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Understanding Quality vs. Quantity

Created June 18, 2018 /
Last edited October 14, 2020

Mario Vasilescu

CEO/Co-Founder of Readocracy

Previous post:

The Click Bubble Is About To Burst

Subscribe to follow along as we rethink the attention economy and our relationship with information

To understand why we wrote this, we need to start with our team’s humble mission:

make it easier and more valuable for publishers and audiences to create quality, instead of quantity.

Why? We think it can save the internet. So...

“What do you mean by quality?”

We are not in the business of — nor do we believe it’s possible— judging the journalistic gut and intangible touch great journalism and writing requires. Our focus is outcomes and encouraging them: what are the general attributes that we can use to identify quality, and how can we encourage content and engagement of this nature across the internet?

With that in mind, these are our underlying definitions.


✔️Quality content: meaningful, helpful, honest.

Quantity content: superficial, distracting, misleading.

Engagement — Attention

✔️Quality attention: sustained, focused viewing. E.g. carefully reading a long-form piece.

Quantity attention: fleeting, distracted viewing. E.g. clicking into a clickbait piece and leaving shortly after, or quickly skimming a listicle.

Engagement — Participation

✔️Quality participation: specific, nuanced, thoughtful participation.

Quantity participation: vague, simplistic, crude participation.

Audience Data

✔️Quality data: captured by looking at the overall behaviour throughout the page view, resulting in many simultaneous data points on a single article, let alone across a whole visit. When processed, context is important, including consideration of “why” and “how” an action was taken.

Quantity data: binary observations without context. E.g. they clicked or they didn’t; they shared or they didn’t; either they hit a time or depth threshold, or they didn’t. There is minimal consideration of “why” or “how”.

*Engagement is not a singular thing. It is a spectrum, spanning attention and participation, as we’ll explain in our next post.

3 Reasons Why ❌ quantity won until now:

  1. Attention online was defined poorly. Quantity attention (impressions, clicks, views) was all that was needed to be deemed successful and earn money. Since that’s all that mattered, traditional online analytics tools didn’t let you measure anything else anyways. Optimization efforts were automatically focused on quantity attention, and reliant on quantity data.
  2. With simple, poorly defined metrics, came lots of opportunities to game the system. It was highly lucrative to optimize for quantity content and quantity attention. It wasn’t lucrative to focus on quality of any sort — none of the existing metrics and tools backed it up, and doing so would actually hurt your revenue. Everything was about short-term, micro performance. Clickbait, pumping out 100 articles/day, splitting articles into many pages, etc. When people bemoan the decline of journalism, they should look to this faustian bargain that most publishers were pushed to make by this early internet: quantity for success.
  3. Superficial content was paired with superficial feedback tools. Rudimentary, often anonymous, bottom-of-page comments detached from the content. Predictably, quantity engagement thrived, including trolls.

3 Reasons why ✔️quality is now a necessity instead:

  1. The deluge of quantity has drowned everything, including itself. The Law of Shitty Click Throughs now applies to the internet itself. Not only this, but people now use myriad tools to literally block out the noise: ad blockers, clickbait blockers, and reader apps (to manually pick what will get their attention). Even governments are clamping down. Quantity production is becoming useless and irrelevant.
  2. The easy-to-game, quantity-based system was exploited past its breaking point. After years of steady declines, the business of it has been exposed and is fully collapsing. As a result, the business of the online ecosystem has shifted toward focusing on audience revenue: making money from memberships, subscriptions, events, and partnerships. It’s no longer effective or profitable to optimize for quantity attention. Even Facebook now says that reduced time on its platform is good, in the name of quality.
  3. This has resulted in broad interest for tools that can help encourage and generate more of this quality. Macro performance — long term value — is taking the place of micro performance/ short term value across the content ecosystem.

Which brings us to what we’ve found...

Our Findings

We’ve spent the past years having thousands of conversations with the people who shape, support, or depend on the online content ecosystem:

We tried to identify what was limiting them from creating or experiencing quality over quantity. Here is what we’ve discovered:

For those creating the content...

You can’t optimize what you can’t measure.

Quality is a hard idea to sell when it means headaches (and “analytics” is a dirty word).

Cold, hard truth: quality-based initiatives need to make you money to matter.

Some good news: there is indeed an emerging, newfound obsession with ✔️quality engagement.

For those consuming the content...

It’s hard to focus on quality when you’re drowning.

When it comes to engagement: “why bother?” or “all in!”

These are the findings we’re confident about. As a result, we have a number of hypotheses we’re working with, both today, and further along our roadmap.

Our Hypotheses for empowering ✔️quality
... For those creating the content:

Better measurement will lead to more trust.

Assume everyone is very busy and they might come around.

Give people a better reason to care and they just might.

If we can figure out your “recipe for success”, you’ll cook up better content.

... if we do all of the above, the standard of content online will shift toward quality content instead of quantity content.

For those consuming the content...

Better recommendations = less is more.

If participation is more personalized, and also filtered, earned, and rewarded, it will improve.

... if we do all of the above, the standard of discourse online will shift more toward quality engagement instead of quantity engagement.

What do you think?

It has been incredibly interesting for us building our product while working with the ecosystem. We have made a lot of adjustments, and we’re excited to make more. If you have any questions or ideas about the above, we would love to hear them.

To follow along as we share more insights — both ours and those of the leaders we work with and learn from — be sure to follow and subscribe.

Subscribe to follow along as we rethink the attention economy and our relationship with information

Mario Vasilescu

CEO/Co-Founder of Readocracy

I am deeply passionate about making attention online count for knowledge instead of only advertising. So that our time online can be optimized and rewarded for consumption that is mindful instead of mindless. To unlock the true economic value of our attention online, for a healthier internet and a smarter society.

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