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Thursday
Mar032011

What the frick is wrong with Instructables

I'm a big DIY nut. I admit, I don't have enough time to do any big projects on my own. My writing, coding and kids keep me pretty busy. But I love reading about other people's projects, and dreaming up things that I might try to do someday (when I have enough space, money and time).

As a result, I've been following the Instructables feed for several years now. At first it was a very cool mix of interesting food and technology projects. Things that really inspired the imagination, with clear step-by-step instructions on how to do it yourself.

Recently, however, I've noticed that a growing number of Instructable posts are either inane (e.g. "How to put on pants") or there simply someone showing off their own project without bothering to provide the step-by-step instructions. As a result, I've been growing more and more frustrated with the feed. And, I hate to admit it, but the time has come. Something must be done.

This is actually a symptom of a broader internet problem. Something similar happened with Twitter's trending topics. At first, they were a great way to keep track of geek news--new movies, new technology, new video games, whatever. If it was a trending topic, I was probably interested in it. Now, however, they're almost useless to me. The Twitter demographic has clearly shifted to a more mainstream audience, and I just can't bring myself to care about Justin Bieber or Ke$ha. Ironically, I was going to use the current trending topics to prove my point, but Blade Runner is currently #2, so maybe all hope is not lost.

Now the problem with Twitter and the problem with Instructables are not exactly the same. In Twitter's case, it's more of a lowest common denominator issue. For Instructables, that's part of the problem--more kids posting low-quality 'Ibles (not to pick on kids--I like to see them getting involved and trying new things--but if I see another "I'm 13 and this is my first 'Ible, please be nice" post that goes on to show me how to draw ligers using only blue and purple crayons, I may have to gouge out my own eyes). But there's also a ton of people posting "joke" 'Ibles (I use quotes, because they really aren't funny). This feels more like the comment troll problem, where a few individuals seem intent on entertaining themselves at everyone else's expense.

In both cases (and in the internet at large), there's still a lot of really cool stuff going on. It's just getting harder and harder to find it. For Instructables, it's become painfully clear that sucking on the main RSS fire hose is no longer the way to go. I'll give the Editor's Pick or Popular feed a try. Hopefully that will give me a more-curated experience. For Twitter, I'll carefully select the people I follow, and blissfully ignore trending topics. For the internet at large--who knows. We've been struggling with this issue for years now, and while the battlefield shifts around a bit, it really hasn't gotten any better.

We're still at the early days in this technology, where rampant growth and changes are the norm. The current hope is that social search will save us. I'm not so optimistic. Still, by the time the internet matures, we should have better tools for content discovery. But, who knows when (or if) that will occur.

-Rich-