Incentives matter

The tech sector’s obsession with user engagement is like quantifying health by measuring total calories consumed.

In case it’s not obvious: this is a bad thing. Let the renewal begin.


Thought: One of the most valuable features of Twitter as a publishing platform is that the writer has a much better sense of who they’re communicating with. There’s a “Following” list which puts names and reputations behind a readership. Furthermore, the writer can indirectly assess the likelihood of their content being consumed based on followers’ account activity. “Blogs” and older publishing platforms don’t have this vibrance; they have pageviews, time on site, and other metrics distant from the purpose of publishing.


Urtak. Very neat, engaging tool enabling websites to gather demographic and perception information from readers in a lightweight fashion. Almost like a publisher-centric version of Hunch. Found on the Camayak website.

It’s the focus on broken metrics, silly

Gadi Amit, American Design Schools Are a Mess, and Produce Weak Graduates:

Employers like me and my peers need evidence that a new hire has what it takes to hit the ground running. And, given the lack of consistency in design school training, we’re forced to put more weight on portfolio reviews or evidence of skills learned through internships than academic credentials.

Robert Cringely, Ich Hasse Hausaufgaben (I Hate Homework):

American education, perhaps because of the No Child Left Behind Act, has become a testing nightmare. Metrics are everything and much of the curriculum is now intended not to educate but rather to pass the damned tests. It is precisely analogous to what I discovered thirty years ago investigating the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, where reactor operators were trained to pass the operator test, not to actually operate the reactor. When things went wrong — when they went beyond the scripted scenarios — the operators had no idea what was happening inside that containment. Channing’s curriculum, too, tends to be 100 miles wide and an inch deep.

What’s wrong is the focus on broken metrics. Change the incentives and you can change the system.

Measuring journalism

Steven Johnson, with “The Glass Box and The Commonplace Book” (emphasis mine):

But they have underestimated the textual productivity of organizations that are incentivized to connect, not protect, their words. A single piece of information designed to flow through the entire ecosystem of news will create more value than a piece of information sealed up in a glass box. And ProPublica, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of organizations – some of the focused on journalism, some of the government-based, some of them new creatures indigenous to the web – that create information that can be freely recombined into private commonplace books or Pulitzer-prize winning investigative journalism. A journalist today can get the idea for an investigation from a document on Wikileaks, get background information from Wikipedia, download government statistics or transcripts from or the Sunlight Foundation. You cannot measure the health of journalism simply by looking at the number of editors and reporters on the payroll of newspapers. There are undoubtedly going to be fewer of them. The question is whether that loss is going to be offset by the tremendous increase in textual productivity we get from a connected web. Presuming, of course, that we don’t replace that web with glass boxes.

Whoa, wait a second… how do we measure the health of journalism then? If we were to develop this system, would we be able to track information density of text content or derive the quality of the information produced? Could we then mash this against topical and location metadata to see how well particular communities are being served?

This is one of the things I’d like to discuss at tomorrow’s BarCamp NewsInnovation.