Brilliant Reads: changing consumption of digital media, and proving time travel on Facebook.

Welcome to our first set of Brilliant Reads for 2014. We have three complementary stories for you, which all look at different aspects of how our consumption (and consequently our production) of digital media is changing, plus a bonus story on how Facebook is helping physicists look for evidence of time travel.

Has ‘Big Viral’ broken the internet? (Esquire)

In this article for Esquire, reporter and blogger Luke O’Neil writes that 2013 was the year content creators broke the internet, by chasing traffic rather than truth.

2013 was a year of internet hoaxes – Luke points to fake photos of snow-covered pyramids (see above) and Elan Gale’s live-tweeting of a fictitious argument on a plane as examples. Both these stories were passed on, shared and – most significantly – reported by journalists as fact.

Luke writes that these stories are examples of a trend he calls Big Viral: ‘a Lovecraftian nightmare that has tightened its thousand-tentacled grip on our browsing habits with its traffic-at-all-costs mentality—veracity, newsworthiness, and relevance be damned.’ This is nothing new in itself – the media has always had a ‘flexible’ relationship with the truth. What’s different in the digital era is that it’s becoming a strategy to drive traffic. Big Viral has led to so-called ‘double-dipping’, where publishers will report on an incredible story that drives millions of clicks, then reveal that it’s hoax, which in turn drives millions more clicks.

Luke finishes by asking why – when there’s an infinite expanse of information about things that actually exist out there just waiting for us to share them – we take that wealth for granted and resort to passing along things we know—or can easily find—to be false?

Image credit: *@HistoryInPics*

The internet is more than a stream (The Atlantic)

Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic writes that it could be time to leave behind ‘the Stream’ as a metaphor for the internet.

The Stream has been the way that many of us experience the internet since the rise of social networks – a constant flow of information, where ‘nowness’ is how things are organised.

Alexis suggests that this is starting to feel like a burden – the way the Stream encourages us to consume content is fatiguing and we can’t keep up.

The Stream is also compromising the quality of content produced – when the half-life of a post is half a day or less, and the time spent consuming it seconds, how much time can/should content producers put into something?

He ends the article by pointing out a few developments – like Netflix releasing the whole series of House of Cards all in one go, or the launch of Medium – that indicate that the Stream may have crested and that people are starting to look for more stock media, which has a beginning and end, and which they have to give more attention to, and focus on for longer periods of time.

Image credit: jason jenkins

‘Content has the stink of failure’ (Boing Boing/tbray)

Here Cory Doctorow takes issue with the term ‘content’ (as many have done before him), drawing on an earlier article by Tim Bray.

Controversially, Tim writes that the term content devalues the things it describes, and has come to have seedy connotations of ‘hustlers building businesses they don’t actually care about’.

Cory’s take is that the word ‘content’ fails because it falsely implies that there is a clear line between content and the form that it takes, or the way it is presented – which also devalues the ‘thing’ that is being produced.

And finally…

Physicists look for time travellers on Facebook (New Republic)

In their paper “Searching the Internet for evidence of time travellers” physicists Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson from Michigan Technological University, describe how they used Facebook, Google and Twitter to look for evidence of time travel. Spoiler: they don’t find anything, but it’s still an interesting read.