Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Dead Zone of Slick

Came across an interesting post this morning, which I think contains an important insight for content creators:

The Dead Zone of Slick

"There was a terrific duo playing live music at the farmer's market the other day. They were well-rehearsed, enthusiastic and really good. Being a patron of the arts, I bought a CD.

I hated it.

I've thought a lot about what turned me off, and I think it's the curve above.

Faced with the excitement of making a CD and all the knobs and dials, they overproduced the record. They went from being two real guys playing authentic music, live and for free, and became a multi-tracked quartet in search of a professional sound. And they ended up in the dead zone. Not enough gloss to be slick, too much to be real."
When I read this, a light went on over my head, because it's something I see every day on my job. On the one hand, you have raw, unfiltered comments in forums and attached to blog posts. They're often rude, uninsightful, and repetitive -- but they're undeniably real. On the other end of the spectrum, you have excellent, painstakingly-crafted, professional content. It can be very good. But it's death if you shoot for the latter and come up short, because then you're in the dead zone.

Recently I experienced this first-hand. For one of our sites, we came up with a new content idea: we'd get members of the community to write for us. They were the sort of people who post compulsively to forums anyway, so the thinking was that we could harness some of that energy and polish it up so that it was better and more professional.

It tanked. No one really wanted to read it. These writers were the sort of people who attract a following in forums; people look for their posts and seek their approval. But once we took their thoughts and ran an edit pass, we inadvertently took their material out of the "real" and pushed it in the direction of the "slick." Problem was, we intentionally did not rework their prose extensively. We wanted it to remain "real," but in the process we produced something that was only half-real. And nobody liked it that way.

Web communities are a special kind of beast. They're always producing their own content, often in ways that the site managers never really intended. And there's always a temptation to reach out to that content and touch it up, elevate it a bit into something that you think everyone will enjoy so much more. But the odds are that, in the process, you'll only make it less appealing.

Keep it real, or keep it professional. Don't try for both.