Curation and trust is the other Internet problem

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 28, 2020, 6:21 PM | comments: 0

As much as I loathe the duopoly of the Internet that limits the potential to earn for your work, those platforms have another problem: They lack curation and trust. Well, let me be more specific, there are algorithms that attempt to curate and people blindly trust them. The overall quality of what you can find suffers. I think the quality exists, but it isn't always discoverable.

An astute observer of things on CoasterBuzz pointed out that there seems to be an inverse relationship between engagement on the Internet and the resulting quality of the conversation. Surely if you've ever looked at YouTube comments, or frankly most of Twitter, you already know this. That's part of the reason I advocate on behalf of niche communities like those that I operate. My engagement ratio might be 100 to 1, but I'd like to think it means better conversation. I'm amused that some people find the cliquiness to be unwelcoming compared to the dumpster fire of YouTube comments, but that's cool.

Engagement as a whole is the incentive that drives the Internet content engine, but it incentivizes all the wrong things. Look at YouTube's model: To get paid for your work, you need to have a thousand subscribers and some number of hours of watching to be "in." For some creative and smart people, certainly this results in some great content and well deserved attention (see Simone and Mark). But it also results in a ton of people who just make the worst, ephemeral garbage where they shout "like and subscribe!" in every post. In fact they have to do that because that's the model. And when people do that, it algorithmically promotes the worst stuff, much in the way that Facebook creates an echo chamber of conspiracy theories for flat-earthers.

Mind you, Google's ads and search algorithm do the same thing, by incentivizing popularity. The machine can't measure how useful, interesting or even subjectively "good" something is.

Even in entertainment circles, this has created an interesting situation, and I'm not sure that it's "better." On one hand, yes, you can literally publish an album and potentially get some traction, without the help of a record label. On the other hand, because the taste-making power has moved from large corporations to algorithms, there is no human curation anymore. It's all gamed.

This in turn creates a trust issue. Was it better to have the taste-makers telling me what to think, or the machines being gamed by clever people (or abused by bottom feeder dick-and-fart joke proprietors)? This isn't limited entertainment, either. We see it every day in "news," and a willfully ignorant electorate that has resigned to not think critically or accept that which is objectively true.

Back in the day, we got our news from the local newspaper and one of three nightly network news programs. One could argue that there may be some bias in these, but there was reasonable care to report the facts and let you decide. That doesn't mean there weren't editorials. Newspapers still do this, as distinctly separate entities from their newsrooms, and TV did it back in the day too. People understood the difference between news and commentary, and it was clearly labeled as such. Now, cable "news" networks blur that line, or disregard it entirely, and people don't even care. Or worse, people get their news from the Internet algorithm, which is to say their own biases are willfully satisfied. The big three have been losing their audience for decades, which is unfortunate because they still, for the most part, attempt to exercise the same reasonable care.

Where does this leave us? If people are unwilling to engage in critical thinking, I think we're kind of fucked and headed toward the movie Idiocracy in real life. Maybe, if we're lucky, people will realize that not trusting smart people and experts, maybe even more enlightened artists, is not really working out. I think accepting facts should be the easy part. I mean, one shouldn't be able to be convinced that something red is actually blue unless they're color blind. Dare to dream?

For me, I don't think that it makes me elite that I can recognize the expert credentials of someone in a particular field to value what they have to say about that field. I can recognize that Dave Grohl is an exceptional artist, and Kanye is at best a strong self-promoter and collaborator. I can definitely see that the systemic oppression of women and minorities is an ongoing problem. On the flip side, yeah, I'm going to defer to the people at AltNation to tell me what the sweet new tracks are this week in the world of alt rock. I'll read reviews of movies and books before I invest the time in them. Curation is valuable to me when I don't have expertise or time.


No comments yet.

Post your comment: