Is this what online news has come to?

by Mathew on September 10, 2008 · 35 comments

I know I’m not really saying anything new here, but every now and then when I look at Techmeme it fills me with despair. Well, maybe not despair exactly — but a definite sinking feeling. It’s bad enough when Apple news takes over the entire page of Techmeme headlines, but at least that occasionally involves something worth writing about, and some differing opinions. Then you have days like today, with the announcement by Research In Motion of the new BlackBerry Flip, formerly known as the Kickstart (way better name, by the way). Here’s a screenshot:

So what do we have here? A press release by RIM leading off — which I’m totally fine with, by the way — and then almost 20 sub-links from blogs and tech sites. At first I thought the problem was just a lack of smart or snappy headlines, since each one sounds exactly like the next (with a couple of exceptions). But then I went and read every single post and story, and guess what? They are almost exactly the same. Hey, RIM has introduced the Flip! Here are some pics! Here’s the press release! The end. Again, there are a few exceptions — Kevin Restivo tried to insert a bit of analysis, as did Wired and a couple of others. But the rest, nada. What exactly is the purpose of this? To grab as many cheap pageviews as possible? I know some of this stuff has to be done, like sports scores or the weather or whatever, but still. It’s sad.

  • mark

    This Globe article on the top 5 cell phones for women made me really really sad.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RT

    Bloggers passing news on to their audiences, who some — I am sure — wouldn't hear about the new product launch otherwise, doesn't bother me greatly.

  • mmasnick

    Yup. These days we're showing up less and less on Techmeme, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    While it's definitely not true of all, it does feel like the “reprint press release” blogosphere has become a lot more front and center compared to the “let's discuss and analyze what's important” part of the blogosphere.

    I still tend to believe that there's real value in more analytical stuff, but who knows…

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I'm with you, Mike. Maybe we should form our own breakaway blogosphere :-)

  • mmasnick

    Sign me up. :)

  • csmillie

    Its the new SEO… Stay on the Meme and you benefit from easy traffic. I agree its not a good situation.

  • http://www.journalistopia.com Danny Sanchez

    Unfortunately, having to SEO headlines is responsible for a sizable chunk of the lame heds out on the net. It's a shame, but if you're the one who doesn't do it, you get left off all the aggregators and search sites. Sad, really, considering how many clever headlines run in newspapers (the dead tree kind).

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  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's a good point, Danny. I'd forgotten about that. Everyone wants
    to get as many keywords as possible in the headline. It may make for
    good SEO, but unfortunately it also makes for a whole lot of crap
    headlines.

  • http://gigaom.com Om

    Mathew

    This merited exactly 200 characters on gigaom daily. Someday people will realize that it isn't how much, but how succinct that matters the most. Regardless, this is the problem with too much link driven news posting. the stuff that is relevant gets left behind.

  • http://gigaom.com Om

    Mike

    I am not sure what you are saying here. I think to your last comment – analytical stuff is important and relevant – as long as you don't care about being in techmeme. i am finding relief and creativity in getting off the news bandwagon. it makes life so much simpler.

  • http://gigaom.com Om

    everyone should read new york post and learn the art of the headline. not craft of the seo keyword. :-)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I think that's a great solution, Om — longer than a Twitter post it certainly doesn't deserve.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    How disingenuous, Mathew, as nearly your entire online œuvre consists of rapidly summarizing other people’s posts so you’ll look connected or like some kind of guru.

  • mmasnick

    Yeah. We've never been about breaking stories. I have no problem waiting a few days to write about things after I've thought about them and found that I actually have something to say.

    But, what's weird is that because we're in the blogosphere, people seem to *expect* us to write about breaking news stories. I can't believe how many times I get emails from people saying “I can't believe you're not covering x — everyone else is.” As if it's a requirement.

    And while I'm mostly joking about all of this, I do sort of miss the camaraderie of the tech blogosphere of a few years ago, where it was a lot more about linking and sharing ideas and discussing, rather than being first to break a story and claim credit or get the top spot on Techmeme. Somewhere over the past few years, it seems like a more shark-like mentality has taken over among some, and I find it disappointing to find what used to be friendly relationships turned into some sort of “with us or against us” scenario.

    I've had too many situations where what I thought was a friendly relationship turn into something where someone was suddenly challenging me on why I would link to someone else or do something with another site. And that's the sort of stuff I could do without.

    What was a discussion salon turned into high school cliques in some cases.

    I'm not complaining, though. I just keep doing what I do and focus on what I have control over. I can't change what other people do, but I can note that I find the whole concept of the competitive nature of the tech blogosphere not enjoyable. So I stay out of it. But that doesn't mean it's not disappointing to see it take over Techmeme at times.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks for the putdown as usual, Joe. At least it's a bit better than pissing all over everyone all the time, which seems to be your oeuvre.

