Monetisation by advertising will always suck

You know when you’ve had an idea in your head, but not been able to articulate it cogently, and then someone else does? I think Richard Ziade’s just done that for me with a rant about web content:

In the never-ending quest to get page views, the choices writers and editors are making to attract eyeballs and drive traffic are creating a new breed of low-brow, gimmicky disposable content.  At its best it adds little insight and at its worst amounts to a slimy bait-and-switch (catchy headline, nothing to say in the article).

It’s the new clutter. The article itself has devolved into a flashing, animated pile of fluff. The casualty of the rat race towards ad impressions isn’t just crappy layout and thoughtless art direction. It’s awful and useless content.

To me, this seems to be an all but inevitable result of attempting to fund the majority of the web publishing economy with advertising, which in turn is a natural outcome of the post-2000-goldrush exuberance that in the future, everything will be FREE.

The problem with advertising is that a casual or dissatisfied eyeball pays off just as well as an engaged, satisfied eyeball—quite possibly the former pays better, since a dissatisfied mind is more likely to wander away from the content looking for gewgaws to purchase. People (and companies) respond to this incentive, and attempt to gain maximal payoff with minimal effort.

Compare the open web with the content in Amazon’s e-book store (or any paid-content service): sure, there are plenty of bad books, but the vast majority are honest attempts to provide something of value, even if the author’s skill is found wanting.

Curiously enough, it’s not the lack of income that causes this: in places where advertising isn’t possible (e.g. wikipedia, feedbooks etc.) the average quality of content is higher. What seems to be important is not the size of the incentive, but the direction in which it pushes.

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