The motivation for this post comes from a Bike Radar post called “Buying from a bike shop vs online” which seeks to inform readers of the Pros and cons of direct-sale and bike shop purchases. Rather than a list of failed bike advice, this explores information and our ability to get quality information, as opposed to popular content.
Bike Radar is a well known website among cycling Netizens and gets a fair amount of attention as a product-centric website. I have enjoyed the breaking news, sometimes they are bold enough to ignore embargoes and they are big enough that the brands forgive them and come back for more. Their style however is often short and sweet to the point of being (or appearing to be) dominated press releases and with a major focus on attention grabbing news. The indepth article of cyclingtips and other similiar specialist websites are a completely different style, and while cyclingtips is well regarding, the site founder Wade Wallace has acknowledged the conundrum of publishing high quality indept articles verses the more popular, brief, attention seeking content, in other words, Click-Bait.
On the one hand, Click-Bait works to get the click, and the reader gets tabloid style fulfillment. But in the long term it is hard to judge the effect. Tabloid newspapers exist and thrive because they have an eager audience, but so does intellectual media which you could argue faces tough competition.
The repercussions of information
Google ranks content on popularity, they have an algorithm (which has not been publicly released) and ranks search engine results on an array of criteria. The chances are that in a Google search that the first page of results will be good results and you only rarely need to click through to page 2 and beyond.
Now that many publishers have become atune to click-bait, there is mountain of information which has the purpose of encouraging reader curiosity and their click, rather than delivering quality content.
As a test I searched Google.com for “online versions local bike shop” and landed on a quality CyclingTips article: The LBS v.s. Online Shopping. An opinion article but with charts and facts.
A search for “buying bike online” brings me to the Bike Radar article [mentioned in the introduction] which has a different style, it tries to present itself as a ‘Pro’s and Con’s’ article however, as a 2014 article appears to be stuck on ‘direct to market’ bike brands such as Canyon and Vitus (which has become Chain Reaction Cycles inhouse brand). The positive aspects of buying a bike online are price alone.
The key advantage of buying from an actual physical shop is face-to-face advice, both in terms of buying the right sort of bike and also when it comes to fit and sizing.
It’s not wrong, but is also not very comprehensive. It feels limiting because off the top of my head I can list an array of advantages, they will depend on the buyer, but can be powerful incentives and reasons to chose a bike shop. Likewise, these advantages (sizing and fitting) can also be deficiencies in some bike shops.
The changing face of information
Content on the internet, when it started making its way into web browsers in the 90’s, was modelled on desktop publishing, including the quality. This changed as human interaction with computers is different from interaction with a book or magazine. Humans have a short attention span, and Twitter is a fantastic example of the development of electronic publishing.
But it also raises an important question about the quality of content – with Google as the gatekeeper of information, what piece of information is now presented as more relevant? When searching for “wheelbuilding” will the viewer get:
a) The top five Awesome Wheels or;
b) The Sheldon Brown – Wheelbuilding page.
Seasons online cyclists will know the late Sheldon Brown as a prolific publisher of high quality bicycle information and to this day is a reliable online resource.
The implications are vast, it is happening now, but it is also being influenced by many other factors, for example what Google knows about us. Google probably knows your age, gender and location and predicts what you want to see. Does this mean that a new bikes rider will be presented with information relevant to them while an experienced cyclist (using the same search term) gets a different and more relevant set of search results?
Bike advice which fails
The trend in publishing information which appeals, but without depth means that detailed or potentially more valuable or useful information may start to come up second. Will this force the modern human to retrun to evaluating the information and search results in more detail, such as in the days of lycos and alta vista where it took longer to find the right content?
Using the analogy of Facebook ‘Likes’, do we like something because it appeals to us or because it is better?
Unfortunately in this rambling commentry there are no answers, but it is food for thought in considering the information before us, our choices and how information will develop.
photo © Omar de Armas