There was a time not that long ago when most Americans got their news and information from a combination of the nightly network news, the morning or evening newspaper and the local weekly newspaper. We passively awaited delivery in print or broadcast and shared what we learned orally with family and friends. There are still places in America where that routine is the norm. But even in the most distant outposts of the country, the days of passively awaiting information is waning as technology moves from top-down distribution of information to an open, many-to-many networked media environment.
I would suggest that any of our readers who who are interested, involved in or impacted by this change take a look at a study by the American University's Center for Social Media in Washington, D.C. The authors set out to explore the impact of this change on public media and published an excellent white paper titled, Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics. In part, the research offers an assessment of the impact of new media on traditional media. While many of us have written about these changes, the AU research pulls them together in an interesting framework that makes sense out of a number of technologies that seem headed on a collision course.
The AU paper identifies five elements creating this massive change in the way we interact and access media. These "five C's:" Choice, Conversation, Curation, Creation and Collaboration are having a massive impact on our use of video, databases, social networks, location media, distribution, platforms and metrics.
In the words of the researchers, here are the specific items they identified:
- Choice: Rather than passively waiting for content to be delivered as in the broadcast days, users are actively seeking out and comparing media on important issues, through search engines, recommendations, video on demand, interactive program guides, news feeds, and niche sites. This is placing pressure on many makers to convert their content so that it’s not only accessible across an array of platforms and devices, but properly formatted and tagged so that it is more likely to be discovered.
- Conversation: Comment and discussion boards have become common across a range of sites and platforms, with varying levels of civility in evidence. Users are leveraging conversation tools to share interests and mobilize around issues. 7 Distributed conversations across online services, such as Twitter and FriendFeed, are managed via shared tags. Tools for ranking and banning comments give site hosts and audiences some leverage for controlling the tenor of exchanges. New tools for video-based conversation are now available on sites such as Seesmic. News is collaboratively created, gaining importance by becoming part of electronic conversation.
- Curation: Users are aggregating, sharing, ranking, tagging, reposting, juxtaposing, and critiquing content on a variety of platforms—from personal blogs to open video-sharing sites to social network profile pages. Reviews and media critique are popular genres for online contributors, displacing or augmenting genres, such as consumer reports and travel writing, and feeding a widespread culture of critical assessment.
- Creation: Users are creating a range of multimedia content (audio, video, text, photos, animation, etc.) from scratch and remixing existing content for purposes of satire, commentary, or self-expression—breaking through the stalemate of mass media talking points. Professional media makers are now tapping user-generated content as raw material for their own productions, and outlets are navigating various fair use issues as they wrestle with promoting and protecting their brands.
- Collaboration: Users are adopting a variety of new roles along the chain of media creation and distribution—from providing targeted funds for production or investigation, to posting widgets that showcase content on their own sites, to organizing online and offline events related to media projects, to mobilizing around related issues through online tools, such as petitions and letters to policymakers. "Crowdsourced" journalism projects now invite audience participation as investigators, tipsters, and editors—so far, a trial-and-error process.
The research then makes an interesting connection that illustrates how our changing media habits are affecting the tools we use and the ways we use them. Again, in the words of the researchers, these trends involve:
- Ubiquitous video (choice, creation, collaboration) Professional and amateur video alike are migrating online to sites such as Hulu and YouTube; nonprofessional online video is becoming part of broadcast news and newspaper reporting; live streaming and podcasting are routine aspects of public events.
- Powerful databases (curation, creation) Deep wells of data and imagery are increasingly valuable for reporting, information visualization, trend-spotting, and comparative analysis. Databases also now serve as powerful back-ends for managing and serving up digital content, making it available across a range of browsers and devices.
- Social networks as public forums (conversation, collaboration) Durable social-networking platforms, such as Facebook, and on-the-fly social networks, such as the open-source Ning, allow multifaceted media relationships with one person, a few, or many people.
- Locative media (choice, creation) GPS-enabled mobile devices are allowing users to access and upload geographically relevant content, and a new set of "hyperlocal" media projects are feeding this trend. Conversely, maps are becoming a common interface for news, video, and data.
- Distributed distribution (choice, curation) News feeds, search engines, and widgets are allowing content to escape the traditional boundaries of the channel or site. Users are coming to expect access to anywhere, anytime searchable media.
- Hackable platforms (creation, collaboration, curation) Open source tools and applications are becoming increasingly customizable. Media makers can tailor their platforms, sharing tips across a broad community of developers, and users can pick and choose how they will interact with content.
- Accessible metrics (creation, curation) Ranking and metrics sites, such as Google Analytics, Alexa, and Technorati, make it easier for media makers to compile and compare their audiences—and for outsiders to more easily judge and note success.
- Cloud content (choice, creation) Applications, media, and personal content are migrating away from computers and mobile devices and onto hosted servers—into "the cloud" of online content. On the one hand this offers simplicity, easy sharing, and protected backups; on the other, it threatens control and privacy.
- Pervasive gaming (choice, collaboration) Gaming—playing computer, Web, portable, or console games, often connecting with other players via the Internet—has become as ubiquitous as watching TV for young people.
When we look at these in isolation, the media universe may first appear as a random set of trends propelled toward some kind of chaotic convergence with an unknown and unpredictable outcome. But when seen in relation to each other, there appears to be not only an order but at least a set of potential outcomes that we will look at in a future post.