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We're Living in a Numerical World.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Thursday, 5th August 2010
 
Journalists and hoteliers have something in common in today's world where everything is measured and shared instantly, as Yeoh Siew Hoon relates.

I've never been a big numbers person. My eyes tend to glaze over and my mind starts to wander when people around me start talking numbers.

Which is why I am finding the digital world rather numbingly frightening.

Everything seems to be driven by algorithms and numbers. You write content to be found, not to find yourself. Your articles are measured by the number of views it attracts. It's not who you've impressed, it's how many impressions you've made.

You are told to tweet only at certain times, or when to post updates on Facebook. One article in 2009 suggested Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the best days. Then earlier this year, someone said the weekends were the best to post content as articles posted then are shared the most.

Which makes me wonder if everyone does it at the same time, then doesn't it defeat the purpose? It's like everyone trying to beat the rush hour which in turn creates another rush hour.

News websites display a most-viewed list – shame on you if your piece ends up at the bottom and kudos if yours rise to the top of the charts.

It's instant adulation and instant humiliation.

An article in the IHT, headlined "Frenetic grind wears on online reporters", talks about a "big board" at Gawker Media's offices in New York, which displays the 10 most viewed articles across all its websites. It shows the author's last name along with the number of page views that hour, and in real time.

"Sometimes one sees writers just standing before it, like early hominids in front of a monolith," said Nick Denton, Gawker Media's founder.

As someone who's immersed in the online media world, I find myself caught in the trap of trying to do things to please the numbers. What if I do this? Will my ratings go up? There's instant gratification if something works, after all.

On a website where some of my blogs appear – Asian Correspondent – a panel at the top tells readers where each of us stand in terms of numbers of views every five days. Let me tell you, it is a humbling experience.

Perhaps it's good – this instant measurability. Gone are the days when you felt like writing a piece because you felt like it and basked in the delusion that everyone loved it too.

But perhaps there are some things that shouldn't be measured in such a cold, machine-driven manner. Perhaps it matters more if your article makes a big difference to one person versus being read by thousands and then dismissed as cyberjunk.

I was talking to a general manager the other day and frankly, he looked exhausted. It's the stress, he says, of having to be measured all the time, of having to perform to metrics, of having to submit countless reports and of having to respond to the countless reviews being written everyday by folks on social-media steroids.

It's like being on public display every moment of the day and these reviews and your ratings are out there for everyone to read. Who can withstand such relentless, public scrutiny?

He added, "We are asked to spend more time with customers on property but we don't have the time anymore because our time is measured by the numbers we do. We don't have time for hospitality anymore."

Yes, perhaps we too don't have time for quality journalism anymore.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

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