Every day, millions of people post their own content to the Internet. For most, it’s just a casual bit of sharing, of material which has typically taken no more than a few moments to create. A photo, captured on a smartphone and sent directly to a Facebook feed, or a simple thought, no more than a sentence long, typed instantly into Twitter. There’s no real ‘archival’ element to the content. It’s there for the moment – easy come, easy go.
But other Web users take their content more seriously, spending a considerable proportion of their lives on the creative process. For these people, creating and promoting the content is work, and in the vast majority of cases, it’s unpaid work. Enjoyable work too of course – they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t want to. But it’s work that requires effort, and effort requires reward.
Perhaps the most bizarre addition to the world of creative exposure in the course of the past five years or so, has been Twitter. Twitter can be a lot of fun, but it consumes everything it’s fed in an instant. I see users posting content which must have taken them hours, if not days to produce. Amazing, spectacular images which have not only been difficult to capture, but which have also clearly spent some considerable time in Photoshop being extensively processed.
The image goes out to the followers this evening, but by tomorrow morning it’s gone. The tweet is technically still there, obviously, but the world’s moved on, and the content is rapidly slipping out of sight into oblivion as it’s snowed under the never ending deluge of new messages.
Because of the way search engines prioritise substantial text over short messages and images, they rarely pick up on individual tweets. So once a tweet is buried, it’s generally dead. You can’t find it on Google, and you wouldn’t even bother trying to look for it on Twitter. The immense micro-blogging site has consumed the content, and the only way forward is for the user to provide more, and keep providing more… and more… and more, ad infinitum. This is an appallingly unproductive way for creative people to get recognition for their work, because as soon as they stop tweeting, it’s all over. Literally 48 hours without any new posts, and everyone’s forgotten the user ever existed. Twitter is a creative treadmill, and the belt never stops.
Of course, this is no criticism of Twitter. It was never built to showcase creative work. It was developed as an instant messaging service which would allow large groups of users to keep each other informed. But the size, the potential reach, and in particular, the connectivity of Twitter has seduced creative content providers into using it as a means to get recognition. There really aren’t many places where an ‘unknown’ can message someone famous or influential, and where generally speaking the celeb will receive and read the message – sometimes even respond to it. Twitter’s capacity to connect ordinary people with highly successful personalities, is probably more than anything else what drives creatives to ignore the stupidity of throwing their work into a black hole, and keep shovelling effort into achieving basically nothing.
But the result is almost always the same, and you do sense an undercurrent of bitterness in some of the creatives who’ve been slogging away each day to pump more and more content into the insatiable path of their followers, without any real lasting success. Often, indeed, their work is simply stolen, and re-posted improperly, without attribution, on Twitter or elsewhere around the Web. That’s gotta hurt.
And it’s not just Twitter playing host to this fruitless and relentless creative slog. Tumblr is, in some ways, worse, because unlike Twitter, it is pitched at creatives, and for most users it turns out to be the same incessant battle to feed the insatiable. The followers are there, but do they really notice many of the hundreds of posts they’re receiving every day? And even if they do, how long is it before the next post comes along? 10 seconds? 15? Unless the poster is particularly SEO-savvy (SEO being Search Engine Optimisation), old Tumblr posts are almost, if not equally as dead as old Tweets.
Despite supporting spammers, WordPress.com is admittedly better, because the platform does at least make a serious effort to engage with the search engines and make posts more permanent. But there’s still an implication that feeding followers is what matters most, and this once again takes users back to the treadmill concept.
Ultimately, I see these treadmill situations as something creatives should be seeking to avoid. Creating for the Internet’s accessible archives – a prominent listing on Google – surely makes for a much more rewarding experience than throwing away hours, days, weeks, months of your life trying to remain visible in a system which by nature instantly disposes of everything you say and do.
You can read more on this issue in Posting Into a Black Hole.