Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reddit before going to bed

In a crowning irony, what should have been the first day of unremarked hibernation for On An Overgrown Path turned out be by far the biggest readership day in the eleven year history of the blog. Reddit - which promotes itself as 'The front page of the internet' - is an entertainment, social networking, and news website curated by its readers. On Christmas Day my post from January 2006 about - of all things - the concert given by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on 28th March 1945 in beleaguered Berlin was featured in 'Today I Learned' on Reddit. The result was truly spectacular - in 24 hours that single article was read almost 11,000 times. Above is the header image from the featured article showing Berlin in 1945, below is the blog's readership graph.

Those 24 hours of social media fame should have me chaffing at the bit to repeat my triumph; but I am afraid that isn't the case. In Web 2.0 the network rules; which means the network judges. Rereading my piece about that Berlin concert confirms it is an acceptable piece of online writing; nothing more and nothing less. It certainly is no more deserving of such a large audience than many other pieces among the 3704 published posts On An Overgrown path. In fact I believe it is less deserving than stories about - to name just a few - Philippa Schuyler, the Master Musician of Jajouka, the Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar (who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic), Jonathan Harvey, Jordi Savall, Ali Keeler, and David Munrow. But an arbitrary judgement by someone on the network caused the spotlight to fall on Berlin in 1945; which meant the forgotten figures of conductor Robert Heger and violinist Gerhard Taschner shared my 24 hours of fame.

One of the most thought- provoking books that I read in 2015 was Andrew Keen's The Internet Is Not The Answer. I omitted it from my recent review of music books for the simple reason that it not a music book per se. In retrospect that omission was a mistake, because The Internet Is Not The Answer is required reading for anyone who cherishes our music culture. In it Andrew Keen comes up with the astonishing statistics that, and I quote, "every minute of every day in 2014... the 3 billion Internet users in the world sent 204 million emails*, uploaded 72 hours of new YouTube videos, made over 4 million Google searches, shared 2,460,000 pieces of Facebook content, downloaded 48,000 Apple apps, spent $83,000 on Amazon, tweeted 277,000 messages, and posted 216,000 new Instagram photos".

Many have lamented the descent of music journalism into music churnalism, and I plead guilty to being a cheerleader for that lament. But churnlaism with its detestable clickbait headlines is just part of a much greater malaise. Quality was an early victim of the online deluge of content, and clickbait headlines are just a short term fix to make content stand out in the deluge, regardless of quality. But the sheer volume of activity is rapidly swamping those disingenuous clickbait headlines. So arbitrary selection by user curated sites such as Reddit now determines what is read, and, more importantly, what is not read. Which means welcome to the brave new world of chance journalism. It is another irony that the largest investor in Reddit is Advance Publications, which is also the home of The New Yorker, for which the acknowledged exemplar of quality music journalism Alex Ross writes. Let me leave the last words to Andrew Keen:
The pace of this change in our libertarian age is bewilderingly fast - so fast, indeed, that most of us, while enjoying the Internet's convenience, remain nervous about this "belief system's" violent impact on society. "Without permission," entrepreneurs like [Reddit co-founder] Alexis Ohanian crow about a disruptive economy in which a couple of smart kids in a dorm room can wreck an entire industry employing hundreds of thousands of people. With our permission, I say. As we all step into this brave new digital world, our challenge is to shape our networking tools before they shape us.
* It is worth noting that Andrew Keen points out that 78% of the 204 million emails sent every minute are spam. No review samples used in this post. Header image source is Global Security website. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Pliable said...

As an aside it is worth noting that Andrew Keen points out that 78% of the 204 million emails sent every minute are spam.

Dave MacD said...

I don't normally post comments here, but I'll make an exception because the tone of this post is so offensive to me.

There are lots of things you can lament about the Internet, but a decline in the quality of creative content (defined broadly) is not among them. Yes, if you give everyone a printing press, you're going to get a lot of garbage, but you're going to get a lot more good stuff as well. Sites like Reddit are a way for people to find and share the things that interest them. There is nothing wrong with the fact that one of your posts was surfaced and the others weren't. That post was something that a handful of people found interesting. That's the only conclusion you can draw. It's not saying that people voted it the best or didn't care about your other writing or anything like that. It doesn't even say that a majority of Redditors found it valuable. There were a few thousand people who like it. That's it.

You can't wish away cultural movements. You're just shaking your fist at the weather.

I've not read Andrew Keen, so I won't speak about his writing as a whole, but the quote you pulled is facile-minded gibberish.

Pliable said...

Dave, your comment summarises everything that is, for me, wrong with online debate. We now live in an age where a calmly expressed view that does not conform to the wisdom of crowds is deemed as "offensive", and where a serious attempt at questioning our blind acceptance of new technology is deemed as "facile-minded gibberish" without your even having made the attempt to read the source.