Saturday, January 15, 2011

#OriginalContent

THE PREFACE

My name is Nich. (Hi!) My Twitter bio is a concise enough explanation of me & my interests. It’s obviously not comprehensive enough, but you don’t have 25 years to get up to speed. Further, I don’t even know myself, so I don’t expect you to either. You have your thin slice, and that’ll suffice.

Second, this rant will be pedantic, high-minded, and hyper-critical at times. It will patronizing-in-simplicity, reductionistic, and broad-sweeping at others. I apologize for any gaps in my logic, but I am but one man with a netbook with small keys & a small screen & fat fingers. So yeah. Feel free to comment to correct my egregious errors. Also, I’m kind of a know-it-all & a cynic, but I’m working on fixing that. I’ve split up the rant into readable pieces.

Thirdly, let me explain the genesis of this post. This Friday, @JRCohen tweeted about how he’s bothered by the new appearance of the paper.li daily “papers” that people are pushing on their Tweeters and Facebooks. A reply by @deneyterrio initiated my engagement in the discussion. I’ve aggregated and organized the Twitter segmented conversation below. This piece will refer to comments made but not individually link to each comment since that’s less linear (& messier). I’m not a fan of paper.li. I first saw it posted from @gracerodriguez but had no desire to read someone else’s repostings. I have my Twitter feed & lists for that. I also have a Google Reader I never use anymore.

Ok, so let’s begin.

THE ACTUAL CONVERSATION

FRI, January 7th, 6:54 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23537908950503424
I mean no disrespect, but now that 20% (not accurate) of my friends and Twitter peeps have their own daily paper, how does one read them all
SAT, January 8th, 11:54 am
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23799628948307968
Original Content is best. This Daily Paper thing just seems like a way to build ones SEO. Someone help me better understand this please.
SAT, 12:00 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/deneyterrio/status/23801167997833216
@JRCohen it definitely seems like content jacking. A couple years ago it was blogs stealing your posts. It seems more sophisticated
SAT, 12:01 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/deneyterrio/status/23801486316150784
@JRCohen I'm sure most end users don't see how they are inadvertently making money for paper.li by repurposing their friends content
SAT, 12:05 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23802561123328000
@deneyterrio @JRCohen I took it more as a step in the direction of aggregating online experiences. This drives traffic to the sites, rite?
SAT, 12:06 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23802750710054912
@deneyterrio @JRCohen But I see the SEO angle now that you say it.
SAT, 12:15 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/deneyterrio/status/23805109628575744
@martnehz @JRCohen aggregation is good but it seems lazy and categorically wrong at times
SAT, 12:21 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23808344569413632
My feeling exactly RT @deneyterrio: @martnehz @JRCohen aggregation is good but it seems lazy and categorically wrong at times
SAT, 12:31 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23809122231132160
@martnehz @deneyterrio whatever happen to "Original Content?" Where are all the writers at? Even blogs are getting to where its not original
SAT, 12:32 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23809266846535680
@deneyterrio It is lazy, but that's the point, right? Trying to think of a wrong type of aggreg'n. E.g.?
SAT, 12:33 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23809441593823234
I hope not. RT @martnehz: @deneyterrio It is lazy, but that's the point, right? Trying to think of a wrong type of aggreg'n. E.g.?
SAT, 12:34 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23809761732460544
Days of reading original content on blogs seem to dwindle. Posts about posts about posts. That's what comments are for on the original blog.
SAT, 12:48 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23813305009176576
@JRCohen @deneyterrio In an info'n economy, a orig'l thot becomes just another widget being reproduced over & over until a new 1 is needed.
SAT, 12:49 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/spacecitypaula/status/23813516901224449
@JRCohen I hope not all blogs are going that way.
SAT, 12:54 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23814821594005506
@spacecitypaula I'm with you on that. Its like reading a book. I don't want to read a book about a book about a book. If that makes sense.
SAT, 1:00 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/spacecitypaula/status/23816383540232194
@JRCohen It makes sense. It's one thing if something in a post prompts you to create some new. Its another if it's just a list of links.
SAT, 1:13 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23819706863456256
@spacecitypaula exactly
SAT, 1:14 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/JRCohen/status/23819838132592641
RT @heritagetourist aggregation let's me catch things I might have missed from 1 important list not lazy, not wrong just another way 2 share
SAT, 1:37 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/raissaevans/status/23825693695545344
@JRCohen @deneyterrio @martnehz Diff btw aggreg & curation to me. Eg I trust @btruax looks at his aggreg & reposts best no-miss stuff.
SAT, 1:46 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23827965104099328
@raissaevans But that's what every1 does, right? You trust bc you find some legitimacy in @btruax. Others may not. Charlatantry is relative.
SAT 1:50 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/raissaevans/status/23828865918967808
@martnehz Right. But definition-wise, to me finding a good curator, whoever shows you value, is wise. Aggregator is noisy.
SAT 1:51 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/raissaevans/status/23829207905734656
@martnehz But to @JRCohen's point, it all means nothing wo original content. How often do we have brand new ideas?
SAT, 1:53 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/btruax/status/23829586034823168
@raissaevans Thanks for the compliment Raissa! I agree with @martnehz to an extent, I can tell when some1 didn't read, only liked the title.
SAT, 1:53 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/btruax/status/23829779597758464
@martnehz @raissaevans and posting link-bait is of no use to anyone. Further insight gained, or time was wasted. @JRCohen@deneyterrio
SAT, 1:54 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/raissaevans/status/23829863722909696
@btruax @martnehz So true. Like a twitter feed full of RTs or links, no thoughts. Blah.
SAT, 2:02 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23831879396368386
@raissaevans @btruax Or pics of food, concerts, or random strangers across the street. "Original" doesn't signify "Worthwhile".
SAT, 2:04 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/raissaevans/status/23832354837499904
@martnehz @btruax No doubt! The Facebook vs Twitter phenom. One way follow encourages better content, IMO, among other things.
SAT, 2:40 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23841431592374272
@raissaevans I would argue there is no such thing as new content, just reimaginings of it, a reshuffling of the deck. Or simply memory loss.
SAT, 2:27 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23845302146433024
@martnehz Why is this?
SAT, 2:55 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23845302146433024
@jaclyncristine Cynicism mostly, but my POV is that we're simple beings w simple desires. Everything else is elabor'n and obfusc'n.
SAT, 2:56 pm
http://twitter.com/#!/martnehz/status/23845616723435521
@jaclyncristine Despite that, I still try everyday for something new and fresh.

