The New Clutter

There’s a new kind of clutter littering Web pages. It’s not just the obnoxious “Refinance your mortgage” ads plastered atop and alongside articles. It’s also not just the animated nonsense that floats by as you’re trying to read.

It’s the article itself.

In the never-ending quest to get page views, the choices writers and editors are making to attract eyeballs and drive traffic are creating a new breed of low-brow, gimmicky disposable content.  At its best it adds little insight and at its worst amounts to a slimy bait-and-switch (catchy headline, nothing to say in the article).

It’s the new clutter. The article itself has devolved into a flashing, animated pile of fluff. The casualty of the rat race towards ad impressions isn’t just crappy layout and thoughtless art direction. It’s awful and useless content. The formula is pretty straightforward: catchy headline, hot topic of the day, add a dash of controversy, stir into a gooey mixture and bake for ten minutes. Even better: take a jab at someone who’s on top: Apple, Facebook, etc. People love to shoot Goliath (or at least shoot in his general direction).

So where’s the good writing on the Web? It’s everywhere else. The interesting new perspectives and provocative thinking isn’t coming from Gizmodo and Silicon Alley. It’s the blogger I’ve never heard of that is blowing me out of my chair these days. They’re not writing with a hidden agenda. They’re not following a Gawker Media Formula For Success (internal guidelines that must exist).

This type of clutter only goes away if business models change and the mechanisms for determining success change along with them. There are too many good writers producing clutter on the Web today.

33 Comments The New Clutter

  1. PaulC

    @Karen
    Exactly.
    @Richard, you give no examples, no hard information. You tell that there is bad writing, but don’t give us any examples to support the statement. Then you say that you have found “good writing on the web” but again, no examples.
    Sadly, I agree with this article, but I also agree that this article is yet another example of fluff.

    Reply
  2. Chris

    Thanks for sounding the alarm bell, Rich. After the iPhone 4 prototype debacle at Gizmodo (Gawker), I wish the blogosphere would wake up and take note that there’s not a lot separating “new media” from “old media” in terms of the advertising business model. I personally hope that services like Flattr and SprinklePenny change the landscape by incentivizing GREAT content over mediocre drivel.

    Reply
  3. Rich Ziade

    @PaulC –
    Who consistently writes good stuff on the Web? Paul Graham, Nick Carr and Kevin Kelly are some of the bigger names.
    Of the lesser-known – there are tons. It makes me sad that there isn’t an easy way to find them. I just sort of stumble on them when a friend passes me a link or I catch it through my Twitter stream.
    Note: this isn’t a judgment about the writers and their writing. It’s a criticism towards the constant churn of utter garbage that come out of outfits that MUST pump out 25 posts a day. If you have to pump out 25 a day, you will pump out garbage. It’s basic math.

    Reply
  4. Rob Davis

    I totally agree. If it were just blogs that would be one thing but it is also local and national newspapers and TV stations trying to drum up readership by having these eye catching titles. I have noticed especially on blogs that people are starting to call them out in comments, maybe this will help correct?!?

    Reply
  5. Cecilia Snyder

    TOTALLY agree with PaulC’s comment, you are right, but then you do the exact same thing you complain about — drawing people in to your article, and offering nothing by way of a solution.

    Reply
  6. Alok Saboo

    This is exactly what I commented on Techcrunch earlier today. The objective seems to be just post more articles per day, to keep Google happy. A couple of posts since morning which are nothing more than glorified press releases.
    The problem, however, is that lot of these big guys have a lot of influence. Hopefully, people realize this and adjust their behavior accordingly. The sad reality is that the blogger that is providing compelling content is lost without a trace…

    Reply
  7. Sean

    Examples? Let’s see here.
    Every article on Mashable. This is bubblegum tech news at its very finest.
    Every article on Silicon Alley Insider. They simply take other people’s content, rewrap it as their own, and give it a ridiculous headline.
    Most articles that make Techmeme (because they have catchy headlines)
    Most articles on gawker.com
    Hell, most mainstream media news articles (msnbc.com, cnn.com) are total crap too. They may not lure you in with a super catchy headline but the content of the articles is mostly shit, and surrounded by about 100 ads.

