The Rise of the Junkweb and Why It’s Awesome or At Least Inevitable

Harold in an ejector seat

I was late coming to Instagram, probably because they were late releasing it to Android. I also fell out of love with Facebook a few years ago, but have snuck back in to look around some more. One last piece: Pinterest (or my beloved “dude version,” Gentlemint).

It’s the Junkweb.

The Rise of the Junkweb

I was talking with Julien Smith the other day and he said (only 1/8th jokingly) “photos with text over them are the new big thing.” Then, he said it with conviction. Have you noticed your Facebook stream lately? A huge chunk of what goes by lately are photos with text over them, usually quotes about this or that.

It’s the Junkweb. Why “junk?” Because the original intent of the Internet was that links were gold, that searchability was key, that this ability to find anything and use resources from wherever was magic. And this new web? The web of pictures with text over them? They’re junk. They’re a dead end. The picture is the payload. They don’t lead you elsewhere. They are the stopping point, the cul de sac.

George Takei
George Takei: one of the new kings of the Junkweb.

But I say this with fascination, affection, and a bit of realization. For whatever reason, the “photos with text” experience gives us that feeling we get when we read magazines. It makes the texty text of blogging a lot less stark. It draws our eyes in. It’s fast to consume, and it brings an emotional response faster.

not admitting she's happy

Why This is Awesome

Facebook and Pinterest are doing what so much of our “awesome” tech hasn’t been able to do well: let the everyperson into this universe. Pinterest is the ultimate place to observe sharing and interactions between not-nearly-geeks. You can find all kinds of “normal” sharing going on there. Widespread adoption. That’s why this gets really interesting.

Are Links as Important As They Used to Be?

With the release of Google’s Panda search technology (just the release name. No actual pandas work at Google that I’m aware of as of this writing), it has been acknowledged that links and pages aren’t everything. Google has started to figure out more and more about authorship, about the humans that meander around the web. That’s also why they built Google+ for better sharing ( want to get started with Google+?). Into this goes the realization that it’s no longer a links-only world. WHO shares is as important as how it’s shared.

Update 1: Danny Sullivan talks about the broken ballot box of links

Update 2: CC Chapman points out that pictures with words aren’t inherently “content”

And thus, the environment required to permit a Junkweb to grow is here. The links aren’t all they used to be. And gathering attention and emotions and the like are every bit as important.

You’re probably waiting for me to throw infographics into the mix. They’re there. When did it become important to see our every boring stat shared with a cartoon face and colorful bubbles? Recently, obviously. Do you know how many sites are dedicated to just sharing infographics? Here are a bunch.

What Matters to the Junkweb?

There are probably 3 key ways one might engage the Junkweb for your own betterment:

  1. Make interesting graphics worth sharing.
  2. Make it easy to share them.
  3. Evoke an emotion.

That last one is tricky. But when you do it right, it works quite well. People share emotions in the Junkweb.

Oh, and I predict that the tech will adapt to better support this kind of web. It’s mobile. It’s fast. It’s something that will fairly quickly stand a chance of replacing the Smartweb.

Me? I’m spending FAR MORE TIME on the Junkweb than I am on the Smartweb. Why? Because it’s engaging. And I think it’s got a lot of broad appeal. It’s TV to yesterday’s radio. (I’m not actually much of a TV person and prefer NPR, but you know, in the larger average.)

There’s a lot to consider, actually, and it’s a strange left-turn from where we all might have thought things were heading. But deny it, if you want. The numbers show otherwise. We are in love with this new method of interacting.

What about you? Are you participating in Pinterest? Do you share and like photos-with-text every day? Are you railing against it? What’s your take?

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