The Rise of the Junkweb and Why It’s Awesome or At Least Inevitable

Harold in an ejector seat

I was late coming to Instagram, probably because they were late releasing it to Android. I also fell out of love with Facebook a few years ago, but have snuck back in to look around some more. One last piece: Pinterest (or my beloved “dude version,” Gentlemint).

It’s the Junkweb.

The Rise of the Junkweb

I was talking with Julien Smith the other day and he said (only 1/8th jokingly) “photos with text over them are the new big thing.” Then, he said it with conviction. Have you noticed your Facebook stream lately? A huge chunk of what goes by lately are photos with text over them, usually quotes about this or that.

It’s the Junkweb. Why “junk?” Because the original intent of the Internet was that links were gold, that searchability was key, that this ability to find anything and use resources from wherever was magic. And this new web? The web of pictures with text over them? They’re junk. They’re a dead end. The picture is the payload. They don’t lead you elsewhere. They are the stopping point, the cul de sac.

George Takei
George Takei: one of the new kings of the Junkweb.

But I say this with fascination, affection, and a bit of realization. For whatever reason, the “photos with text” experience gives us that feeling we get when we read magazines. It makes the texty text of blogging a lot less stark. It draws our eyes in. It’s fast to consume, and it brings an emotional response faster.

not admitting she's happy

Why This is Awesome

Facebook and Pinterest are doing what so much of our “awesome” tech hasn’t been able to do well: let the everyperson into this universe. Pinterest is the ultimate place to observe sharing and interactions between not-nearly-geeks. You can find all kinds of “normal” sharing going on there. Widespread adoption. That’s why this gets really interesting.

Are Links as Important As They Used to Be?

With the release of Google’s Panda search technology (just the release name. No actual pandas work at Google that I’m aware of as of this writing), it has been acknowledged that links and pages aren’t everything. Google has started to figure out more and more about authorship, about the humans that meander around the web. That’s also why they built Google+ for better sharing ( want to get started with Google+?). Into this goes the realization that it’s no longer a links-only world. WHO shares is as important as how it’s shared.

Update 1: Danny Sullivan talks about the broken ballot box of links

Update 2: CC Chapman points out that pictures with words aren’t inherently “content”

And thus, the environment required to permit a Junkweb to grow is here. The links aren’t all they used to be. And gathering attention and emotions and the like are every bit as important.

You’re probably waiting for me to throw infographics into the mix. They’re there. When did it become important to see our every boring stat shared with a cartoon face and colorful bubbles? Recently, obviously. Do you know how many sites are dedicated to just sharing infographics? Here are a bunch.

What Matters to the Junkweb?

There are probably 3 key ways one might engage the Junkweb for your own betterment:

  1. Make interesting graphics worth sharing.
  2. Make it easy to share them.
  3. Evoke an emotion.

That last one is tricky. But when you do it right, it works quite well. People share emotions in the Junkweb.

Oh, and I predict that the tech will adapt to better support this kind of web. It’s mobile. It’s fast. It’s something that will fairly quickly stand a chance of replacing the Smartweb.

Me? I’m spending FAR MORE TIME on the Junkweb than I am on the Smartweb. Why? Because it’s engaging. And I think it’s got a lot of broad appeal. It’s TV to yesterday’s radio. (I’m not actually much of a TV person and prefer NPR, but you know, in the larger average.)

There’s a lot to consider, actually, and it’s a strange left-turn from where we all might have thought things were heading. But deny it, if you want. The numbers show otherwise. We are in love with this new method of interacting.

What about you? Are you participating in Pinterest? Do you share and like photos-with-text every day? Are you railing against it? What’s your take? runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Trish

    Just based on the description alone, I thought Pinterest was going to be a ridiculous waste of time. But when I finally had a chance to test it out for myself, I realized it was incredibly engaging and entertaining waste of time! I have a board dedicated just to quotes on top of pictures. Why? Because they’re fun. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. And that’s the other great thing about Pinterest and the rest of the “Junk Web” – it’s kind of a no-explanation-necessary type of deal. I can pass something on without boring you with the reason I think it’s worthy of your eyes, because it won’t be in front of you that long anyway.

    • Chris Brogan

      Exactly! It doesn’t have to be more than that. Exactly!

  • DougC

    “When did it become important to see our every boring stat shared with a cartoon face and colorful bubbles?”

    The answer to that is, when Gannett launched USA Today nearly 30 years ago.

    • Jon Glassett

      Not to mention magazines since forever.

      Maybe this all should just be dubbed “MagWeb”.

    • Chris Brogan

      Very good point. And have you noticed how MANY newspapers and magazines are changing their style to fit that publication they used to malign and deplore.

  • frank barry

    My feelings are simple.

    I love me a good/useful/informative infographic,

    I HATE memes where people take a pic and slap some text on it. I have an aversion to them just like I have an aversion to looking at or clicking on online ads.

    But the funny thing is that people click on ads all the time.

    Google built their world on it.

    And people love them some pictures with text on’em. Go figure.

    I guess it all depends on where you sit. If you’re a marketer of any sort (and aren’t we all) then paying attention to what spreads on the web is important, even if you don’t personally take a linking to it.


    • Chris Brogan

      Totally depends, as you say. But we feel reasonably similar.

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  • SocraticGadfly

    And, I spend less on the Junkweb than Mr. Brogan, thank doorknobs. Isn’t the Junkweb perghaps better characterized as the UHF channels of rabbit-ears, pre-cable TV?

    • Chris Brogan

      Yes and no. It’s the same as when we break down and leave the TV on when Hollywood Reporter (or whatever those shows are called).

  • ozio media

    Images overlaid with text are the perfect medium for Facebook posts because they use the power that a picture has to communicate a strong message, combined with a personal observation (often in someone else’s words). This makes it easy for people to post things which they can use to connect with their friends on the site. Often this format is used to share inspirational messages and highlights the camaraderie between Facebook friends. It is interesting to see how many comments these sorts of images attract which often outnumber other kinds of status updates.

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  • thomsinger

    In 1997 when I first got serious about the internet I loved how much there was to learn. Now I find learning is endless, but so is the crap. Sooo much noise that it is harder to find the nuggets.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Pictures with words on them is like being trapped in a goofy corporate office where every inch of the wall space is covered with a Successories poster. I hated that crap when I was in a F500; it was like a short-cut to actual leadership. The “junk” feels the same same to me, like the person posting did not put in enough effort to think through the feelings, to identify them and find the words to express them. I think it is just lazy, short-cut thinking.

    Yeah, I know that sounds elitist, but I don’t care.

    *No photos were butchered during the writing of this comment.

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  • Stanley Rao

    story telling would be better here i feel… because customers are more attracted towards story telling

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  • Aprille Byam

    I agree with the Facebook deal. People reposting “inspirational” or funny pictures with words reminds me of “oh how cute” chain emails and I wish I could hide them from my stream.

    I do like Pinterest. For me, it is a quite visual way to swim through a lot of links – how to’s, recipes, craft ideas, travel destinations, and whatnot. I get highly annoyed if a pin does not lead anywhere, especially if it implies otherwise. But definitely the value is in the discovery, sharing, and organizing/storing of links to useful stuff I want to go to later.

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  • Dan Perez, D.C.

    It’s just a modern version of hieroglyphics…

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