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There's a problem with this new mass platform and it's to do with the sheer volume of content that's being produced

Being an open, democracy-led, new media oldie, I'm fascinated by the cult of the blog. It seems to have become the new Speaker's Corner, taking over from the World Wide Web, which I guess did the same thing to bulletin boards way back when. But there's a problem with this new mass platform and it's to do with the sheer volume of content that's being produced.

Unlike bulletin boards before them, I don't think Web sites are going to be replaced by blogs. In fact, I believe the Web has started to show the solution to the problem.

When we started building Web sites for clients - and the sites my creative director was producing were getting critical acclaim from the Web design community - we started looking for the best sites and design firms so we could see what was going on. In the very early days it was really easy: there were maybe a few hundred commercial Web sites, so you could go through them fairly quickly and easily see which ones were rubbish and which ones were worth learning from. After a while there were hundreds of Web agencies and thousands of sites. Hits became the big thing.

Everywhere you looked you found claims of sites gaining the most hits. People started thinking that hits were the way to measure whether a site was good or not. In fact, some people who should know better still do, ten years on. But it's like arguing that Windows is a better computer interface than Linux or Mac OS purely because it has a hugely dominating market share. So what started happening was that sites sprang up that provided reviews and lists of links based on the Webmaster's opinion.

Finally (and thankfully) we had a way of filtering, so we no longer had to go through thousands of sites to stay current. We could go to Glassdog.net, or Head-Space.org and get links to beautifully designed sites. Whether you agreed with their choice did, of course, depend on the judgement of the list compiler. Now we could visit the 30 or 40 lists of lists, work out quickly which ones we agreed with and have a ready reference. In our new democratic online world it made the vast amount of information, opinion and creativity more digestible. It's a kind of filtering hierarchy.

Now we have blogs. Sometimes fascinating, sometimes utterly inane, they have taken off enormously. Again, a vast, uncontrolled democracy of thought, and again a staggeringly bad signal-to-noise ratio. It's a popular pastime and, now we don't have time to surf all the blogs that we might like to, we need a filter. The problem is that currently the well-known filters aren't really filters at all. The likes of Bloogz and Technorati essentially count numbers. It's the hit trick again - because it's popular it must be good. You think?

Time for an editor to step in. And I think it's happening. There are proper, organised and staffed media Web sites that publish topical articles and invite feedback, linking to interesting, high-quality blog entries and thereby democratising their content. They don't undermine blogs, they support them. They add value by creating a focused, branded entry point, with an editorial view, that selects and links to blogs on the basis of their quality, not how many hits they get.

It means I can go to a single place covering the topic of my choice and find links to blogs containing content I may well be interested in. I guess I like my democracy, whether it's Web sites or Weblogs, filtered, but definitely not watered down.

Felix Velarde is managing partner at Underwired

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Published 20 October, 2005 by NMA Staff

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