Mark Higginson

How attention flows on the web


05 December 2011

Commercial publishers are the black holes of the web.

There are countless examples of this, but here is one a couple of friends highlighted earlier today:

Luxury sports cars in costly Japan highway pile-up (via the BBC) Ferraris destroyed in costly Japan motorway pile-up (via The Guardian)

The Guardian article cites NTV as a source but neither major news hub provides any links to source material where the interested rubbernecker can follow things up.

Compare this to Jalopnik’s post: Massive Japanese crash claims eight Ferraris, three Benzes, and a Lamborghini. The post contains an embedded YouTube video from Asahi News as well as links to additional coverage.

Ferrari pile-up

Photo from @cancim95 via Jalopnik

The web allows us to do more than simply regurgitate other people’s posts as our own yet the idea of linking out, a fundamental principle of being a good web citizen, sticks in the craw of traditional media outlets. This is why I refer to such hubs as ‘black holes’; you can only detect them by the links going in and there’s a complete absence of anything coming out.

This is an inevitable function of the commercial pattern these sites follow. Their audience is the product they have to monetise, i.e. by selling this data to advertisers in some shape or form. They believe that links out become leaks where attention can seep away and thus money evaporate.

Compare all of the above to the post on Metafilter: Eight Ferraris and one Lamborghini … in a $4 million pileup. Obviously this site follows a different pattern but the aggregated benefit of having a carefully selected link and 46 comments, which also supply supporting information for the person wanting to find out more is clear.

Let me know what you think on Twitter