The Decline of Original Content

Specific design decisions are important to achieve specific outcomes. The one that iss most poignant to me is the decision to build quantity or quality content.

If you want big numbers and lots of content, make it super simple to join/post/etc. “Of course we want big numbers, Tara!” you are thinking. But it’s not entirely desireable. The downside to simple signup/posting/etc is that it attracts low-brow content. Sure, there are lots of users, but the content can become terribly uninteresting and sometimes spammy.

If you want quality content and users, you make sign up a little more arduous and content a little harder to post. Not impossible or even difficult, but your design requires the user to sign up with a little more information and posts to require a little more thought.

But it seems that today, all people seem to care about is quantity. Big numbers. Fast. This leads to ‘hyped up startups of the week’ where everyone talks about how freakin awesome and huge a startup is for 2 seconds, then moves onto the next one and rarely (if ever) discusses that startup again. When the in crowd moves on, all that’s left is drivel content. That’s not a sustainable business or something that I ever want to build (but it seems to be what any angels or vcs want us to build).

“Allow anonymous posting!”
“Take out steps to adding content!”

I think there is a happy balance of creating an app where there is an ease of use and quick posting while requiring real people that have something significant to say to have a voice.

Facebook used to be that place. You needed to sign up with your real name. If you were going to post, you’d have to come up with something fairly original and semi-interesting to say before you hit post. Not all content was interesting to everyone. But it was original and it said something about the person posting it. There were rants, personal photos, bad days, breakups, new relationships, inspirations, arguments, embarrassing drunken confessions, more embarrassing tagged photos of others in compromising moments, commentary, food porn….the list goes on and on and on. Whether or not you found something interesting in your feed was completely subjective. I, for one, love the mundane. I’m deeply interested in the bits and bobs of people’s lives.

And that content still exists, but it is starting to give way to something else: RE-posting.

The other day I thought to myself, “Egad, Facebook has turned into Tumblr!” I think Tumblr is lovely. It’s easy to use and well-designed, but I find the content on Tumblr shite. It seems to be all about following as many people as you can, then finding the best, most inspiring, funniest, prettiest, craziest stuff and hitting a little button to post it to your own Tumblr. It’s the image equivalent to retweeting and I wouldn’t mind it so much, but it creates a whole lot of noise without any originality.

Take, for instance, the screenshot I took today. Yes. I think the post is interesting and very poignant…the first time I see it. And I may even appreciate how others share it because it shows me who is aligned with this line of thought in my stream. But after 20+ shares (or REposts), I start to roll my eyes. And believe me, I’m JUST as guilty of this as anyone here. It’s a rush to REpost something poignant and have a whole bunch of people REpost it from you. “Look at all the people I influenced! I’m special!” But I’m not. I was most likely the 2,345,896th person to REpost this on Facebook. I just happened to get a jump on a few dozen others.

I hate to wax poetically about the good ole days (though I have been more and more lately), but back when I started blogging, people became popular by producing amazing original content and thoughts. And if you were going to discuss someone else’s idea, you would ADD to the conversation by coming up with some of your own thoughts and then link back to the original blogger’s post. And we got smarter and were made to think about why something resonated with us and how we could improve on the original rather than just add noise.

Maybe there is no such thing as original thought anymore? Or maybe we’ve just got too busy to form our own ideas and articulate them. Or maybe it’s just unpopular to do so. Who knows. But when every platform becomes a REposting platform, I start to get really bored of the “social web” and long for a small community of original thinkers who don’t care about popularity or REposts, but instead care about learning and growing and making something worth archiving.

Tumblr is great and it exists to REpost stuff ad nauseum and somehow it works for the communities it serves. Google+ attempted to do it, too (but when you start with poor content, the hype wears off fast – lesson?). If Facebook wants to go in that direction, then I’m worried about its future. Maybe we’ll go back to blogging. Maybe something else will come along to fill that void.

But popular or not, I’m going to continue to try to produce content that isn’t about hype and is about adding to the conversation instead of just adding noise. At least as much as I can.


Categories: community, featured, personal

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.


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7 Comments on “The Decline of Original Content”

  1. Marc Vermut
    October 19, 2011 at 17:10 #

    Tara, totally agree that as the ease of “sharing” without layered additional perspective increases, the conversation shrinks and ideas aren’t given the opportunity to develop. AV Flox hit on this with a post on (re) blogging press releases or other content.

    Of course it is slightly ironic that you have a big “sharing is caring” graphic at the end of the post…

  2. October 19, 2011 at 17:15 #

    @Marc. Ha. But sharing is good! I’m just dismayed that it is becoming the dominant method of posting.

  3. Castor Quinn
    October 19, 2011 at 23:57 #

    I don’t dislike twitter, but I do worry about this abrupt ‘txt msg’ form of communication that social sites like twitter encourage. To me it limits expression, and that worries me because, like you, I agree that people shouldn’t just be passively passing content along the line, they should be adding meaningfully to it.

    If someone shares a link with me on Facebook I want to see their link, and then see why they shared it with me. I want the link to be a talking point around which we have a discussion. I don’t care if it’s twenty people making one-liners in response to a funny picture, or a serious discussion about an important topic. The shared link is supposed to be decorative plate: fun to look at, but it’s the content we create and add to the plate that nourishes us.

    Good lord is that a wanky analogy.

    On StumbleUpon there were three main types of networked users: those who passively and silently thumbed content, sharing it more or less anonymously with their friends; photobloggers, who hunted out pretty pictures and just blogged them, with or without any additional content generated by them (usually without); and commenters, people who would write a review or discussion of a page they thumbed, so that others could read their comments. It was this last category of people that I felt added the most to the stumbling experience. I wasn’t just looking to rapidly click through good websites; I wanted the community to talk to me about these things we were finding and sharing with each other.

    Reddit is probably the best example of this principle at work. I admit 90% of all the comments on reddit are junk, useless, repetitive monosyllabic grunts (in accordance with your principle, signing up for, into and using reddit is very simple with very light moderation, and as a result the wit and effort of the community at large is skewed downwards) but the point is that noone posts a link just to share it, they post it to create a conversation with the whole community. That’s productive sharing.

    Sharing with no commentary, just to pass the parcel? That’s really just so much noise.

  4. October 20, 2011 at 05:13 #

    Tara – loved this post. Seems to me .. the less original content produced the more valuable original content becomes; and with smaller pool of OC the people who do produce OC will benefit from greater social sharing because there will be less to share! That just made my head spin .. but you get my point.

  5. October 28, 2011 at 23:08 #

    Enormously informative thanks, I believe your trusty visitors may possibly want a great deal more articles of this nature keep up the great hard work.


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