Zero Value Added
Shortly after Amplified started in 2012, I began following The Loop back when Jim Dalrymple served as the site’s sole writer. With a great sense of humor and an attractive approach to journalism that made no bones about calling people, institutions, and companies out for their often ridiculous shortcomings, the fact that Jim wrote great hardware reviews after Apple events was more a cherry atop the sundae than a driving motivation behind my choice to follow him; before too long, he had become one of my favorite writers, and his site the one location I turned to for a more diverse set of news stories than we in the insular tech community often expose ourselves to.
Fast-forward to today and The Loop has grown tremendously in the two years since Amplified began, inarguably due in no small part to the podcast’s impressive success. Along with that increase in readership, revenue has grown, but also the expectation that The Loop’s staff maintain an ever-increasing rate of publication so as to keep up with other, similar sites in possession of larger writing staffs. Pageviews mean dollars in this business, and the best way to increase both is to constantly provide readers with something new and interesting to read. Pursuant of that goal, The Loop now employs three writers: Jim Dalrymple still publishes an article or two occasionally, although he has done so less often as of late; Dave Mark and Shawn King have out-posted Jim for quite some time now.
At first glance, one might consider this an obvious indication of well-deserved success — and indeed, it was in this light that I saw The Loop until only recently; within the last week or two though, as I scrolled through several hundred articles from my two-week “vacation” to Canada’s wilderness, it felt almost as if a veil had lifted from my eyes as I began to question the value added when linking to an article with nothing more than, “There are some great tips in here.” or “I don’t know if the author is brave or stupid. Undoubtedly, a lot of both.”
I do not mean to sit here and paint every article from The Loop with the same brush, because doing so would do a severe disservice to all the interesting articles that appear there alongside worthwhile commentary that actually adds value to the larger narrative at hand. Consider, as examples of this dichotomy, two other posts from the same time period as those cited above, Humans need not apply and Hyperlapse: both very interesting pieces in and of themselves, whose relevancy is further augmented by the succinct commentary that appears alongside them. This is great linkblogging done right; the other, not so much.
Of course, in the face of this metered condemnation one could make the usual case for linkblogs, arguing that their function is not intended to be a source of primary content but rather to act as a referral for others to discover new and interesting work that might otherwise go unnoticed. And just as that argument has merit when justifying the existence of linkblogs, so, too, does it maintain its relevancy here. However, in a day and age where it has become increasingly easy to set up a site on Tumblr or Squarespace, troll The Verge, and provide a passable facsimile of the work shops like The Loop have begun churning out recently in order to maintain a breakneck pace, we find ourselves saddled with the ever-relevant question of differentiation: what differentiates me from John Gruber from any one of the thousands of WordPress sites created every day? As I have stated before in one of the most oft-referenced articles I have ever written, Owning Their Words, there is but one thing that we each possess that no one else in the world does: our voice. I have a different voice than John Gruber who has a different voice than that of any one of the thousands of WordPress sites created every day. Ultimately, that voice is what leads to success — it precludes it, in fact, for without the ability to quantify that voice our work is doomed to fade into oblivion, as is the case for the vast majority of sites and writers who endeavor to make a go at this craft.
I sit down to write this today, then, not to pillory Jim and his compatriots for any shortcoming, perceived or otherwise, on their site, but rather in the hopes of offering a bit of constructive criticism: it seems that as of late, the voice that made me and undoubtedly so many others jump on The Loop’s bandwagon has taken a back seat to what I and I would wager many others consider the ancillary content — namely, the work of others. There is a reason I do not follow The Verge, Bloomberg, or any other big news site, after all, and a reason that I follow groups of independent writers like The Loop instead. Or at least, there used to be a reason; lately, it has begun to fade. Here’s to bringing it back.