Drowning in a rising tide

Writing in this week's InfoWorld, Ephraim Schwartz says:

Google and its competitors are fighting for market share because, now, market share in and of itself means success. From now on, "the next big thing" will not mean great technology; it will mean whichever online entity can come up with the most "viewers."

If that means the content is at the bottom of the intelligence barrel, you won't hear investors complaining and you will see a lot of copycats. But what you won't see are inventive twenty-somethings putting their skills toward coming up with innovative technology to change our lives.
Of course the same dynamic applies to all modes of sausage content production, including Ephraim's and mine and, according to Dave Winer, our Business 2.0 colleagues:

IWM: Are you offering staffers any incentives to blog?

Quittner: We're doing something that is novel for Time Inc. Our bloggers will be directly remunerated on the basis of their traffic. They'll be paid a modest CPM. Time Inc. will sell advertising on the individual blogs. So the bloggers will get to participate in the revenue they generate. [I Want Media: Josh Quittner: 'Everybody Wants to Be a Blogger']

Sounds great, right? Yes and no. The meritocratic impulse is terrific. But when dollars are attached only to the quantity of readers, listeners, and viewers, with no consideration given to their quality, the outcomes are predictable. Sensationalism will trump reason. "Content producers" will lie awake at night inventing new forms of astroturfing. We will race to the bottom.

The excruciating irony is that we are now, for the first time, in a position to do what media have always aspired to do. We can create durable relationships with subscribers (remember them?); we can progressively find out about our readers, listeners, and viewers; we can describe them to advertisers in ways that will support better "content" and better advertising. But that would require innovation which, as Ephraim quite rightly points out, is drowning in the rising tide.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2006/10/18.html#a1547