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)