    Reply
  8. Rich Ziade

    Man wouldn’t it be great of SAI picked this up and retitled the headline?
    Err good stuff to read? Longform.org is great. Givemesomethingtoread.com is great.
    I’d love to find some others?

    Reply
  9. cvos man

    @evan
    How ironic is it that this article made the frontpage of techmeme, the very distribution outlet you despise.
    The irony would be complete if one of these pubs grabbed this article, moved the words around, added a sensational headline, and published it on a poorly designed page stuffed with ads.

    Reply
  10. Evan

    @ Sean – Love the term “bubblegum tech news”
    this tech infoporn / tech soap opera reporting is definitely a huge time suck for armchair entreprenuers
    techmeme does have some interesting articles, but i’d love to be able to filter out the iphone ones :-) which makes up 50% of the news

    Reply
  11. Evan

    @ Sean – Love the term “bubblegum tech news”
    this tech infoporn / tech soap opera reporting is definitely a huge time suck for armchair entreprenuers
    techmeme does have some interesting articles, but i’d love to be able to filter out the iphone ones :-) which makes up 50% of the news

    Reply
  12. Jeremy

    The worst part is, how can anyone actually read all the crap these sites post? I’ve mostly stopped following sites like Gizmodo at all, because there’s no way a human can keep up with the volume (and sift through it for the interesting parts).

    Reply
  13. Anne H

    Disclaimer: I found this post via Techmeme. Once a day, I quickly scan and If something intrigues me, I’ll click. In this case, I am relying on an algorithm to assist. I do follow a couple of rules such as IF the headline has the word “exclusive” THEN I skip. My experience has been these headlines offer little of substance. I will check out the two sites you suggested.

    Reply
  14. Anna Tarkov

    I don’t see why ad-supported content has to be crap. It doesn’t. I’ve seen good content on sites that are partially ad-supported. The magic sauce is that they have to be supported by something else as well. Rely only on ads and you have Gawker. Relying on multiple streams of revenue is key.

    Reply
  15. Russ Morris

    You get what you pay for.
    I’m more entertained reading comments left by anonymous libs/conservs in most of the news sites than any of the articles. If these unknowns were held accountable for their rants, the net would be much less interesting…

    Reply
  16. Anony Mouse

    > catchy headline
    “The New Clutter”.
    > hot topic of the day
    Pretty sure I read a Wired article about it a week ago.
    > add a dash of controversy
    Try insulting pretty much all online writing with a broad stroke.
    > Even better: take a jab at someone who’s on top.
    Gawker Media. Check.
    I actually agree 100% with this article, but that doesn’t stop it from being an example in itself….

    Reply
  17. James Beardmore

    @PaulC To be honest, this article says everything it needs to.
    We know the publications and the content that the author is referring to, listing a bunch of them would just clutter it up. Its a pretty straight forward point he’s making, not a doctoral thesis. If it was something that really needed a complex argument then I would understand the criticism, but I see this piece as (a necessary exercise in) pointing at an elephant in the room and starting a conversation about it.

    Reply
  18. Dave

    Wow – spot on, I completely agree with this. Maybe it’s because I spend a lot of time on digg, but there’s far too many sensationalist headlines above articles that eventually deliver nothing new. There’s so many awesome, small, unknown blogs that sadly go ignored.

    Reply
  19. thorvindr

    Somebody call the wwaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaambulance. Who cares? Welcome to the internet. There is a ton of shit here and a small amount of decent content. Quit whining and use google reader to help you sort through the crap to find those glorious golden nuggets of undigested corn.

    Reply
  20. msr

    Ars Technica, which used to be the perfect antidote of this type of thing, has fallen victim to it lately. Lots of low-content articles, content sharing with the crap-peddlers, even some link-baiting. It’s easy to see that they’re on the downward slide, although most of the readers don’t like to believe it yet.

    Reply
  21. Todd Toler

    The Gizmodo’s of the world are the least of our problem – at least what they do constitutes an attempt at real reportage and legitimate participation. The most cynical and insidious form of the “new clutter” is the algorythmically determined and cheaply sourced “robocontent” on sites like eHow. The Demand Medias and Associated Contents of the world are cluttering up the Internet with skimpy articles on such a massive scale that this will eventually be a problem for Google.

    Reply

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