Vivek's blog: Is quality dead?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is quality dead?

I freely admit it: I have a vested interest in quality.

I work for a company that prides itself on offering what appears to be a commodity - travel information - but that commands premium prices because of the painstaking expertise and layers of checking involved.

But quality ain't what it used to be. Now I'm not one to moan about those-darned-upstart-bloggers-taking-my-newpapers-away-why-don't-they-get-off-my-lawn? or demand that we go back to lovingly crafted horse-and-buggies in place of those mass-produced nightmares that clog our roads these days.

However, there's part of me that sees the market constantly rewarding quantity over quality. CDs replaced records, and my hard-core musician friends tried to convince me that there was no way digital music could be as true as analog. I couldn't tell the difference - but I can with mp3s. The vast majority of music being listened to these days is so compressed that much of the nuance is lost. That's why you get bands like the Arcade Fire, who think that dynamics are something to do with engineering.

It's happening in content. It's passé to talk about "user-generated content" versus "expert content"; the fabric of the web is what it is. But now we're seeing companies like Demand Media using volume to overwhelm search engines, build tremendous traffic and get rich off low-quality page views.

Yes, this is affecting me directly. When I have a fathering-related question, I turn to Google. These days, the first several links are from aggregation sites that put together Q&As from people who are far from experts. I need to dig deeply to find opinions by people whom I trust.

You know what I'm talking about: places like Yahoo! Answers, which make me weep for humanity. It's like reading pages and pages of YouTube comments. It saps your will to live.

So I miss that authoritative stamp that used to come with publication. This probably makes me old and cantankerous. I'll admit to being both if someone can provide me with reassurance. Where can this prematurely grumpy old man go for his daily dose of quality?

(Image courtesy John Pozadzides, Flickr Creative Commons)


  1. Yes, it is frustrating to be faced with so much ill-informed content online, and having to wade through it all to work out what is actually reliable – certainly can sap your will. I'm long out of high school, but I'm hoping that these days we are teaching kids really strong skills in how to critique and assess text they come across both in books and online. It's something that I was taught to do with printed text (assessing an argument, looking at the sources cited etc) but it seems these days we need to be able to do this in a much bigger field. I do think that reasonably well educated people are able to work out that Yahoo Answers, for example, may not be giving you expert opinion. So that seems promising...? As for your daily does of quality... I always defer to old-fashioned printed books and journals for that! (Hey, and you don't necesarily even have to go to the library to access them these days either).

  2. Here's my 3-step guide to finding quality information:

    1. Start with trusted sites, not Google.
    2. Cross-reference anything user-generated or commercial. Check the user reviews on Amazon and (if applicable) on specialist forums for products. For other stuff, see if claims can be verified elsewhere.
    3. Use wikipedia judiciously. Check the citations; look for articles published in peer-reviewed journals. Check out the methodology used for any cited studies. (To do this, of course, you need a basic understanding of scientific method and/or a nose for academic bulls***.)

    Reading critically is kind of my hobby, so i can be bothered with all of that. An alternative is to get all news and opinion from The Daily Show - a Daily (but not daily) dose of quality!

  3. An Arcade Fire diss? Hot damn! Are you implying that they're a studio band?

    I bet they're secretly not really Candadian, but, a studio band? I've always thought they sounded like they recorded their albums in a barn with an old sow on the boards. ;)

    As for quality, I have a whole collection of screen captures from sites like the WSJ, Cnet, NYTimes, etc. that are riddled with grammatical mistakes and poor sentence structure. People's new assumed right to "immediacy" has created a new type of content creation: sloppy respectable.

  4. I agree with you Vivek. I do websites now and have to compete with people offering low quality sites that are cheaper but look terrible and will break down.
    I use to work for a company that use to make high quality maps. Employeed a lot of specialised Cartographers with degrees, yet they chose to outsource work to India for peanuts and the maps would come back in shocking states only to be fixed up again. All to turn around work quicker, for less money (usual business etiquete) but always to the detriment of good quality work.

  5. Vivek,
    I enjoy yuor post. I like its honesty. Quality may be compromised because of online info availability. And although you really verify yourself every information, it is almost as difficult as it can be to find authentic info today. Take for instance my trip to Shimla - no one knows who Amrita Shergil was and therefore where is The Holme. No one knows who was Rudyard Kipling and where he lived! This is aam junta, man! Its deeply distressing!


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