McDonalds Content and Social Search

Fast food contentMichael Arrington wrote an interesting post recently about the ongoing evolution in the news business. Referring to “the end of hand crafted content” as he sees it, Arrington speculates that, just as “old media” complained about the emergence of “new media” such as TechCrunch, the “new media” will soon begin complaining about the next generation of media.

The story in brief

In Arrington’s view, this next generation of content producers isn’t an evolution of “news” – it’s a new generation of low-end SEO chasers:

“So what really scares me? It’s the rise of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that hand craft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.”

Referring to it as “a race to the bottom, Arrington refers to the content created by  these producers as “McDonalds content.” As he puts it:

“…get ready for it, because you’ll be reading McDonalds five times a day in the near future. My advice to content creators is more subtle. Figure out an even more disruptive way to win, or die.”

My thoughts

I have two primary thoughts on this…

1. McDonald’s content?

I give Arrington credit for his frank take on this. It was somewhat refreshing to see TechCrunch acknowledging that soon sites like theirs will be the ones complaining about disruption in their industry. It’s also refreshing to see a prediction other than the devolution of news content into the lowest common denominator based on being first to print on a story (which is the direction we’ve seen both old and new media take in recent years).

On the flip side, I’m amused that he doesn’t think TechCrunch is in the “McDonalds” category already. TechCrunch, Engadget and their ilk have made their names by being first to the punch, often at the expense of balance or accuracy, so there’s a certain element of “pot, meet kettle” here.

Of course there are differences, especially with one of the two types of new company in the market – the ones which chase search trends with masses of articles. They’re a different beast, but let’s not kid ourselves that the existing players don’t play that game too. Google “Tiger Woods TechCrunch” for example, and you’ll see what I mean.

2. The case for social search

If existing search engine technologies, and the industry that’s emerged around them, have reached the point where content creators can game the system with sub-par (read: low value) content, then we can really make the case that these existing technologies have reached their limit.

Perhaps the answer lies in the potential for social connections to contextualize and prioritize our search results. Joe Thornley wrote an interesting post the other day suggesting exactly that – that “search continues to be a blunt instrument” and that social search might be a solution to the problem.

It’s not a new concept – Google rolled-out social search in Google Labs a couple of months ago – but, if Arrington’s “McDonalds media” predictions come to pass, I wonder if consumers’ frustrations might lead to enough demand to bump social search up into the mainstream.

What do you think? Is there a real danger for the next generation of news to manifest itself in this way? Is social search a potential solution?

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