Publishers and Platforms Need to Label Genres. Now, Please.

Today, from Medium. News about Trump!


See down there at the bottom? The headline about Trump? It’s yet another satirical headline showing up as like hard news. In 2018. A year and a half after we were supposed to fix this sort of thing. What’s going on?

So here’s a way to think about this. Think about my blog.

People have been coming to this blog for over a decade now, and the return visitors know what this blog is about. It’s analysis and opinion. It’s commentary. It’s not original research, it’s not hard news. It’s not satire.

For most of publishing history if you read an article you’d have a pretty good expectation of what genre to expect. If you picked up MAD Magazine you didn’t expect hard news. If you picked up the Washington Post, you could find various things in it, but they were mostly labeled to distinguish them and put in separate sections where possible.

Platforms tore away that context by taking everything and throwing it into one big bucket of content, platformatized and monetized. So now you get pieces in an endless feed from places you don’t even know; and where they are from places you know you don’t know *where* in the publication they are from or have any expectations about them. Which is why the avante garde of our current hoax and disinformation cycle was a bunch of liberals sharing unfunny Andy Borowitz columns they had had mistaken for New Yorker reporting. Again, if you had a subscription to the New Yorker, you’d know that section as the unfunny joke section towards the back. And on the site, it is clearly marked as satire, right up top:



But in Facebook’s endless homogenized feed, Borowitz looks like this:


I imagine it’s something similar with Medium above. The aggregation and recommendation tools strip this context out and repeatedly cause confusion.

It’s true that people do like having a standard interface for the feed, but the feed needs to figure out ways to parse this information and add the genre labels and indicators back in.

Sometimes you hear platforms companies complaining “Well, what do you want us to do?” Adding genre labels — and ideally then letting people the set the desired genre mix for their feed — is a simple solution that should have been done in 2014. The fact that it is 2018 and we’re still having this conversation is bizarre. Why not just get it done?

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