May 14, 2010

It's Time to Stand for Something Better (Again)

If you're anything like me, then you take in a lot of information. You might be reading a ton of RSS feeds or watching the streams from Twitter, Google Buzz and other social networks. You might be creating a lot of content on your own - be it on your own blog, or through various social media outposts. You might consider yourself a podcaster or a photographer or a video blogger. But no matter your venue, or tool of choice, you're no doubt seeing a lot of duplication of content or low-quality content, as the metrics by which we are all measured are driving for quantity instead of quality.

In March of 2009, I said we should aim to stand for something and become someone. I believe we should not be sacrificing our own personal ideals and our own internal moral compasses in a never-ending battle for position, for status, for scoops, or for access. I believe we should treat those we interact with online with respect and an adherence to high standards in the way that we would like to be treated - and I don't think we are doing enough as content consumers and producers to do a great job.

What we are seeing as we see stories echoed and echoed ad infinitum without additional content or insight is a naive battle of blind ignorance, as many sites pretend the others don't exist. What we are seeing when sites are pushing the boundaries of the law to get access to a pre-release gadget is outside of acceptable norms. What we are seeing when reporters are copying the full text of press releases or recapping blog posts from tech companies is not what we were called to do.

One of the reasons you haven't seen as many posts per day here of late is because I am setting up fairly strict guidelines for what makes it on the site. I still cover some of my favorite services and companies here with regularity, plus the new challengers, on top of my own analysis of big news and my own personal experiences with technology and trends. But I am trying not to be the 20th site to re-report news someone else broke, or to beat your brains into mush with the 15th update about the same service in a limited time frame.

Being a blogger or a connected social media user means you have a voice, and it's up to you how you want to use it. You can build things up or you can tear things down. You can have a sense of trust of people and companies, or you can be a cynic. You can start rumors and hope companies scramble to verify or discredit your comments, or you can ask them in advance to see if your story is right.

Lately, I have had some concerns about the ways some of my favorite Web services are being managed by the companies that run them. I've heard people moved off projects that I thought needed more work, and I've seen tools I use every day get an assumed lower priority. But rather than go public with the rumors and put those companies in a defensive position, I instead gave them a call and asked them to provide guidance or a roadmap to let us know what they have planned. As a blogger, I may miss the sensational headline and some scoopage, but it makes more sense to get the answers and provide respect to the people and companies that create the tools we like.

The recent Facebook kerfuffle has been especially trying for a few reasons - first, we genuinely believe they misled users and violated their trust in the name of commerce, and second, we can see people maligning all the employees who work at Facebook for lacking morality - when I know a lot of good people there who want to stand for something better. Yesterday, I posited on Quora that if Facebook were really on the way to becoming "evil", that these sharp, morally sound, people would leave. That we haven't seen them leave, to me, is a good sign. As tempting as the almighty dollar is, people have a guidance for what is right and what is wrong, and there are those who would vote with their feet and head for the door if things got out of hand.

In that event, Facebook needed to do a much better job in communicating to its users, and they failed. Also, those screaming bloody murder about the changes failed.

I was called naive for my belief that people would choose right over wrong and quality over quantity. But I know enough good people to know it's possible. I know enough engineers who care about their code and their users to create solid products that bring benefits. Two years ago, I told you what my Web and Blogging expectations are and told you what I believe. That core has not changed - even as things get faster, and competition increases. There is more to life than pageviews - and as a known curator who shares the best of what I read online, I have actively unsubscribed from sources that rely on such behavior, regardless of their purpose.

So while I may stray now and again, pointing to official blogs on underreported company sites, and I may be tempted to wade into the big discussions of the day, you won't see the tried and true tricks you find elsewhere. You won't find syndicated pieces that started somewhere else. You won't find 10-page slideshows with ads everywhere. You won't find copy and pasted press releases in full, and you won't find arguments for controversy's sake. Keep me honest, and let's all work to keep each other honest. It's a lot more fun when we engage in a trusted way with our peers, readers and entrepreneurs.