Web content seems to be constantly dumbing down. But are idealism and quality fighting back?
Sometimes, the internet feels like it’s locked in a race to the bottom. What was originally created as a tool to make access to knowledge universal has become nothing more than a dumping ground for pictures of cats doing stupid things, a way for schoolboys to get access to all the porn they want and a place where we can all twitter on inanely about our own lives. One wonders whether Tim Berners-Lee wishes he could close the Pandora’s box he opened.
It’s a moot point of course – he can’t. But there may be signs that internet users are getting a bit bored of hearing about what their friends had for dinner. Facebook use, for example, is falling in established markets. This might not amount to much of a hill of beans, but there is also evidence that the lofty ideals of the internet’s founders haven’t been completely abandoned – that in fact we’re witnessing a bit of a fight-back from the idealistic, intellectual side of the world wide web.
Medium, created by Twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone, is:
“…a system for reading and writing. A place where you can find and share knowledge, ideas, and stories—specifically, ones that need more than 140 characters and are not just for your friends. It’s a place where you can work with others to create something better than you can on your own.”
As they point out on the site, whilst lots of innovations have successfully opened up the web, making it easier and easier for users to publish and share information, there has been very little progress in raising the quality of what is being produced. That’s where Medium comes in.
Effectively a blogging site, Medium includes a number of tools that allow for greater collaboration between users, with the overall intention of making the content better and more relevant. It’s a great resource – I use it regularly to find useful and informative content that helps me learn more about the world I live in and do my job better.
Then there’s Upworthy. Conflating the words ‘Up’ and ‘Worthy’ kind of gives away what this one is all about. Created by Eli Pariser – he of Filter Bubble fame – and Peter Koechley, Upworthy is a self-confessed mission-oriented media company. Pariser and Koechley are motivated by one thing: to use social media to push an agenda of quality, intellectually stimulating content over the empty mix of celebrity gossip and hate that seems to dominate mainstream media (and by association, the mainstream internet).
They explain it best themselves:
“At best, things online are usually either awesome or meaningful, but everything on Upworthy.com has a little of both. Sensational and substantial. Entertaining and enlightening. Shocking and significant.
That’s what you can expect here: no empty calories. No pageview-juking slideshows. No right-column sleaze. Just a steady stream of the most irresistibly shareable stuff you can click on without feeling bad about yourself afterwards.”
Hmm. That’s sounding decidedly high-brow to me.
So, perhaps it’s a little early to start wringing our hands and grieving for the internet’s lost innocence. The idealists won’t lie still. There’s life in the clever old dog yet.
Richard Parker is head of strategy at content marketing agency Edge, where he works with brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel.