“The cleverness economy” and “Maxims of new media”

Yesterday’s post juxtaposed two divergent assessments of Twitter put forward by David Carr and George Packer.  Today’s configuration is of a different sort, involving two recently published blog posts that complement one another in productive ways.

The earlier of the two is “Notes on the Cleverness Economy,” which appeared on Ryan Sholin’s blog Invisible Inkling on January 20, 2010.  Find it at http://ryansholin.com/2010/01/20/notes-on-the-cleverness-economy/ .  The post begins with a brief exploration of the relationship between epigrams and tweets, with a handful of well-chosen examples:  Coleridge’s “What is an Epigram?  A dwarfish whole,/Its body brevity, and wit its soul”; or again Merlin Mann (@hotdogsladies):  “Although I haven’t been able to verify this with any of my sources inside Apple, get back to work.”  Ryan acknowledges his own voluntary participation in “the Cleverness Economy,” sharing his occasional “linkless, mildly topical epigrammary, like so:  ‘I’d like to thank Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens for continuing to do their best to devalue my baseball card collection.'”  But these pithy instances are all in the service of what proves to be a trenchant analysis of the place of micro-blogging in the big picture, i.e., in terms of what, over time, will survive the swift cultural composting that characterizes our historical present.

In the grand scheme of things, however, that clever tweet has nothing to do with creating any lasting value, and everything to do with engaging my friends/followers/audience/co-conspirators on a regular basis, to keep them on the hook for longer, less clever content, such as the blog post you’re reading right now.  If all goes according to my plan.

That’s the idea anyway.

Over at Snarkmarket, Robin Sloane nails the important part of balancing the “flow” of updates, tweets, links, and general social participation with the “stock” of long-form writing, blog posts, articles, and even books.  What’s your stock/flow balance look like today?  This week?  This year?  Here’s Robin on what happens if all you do is file tiny tweets, reblogs, and shares:

Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill.  Well, you can.  but then one day you’ll get off and look around and go:  Oh man.  I’ve got nothing here.

Robin also rightly points out that search engines are more likely to glom on to the long-form stuff over time.  It’s what will show up two years from now, although your engaged and active Twitter/Tumblr following will be a pleasant and useful thing to have around.

There’s a good solid metaphor in all this somewhere for online news if you feel compelled to seek it out.

It goes something like this:

“Breaking News” is the treadmill.  It’s the “flow” that keeps your audience engaged, coming back, checking your site or your blog, turning on the TV, visiting your national news site on their phone first thing in the morning to check if anything has blown up overnight, subscribed to your hyperlocal blog’s e-mail updates, checking their RSS feeds to see what’s new.  And that’s crucial to building and engaging online news consumers.

But it doesn’t last.  The stuff that does last?  The most obvious answers include investigative and enterprise reporting, but I think there’s room these days for great infographics and data visualizations, too….

Recommended:  Find the balance, online producer, between churning out a steady stream of content and taking time to build something of lasting value beyond the next few hours.

The second post is by an online producer who seems to me to be doing something of the kind – or at least gesturing toward it.  In “A quick guide to the maxims of new media,” published on markcoddington.com on January 30, Mark Coddington takes on the task of glossing a handful of the phrases traded as shorthand among “journalism/new media nerds,” for the sake of making their sense and provenance more widely available.  He invites his readers to “Consider this your dictionary” for this sometimes opaque language, with the assurance that his “guide is very expandable.”  http://markcoddington.com/2010/01/30/a-quick-guide-to-the-maxims-of-new-media/

In the context of this juxtaposition with Ryan’s work on the cleverness economy, what is of “lasting value” in Coddington’s post is his effort to supply a history that often goes missing in the rapid-fire, reverse-chronological  trading of information, news, links and gossip.  Spelling out “where it came from” and “what it means” for each of the 8 shorthand phrases he’s selected is a service rendered, and not only for the uninitiated.  Here are a pair of the  phrases in question, with glosses supplied by Coddington.

“Do what you do best and link to the rest.”

Where it came from:  This is the signature phrase of Jeff Jarvis, the Entertainment Weekly/TV Guide/San Francisco Examiner veteran, CUNY journalism prof and author of What Would Google Do?  Jarvis first wrote it in a Feb. 22, 2007 post at his popular media-watchdog blog, BuzzMachine.

What it means:  Your best bet is simply to read that initial post – Jarvis explains the concept pretty well there.  The short version:  Rather than duplicating what bunches of other news organizations are producing just so your outlet can have its own version of the story, just ask yourself, as Jarvis says, “‘Can we do it better?’  If not, then link.  And devote your time to what you can do better.”  For another illuminating angle on what this phrase signifies, see in particular the second-to-last paragraph of Megan Garber’s Columbia Journalism Review article from November 2009 on the Fort Hood and Twitter lists.

“It’s not information overload.  It’s filter failure.”

Where it comes from:  It was the title of a keynote speech given by NYU professor and new media guru Clay Shirky on Sept. 18, 2008, at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York.  The phrase has been quoted by others (and Shirky himself) in various forms, including “Information overload is filter failure,” and “There’s no such thing as information overload; there’s only filter failure.”

What it means:  To get the fullest idea, watch the speech.  Shirky gives a hasty, Cliff’s Notes version in this interview with The Columbia Journalism Review, in which he argues that information overload has been around for centuries, and the reason it seems so problematic on the web is that we haven’t developed the proper filters for all that information.  The idea has been tied to several concepts on the web, including social filters and sharing, and curation and aggregation of news.

With gratitude to Mark Coddington for his efforts, one hopes that a slow guide to the maxims of media, period, is in the works somewhere.

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Filed under Culture, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

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