Filters vs. Authority, Signal vs. Noise

I've referenced in recent posts about how a natural side effect of RateItAll's growth has been the increase of noise - content which is either 1) lousy and uninteresting (e.g. a review of President Bush that says "He Sucks!!!!") or 2) not of interest to the reader (e.g. sports reviews and Kamylienne).

This issue is not just a RateItAll issue - it's something that's happening all over the Web, as sites start to do what RateItAll has been doing since 1999 - open up publishing tools to their visitors, and as blogs proliferate.

Well, there's a heated debate among experts in this field about what the best way is to handle this explosion of content and noise. There seem to be four primary strategies that people are recommending:

1) Control and Administrative Authority. Under this model, some centralized authority is responsible for quality control on all content on a Web site. Publishing tools, if even available, are extremely limited, and overall quality is kept very high. This approach is typical of many of the giant media companies of today - the so called Main Stream Media, or in my jargon, the Web 1.0.

2) Self Restraint. There's a very smart guy named Seth Godin who believes that publishers who want to preserve their personal brand in an environment of exploding content will need to show restraint, and publish less, but with a higher hit rate of quality content.

3) Community Authority / Wisdom of the Crowds. This is often equated with the "Web 2.0" approach. Give your online community the tools to decide what content is most compelling, and based on the community's decision, give the highest rated content the most airplay.

4) Filters. Provide members of your community with tools that lets them focus in on content that is of interest to them. An example of this would be the RateItAll Recommendation Engine, which filters RateItAll's database of reviews by self-selected networks of trusted reviewers. Under this model, everyone sees something different. For a good discussion of filters, see this post by Scott Karp.

Exploding content, to the scale which we're seeing it today, is a brand new problem. Nobody really knows how it's going to turn out, and if you read any of the recent comments on this blog, there are very strong feelings about it, both from site administrators and participants.

My personal feeling is that I believe very strongly in items #3 and #4 - a focus on community based tools and filters to A) try and automate things so that the community determines which content gets the most airplay; B) Allows each person to customize their site experience so that they see the stuff that they are most likely to be interested in.

But I also see the value in some human, administrative intervention to highlight content that would otherwise get lost. That is why tools such as Featured Comment have not gone away, and why we'll be introducing similar features such as Featured Reviewers and Best of RateItAll.

The risk of relying on community based tools to determine airplay, as Kamy has pointed out, is that everything gets reduced to the lowest common denominator. In RateItAll, that would mean that President Bush and Britney Spears would be featured every day, because that's where most of the traffic is. That means that a lot of interesting, quality stuff gets lost in the noise.

That's it. It's not a black and white case, and there is still plenty of room for debate on this issue.

But from my perspective, I can tell you with a lot of confidence that what you are going to see on RateItAll is an emphasis on community based tools that enable collective decision making by the RateItAll community, and the provision of filters that lets each RIA member customize their own experience on the site.

I think this approach best suits the soul of the site, and I believe that we are just scratching the surface in terms of neat features that will let people find what they want and what they didn't even know they wanted - both in terms of reviews, and other reviewers.

As always, stay tuned as this is a work in progress....


  1. I was hoping I wouldn't have to resort to asking it here, but I don't see much of a choice.

    Is anyone else having an issue with getting into RIA? It hasn't let me on in almost a full day now; it keeps telling me that the server is to busy or possibly broken and I have no idea if its the site or my crappy pc, once again. If it lets me on soon, I'll let you know, but could someone just get back to me on whether it's happening to others or not?

  2. No, it was an RIA issue. The site is now back up... sorry for the hassle.

  3. No worries, not 5 minutes after I posted to ask, I tried one last time, hoping it would work before I go to bed and it logged me in :) When I checked the recent comments and saw that I was the #3 most recent, I realized it was a site thing. Thanks for getting back to me though...