Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Mediocrity

I just got back from a conference on custom content, a term that encompasses a lot but implies editorial or other 'content' that is created specifically for a sponsoring company. An example would be a magazine paid for by a pharmaceutical company that has a series of (hopefully informative) articles and, oh by the way, some of those articles refer to the company's products. It's a type of marketing that seeks to engage the consumer more enthusiastically than a simple ad could ever do. 

There are a variety of custom media nowadays, and many of the speakers spent considerable time opining on the benefits of using social media like Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere as part of a custom media marketing plan. The point was also made over and over again that we are living in a world where the sheer volume of information about everything under the sun has multiplied algorithmically, and will continue to do so. 

In fact, one opinion leader sagely decreed that nowadays 'everybody is a publisher,' with the profusion of blogs and tweets and chats and ramblings threatening to clog up the internet. Someone in the audience wisely asked, 'If that's so, what is the effect of all this 'content' -- some of it is not going to be any good, so how do we know the difference?' The speaker's answer surprised and pissed me off. He said that although the content on the web varies in ability, it is by definition 'just good enough', and maintained that big media companies aren't looking nowadays so much for quality writing (he cited The New Yorker) as they are looking for opportunities for engagement. It doesn't so much matter if the writer's grammar is dodgy so much as it is lively and engaging.

This conversation reminded me of my war against the word 'content,' which I have most emphatically lost. Early on in the advent of the internet people started calling the editorial that was to be found on their site 'content.' The word 'content' is such a nondescriptive, throwaway word for what should hopefully be editorial that is thoughtful, well-crafted, and artfully presented. 'Content', for me, an editor, was a disgraceful put-down. It sought to make the medium—the internet itself—more important than the message to be found in the words themselves. 

So now I go to a meeting and listen to a thought leader who admits, yeah, 'content' can be pretty bad, but big media doesn't care that much. Here's an example from the squash world of lousy content—editorial that deserves the damning sobriquet 'content.'

What does this have to do with squash? Well, not much, but the internet's insatiable thirst for whatever it can get to fill its trillion pages is a recipe for mediocrity. I'm happy to say I haven't met too many squash players who are mediocre people, I've always found something special about the people who play this game. We are all editorial people, not 'content' people. Thank heaven for that!  


  1. I perhaps wouldnt take the presenter word for word. If he was good enough to present to people he would probably acknowledge that http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-sport-of-squash.htm - the site you link to - was probably only created to get traffic from search engines in order to profit from advertising (which is quite aggressively placed on the site) & was created by staff that are paid to churn out low quality generic content by the hour to thousands of topics. Kind of like Wikipedia just with people who dont know about what they are writing.

    I think what he meant was that nowadays it is more important to give people a platform to interact and that interaction doesnt have to be to the standard of the New Yorker. Look at Squashsite as an example - they post updates from everyone and they strongly vary in quality, but it has a live and energetic feel to it which is more important than an eloquently phrased match report. So this kind of content, although not high-quality in the traditional sense, is cool, whereas the content like above, only created to make money out of it, is crap. On another note, from a Squash perspective there is probably still too little cool websites around that let users really interact with eachother. You only have some forums and message boards, but nothing that has a real community feel to it.

  2. From the same world come "content providers", custom publishing, advertorials, "special sponsored sections" and infomercials. You know them all. Keep the blog going. From a tiny acorn, etc .....

  3. Dan Zilic, you have some great observations there, you know what you are talking about. Good points. And thanks Anonymous for the thumbs up on the blog!


Sorry, but due to increasing spam, I've added the Word Verification step. My policy on comments is anything goes, as long as it is about squash and as long as it isn't unnecessarily nasty....