Net Meritocracy

| Thursday, February 24, 2011
Tamarind came back to write another ridiculously long post at the Pink Pigtail Inn in which he makes a few good points and a few really awful points that make me wonder if he has some sort of bipolarstupid disorder. So the usual. That was meant to sound slightly more positive than negative; I do think he is/was a good writer overall, but there are always those glaringly dumb bits. I blame overexposure to Europe.

I think we forget just how meritocratic the blogosphere really is. It’s very easy to get all bulverist and assume that Xs readers only agree with X over you because X is popular, but actually we are broadly judged on our content, and that’s exactly the way it should be.

Lazily copied from
"An elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth."
"Rule by persons chosen not because of birth or wealth, but for their superior talents or intellect"

Well, okay yea, I guess so. I cannot reasonably argue that popular bloggers are popular by nobility and they clearly have some talent for attracting the masses. So there is talent. But talent for what? Attracting masses. That's the only general talent we can attach. Specific bloggers may attract said masses by many means. Some offer useful advice on classes, quests, economics, talents, whatever. I avoid these blogs at all cost. Some offer thought-provoking posts about where things came from and where they are headed, looking a lot at the developers. Some offer emotionally or socially relevant commentary or reflection.

And then some are just some jackass ranting about whoever he hates that week. Strangely enough, hate is popular, creating us vs. them scenarios for people to rally behind. These are popular and when popularity is the only measure available, they sure look meritocraticus. That doesn't make them in any way worthwhile and it doesn't mean that any world, whether virtual or real, is better for their existence (I mean the blog, I'm not suggesting the the actual bloggers are world-destroying sociopaths). So yes, we are "judged on our content", but when the person judging is looking for someone to rally around in a flurry of generic hate at imaginary enemies, maybe that's not a very good judge.

Net meritocracy. I didn't create the title to refer to the internet and popularity on it, though it does work. Instead I want to complain about advertising and its role in ruining the wonderfulness which would otherwise theoretically be the free market.

Companies and products do not succeed or fail based solely on the quality of their product or service, the relative value, or any other rational measure that we could pick. Instead they survive to a large degree based on their ability to lie and deceive. This is called advertising. Ideally it would inform consumers, but ideally capitalism would have made us all rich as hell and communism wouldn't have been used to kill millions of people, so clearly we're not in an ideal world.

Companies cannot simply make a good product. They must advertise it, market it, go to great lengths just to let people know their product exists. This means that the best product or service does not win. Instead the best advertised product, given a certain unknown ratio of crap compared to the good product, will win. Imagine that two companies make drugs which help keep you awake. One sells a new chemical which has no side-effects and can keep you awake longer for the same dosage and has a modest ad budget focused mostly on facts. The other sells repackaged meth with an awesome ad campaign, some viral marketing, and celebrities visiting kids at schools. Which do you think is going to win the market share battle? Yea, the second company.

This is what I mean by net meritocracy. It is not merely the meritocracy of technology, but also the meritocracy of the marketing, which determines the "net meritocracy."

If we are attempting to rationally buy quality products, the entire second half of that net is worthless to us. In fact, it may be more than worthless, it may actively harm our quest for the first half. Advertising is money not spent on research and testing. Instead it is money spent tricking people. When shareholders demand maximized value they aren't demanding quality products. They are demanding sales. So the person in search of a good product is set back; the good product which might exist is instead not available yet, because that portion of the R&D budget was instead spent to hire really hot women to rub the product on themselves for a camera. This does not add value. Better porn can be found for free without needing advertising for shitty products.

Let's loop back to me arbitrarily insulting Tamarind for things he cannot choose, such as Europe and bipolarstupid disorder. The blogosphere may indeed be a meritocracy, but when the only measure is a popularity contest, we should be careful to avoid thinking that a meritocracy is actually useful. Besides, we all know that popular people are Hitler or the Antichrist.

In unrelated news, this comment at PPI strikes me as a bit hypocritical and dickish. Or does it?
I think a lot of you need to stop admiring yourselves so much.

Nothing any one of you writes is going to alter my opinion of what another one of you writes.

I could care less of your opinions of each other.

Tam, you wrote a very good article. It kept my interest till the end. Nice to see you about.

Suicidal Zebra, never heard of you. Apparently you don't miss Tam. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. REMEMBER THAT. It applies to others as well as yourself.

Also, "could care less" implies a positive care level (assuming care cannot be less than zero, with zero being total indifference or lack of awareness). "Could not care less" implies an entirely empty care cup.

