Quality vs. Quantity 00: An Internet Fable

Going to weigh in here on the side of quality. How about a little Internet fable?

Ask and I’ll answer

A website was started to encourage people to write answers to questions. Article length was around 100 words. Writers got revenue share from clicks on their articles from ads in the side bars. The principle aim, in the beginning, was to accumulate writers and material for the site.

Time passed and the website upped the ante by chucking the question/answer format, instead whipping out titles to which this bank of writers would write articles. Word count minimum was raised to 400. Rewards were given to those who just jumped in and wrote, few, if any quality standards were in place. Material went immediately live.

Baby steps towards quality

A general editor was employed, with a volunteer editing team to try to keep an eye on quality. However, through contests and upfront bonuses, the material poured into the site faster than any editorial team could review it. Copy editing was often done long after the damage was available for all to see.

Somewhere in the following couple of years, the site hit one million “articles”. Many of those “articles” were the one-liner quick answers back from the days of the question/answer format. Many of those “articles” had not passed any editorial control. Slowly, though, the concept of producing quality material became a main theme on the forums at the site and in the workings of editorial and managing volunteers.

Storm clouds brooding

An announcement was suddenly made to members. There would be a restructuring of the site. Upfront bonuses (being one of the first five to write to a title), empty title bonuses (being the very first to contribute to a title) were no longer being paid as incentive to whip out the  “article”.

Contests were found by some to be flawed in their judging, prizes slowly dropped in value. The forums went wild with indignation from members who had been used to a quick buck or two for being the first to post.

Panda hit

Quality in Internet writing seemed to be in the hands of an algorithm used by a search engine rather than by qualified human editors. The site in our story was one of the major sites hit hard. The site stopped showing up on first-page searches. Management began to scramble to find a solution.

Closing the barn door too late

Quality control was finally implemented; however, the horses had run free. Automatic deletions of “articles” under 400 words took place, but the damage was already done. Editorial filters were created and “articles” stopped going live with a click on a “post” button.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the work to be done (reviewing all those old “articles” from the past) was overwhelming for any editorial team and members were not always active or even willing to help out by reviewing their stuff and correcting those typos or errors—in part because those same writers did not have a direct capacity for editing on the platform.

The demise

That site, once one of the bigger content sites on Internet, finally breathed its last breath. What once was a site with dozens of staff working alongside writers and volunteers dwindled down to what appeared to be one lone staff member who seemed to avoid answering questions on the forum and was probably frantically sending her resume out and abroad, knowing that she would soon be without a job.

The moral

The moral of this fable is pretty obvious.

Quality will always outlive quantity.

If you compare any long-lived website with one that has fizzled out within ten years of its birth, you will always find that the long-lived one will have been offering quality to its readers from the outset. Where to place quality over quantity is another debate altogether, this has only been a vote for quality.


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