Writing by Peter Hilton

Meta Content In The Media

When media go all self-referential and eat themselves.

Meta-content is a con.

By 'meta-content' I mean things like television programmes about television, newspaper articles about what the press write and web sites which merely refer to other web sites, rather than contain any actual content. For example, whilst the self-referential lyrics of Dire Straits' Money For Nothing are mildly ironic, Points Of View and Noel Edmonds' Telly Addicts are simply pointless.

Judith, her car, Takeshi and our beers I suppose the literary form of meta-content is literary criticism. Although I have yet to make my mind up on this one, here is my current thesis. Literary criticism a complete waste of time, other than that it has spawned a whole academic discipline based around writing meta-meta-literature, i.e. critiques of other people's literary criticism. Discuss.

The World Wide Web equivalent of Points Of View, but without the opinions, is any page of links. You know how it is: you want to read about widgets and a search engine leads you to the Unofficial Widget Home Page. Great, only that this page contains nothing but links to other pages mention widgets or, more likely, contain links to putative widget pages. Now once upon a time this sort of thing was a good idea because it gave a starting point for a particular subject. Nowadays such pages are have been made redundant by Yahoo and Alta Vista.

Antwerp: the Antwerp Hilton - no connection to Hilton Harbour whatsoever I could campaign for a more content-rich World Wide Web, in the same way that Usenet newsgroups aim for a better 'signal to noise ratio', but then campaigns on the Web are only more meta-content. After all, why have any opinions of your own on Web censorship, say, when you can include someone else's logo on your page and link to someone else's opinions.

My point, as far as the Web goes, is this: if you stripped every Web page of its list of links, the graphics copied from some other Web page, its awards and other advertising, its details of other people's campaigns and the advertising how much content would there be left? So what's on your Web page?

Notes for those not lucky enough to have grown up with British television.

Points Of View gives the BBC a chance to feel alternately pleased with itself and a bit naughty, by broadcasting viewers' letters about the programmes.

Telly Addicts is a ludicrously naff game show where one family tries to score points against another by knowing more trivia about television programmes, thus proving that they watch more television and, collectively, have no life.