As for the "stop admiring yourselves so much" bit, I'm sorry, but it takes a certain level of self-esteem and self-admiration to think that one's ideas are worth putting out there, not merely to tell a friend or scribble it in a journal. It's somewhere in the murky realm between self-pity and arrogance. So yea, bloggers have a higher opinion of themselves and their own ideas than others. That is why we write our own posts rather than constantly reposting those of others. The obvious exception is Ms Huffington and the like who take the contrarian positions of believing themselves to be the arbiters of what is worth reading and are actually mentally incapable of writing, much as Mr. Zoolander was for a long time not bi-directional in his turning.

My point is that if you're going to wander into a place where people put in some effort to tell everyone what they think, they're going to think a lot of what they think.


Snail said...

The net cannot be anything other than another iteration of society. We can wish it to be an ideal; that posts, sites and blogs have some ranking based on scales of literary perfection or on the validity and intellectual value of the content. We can wish all we like, but it won't happen.

Well, it will rarely happen. There is no escaping the bell curve. In the context of blogging all an individual can do is write what they mean, and mean what they write and they will find a readership if that is what they desire.

In unrelated news, as the author of the quoted comment, I agree that the expression "could care less" implies some level of caring, and I chose my words poorly.

The message I intended to impart was this: The opinion of blogger about another does not affect my own. If I support the argument made by Tam in a post, I will not necessarily support the opinion made in the next or in the previous. I view and consider the arguments made in each post by each blogger separately.

I concede that not all others do the same. Some readers will cling to whatever their favourite blogger writes as the gospel truth and can get quite nasty in the process.

This would be why such things as religion, political parties, cults and the like exist; some people just can't or refuse to think for themselves.

Was is a dickish way to say what I meant? Yeah it probably was, but sometimes being a dick is warranted.

Klepsacovic said...

Are dicks convincing? Not to people who are thinking. That means that being a dick is only useful as a rallying technique for the "some people [who] just can't or refuse to think for themselves."

Accipeter said...

Dude, you need to put a TL;DR at the end of posts this long. I got about halfway through and got bored.

That, or get to the point more quickly. Or use a livelier writing style. Something.

Klepsacovic said...

I called people Nazis, what else do you want?

Snail said...

There we disagree, at least insofar as to the usefulness of dickishness.

Is it dickish to shout louder than others who are shouting merely so as to get attention? Yeah, I think so.

Is it is dickish to shout louder than others so as to attempt to get people off their soapboxes and engage in conversation instead? I would argue yes, but warranted; wake up calls can be rude and abrupt, but serve a purpose, even the thinking need to be shaken up occasionally and to be roused from complacency.

So much space has been taken up with name calling, rudeness, vitriol, poison and false suppositions. I don't expect everyone to be cuddly and friendly, but for the love of pete, if you are going to engage in writing in public, entertain me, stimulate me and make me think. If I sought intellectual pablum I could resubscribe to cable and watch Survivor. If I wished to be witness to cliquishness, bullying and generally rude behaviour I would go hang around high-schoolers.

If you disagree with X, dig deep and find an actual reason to disagree. Snide comments only serve to discredit the author's position.

A certain amount of arrogance may be involved in authoring a blog, but just as readership can be bellcurved, so too can authorship. There are those who seek a herd and those who do not.

Suggesting that certain things not be written because they may influence the herd to behave one way or the other is suggesting censorship.

Suggesting that all readers are members of the herd is insulting to those of us who aren't.

Make bold statements. Support your arguments with facts. Don't stop doing what you are doing, and never underestimate your readership because not everyone who wanders about from blog to blog is a sheep.

But if, on the other hand, the intended audience is the average, the herd, then just say so.

Klepsacovic said...

I think what's going on here is a disagreement on the definition of dickishness. Being upfront, impolitely honest, or loud, are not innately dickish. So I think we mostly agree (on dickishness) beside the semantics.

"Suggesting that certain things not be written because they may influence the herd to behave one way or the other is suggesting censorship."
Except this point. Should we say absolutely anything we like? Pardon the extreme scenario, it is only to establish possible needs for censorship. I buy a lot of guns, all of which are perfectly legal to own. I also buy a lot of bomb-making materials, but nothing in illegal quantities. Then I go find a crowd, let's say some recently laid-off people who are likely to be upset with the system. We all drink a bit. Then I merely talk, saying things like where all my guns are, how to assemble the bombs, and who I really think should die.

On a different topic, I would not link the herd and the average. Everyone is stupid in some aspect and therefore has some number of issues on which they will be herd. So we could loosely see stupid people as having more issues on which they will form herds, but intelligence does not grant immunity to herds, and can actually add more possible issues on which to herd. For example, a very stupid ignorant person might be incapable of understanding physics, so he will not easily join a herd on string theory arguments, where a more intelligent person could.

Syl said...

I missed most of this ongoing debate as I was away, but I was frankly surprised to read the whole 'xeppe thing' is still of such interest to anyone..? i never understood what that person took offense from, the article was if anything, putting a blogger's article on the spotlight in a productive way. couldnt find a trace of mockery in it. but oh well.

