Quality vs. Quantity 01: What is quality? What is quantity?

What is quality?

When the question comes up as to quantity or quality, the general answer seems to almost be a peace-keeping strategy: you have to find a balance. I, myself, don’t subscribe to this idea, as the two concepts, quality and quantity, are quite different from one another, and trying to find a balance will necessarily handicap one or the other.

In addition, though “quantity” and “quality” are common words, there seems to be a lack of understanding about their actual interpretation when applied to content for Internet. Consequently, I’d like to suggest a clear “meaning” for each of these words before opening a serious debate on when to use each, when to place one over the other and whether it’s even wise to consider such a question.

Quantity

This seems pretty straight-forward in itself. The quantity is the amount. How many? How much? It is an easily measurable factor, there is one or there are many: the answer will often be a number. Numbers don’t lie, they’re reliable, graph-able, can be easily interpreted by everyone.

Quality

This is a slippery term at best.

  • Quality is in the eyes of the beholder?
  • Quality is good grammar and correct spelling?
  • Quality is well-formatted or composed text?
  • Quality is using the appropriate voice when communicating with your clients, your readers?
  • Quality is specific jargon use over layman terminology or vice-versa?
Who sets the “rules”?

Trying to find a balance between quantity (remember: something easily measured) and quality (remember: no accounting for taste) is kind of like looking for the difference between the ton of feathers and the ton of bricks. They are not comparable items like oranges and apples. One is a measurement while the other is a subjective judgement made based upon a set of rules or norms agreed upon beforehand.

I am a quality over quantity harbinger. It can be quite easy to churn out a great number of posts or articles, thus increasing quantity. It can be quite challenging to compose a few, superior quality pieces. Those quality pieces, though, will be available to demonstrate the writer’s capacity for communicating.

After reading two or three lower-quality posts by someone who has hundreds, it is unlikely that the educated reader will even bother with the quantity. I’d rather have the reader wonder when I’m going to create my next post in a series than overwhelm them with hundreds or thousands of mediocre posts that bore and finally turn readers away.

Identifying quality

I’ve suggested that quality will necessarily outlive quantity. That may be a good starting point for learning how to identify quality. We can begin with literature, for example.

Few would question the quality of the material put out by writers like Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo. Their novels are still available in bookstores decades (centuries) after having been written. They become required reading in schools.

Can the same be said of the latest pulp novel? How long does one of those sit on a best-seller list? How many are incorporated into curricula? Of course, time will tell, but again, how many of those pulp best-sellers are still available in bookstores once their popularity has waned?

Take a contemporary writer like Stephen King. Here’s a man who seems to have found the goldmine balance between quantity and quality. Could be. Rumors were, back in the ‘80s, that were he to pass away tomorrow, we’d still have new King books for the following six decades, at least one each year. However, anyone familiar with Mr King’s work will also be familiar with the ups and downs in actual quality.

I’m not referring to his writing itself, he’s an English teacher too, here I’m perhaps talking about the quality of his story telling. I’m a big fan, but there’s some of his stuff I just don’t bother to reread. I personally would have preferred fewer works by this author.

Online quality

Now, let’s move away from the print on paper. There is an obvious tendency to read more on a screen than on paper. Much of that which we read on the screen will be content on websites. From “about us” pages to testimonials, our reading habits (outside of social media) are changing.

Some of us continue to read longer works, such as novels or even professional papers in our areas. However, much of the information that we seek/need will be presented in a relatively new format known as “content”.

It is becoming less and less a question of the old-style genres like novels, short stories, poetry, articles, essays. Especially for websites that try to draw in clients for services or products offered, the somewhat “new” genre of “content” has rapidly become the norm. Unfortunately, the parents and grandparents of “content” do not always offer the best framework for the natural development of that “content”.

Aspects such as time restrictions, impatience, band-width, ease of payment, security, cookies and a lengthy etc have put “content” into a more and more reduced space. This does not mean, though, that content is a back-burner concern.

No matter how many attractive images and graphics, no matter how many videos and podcasts offered, the written and read word will still be present. Who writes that content and the norms those writers follow will determine the future of content.

Despite the technical aspects, a reader can easily identify when content is of quality or not. Large business interests will confide their content not only to experts but also to proofreaders and editors.

The content will often be evergreen, useful for a long period of time. This evergreen material should be of quality if it is meant to answer the needs of the thousands or millions of users that look to it for information.

Compare before deciding

If you compare any content on an established, well-known site with that on a young, whipper-snapper site, you should be able to identify who has paid for quality and who is cranking out quantity. You may even be able to predict who will still be online in ten years’ time and who will have faded away.

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