ADDRESSING @JRCohen’s CONCERNS

Here’s the long-short of the resposne to @JRCohen’s lamentation. It reappears lower down on the page, but I've decided to give it to you quicker so you can go on your merry way.

The basic thread of @JRCohen’s vexation comes from the fact that there is all this “content” being churned out without thought or care to be produce something “of value”. The emergence of paper.li as an aggregation tool really demonstrates how there’s a big need for there to be a dump for the knowledge people gather in order to make it seem like they are well-read people. That’s not truly their intent, but that’s the gist of what is going on underneath. I do it. We all do it. We try to be smart, on-the-edge, blah blah blah. My take on the whole deal is that @JRCohen’s biggest problem is that most people are talking more about themselves with these (lazy, sloppy) aggregators than they are trying to talk about a particular topic.

I would argue that the people that post the stuff they’re reading on Google Reader, the stuff they post on Facebook, the content they include in their daily paper.li speaks more about what they want to have represent them. In the same way those nice shoes you wear out speak about you in some way, these articles project something inside of us into a public sphere. All of these people are talking about the content that matters to them, so much as they’re talking about themselves, even if it is in a round-about manner.

The issue is that most people aren't original. And there's no possibility for them to be original.

And that's why I consider these aggregators as more of being on a spectrum of originality. They group information and communicate it in a more cogent manner. It doesn't mean the non-producers get off the hook for not being original, but they at least get more understanding from me for not always being worried about being original.

THE ACTUAL BEGINNING OF THE LINEAR-ISH RANT

INFORMATION

All information is noise. Neither the validity nor the legitimacy of the information matters to the receiver since equal amount of energy must be expended to attend to the information. All information is equal. Given the appropriate external (e.g. time, place, sender) and internal (e.g. mood, attentiveness) factors is the information perceived & received. We are human & only have 24 hours a day to consume all the information we want. Blah blah blah. So there are limitations. No biggie.

This being the Digital Age, the amount of information has increased exponentially given the fact that there is such a minimal cost in producing it. This assertion I’m pulling from a Cracked article, which clarified & cogently stated a few things I had been thinking about these topics. But yeah, lots more noise now than before. Given the increased dissemination of these digital technologies, we’re looking at the more and more noise being put out there.

