Monday, April 27, 2009

The Filter

Back in the day, it was easy for consumers, hard for producers. If it was on the shelf at your local shop-all, it was worthy of purchase. Maybe it wasn't for you per se, but it had made it past the filter and into the stores, so you it had to be worth something. The Internet leveled the playing field. Suddenly, anyone can publish a book, sell music, distribute merchandise, move product. Only, the thing is, the playing field didn't actually get leveled.

It got reversed. It got easy to produce, but it got difficult to consume.

There's so much crap out there that it gets difficult to sort it all out. These days, one of the most valuable tools of the web is the filter--I'm not talking about a software filter, I mean this: Where do you get your information? What websites do you visit and why do you visit them? Where do you find new music? News?  The filter holds the signal up away from the noise, the rouing from the rabble.

News has been a big one lately--I recently unsubscribed from CNN's breaking news feeds because they informed me that Ashton Kutscher had won the race to a million followers on Twitter and also who won the NCAA basketball tournament, but neglected to inform me that Phil Spector went to jail.

This was a problem for me, because I don't watch television and one needs to get breaking news somewhere, I suppose (this weekend has been a great example of that; there's been this whole swine flu thing that has been elevated to a national health emergency by the CDC, and there are still people who have only vaguely heard--if at all--what's going on because it's happening over a weekend).

Wow. A semi-colon, a couple em dashes and a parenthesis all in one half of a sentence-as-paragraph. Must revisit style guidelines. Anywho.

And television news is worthless, anyway. The nature of the format prevents anything like in depth coverage, and lately it's sunk into sensationalism and tabloid-imitation. Even once-trusted names like the aforementioned CNN are losing their credibility. And newsprint is nearly dead, so how does one keep informed? How does one stay ahead of the curve. The usual suspects for we-of-the-web, Digg and Slashdot and the like, are good but they're tech-slanted in a way that is prohibitive for an audience over 40.

Recently, I've found BNO news, which is essentially a wire service that Twitters. You can't follow them, though--they post way, way too frequently--but I've got their output plugged into my RSS reader, so I'm officially overinformed. Which is how I like to be. This is all well and good, but it's Twitter-centric, so there are a few problems: a) for all the great output, there's still not a page where you can just go and see what's happening or do a convenient news search, that is, if you don't already Twitter, it's not going to be immediately useful to you, and b) as such it falls under the rubric of "Web 2.0", whose future is presently uncertain.

Don't get me wrong, user-generated content is great (actualy 98% of it's shit, but that's another post), there's just no money in it. Which means all these Web 2.0 sites (Facebook, Twitter, et al) may very well come crashing down in five years. Christ, YouTube lost half a billion dollars last year. Billion with a "B".

Ed's note: the word "Christ" is here used as an ephithet. There was no joint venture between YouTube and Jesus Christ. Not that we know of, anyway.

There is no recognized go-to, just lots of aggregators that are as much laugh-factories as they are news outlets. Which, frankly, is what TV news had become anyway, so kudos to the web for not taking too long to arrive at its inevitable conslusion.  So here's the dilemma, and I think it's microcosmic of the whole Internet situation, not just news: there once was a system that worked, it is being replaced by a system that appears to work but has no long-term stability built into it's model and no immediately apparent mode for achieving that stability.

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