Expertise. An editor making a choice. Having someone who knows their shit put things in front of you, rather than you hacking through the vast swathe of content online to find something that interests you; or having to trawl through customer reviews that look as if they’re written by people with as many IQ points as letters in their name (iTunes, LoveFilm and Amazon – I’m looking at you).
It’s a subject that’s been on my mind recently, as I’ve recently started using the Band of the Day app for the iPad. It’s pretty nifty, built on the simple concept that a bunch of people who know their shit harvest a bio, samples and videos and present them in an appealing way. It’s rekindled my interest in music, which I’ll admit I’ve lost recently. There’s so much nonsense out there, that it’s nice to find some sincere people who clearly love music and have taken the time to present it well.
I guess that it’s the same with book editors, too. Sure they’re there to sell stuff, but book editors have to trawl through lots of submissions to put what they think is decent stuff out there (of course, on ‘decent’ your milage may vary). They think it’s good. They want you to like it too. Editors of review sites, too, also play the same game (though in some quarters I’d like to see more editorial opinion and consistency). The gatekeeper still has a role to play.
I think there’s a danger that editorial opinion online is lost to the subconscious yearning for an apparent choice. Editorial selections are, for me, becoming increasingly important once again. I don’t want to look through hundreds of opinions, which is probably why I find LoveFilm customer reviews to be useless. There was a time where I was all for having essentially crowd-voted suggestions on good music and literature, but I’ve found that my tastes seem to differ from the average ratings far more often than not. This is not at all to dismiss crowd-sourced opinion – it has it’s place, and for some it’s very important – but these days I want experienced people who have good knowledge to put what they think is the best in front of me, so I might discover something new and interesting, and maybe better myself in the process. It’s like trusting the person in a music shop who enthuses about certain bands, or have someone explain a piece of artwork to you. It makes, somehow, for a far richer experience.
Vaguely related to online culture, I noticed an interesting article in the New Statesman about not leaving comments at the bottom of articles:
When I give someone a book as a present, I don’t hand them a marker pen so they can scrawl “DID YOU GET PAID FOR THIS?” on the final page. So when did we get the idea that allowing comments on articles was a Good Thing?
The anti-comment backlash has been gathering pace for a while now. Every so often, a writer puts their head above the parapet to say that, actually, they don’t really enjoy every facet of their life, career and appearance being raked over directly underneath an article they’ve spent time crafting. Or that they feel slightly miffed that a drive-by “YOUR SHIT” or “FIRSSSST” gets almost equal prominence with their original work.
A few places have already taken the step of removing comments: one of them is the satirical Daily Mash website. “One of our well-worn catchphrases is: “I have no interest in your worthless, ill-informed opinion. And we’re not kidding,” the Mash’s editor, Neil Rafferty, told me. “What you don’t want is to write a piece of comedy and immediately below it, have lots of people trying to be funnier than you. It’s a tiresome experience and it detracts from the actual article. It was banned fairly early on; we tried it for two weeks and it was hellish.”