Add to the equation economic structures that are so sophisticated that we are able to customize widgets to be however the purchaser wants them to be (e.g. cell phone covers, iPods, Twitter, etc.). This segmentation of experience further augments the way in which the noise is being transmitted. So I’m basically arguing there’s a Yeatsian spiraling of our online experiences. (i.e. THE END IS NEAR.) This is just a complication of the technology we've developed throughout time. It is useful to know that technology is the usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or create an artistic perspective. Thus, it makes our lives easier, but since we’re human, it also complicates our lives.

So what then do we do with all this information?

TECHNOLOGY

What usually occurs with information is that it is either discarded & forgotten or saved & guarded. The saved information is categorized and placed into groups so our brains can make sense of it. (This is how stereotypes are formed, be they good or bad.) With our new Digital World being so decentralized, it only makes sense that putting information together is the next requisite step. You see this in the creation of modern science. Inter-disciplinary scienctific studies are a huge thing now since the knowledge base (within each silo of information) has become so profound & specialized that connecting the dots is where the gaps are.

So the technology should allow us to help us sift through the information we want to keep & the information we want to get rid of. How could it help us discard/save more easily?

EGO-CENTRISM

The interesting thing with the new technology developed is that it separates us from interacting with our fellow human beings, and allows us to be enmeshed within our own psyches. Connectivity to the outside world, yes, but also the ability to sit at a bar by yourself & not need to speak to the people next to you. Understanding that these examples shed light on why the revealings about Twitter make the most sense. We are just talking to ourselves on Twitter. People may be listening, but probably not as much as we would think.

Production of digital content becomes easier too with technology. And what's the easiest stuff to talk about? Ourselves. Why? Because there's not much editing with discussions of what you're up to.

AGGREGATION VS. CURATION

The comments of @raissaevans about curation plagues me still since I still consider a lot of "curation" as aggregation. In a weird sort of way, any level of aggregation is a collecting of a disparate selection of information, which to me falls in line with "curation" by the sole fact that it entails a minimal amount of selection, regardless of the amount of selectivity. You to figure out what you're going to aggregate, even if you're not consciously trying to create some cohesive message for the received of your noise.

But @heritagetourist's comments about how aggregation is just a different way to sort information makes me feel like I'm on the right path in think that aggregation is not a negative way in which this grouping can occur. @heritagetourist's comments tie into my thesis that aggregation is detached from @JRCohen's desire for originality.

The reason @raissaevans's bifurcation between aggregation and curation plague me so is because they are inherently arbitrarily attributing value to someone. This speaks to the legitimacy discussion. @btruax is found to be a very legitimate source of information to @raissaevans while I am not. But my friends who click on my links because they know it's going to be interesting. I find that legitimacy itself is relative.

A definition I found of curation is "the selective exposition of a group of information." Aggregation is the grouping of information, but I find it not less selective since parameter-ize the information your grouping. My issue is in the value-judgement applied to curation vs. aggregation, but I will not resolve that discussion here.

MONEYS

So paper.li gets money off the fact that people want to “produce content”. I asked @deneyterrio what he thought the revenue model was for paper.li, and he stated, “There are ads in someones daily page plus all the link juice goes back to paper.li. They are making money off of people's content for free”.

My opinion is that if someone else figured out how to monetize your content, that's the free market for you. Sure, there are people who make money off their web-produced content, but they aren't complaining that someone is making money off sending traffic to their site. It's a simple interstitial economy that's been created as a middle-man-ry of the intur-webz.

There's a trade-off for everything, and the intur-webz is no different. You can't have the freedom of being easily searchable without the downside of having your content taken without your consent. In the case of paper.li, no one expects their paper.li to make money but provide content to their public. I don't see it any different than from anything else I see going on within the socialized web experience.

