This post was sparked off by a recent comment made by Stephen Smoliar, which I reproduce here:
Massively parallel reading may work for entertainment, but I find I need to focus when I get to the heavy stuff. Otherwise, I just come away with a superficial feel; and, if THAT is what I want, then I can get a bit more depth from THE NEW YORK REVIEW. Actually, I think that good review writing is probably one of the most valuable talents in the age of information overload; but, since so few people agree with me, I doubt that I shall be able to start my own service business around it!
Fascinating comment; there are some bits that resonate very strongly with my thoughts, and other bits where I rise up in dissent.
When Stephen says “I think that good review writing is probably one of the most valuable talents in the age of information overload” I couldn’t agree more with him.
The only question or issue is an old one. one that has already been debated between me and Stephen. What makes an expert an expert? Who decides that a review is good?
When we have active feedback loops and ratings systems and rankings, what is the role of the reviewer? What makes a good reviewer?
For some time now, I’ve been reading Amazon reviews by Kevin Killian. I was put on to Kevin by Ron Silliman, via his blog. And how did I find Ron? He once linked to me, and I followed him back. Now he’s on my blogroll, and I read him regularly.
Instead of Kevin Killian, I could have said any of the following:
- PD Harris
- Daniel Jolley
- Kurt Messick
- Mary Whipple
Actually there’s a very long list. The names above are the top 5 in a Top 500 list at Amazon, which you can find here.
But the guy I read? Kevin Killian? Well, he was last seen at number 122, or something like that.
And that’s where the sheer power of the web comes in. Sure I subscribe to, and read, the New York Review, The London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and, for that matter, even Kirkus. At some layer of abstraction, I could argue that there is very little to differentiate between Kirkus and Zagat, which I also subscribe to.
What differentiates all of these from people like Kevin Killian is something very small, yet very important.
There’s a Long Tail Effect in Reviews, in Reviewers, and in Review Readers. A Long Tail Effect that gets suppressed in a traditional hub-and-spoke model.
It is only the market that can determine who is good and who isn’t. And over time, as we remove the corruptions of traditional sales and marketing, there will be a high correlation between what the market thinks and what the market is perceived to be thinking.
So for the most part I agree with Stephen: good reviews, and good reviewers, are really important. What we have to be careful about is formulating “expert” rules about what makes a good review or reviewer.
There’s one other thing that niggled me slightly. Stephen seem to suggest that being entertained by books is not a good thing. Even when I read to learn, I am entertained. I like being entertained. Why ever not?
Maybe it’s the words used, and I shouldn’t get hung up over the semantics. But I’ve heard similar arguments about new ways of working, even about social software, so I am wary. “If people are having fun it can’t be work”. Why ever not?