Content is more important than commentary.

When the internet was becoming popular, I remember being told that traditional media was just broadcasting. The internet promised more than just broadcasting, it offered “engagement.”

Don’t let people fool you. Engagement happened before the internet. People read the newspaper and talked about stories with their family and friends. They watched the evening news and discussed it at the water cooler at work the next day. They wrote letters to the editor to express their agreement or disapproval. They called radio shows to ask questions. They bought classified ads to share a job listing or sell a car. People engaged with media before the internet.

Instead, what the internet offered was an instant, two-way feedback loop between publisher and audience. Comments on blogs and news sites led the way. Then, social media provided the ultimate in real time engagement with metrics that let you track everything.

Instant response. Maximum engagement. Integrated with the content.

And how has that worked out? Thoughtful comments on blogs were quickly drowned out with spam. News sites were filled with reactionary opinions. Social media offered both reactionary opinions and spam and as a bonus channeled hate and harassment. Managing commentary takes as much staff and resources as creating the content, but people love providing their opinion and arguing their point of view, which drives traffic. And that traffic was the most important thing to the companies like Facebook and Twitter that sell the advertising that surrounds the hate.

As Twitter implodes and some people look for what’s next, I think we need to reexamine the relationship between publishing and engagement. Creation and commentary. True engagement is what follows when we create high-quality, beneficial content. We need to restore a focus on publishing the content, not just on the commentary. And our new technologies need to support that balance.

P.S. One of the things I like about Micro.Blog is the absence of metrics. No follower counts. No likes. No retweets. If you are used to obsessively checking how many likes your last post got, the absence of metrics takes a little getting used to, but it resets the balance between publishing and engagement.

P.S.S. It occurs to me that the most profitable company in the world, Apple, creates a lot of content without maintaining a traditional social media presence.