Not worth the effort: the inertia of the undifferentiated internet

One of the most common criticisms of the internet as a publishing medium is, ironically, also one of its greatest strengths.

The fact that anyone can publish inevitably leads onto the fact that many people do publish. That creates an undifferentiated landscape, where the value of any article or video is effectively the same as any other, with no consideration given to the amount of time or research involved in its production.

Internet: strengths and weaknesses
Less? More?

That is exacerbated by the fact that digital advertising has historically rewarded the production of huge quantities of articles instead of rewarding quality. If you’ve ever despaired at the idea that newspapers’ websites will indulge in churnalism, producing articles that are mutually contradictory, that’s the cause.

That is beginning to shift slightly, as many newspapers’ priorities change from chasing advertising revenue to limiting the number of articles they publish to better serve members and subscribers. However, for generalist titles who have little chance of developing subscription products (usually the tabloid papers), the age of churnalism is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Some projects are currently examining how best to mitigate that issue. The News Quality Score Index/, for instance, is attempting to effectively find an algorithm that rewards articles that have had more investment placed in them. It’s far from an easy task, as one of its key figures – Frederic Filoux – has noted multiple times. He has broken down the attempt to provide a ‘score’ of an article’s worthiness as follows (the ‘thoroughness’ metric is the one we’re interested in):

“Scoring involves signals of quality that can’t be collected automatically. We call them “subjective signals”. They include:

  • Thoroughness: How deep is the journalistic work?
  • Balance and Fairness: Is it a partisan piece or a fairly balanced piece?
  • Lifespan of the article: Will its value last for a day, a few weeks, or months or is it an “evergreen piece”
  • Relevance of the article: What is the article’s place both in a societal context and within the news cycle.

Lastly, we ask the tester to give a “global score” for the article.”

However, while the priority is rightly on finding ways to support legitimate news organisations, any attempt to quantify effort is up against significant challenges if it attempts to do the same for (for lack of a better description) UGC. 

Given the amount of content – news and otherwise – posted on YouTube, it’s vanishingly unlikely that video content on that channel will ever move away from that undifferentiated nature. That’s especially true given that Google controls the entirety of that ecosystem, and that its own subscription efforts (with YouTube Red) have come to naught.

Take, for instance, this video from creator illusorywall. While it might not be apparent to the (lucky) people who haven’t spent time learning about game development and the Souls series from FROM Software in particular, there is an absolutely insane amount of work that has gone into producing this video.

In fact, quite apart from the research required, the sheer amount of video capture and editing that has gone into its creation is an undertaking in its own right. But given the niche nature of the subject (the programming and topography of a notoriously difficult game from 2011), it will inevitably receive far fewer views (and therefore less ad revenue) than many low-effort YouTube videos.

That’s not to say that illusorywall has created the video solely for ad revenue – niche interests are often their own reward. Nor is it to say that there are no opportunities to monetise this kind of content through Patreon, nor even that it inherently deserves money just because of the effort that’s gone into it.

The reality is, however, that it illustrates the fact that the undifferentiated nature of the internet is far from a thing of the past, and that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the duopoly still has a vested interest in quantity over quality.

Chris Sutcliffe

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Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.