "a provocative new program to debate the future of the connected world."

I'm going to save* (see the comments) myself some time by pasting in here the related comment I made to them. To wit:

As a perfect illustration of this quote of Andrew Keen's in the piece:
>> “it is the job of mainstream media to find raw talent and polish it up” might want to go back and do a copy edit of your live-blogged post. As of this writing, strange, misshapen artifacts lurk within, such as, "ologarchy," "acknolwedges," and "deomcratization."

Obviously just slips of the finger and still recognizable words, but just a couple of those have the power to distract a reader enough to lure them into taking off. It causes the reader to subconsciously question the intelligence of the author, blowing the equivalent of the theatrical "willing suspension of disbelief." (Not that I'm entertaining such judgmental thoughts, mind you -- since why else would I take the time to write you about it?)

Here's the main point: user-generated content is not free, because you've got to have editorial oversight, and that still means humans who are hopefully(!) being paid a living wage to make the user's stuff Ready For Primetime.

This is a significant but underreported issue with building social media based sites.

(That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)


Chris Heuer said...

It seems you have a similar problem as do I, missing words on occasion, though not as a typo in this instance - just missing from the sentence. To wit, "I'm going to [save???] myself some time by pasting in here the related comment I made to them"

We all need to just relax a bit and not be so tight about this stuff, though of course it is worse with regards to Presidential candidates occasional slips - I personally think it is just being human, though I guess it speaks a bit to my character perhaps about rushing sometimes (liveblogging especially) but not to the quality of the thoughts or the work - as the world moves faster we all make some small mistakes - lets just not make them where it really hurts (like in NASA trajectory systems)

Bill Ross said...

Oooh, ya got me, Chris! Clearly I was in a big hurry to (save) myself some time. Guilty as charged.

But I still feel that quality is worth the extra time, making that extra proofing pass or two to make sure that silly slip-ups don't obscure "the quality of the thoughts or the work," as you say.

In the print world you'd have to be maniacal about such things, because once it was printed, That Was It for the life of the publication. With the Web you can always go back and edit history... so I say, let's do so!

I just got an e-mail from someone criticizing one of the satires on my site, and it contained so many typos / misspellings / transpositions that I couldn't help getting the impression that this person did not have the full chipset installed. (Of course, the fact that she clearly didn't get that the piece was a satire was an even bigger impression.)

It could easily be that my background as a technical writer has made me just too finicky about these things... or maybe it's that it takes a whole village to properly raise a piece of writing, as here.
; - )

Anyway, thanks for the supplying my missing word, and as I said, I did appreciate the content of your stuff, and thought you'd appreciate the minor corrections.


Tony Mars said...

Hi Bill,

I agree. You get what you pay for and online you "pay" for free stuff with all of the time it takes you to sift through the junk to find the gems.

At we do all of the searching, stumbling, and researching for our members.

If you're interested in posting about us you can gain access to our Private Preview here: