What is Quality Content?
I recently pitched Triond to a founder of another web company. As usual, I started by explaining the problem that Triond solves. When I got to the part where I’m stressing that out of 133 million tracked blogs, only about 7 millions are really active, my listener replied with – “and that’s 7 million too many… I bet you too get a lot of rubbish submissions…”
Apparently, He didn’t highly appreciate the quality of user generated content. This made me think (again) about the question of what quality content is, especially in regards to user generated content.
User generated content is very disruptive to the standard perception of content quality. Just up until a few years ago, most of us were used to consume only content that was produced by professional editorial systems. Whether on TV, newspapers, books or even the internet in its infant years, the content that end users consumed was filtered out and edited by professionals that were implementing a somewhat narrow range of methodologies to their work. The limits were very clear and very accurately defined, and the result was a very unified style and spirit of content across all platforms.
The question of whether a content you were exposed to was a quality one never rose in those times. It was clear that if the content is out there, then it is of at least a minimal quality, otherwise – it wouldn’t have been there. The only thing that was left for the consumers to do in regards to evaluating content quality was to fine tune their consumption standards within a very narrow spectrum. The brand under which the content was published became the content’s seal of quality, and acting as the gate keepers of our content world, professional producers and editors made our content consuming experience safe and secure.
They did, however, narrowed our choice tremendously.
What user generated content did, was allowing anyone with content creation aspirations to walk pass the gate keepers and have their content out there, proposed to end users for consumption. Without the gate keepers, everything suddenly became legitimate, and the filtering mission was handed over to the consumers themselves. Having no training at all at content quality evaluation, confused consumers needed to either avoid user generated content at all, develop a sharp quality sense of their own, or – start relying on the innovative tools that started to appear in order to help measure content quality.
Those came in many forms, starting with the very basic Google’s PageRank algorithm that measured quality by numbers of incoming links, continuing with social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us that measured quality as number of people’s bookmarks and later on with social voting sites like digg, reddit and stumbleupon that simply let the crowd push what they consider as quality content to the top.
Engagement volume, expressed by the number of comments or ratings for a unit of content became another measurement for quality, and the latest trend is that people are becoming a content seal of quality themselves, simply by recommending content to their friends and followers using Facebook and Twitter.
If you stick to the traditional methods of content quality measurement, you would probably miss all of these posts. Are these content items of low quality? I’m not sure how a traditional editor would answer that. I’m sure though, that if you ask the hundreds of thousands of viewers of these articles or the thousands of the engaged people who took the time to comment or click ‘I Like It’, they would say “no.”
The traditional method of evaluating content quality is not dead. It is still in use by the professional publications and it does a great work of quality assurance. It still acts as a seal of quality for a major portion of content consumption. It did, however, became just a single method, one out of many others used to measure content quality and it is becoming less relevant as more people are getting used to – and are more willing to – consume content whose quality is measured differently.
So what is quality content? I don’t think I can answer this question. Once there were editors whom you could ask and they would determine the content’s quality. Today, I don’t think any single person can actually provide an answer. You have to take the content out there and let the web decide for itself.