Here’s a bold prediction. Or, more accurately, a mediocre one.
The future of media is OK. Not amazing. Not awful.
Just… OK. Average.
It’s not because people don’t care anymore, or that the good old days were some sort of magical time in which everything was awesome. Mediocrity has always dominated; greatness has always been rare.
But we’re in for a lot more mediocrity. In fact, we are relentlessly optimizing for it.
The rise of Big Data and better analysis tools all but guarantee mediocrity. It’s the reason movies are just OK, BuzzFeed headlines are just OK, Huffington Post articles are extremely OK, etc etc.
All of our feedback loops tell us that OK is awesome. So we create more OK things.
Everything Seems Pretty Formulaic Now, Because It IS.
Today Gawker published a very OK piece revealing that Time Inc rates its writers based on how beneficial they are to advertisers.
My friend (and one of my favorite industry analysts) Jonathan Yarmis asked, “Is this shocking? Smart? A seminal moment at which we embrace falling off a cliff?”
Great question. But in fact, it’s not shocking.
And it’s not really smart, or dumb.
It’s just OK.
Publishers no longer decide what’s good; algorithms do. Algorithms favor bunt singles and avoid grand slams, which are always a hairsbreadth from being a strikeout or long pop fly.
Is it a seminal moment at which we embracing falling off a cliff?
Nope. We fell off that cliff so long ago that we can’t even see it anymore.
I know people who are convinced they’re holding on to their standards, but in fact they are just clawing at the air.
I used to be horrified at this, but I’m not anymore. It’s really not about a loss of standards, or a decision to choose mediocrity.
It’s just what happens when media loses its scale, and audiences get tiny.
Things are OK now because it’s really the only way the publishing business can be OK.
We can and will still have good journalism, but I predict that eventually it will be done for free.
The Job of Algorithms Isn’t To Seek Greatness. It’s To Avoid Flops.
Today, most algorithms are designed to create plain vanilla, and plenty of it. It’s true in publishing, in movies, in advertising and marketing, and in anything else you can think of.
Eventually, a few brave souls will decide to tweak their algorithms to allow for more weirdness. We’ll gain the confidence to allow some really lame ideas to fail in order to enable a few precious, surprisingly great ideas to succeed.
So if you’re worried that nothing will ever be good anymore, don’t worry.
It’s all going to be OK.
And one day, when everybody gets a little braver, we’ll start getting a few things that are better than OK.
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk