Evan Williams on Improving Content on the Internet

Thanks to the miracle of C-SPAN at the YMCA, I heard some provocative comments from Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, speaking at a conference a couple months ago. The subject is how the internet should be leveragable to improve content; it should, even though content online somehow hasn't improved from its offline counterparts, yet. I wonder if one possible answer to Williams' question (at the end of the transcription below) may be that publishers' commitment to an advertising model is an impediment. But it's great to hear him insist that we should be expecting more from content on the web. "For the last 15 years we've worked on lowering the barrier to content creation. And that's had all these positive effects. But it seems like there's – no one has been working on how do we improve the quality of content on the internet. "I think this is highly possible, but if you look at what reading an article on the web looks like today, it's basically the same as if you read it in a magazine. Or if you printed it out, you have the same experience. And once it's published, it rarely changes, and the collective intelligence that's available in the world doesn't really collaborate to improve it, and the process of creation isn't very much different than traditional media, it's just the distribution is the only thing that's changed. "I think all those things could potentially change: the consumption experience; the evolution of information after it gets out there; the production process could be way more efficient and open. "So that's a really interesting opportunity and a way that things could actually improve that haven't really. The publishing industry in general, there's a lot of turmoil and despair it seems because like, well, 'the internet's screwed our distribution model,' which is true. But I'm optimistic there are more fundamental things than how distribution happens to change about publishing. [Question from Walter Isaacson:] "And where does collaborative-ness come in beyond the wiki phenomenon? "I think there hasn't been nearly enough experimentation between user generated content and professional content. They're pretty much different worlds on the internet today. And the best you get is an article and then a bunch of comments underneath the article completely separated. And those comments can be from anybody so nobody reads them because they are, you know. "I want to read my New York Times after Walter has read it and highlighted and written in the margins. Not everybody in the world, but, you know, depending on the article, someone who is expert. "I don't know exactly what that looks like. But there are all kinds of ideas. Just like Wikipedia, there is a collective intelligence that collaborates to make more accurate information (most of the time). Why doesn't that exist outside Wikipedia?" The video can be found on C-SPAN here, and the bit I've transcribed above starts at about the 24:05 minute mark.

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