Drew Breunig about the creeping, corrupting allure of ‘content’

Posted January 13, 2012 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

This article by Drew Breunig about the growing emphasis on “content” is worth a read.

Lots of organisations today have stopped thinking about themselves as creating photography or literature or artworks or music or whatnot. Eclipsing these old categories is the notion of “content”, a more fungible substance whose value can be easily determined by a uniform set of metrics such as page views or revenue-per-impression:

This is the allure of “content”: it allows comforting, structured data which simplifies the complexity of a large business and makes decisions less intimidating. Executives aren’t making qualitative picks regarding art or an artist, they’re merely signing off on whichever “content” produces more valuable metrics.

Breunig’s central point is that good writing is good for reasons that are difficult to quantify – something that’s always been the case, but is especially pertinent now that we have modern metrics for determining content’s “effectiveness”. These modern metrics don’t tell us much about the content’s intrinsic quality, nor help us respond correctly when these metrics take a nosedive.

It’s true that when we look at a piece of online content these days we’re like EEG-wired chimpanzees being given fruit in an experimental research lab. What feels to us like a simple transaction (you want the content, you ask for it, you’re given it) is in fact taking place under the bright glare of forensic analysis, with a dizzying array of analytics algorithms, advertising platforms and social networking hooks lurking underneath the source code watching our every move. What’s important to us – the content itself – is increasingly irrelevant to the content providers, who are more interested in the metrics we generate for them.

Thankfully, though, this isn’t a fatalistic condemnation of a corrupted artless modern world:

All this would be tremendously depressing if it wasn’t creating an enormous opportunity for people with the courage to look beyond the numbers, where it’s too messy to measure, and invest in journalism, videos, photography, and art people might actually enjoy.

I agree with Drew here – people are able to tell the difference between SEO-gaming hackery and decent writing, and in the long run the smart money is on them choosing the latter. Read the full article here.

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