I agree with Tam that the whole 'big blogger' accusation goes both ways; a bigger blog has some potential to bully may-be, but at the same time they're also often being held to different standards and are expected to tiptoe more than others which is simply put: phony.

But like you, I don't believe in Meritocracy; not in the world we live in and not on the internet either. or rather: i don't believe in it entirely. success tends to create its own self-dynamic - just like money creates even more money. at some point there's not the same direct, personal merit involved anymore (and some people, like you said, are very good at other very crucial things that influence 'success'. just see how marketing is everything in today's business world).

for a blogger i would argue that success compares in the exact same way, but there are still parallels.

I've actually just picked up an absolutely insightful read on the nature of success vs talent and genius, taking a close look at famous personas from mozart to steve jobs. the things revealed are nothing short of baffling and are at the same time such open secrets. I will look up the title when I get home tonight. ^^

Tamarind said...

Thanks Klep. I love you too.

I think, with all due respect, you've fallen into the same trap as Rilgon as assuming that meritocracy means "things I think have merit are rewarded by the system." The point is, blogs get popular because people *like them* - not necessarily for reasons you might consider "good" but valid reasons nonetheless, up and including, liking to rally around a hate point.

I mean Gevlon is incredibly popular and I know you don't like the guy but people are drawn to him because he's arguably an expert in his field of sub-Randian wossname (to say nothing of gold making) AND because he generates conflict. And some people enjoy that too.

And it's all very well saying to yourself "I can't believe Gevlon is more popular than Larisa, because I don't like what Gevlon does whereas I do like what Larisa does, God the system is so flawed" but the point is that both Larisa and Gevlon are popular because they provide something that lots of people want. And their poularity - whether or not you agree with it - springs directly from their blogging. Gevlon did not buy his way to fame. Larisa did not inherit her blog from King Blog III. There is no divine right of blogging.

An elitist system is a system in which people attain their status by uncontrolled and arbitrary factors disconnected from the field itself. It would be like buying your way into Oxford, for example - having lots of money is no indicator of intellectual strength.

A meritocratic system, by contrast, means that people attain status by giving other people what they want. Regardless of how you personally feel about it.

I think it is, sadly, human nature to conclude that things are popular because people are stupid. You keep equating poularity with a lack of merit, while simultaneously implicitely defining merit as "shit I think is good." That's not exactly a useful way of thinking about things. You've essentially put forward a closed and self-reinforcing argument:

1. Meritocracy means that things which are of merit get rewarded
2. The only measurable reward is popularity
3. Therefore meritocracies are just popularity contests

Unfortunately, as is the nature of such arguments, there's no way to actually engage with it.

Klepsacovic said...

@Syl: I missed the original drama thing, whatever it was. Frankly it all just sounds stupid to me. I have a fairly small list of blogs I read, so I tend to miss all this shit.

I think the internet is a sort of second chance for meritocracy, as the closest we can get to a truly free market. But Comcast wants to end that and in any just world they'd all be declared Communists and interrogated by McCarthy's zombified corpse. *checks news* We don't live in a just world.

@Tamarind: assuming that meritocracy means "things I think have merit are rewarded by the system."
Well, yea. But really, my point was that there are two types of merit and they get conflated. When a company is successful the assumption is that they did so by making a great product, ignoring the entirely unproductive activity of advertising and how skill at advertising is tilting the balance.

"conclude that things are popular because people are stupid." Not what I am saying and also I am not saying popularity indicates a lack of merit. What I am trying to get at is this: What do we want and What are we actually measuring?

Anonymous said...

When a company is successful *your* assumption is that they did so by making a great product.

My assumption is that they did a range of things well enough including product research & development, legal due diligence, investor relations, materials sourcing, business development, supply chain management, financial planning, recruiting, distribution as well as marketing and advertising.

Klepsacovic said...

@Anonymous: That's not my assumption, that's the assumption of a free market. It is the failure of that assumption, and the refusal to deal with it, which causes so many problems.

Anonymous said...

Free markets, being abstract concepts, don't make assumptions. People simplify the world in order to represent it ways that fit their assumptions. And then they become indignant when they get caught out.

Klepsacovic said...

Rather than assumption, would the phrase "designed for" work better? Yes, a "free market" doesn't think, but as an economic system, as with any system, for the most efficient functioning, it requires certain conditions to be met. If those conditions are not met, then it is smart to either tweak the system or the environment to work better with the system.

For example, a fully developed communist economy (think of a family rather than the Soviet Union) relies on a high degree of altruism and other psychological elements which are not commonly present in a large-scale economy. Communism failed due to being a system which assumed (relied on) certain aspects of human behavior which were not present. The same general failure of assumptions, though different specific problems, exists in a free market system.

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