Thursday, February 5, 2009

Web Pollution 2.0

I've noticed something new on the web these days. Every story, every article, every post on every newspaper and blog is now adorned with a set of cutesy-colorful "social bookmarking icons." The madness is spreading like wildfire. recently ran an article about social bookmarking and of course, in the box right next to the story was a "submit to digg" link. It should come as no surprise that social bookmarking is popular with bloggers and websites with user-generated content such as Instructables and GetRichSlowly. What surprises me is how many major newspapers have also latched on to this Internet epidemic.

The New Yorker has stuck to text links for its social bookmarking, but still allows you to instantly add any story to digg,, and reddit. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is out of control with a whole box of buttons after every article. The New York Times offers the same "convenience" in a collapsible menu.

So what exactly is the problem here? These sites are just making it convenient for people to integrate news, events, and information into their own little social networks. What's wrong with that?

Well, I'm kind of upset that major newspapers are even concerned with "social bookmarking" sites to begin with. To me, social bookmarking is nothing but a big popularity contest. Before social networking, writers, bloggers, journalists, and reporters wrote articles because they had something to say. They wrote to get a point across or to communicate a message to an audience.

It seems that now, articles are being written just to win the approval of a crowd. Newspaper columnists may add keywords like "Apple" and "Google" to their headlines more than they used to, because those terms rank highly on social news sites like Digg. Articles speculating on what a high-tech company may or may not do in the near future are hastily slapped together with little regard for facts. Journalism has been reduced to a beauty pageant in which the article the crowd approves of most wins, regardless of the contestants' true character.
Secondly, I cannot believe that every thought that moves from some hack writer's mind to their keyboard is WORTHY of such instant, overnight, global promotion on the mainstage of Internet news outlets. Basically, who decides what is news and what isn't?

When you have a fully staffed newspaper, it is often the editor who decides if a story is newsworthy. This editorial process helps filter out the boring, incomplete, inaccurate, and uninteresting stories from ever getting printed. With social bookmarking, any wacky story has the potential to become front-page news.

So you cracked the screen on your iPod nano and feel entitled to a replacement? SO WHAT. So you beat Super Mario on NES in five minutes? GOOD FOR YOU. So you compiled a list of the top CSS tutorials on the web according to you? GIVE ME A BREAK. This is not news.

The simple fact is that not every story, blog, or article ever written is worth reading. I have found many of the front-page articles on social news websites to be irrelevant and lacking in substance, facts, and even proper spelling and grammar. Whatever ridiculous story is headline news today will be forgotten by tomorrow in the wake of an even more fantastic story.

Please stop cluttering up my web browsing experience with your stupid social bookmarking icons. Good newspapers and websites are about CONTENT, not about how quickly they can be spread around the web. I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Check out:Signal vs. Noise: It's the content, not the icons
ProBlogger: Social Bookmarking Icons - Are they Worth It?

ValleyWag: Fight Social Bookmark Icon Pollution
MezzoBlue: Mooching 2.0
Shakk.Us: Mother of all social bookmarking services icons

I don't look at social bookmarking icons as adding convenience to users, I look at them as catering to lazy people. How hard is it to copy a link and email or IM it to your friend? If the article is really THAT good, it's no trouble at all. You won't see any of those fugly little icons on any of my articles as long as I can help it. That's all.

[Note: This article was originally written August 22, 2007 and revised February 5, 2009.]