Curation Gone Wrong

Although I have never spent much time on Reddit, I once perused Digg with the same frequency that I opened Twitter and my RSS reader; sometimes, I even opted for the former in place of the latter. Similarly, I favored Hacker News over the more popular Techmeme for a time. In both cases though, despite all the enjoyment I found in these sites, I eventually abandoned each of them as the value they provided continued a disappointing slide towards zero. Today, Daring Fireball and The Loop are the closest things to a curation service that I continue visiting regularly, and one could certainly make an argument against their characterization as such.

Yet, even today, my refuges from the deluge of idiocy I find so prevalent on Reddit, less so on Digg, and only often enough on the remaining two to be annoying, even The Loop has begun that slide towards catering to the greatest common denominator in its paltry commentary and increasing reliance on third parties rather than original content to provide its users something new and interesting to read. Even as I criticize The Loop, Digg, and other, similar sites for falling from on high and following this trend downwards though, I must recognize the prudence of this move, for in doing so they have each perfected the curation model many consider so rare and elusive, and optimized it to such a degree so as to maximize its effectiveness. In short, for as much criticism as I and like-minded individuals particularly in the tech space like to lob at the Reddits of the world and, in my case, The Loops of the world, they have done exactly what we asked to the fullest extend possible.

I frequented Digg, Hacker News, and The Loop in search of interesting, thought-provoking pieces primarily written about subjects and industries related in some way to that of technology. Although there certainly is a market for such aggregators, it is nowhere near as large as the one for the incredibly broad category of enjoyable things. Moreover, the latter requires a great deal less effort to create, maintain, and run. So although Hacker News and The Loop have yet to devolve thusly, make no mistake: the temptation is there no matter how cleverly Digg may hide it behind an attractive coat of paint. And unfortunately, powerhouses in this space like Reddit and Buzzfeed have succumbed and made the tempting decision to use their power for evil instead of good — at least when viewed from this point of view, anyway.

Reddit and Digg are both “it”, those are the methods we search for in curation, except they curate the wrong topic for you and I who would read Hacker News; they work to a fault, showcasing cat pictures and memes because those are the things that, on average, the most people enjoy, the most people click on, and the most people share with others. It’s not that these machines are broken, then, as we might be want to portray them, but simply a result of the fact that these are the things that people are talking about.

It would not be altogether inappropriate to say that cat pictures are the third rail of the internet, the source of almost guaranteed popularity and, thus, revenue. However, unlike in politics, the act of touching this fluffy rail carries with it no significant consequences in this sector: they may lose the geeks, but they have a world to gain.