ORIGINALITY

Now, I have spent the majority of the past decade trying to be original, to strive to be different and something more than what has proceeded. For the past 7 years, I’ve tried to achieve this with my writing. This mindset has only led to a lot of frustration & anxiety and mixed results in terms of original content. Only within the past two years have I been able relinquish myself of these negatives affects for something more constructive. My perspective shifted once I made the observation about the sole emphasis on being “original”. The perspective I got is stated concisely by Luis Buñuel:
“I already presume that everything has already been done throughout the history of humankind... As such, there’s a liberation in knowing that you don’t have to be original. It’s contrived. It doesn’t exist. The human experience is so broad & far-reaching that one will never be completely original. Your originality is but a pocket in time. When you’re not racing to be original, your mind frees itself to focus on making something new to you. And that’s all anyone can ask of you."
That’s why in business (as opposed to art), there’s lots of repetition. It’s more efficient that way, given the fact that the primary motive in a business to make a profit. A light bulb factory doesn’t need to create the machine to produce the light bulbs they sell. They just need to take whatever light-bulb-building-machine exists and produce light bulbs the way they think they can make ‘em. The world’s changed, and so has the economy of the developed world. We are an information economy. I assert that these people who use the paper.li service are but a new generation of factory workers who reproduce what’s already been created with their light-bulb-building-machine.

Not everyone is original. It’s just a given fact. GE can produce light bulbs, but it took Thomas Edison to first invent it. And we’re not all Thomas Edisons. But even then, Thomas Edison isn’t Thomas Edison. We as a society cling to the few elite producers of originality. That’s why originality is so prized because it’s so rare.

I would argue that despite the fact that people are producing content unique to only themselves, that doesn't mean it's at all quality or original. Some people just aren't able to produce stuff that's original. They just reproduce what they've seen, heard, touched. By doing so, they create their own patische of what's already been done. Most people are like that because it's easier to do it. It requires no effort to create, only minimal commentary on stuff that already exists. Additionally, that's why the tool of irony and irreverence gets old quickly. It's a tool of the young and angsty. Yes, I realizes it's a tool of the weak mind, and I do it too, but to base your whole discourse in a destructive light is general #lamesauce.

The basic thread of @JRCohen’s vexation comes from the fact that there is all this “content” being churned out without thought or care to be produce something “of value”. The emergence of paper.li as an aggregation tool really demonstrates how there’s a big need for there to be a dump for the knowledge people gather in order to make it seem like they are well-read people. That’s not truly their intent, but that’s the gist of what is going on underneath. I do it. We all do it. We try to be smart, on-the-edge, blah blah blah. My take on the whole deal is that @JRCohen’s biggest problem is that most people are talking more about themselves with these (lazy, sloppy) aggregators than they are trying to talk about a particular topic. And obviously talking to your friend who only takes about themselves takes a lot more patience than someone who talks about a smattering of world issues.

I would argue that the people that post the stuff they’re reading on Google Reader, the stuff they post on Facebook, the content they include in their daily paper.li speaks more about what they want to have represent them. In the same way those nice shoes you wear out speak about you in some way, these articles project something inside of us into a public sphere. All of these people are talking about the content that matters to them, so much as they’re talking about themselves, even if it is in a round-about manner.

The issue is that most people aren't original. And there's no possiblity for them to be original.

And that's why I consider these aggregators as more of being on a spectrum of originality. They group information and communicate it in a more cogent manner. It doesn't mean the non-producers get off the hook for not being original, but they at least get more understanding from me for not always being worried about being original.

ORIGINAL CONTENT

The only reason I decided to initially join the conversation was because group of my tech-conscious friends and I were having a discussion with regards to “aggregation” of information we encounter through our travailing through the intur-webz.

We were lamenting the fact that there is no service that really allows an intur-webz keep track of the topics they find interesting. Basically, it’d be an archiving plus RSS technology combined to allow users. Google Reader does this, but it doesn’t segment by topic. So it allows one to see channels & allows one to post & archive what one finds interesting, but it’s very linear. Nor does Google Reader proactively search for keywords that matter to you.

In terms of RSS technology, you could save a search page (on Google, Twitter, etc.), but I had a vision of one “place” where the dynamic search would update with a spot for saved pages you’re interested in. The technology exists for dynamic search, but I think some of the most key ones I’m thinking of are proprietary. Further, there should be the ability of the “place” to download the webpages of interest in their entirety because some pages go behind a firewall after a certain amount of time (think of the New York Times). If you cached a page on some cloud-based server, than you’d be able to refer to the article whenever you needed. This might not be legal, but it’s very much possible with the current technology out there.

So yeah.

So what have I done? Have I aggregated? Have I curated? Have I really created something new? Or am I borrowing from something from my past? Tell me what you think because I don’t know.


FYI:
The mere task of putting together the Tweeter conversations into one cohesive, linear dialogue took me 30 minutes. That's just simple aggregation, and it still took a long time. I can't imagine how long being truly original would've taken.