Two months ago, I posted about leaving Technorati and starting a design studio. I also lamented how hard it was to find a good domain name, and lots of you wrote in with fabulous suggestions and offers. I tried to reply to everyone, but please forgive me if I didn't get back to you. They were all great.
Here's the thing. Less than two months after starting the design company, things have shifted. I'm still starting a company with my good friend Paul, but it's transmogrified into something else. (Guess it's a good thing we never did settle on a name.)
The new company is going to be ... pure awesomeness. After years of putting designs to other people's visions, I'm finally going to be able to do it for myself. I've come up with lots of ideas over the years, but this is the first one that's got all the elements in line: the right time, with the right people, and the right technology. Plus there's an actual business plan.
There's some drama afoot lately as bloggers pick apart Digg's user-controlled editorial system, looking for evidence of editors lurking in the darkness. But much of the conversation is overlooking a crucial nuance when it comes to authentic media and democratic editorial systems.
For the uninitiated, Digg is a tech news site, where the members post links to interesting stuff, and then the community chooses which links get promoted to the front page. For readers, this means they see stuff that a lot of people think is interesting, which is why the site is so popular.
Digg's members influence which stories get promoted by "digging" those stories. A digg is like a vote, and everybody gets one. How, exactly, a story winds up on the Digg homepage is never explicitly disclosed, but most people have assumed that the front page is simply a collection of the stories with the most votes. And, certainly, Digg has encouraged this view. Their about page simply says, "Once a story has received enough diggs, it is instantly promoted."
But a simple voting system is not necessarily the best way to provide an interesting experience for users. In fact, it might very well be the worst.
Attention Daily Show with Jon Stewart:
Hire this man immediately.
Don't make me beg.
In 1996, Paulina Borsook wrote a story that, frankly, really pissed me off. In "Cyberselfish," published in Mother Jones and eventually turned into a book, she wrote about how new have-it-your-way technology was creating a generation of spoiled brats with computers.
I took umbrage. Not only was I a proud member of the generation she was lambasting (a generation that is now oldschool on the internet, for whatever that's worth), but I had personally observed just the opposite. I witnessed people using new digital tools to collaborate. I saw more selflessness and altruism online than off. From the Open Source movement of the nineties to the mashup culture of today, I see a web that plays well with others. If the medium really is the message, I think the internet's core message can be summed up in one word: Share.
Nowadays, people get that a lot more than they used to, and there are a host of new companies built to enable this sharing. But I fear that, in our rush to embrace the contributory culture of the internet, this new crop of startups is forgetting one thing: Paulina Borsook wasn't wrong.
Can I make a suggestion? Let's all stop using the phrase "user-generated content." I'm serious. It's a despicable, terrible term. Let's deconstruct it.
User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.
Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.
Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.
So what's user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.
Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online "user-generated content" is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, "Hey baby, let's have intercourse."
This section is called Just a Thought. It's a blog where I post little pieces of what I'm thinking about at the moment. This page shows thoughts from April 2006, including:
What I'm Up To Now
26 April 2006
The Wisdom of Browse
20 April 2006
Attention Daily Show
20 April 2006
Design for Selfishness
11 April 2006
Death to User-Generated Content
4 April 2006
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Working the web since 1995, Derek Powazek is the creator of many award-winning websites, a couple of which still exist. Derek is the cofounder of JPG Magazine and the CCO of 8020 Publishing. Derek lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred. More »
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What I'm Up To Now 26 April 2006
The Wisdom of Browse 20 April 2006
Attention Daily Show 20 April 2006
Design for Selfishness 11 April 2006
Death to User-Generated Content 4 April 2006