Once upon a time we spoke of songs, albums, images and articles. Nowadays, it’s called content: the stuff that makes the world go round.

The Waterfall Of ‘Content’

It’s like this huge frickin’ waterfall and you’re just throwing your pebble in and it carries on down the waterfall and that’s that. Right, okay, next. – Thom Yorke

In a world of retweeting and reblogging we find ourselves constantly looking for new stuff. Whether we’re private individuals or manning the treadmills of corporate Facebook accounts we all need a constant supply of content to woo potential customers, fans or just entertain our friends.

Some of the most popular websites on the Internet are focused solely on the recycling of stuff. They call it “curating”, i.e. scouring the webs for interesting videos, pictures, articles and categorizing it. These curators have become an important force in dealing with the daily onslaught of new stuff.

For example, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Bazillions of words are published every second. Most of it is quite probably irrelevant to you and me. This is why we’ve become increasingly reliant on the curators, the data consuming power users that wade through the dirt, always looking for that rare gem.

Fishing Upstream

But also the curators are just human. When you study the setup of power users, how they aggregate feeds, favorite, comment, tag and automatically redistribute items of interest across increasingly complex schedules – it seems the curators are simply reacting to other curators’ feeds.

Each blogger and publisher knows the feeling of needing something new to publish. There’s the option of hunkering down for hours and trying to come up with something unique that only a handful of people might ever read, or you could just share the viral “content” item of the day. If you have your feeds set up smartly you can find out about that new cat video or autotune parody before the big blogs publish it. In other words, if you fish for content upstream, you can “sell” it to the waiting masses below, earning thousands of views, comments and shares which can be translated into advertising clicks and cold hard cash.

But do we really need another content mill for cute animals and fail videos? How many memes can a person consume a day before their synapses backfire?

The Overestimated Value Of Virality

Virality is [the] quintessential product of communicative capitalism – Rob Horning

Over the last few years I have become increasingly wary of the viral. I’ve had my own moments of seeing posts rack up hundreds of thousands of views due to Reddit and StumbleUpon, but as exciting as it may be to watch that counter spinning and spinning, ultimately I wonder what has been accomplished.

Since I don’t display advertising on any of my web projects (by the way…), big traffic doesn’t translate into cash for me. In that sense, at least, I’m not forced to pander to the mainstream. Nevertheless, it’s always good to remind oneself:

  • the quality of creative work is not determined by its quantitative spread

Just as many good writings are not discovered due to the ubiquitous TL;DR, the viral hit of today will be forgotten tomorrow.

  • just because something doesn’t get picked up immediately it doesn’t mean it’s not worth sharing

The internet and accelerated tech culture has generated an expectation of immediate gratification. Everything is always already available, only one click away. As with all things in life, the really good stuff, however, doesn’t work like that. An essay which is still worth reading in 10 years doesn’t magically appear by clicking “like”. Just as it takes time to create great things, it takes time for people to discover them.

So if you need to “generate traffic” to survive, go ahead and do a repost or reaction once in a while, but please – don’t become just another curator curating the curators.

photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Jesse Draper