Promotion versus production

by John Stapel

The problem of inadequate ranking systems which are easy to game seems to be a “social problem” which pertains to more than just alexa rankings. Basically, if you sell a product, you have to find some balance between promoting it or selling more and increasing quality (see this post for a book review which discusses these problems). In academia this involves striking a balance between doing research and going to conferences. For the student it involves striking a balance between studying for the test and getting educated. For the company it involves striking a balance between marketing and making a quality product. For the job seeker it involves spending time writing pretty resumes, buying suits, and practicing interviews and developing skills. For the blogger the problem is one of spending time writing quality posts or participating in networks, doing guest posts, commenting on other posts, and doing SEO.

Since time is finite, prioritizing one means that the other suffers. Quality often languishes unknown because the producer has no resources for promotion. This means that customers have to compensate by spending their own time searching for quality as some time must always be spent. This also explains why (dumb) people get what they deserve in terms of products, elections, etc. If they are unwilling to seek out quality, they get what is most promoted which then by implication has a low quality.

This is just a general rule. You can’t have a rule without an exception, but the exceptions are generally also few—otherwise it would not be a rule.

It should be possible to outsource the promotion since quality is a more inherent… quality. Unfortunately, we are far from there. This is evident by the existence of SEO experts, college application standards, grant writing workshops, etc. These are all middlemen who exist to help game the system and I dare say they contribute ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to society. In fact their very existence skews the system towards those who do not deserve it. This goes as well for the smooth talking persons whose production of quality is lacking but who get by anyway because they are good at selling, that is, convincing people to buy into things they do not need.

The solution to the tragedy of the commons is privatization. (If the atmosphere could be privatized, climate change would be no problem.) I wonder what the solution to this problem is? Perhaps someone already knows? It is similarly to the tragedy of the commons in the sense that “cheating” benefits the individual but hurts the group. On the other hand, privatization can not be the solution by definition.

From an early retirement perspective, this was one of my main problems with my career and as you can see by the existence of certain posts also with pro-blogging in that I prefer spend much more time on quality than on promotion relative to the average which in turn hurts me on a level which I consider unfair, simply because I think quality is king, when it probably is more jack. In an academic career it even seemed that the more it progressed, the more time I actually had to spend on promotion because that’s where the grant money came from. For blogging, I suspect advertising money plays a similar role as advertisers don’t care about quality but total eye balls. I have never worked for a corporation, which sold any products, but it would not surprise me that a similar dynamic existed there and that it bothers the more quality oriented people.

Originally posted 2010-02-18 22:32:30.