Link rot

Information overload — news overload, to be more precise — can be a problem, though it is a wonderful problem to have.

The main reason people read “the news” — is to satisfy a general sense of obligation to “know what’s going on.” It is to avoid that terrible sense of embarrassment you might feel if you had no idea what a co-worker was talking about when she asked, “Can you believe what those monsters did in Mumbai?”

This need, as well as the desire to follow news of deep personal interest such as how your favorite stock or sports team is doing, used to be easily satisfied by reading the daily newspaper. Now that you could probably spend hours a day researching your stock or your sports team, the question of when enough is enough is highly pertinent. Each new link seems to ask, “Do you want more information?” How do you think about answering that question? How can news organizations help you decide the answer to that question?

Daniel Luzer attempts to take on the issue in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review called “Linked Out.” The gist:

In mid-October, I decided to spend a day following the news through hyperlinks only. I followed every link I could find. I stuffed myself full of news to understand the potential and problems of the hyperlink. How much does the hyperlink matter? Is it an incidental addition to news, or does it actually change the way people consume information?

To describe this approach as conceptually stillborn would be polite. To describe it as idiotic and moronic would be impolite, but perhaps more apt. The methodology is akin to studying urban sprawl by randomly taking every highway off ramp for a day or consumerism by walking into every store on a street. It is a pointless gimmick that does not in any way resemble how real people behave, or tell us anything useful about the subject at hand.