  • http://ericrice.com Eric Rice

    Welcome to the meta conversation that has frustrated so many of us for so long. Seriously, I need ONE MORE BLOG POST ON CHROME. :)

  • mark

    Hi Mathew — sorry to be troll-like in with my comment above, and I risk sounding more obtuse than ever by saying this, but here goes — you don't have to read bloggers (or journalists) who suck.

    Are their lazy bloggers out there practising me-too reporting? Absolutely. But you don't have to read them. (Without techmeme you don't even have to know about them.) As a reader, sometimes I want analysis and sometimes I want just to be in the know. There is nothing wrong with that — no matter the length of the post.

    Look at the above commenters alone… Om and Mike prove their is a meritocracy at work. Feeling despair at the efforts of lesser bloggers is a waste of positive energy.

    I wish wish wish that the blogosphere can postpone that phase TV went through in the late 70s where all the insiders went sour on it (its zenith being Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death). I am sensing that slide everytime I see a post like this.

    At the end of the day your own writing stands for itself. Imagine the novelists back in the 30s all piling on each other. Well? We only remember the good ones now. Each blog stands — and should be judged — on its own. The blogosphere – or journalism for that matter – is a straw man.

    best.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Fair enough, Mark — and you are quite right that I don't have to read them (and nor does anyone else, of course). And maybe if Techmeme keeps pointing them out, pretty soon no one will read them :-)

  • http://bighow.com Pramit Singh

    Nice Commentary, Mathew.

    The Techmeme Echo Chamber is worse than we thought.

    It is time Gabe Rivera fixed the Techmeme algorithm and put on more analysis on the front page.

  • http://www.broadstuff.com alan p

    Nice post – inspired me to write a short piece of analysis on how Ad supported “Free” media is driving this descent into crap.

    http://broadstuff.com/archives/1222-Will-the-fu

  • Bob

    Could be worse. Remember that time when the front page was flooded with posts about some dude canceling his Twitter account? THAT was sad…

  • http://www.geekregator.com Michael Schoebel

    Well, your posting is listed on TechMeme. So at least on some level it worked. :-)

    You may wanna try this news-site instead: http://www.geekregator.com
    Much less overloaded.

  • http://mikecane2008.wordpress.com Mike Cane

    And you just noticed this now?

  • http://www.allaboutnortel.com Mark Evans

    Everyone loves jumping on bandwagons. Unfortunately, the not-so-pretty side of Techmeme is lots of people want to be part of the conversation but have nothing original to add other than parroting the news or the thoughts of someone else.

    While not to suggest I'm completely innocent of falling the same sword from time to time, you just have to think twice about whether you're just creating more noise or offering some insight when the urge to write a post hits you.

  • http://techwag.com dan

    Yes, and techmeme is suddenly irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, much like technorati was the thing a few years ago, techmeme is basically useless as a way to get good stuff, because everyone writes for Techmeme now. There are other better sources that few know about that are much more relevant, and harder to game.

  • http://randalljhoward.com Randall Howard

    Mathew,
    I'm with you on that. And the problem you describe is even much worse on mobile phones with their small screen real estate. I'm guessing that a new generation of filtering technology will have to be invented (called, perhaps Needle – as in Haystack) to find wisdom amongst the noise.

    Randall

  • Peter

    I think the print newspapers have the same problem, but it is not so noticeable since you don't buy every newspaper to compare if they run the same story. Often they do. On Internet it seems worse just because technology allows us to harvest all those links and show them on one place.

    From another perspective, every techblog has its own audience. Shouldn't it post some news just because other were quicker?

  • http://www.geekregator.com Michael Schoebel

    Well, your posting is listed on TechMeme. So at least on some level it worked. :-)

    You may wanna try this news-site instead: http://www.geekregator.com
    Much less overloaded.

  • http://mikecane2008.wordpress.com Mike Cane

    And you just noticed this now?

  • http://www.allaboutnortel.com Mark Evans

    Everyone loves jumping on bandwagons. Unfortunately, the not-so-pretty side of Techmeme is lots of people want to be part of the conversation but have nothing original to add other than parroting the news or the thoughts of someone else.

    While not to suggest I'm completely innocent of falling the same sword from time to time, you just have to think twice about whether you're just creating more noise or offering some insight when the urge to write a post hits you.

  • http://techwag.com dan

    Yes, and techmeme is suddenly irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, much like technorati was the thing a few years ago, techmeme is basically useless as a way to get good stuff, because everyone writes for Techmeme now. There are other better sources that few know about that are much more relevant, and harder to game.

  • http://randalljhoward.com Randall Howard

    Mathew,
    I'm with you on that. And the problem you describe is even much worse on mobile phones with their small screen real estate. I'm guessing that a new generation of filtering technology will have to be invented (called, perhaps Needle – as in Haystack) to find wisdom amongst the noise.

    Randall

  • Peter

    I think the print newspapers have the same problem, but it is not so noticeable since you don't buy every newspaper to compare if they run the same story. Often they do. On Internet it seems worse just because technology allows us to harvest all those links and show them on one place.

    From another perspective, every techblog has its own audience. Shouldn't it post some news just because other were quicker?

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