Thursday, January 05, 2012

Novel Thinking

Novel ThinkingLike I imagine most folks who trip over here from time to time to read these poker-related scribblings, I usually spend a bit of time each day perusing various poker news sites, forums, and following the chatter on Twitter in an effort to keep track with what’s happening in the poker world.

As I’m sure you also notice when making such a virtual trek around the intertubes, there’s a lot of repeating of information happening online. Such is the case not just for poker but for just about any subject area. It’s as though as soon as something newsworthy happens or gets reported, dozens are sharing the exact same news within a short span of time, thus helping any item -- even examples of misreporting -- quickly proliferate around our little circle.

I remember once having a writing teacher explain to me the concept of “common knowledge.” In academic essays, one generally is required to document one’s sources whenever presenting ideas or words that are not one’s own. The one exception to this rule was the occasion of presenting so-called “common knowledge.” You know, like the Titanic went down in 1912 or John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

The teacher offered a rule of thumb for determining whether or not an idea or bit of information qualified as “common knowledge.” If you see the information in five different sources, the teacher explained, only then can you safely assume it is common knowledge and thus not in need of citation.

Back then we didn’t have the internet to assist us with our research. So finding something in five different sources meant putting in a lot of time amid the stacks in the library. Indeed, I sometimes thought the five-source minimum was intentionally established as a difficult-to-reach barrier so as to keep students from being too quick to think of something as “common knowledge” and thus more apt to cite sources whenever in doubt.

'Wanted today to point everyone'Today, of course, such advice is mostly meaningless. Moments after I publish this post, you’ll probably be able to find the words I am writing appear in five different other places, having been “scraped” and published by various web-page producing programs. It is almost as though everything that gets published somewhere online instantly becomes “common knowledge” and is regarded as such by many going forward -- i.e., as fair game for reporting without attribution.

Maybe it’s because I have occasionally been called on to write poker news articles myself that I find myself thinking about this phenomenon. Or because I write this blog every weekday, where I always try to avoid repeating what else is out there and provide something novel or at least a little bit different, even if it is only just to share a personal take on what everyone else is talking about.

Thanks in part to the way search engines work and the whole “SEO” thing, a distinction has developed in internet reporting between publishing something that is “new” and publishing something that is “original.” The fact is, it is much more valued to be first -- or perceived as first by the elusive algorithms employed by internet search engines -- than it is to be original. (I smile grimly at the post I wrote yesterday, today appearing on other sites as though published years ago.)

Writing and publishing original content is by definition going to mean producing something that is new. Readers will recognize this, but so will the search engines (which will help attract more readers).

But it is possible also to appear to write something new without necessarily writing something that is original. A quick summary of someone else’s reporting can accomplish as much quite efficiently, and depending on the site producing it, can effectively place a newly-published page way up or even at the top of searches for the item.

And speaking of efficiency, it is much less costly to come up with such “new” (but not original) content than it is to commission that which is truly original.

I’m conscious of the fact that my observation here is itself unoriginal. I nonetheless felt compelled to bring up the idea here as I’ve been lately seeing not just the usual examples of the phenomenon but also some others pointing out having seen the same, too.

I Hate CrowdsPerhaps it was because of thinking about all of this -- coupled with a further bit of meditating on “viral” videos and marketing, cut-and-paste emails, “retweeting” on Twitter, etc. -- that I have come up with the first inklings of an idea for a new novel.

It may turn out to be a science fiction story, though the variety of sci-fi that serves to provide a commentary on the “real” world we inhabit. Perhaps even an original one.

Gonna file the idea away for now, though. I have another novel I need to finish first. Besides, I don’t want to get to carried away with explaining the idea here today only to see it a hundred times over elsewhere before I even begin writing.

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