"I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it." (SC Justice Potter Stewart)
There have been several articles and a lot of dialogue recently concerning the structure and function of Newsvine and 'quality' of either features of the Vine or various individuals' contributions. Several potential alterations have been proposed, including changes to the Front Page layout, new standards for articles, and either new regulations about the use of polls or possibly doing away with the 'poll' feature altogether.
All this debate is of course motivated by the sincere desire of participants to enhance the overall 'quality' and 'effort' (by some sorts of measures) that individuals invest in producing articles, and thereby enhance the 'quality' of Newsvine. Those of you who've seen a bit of the dialogue on this unfolding drama know that there are very diverse points of view regarding these issues.
For many members of Newsvine, this 'schism' might appear to be a tornado in a teacup. After all, there are over 112 MILLION blog sites, with new ones starting up (and others languishing) every day. Indeed, it's difficult to determine if more than a minute percentage of Newsvine users have any concern whatsoever about these issues. On the other hand, some folks at least appear to have passionate convictions about the goals and 'quality' of the Vine and individuals' contributions to it, and proclaim their principles and perspectives with the commitment that inspired the Crusaders (okay, maybe not quite that much).
The Slippery Slope of 'Quality'
Most folks are all for 'quality', just like many folks are against 'smut'. Unfortunately, the reality is, when it comes to 'quality', we're really pretty much all in the same boat with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's comment, quoted above.
And therein lies the rub…
'Quality', like 'beauty' is very much in the eyes of the beholder.
An original and striking idea that is badly written/expressed can have 'quality'—the content will probably override the style. A familiar and ordinary idea that is excellently written/expressed can also have 'quality'—the style will probably override the content. Erudite theologians have engaged in learned dialogues about how many angels can dance of the head of a pin; an atheist would maintain that that philosophical debate is totally without 'quality'. My personal opinion is that there's no such thing as a 'quality' Harlequin romance, or a 'quality' painting of Elvis on black velvet, yet millions of both those items that have been sold, so clearly there are plenty of people who appreciate their 'quality'. The point is that 'quality' is a subjective assessment, a value judgment. 'Quality' in the absence of a definition is a label without semantic content.
'Effort' is a term that looks good while being very ambiguous.
A skilled chef might toss off a delicious dessert from cheap ingredients in no time, with little attention or even much thought. Do we think less of the product because no 'effort' was involved? An amateur carpenter might pound together a rickety lean-to from expensive mahogany and a hundred hours of labor. Is the shack praiseworthy because of his 'effort'? Which plumber's 'effort' would you applaud: the one who fixes your broken pipe in 15 minutes, or the one who takes seven hours to accomplish the same result? Someone who loves to crochet can quickly knit you a scarf and not think twice about it, saying, "It really was no effort at all"; her arthritic neighbor may take 10 hours to produce a pair of baby booties. Which 'effort' is more deserving, more admirable? Is it even 'fair' to compare them?
With both 'quality' and 'effort', the important underlying dilemma is: someone (or some group) has to decide—to make the definition or set the standard. Someone becomes the arbiter, the evaluator, the authority. Ultimately, somebody (or some body) presumes or is presumed to be a connoisseur, a critic, becomes empowered to judge whose statement or opinion is worthy…and whose is not.
Now, you may be one of those folks who couldn't care less about all this debate (in which case, you've probably stopped reading by now). You might have a passing interest in the issues, or you could be one of those who view this as a fundamental struggle over power and control, unwarranted elitism, covert favoritism, implicit or explicit 'censorship' and the soul of Newsvine (cue organ music to crescendo). It's probably nowhere near that dramatic, of course, but for some people it's apparently pretty heady stuff, and principles and personalities are manifest. Of course, it's well to bear in mind that Newsvine is after all an organ of MSNBC, and ultimately all choices about the goals, structure, content and 'quality' of the Vine are going to be based on the commercial concerns about traffic, ad revenues and corporate reputation.
But users DO have opinions and at least a degree of influence and the staff clearly is approachable and concerned about the development of Newsvine and encouraging the contribution of articles, ideas and improvements.
They say opinions are like elbows—everybody's got at least a couple; and difference of opinion is what makes barfights.
Here's an opportunity to register your interest on a number of topics that have emerged during recent debates.
Welcome to the mother of all polls…
PS: This is honest to God NOT an invitation to a rockfight. Whether you lean 'Pro' OR 'Con', let's please be civil. If thinking about this stuff makes you foam at the mouth, just go play someplace else, OK?