I’m one of those people who was born at the (very) start of the 1980s. I grew up with computers, but the word processor type. My first email address was my university one.
Quite frequently, I have to explain how things used to be. When things were digital, but before they were digital. Casio watches rather than wearables. Teletext not the internet.
Transfer deadline day used to be different too. It used to be in March. There was no 24 hour rolling sports news.
There was, however, the aforementioned Teletext, the ITV version of Ceefax, a text service that lived in your television.
As well as a specific gossip page (Page 312 on Ceefax if memory serves), the commercial broadcaster had a page of ads in rotation for a thing called Clubcall.
Clubcall was a flashing list of headlines related to each Premier League club and a corresponding premium rate phone number.
You had to phone up, and pay, to hear the latest transfer rumours.
There was a serious scarcity of transfer gossip, so the promise of SERIE A ACE LINKED to an impressionable teenage Norwich fan prompted the occasional foray into calling ‘without the bill payer’s permission’.
I have never encountered a better form of what would go on to become clickbait, and which in 2017 appears to have been rebranded as ‘fake news’.
The debacle over fake news has spread to encompass political denials of anything slightly off the core agenda.
Originally, it was just what Clubcall and their ilk were doing. Enticing people to look deeper into something based on hidden secrets.
For that mystery Welsh International, it’s now what the girls from Hollyoaks look like today. Instead of the providers making money from the premium rate phone line, you’re absolutely hammered with ads.
Social media, and particularly Facebook, is bearing the brunt of the backlash. Justifiably so.
I wrote an essay as my final piece of the IPA Excellence Diploma entitled ‘Algorithm is Gonna Get You’.
Apart from having the only Gloria Estefan-inspired title of that year’s contenders, the thrust of it was that brands must understand and apply the principles of algorithms that power the likes of Google and Facebook in order to thrive in future. I pointed out that:
“…the initial engagement algorithm was defined fairy simply by Facebook, but has now been usurped by as many as 100,000 contributing factors. Effectively, there is something in your behaviour that drives what you see. It’s your fault.”
Unfortunately, this has veered beyond ‘giving people what they want’ being A Good Thing.
Effectively, the algorithm has eaten itself. Poor governance of the quality and authority of the sites that are appearing, a low barrier to entry for ‘trending’, and the general gullibility of the masses (and we’re all guilty) has given us what we want.
Sadly, this is an echo chamber full of noisy garbage, which has been blamed for various controversial election results.
There are no innocent parties in this. While Facebook need to sort out the quality and trending issues, and are in the process of doing so, these sites exist for the same reason as Clubcall – to make money.
So-called ‘native’ ad platforms that occupy every space that isn’t populated by ad networks are culpable, as are the ad networks.
Not as culpable, however, as the advertisers and agencies placing ads there. It’s all supply and demand, and at every stage there are plenty of reasons for none of this to exist.
Google must be enjoying the debacle to an extent, although their inability to own the news discovery space that social media has taken over must be a source of frustration.
None of these sites have sufficient authority or depth to rank on Google, even if there was more than a token amount of search interest in some of these incredibly spurious topics. Their house is immaculate but nobody is coming round for dinner.
I think I actually called Clubcall twice. It was £1.50 a minute and there was a lengthy menu, loads of headlines and eventually you’d get to the meat of the story and there wasn’t anything to it.
These things have a limited shelf life. Facebook seems no less popular on the back of the questionable experience (I’m tiring of it but then I’m knocking 40).
The only solution is not to always give the people what they want. I think that’s something we’ve all learnt as a general lesson in the last few months.