A reply to Cheryll Barron
I am glad that Google serendipity brought you to my piece. (By the way – read Eli Pariser’s “Filter Bubble” for an investigation of the way in which Google is stifling serendipity).
Your model of collaborative ownership of media is interesting – but I can’t say that I can give a clear steer on its chances of success. I wish I knew the answer to the question “what is the future of media”; all I have at this stage are some clues as to what the basic principles that shape this future may be. The only thing that I am pretty sure about is that whatever this future is, it will look completely different from what we have at the moment (see Clay Shirky’s excellent “Thinking the Unthinkable” piece). And my sense is that co-ownership of media may not be sufficiently unthinkable because media may be becoming something that can’t actually be owned in a way which allows any form of monetary benefit.
So what are the clues?
The big one for me is the shift from institutions to processes. Trust is shifting from institutions to processes, as I mentioned in my piece, and this shift is creating a separation between institutions and processes – journalists (representatives of institutions) are now being separated from journalism (process). This has many implications – not least your idea that there is a benefit from drawing ‘bloggers’ into the essentially institutionalised sphere of journalists and journalism – i.e. the answer is to make these new people part of the old establishment (albeit an establishment that has adjusted itself to make it more amenable to collective or collaborative processes). Alan Rusbridger at The Guardian has talked about involving “Our Readers” in producing “Our Product”. The problem is that news is no longer Alan’s product – it belongs to the people (he likes to call) readers and it doesn’t really live in fixed places (websites, newspapers) anymore, it lives in digital spaces (Google search terms). The only valid role that Alan has is to help these people manage a process whereby they can create and control their news. News is shifting from being a finished product to being a raw material – and I think the only models that stand a chance of success in the long-term have to be rooted in this insight.
So I am not entirely sure that the bloggers you talk about actually exist – in the way that citizen journalists don’t exist, although citizen journalism does (citizen journalist = institutionalised way of looking at something, citizen journalism = process way of looking at something). I have a blog, but I am not a blogger. People-publishers are defined by their behaviours not by their usage of particular tools (blogs, Twitter etc.) it is only traditional media that defined itself by its usage of a particular publishing tool (print, TV, radio) because it had no alternative. Undoubtedly conventional publishers will be able to gather about themselves a group of interested individuals who may be prepared to participate in the process of publication – but the issue here is the definition of publication. Within the Gutenberg world publication was essentially defined as being means of distribution because the means of distribution (and its cost) was the problem publication solved. Post-Gutenberg, this problem has gone away because distribution now costs nothing and everyone has the tools to do it. Information is now separated from the means of distribution – my sound bite of what the social revolution is all about! You don’t necessarily manage the transition into a more collaborative world by adding a gloss of collaboration to a redundant concept – the redundant concept being in large part the idea publication requires and generates money and therefore a stake in that is something of value. The very nature of publication has changed, a point you recognise in your Kieretsu-Cooperative paper. This is the shift publishers have to adapt to, and it has a shift from being something that is vested in institutions and places to one that is vested in process and spaces. Wikipedia is a good example and it is worth noting that the first attempt to get the concept off the ground (Nupedia) that was based on opening up the process to a community of incentivsed collaborators failed. The idea only took-off when the process was opened up to the community of everyone.
I do a lot of work with consumer brand organisations. Their equivalent of creating a cooperative community around them is to set up Facebook pages and try and get lots of people to ‘Like’ them and be their ‘friend’. The problem is that there is only a tiny proportion of their target consumers who are actually prepared to have this sort of relationship with them – and chasing this group creates no sustainable business advantage so long as the relationship you are looking to create is limited to this idea of high engagement and involvement amongst a fixed group of supporter / collaborators. Most people don’t want to be a brand’s ‘friend’ however much that brand may wish it. They only want to talk to that brand when something goes wrong or they want to change what it is that brand does. If a brand can facilitate that sort of interaction (process) – it gains a benefit – provided it is able to respond to the wishes of its consumers. And that is why I think that focusing on a small group of bloggers / collaborators may be the equivalent of a brand trying to create ‘friends’ in Facebook. Ultimately an unproductive exercise (as brands are slowly starting to realise) because it is an idea that is rooted in a relationshiread business model) a brand wants to have, rather than the one that responds to the relationship that 99.99 per cent of the brand’s consumers actually want to have with it.
It goes back to the point about community I mentioned in the article you quote in your piece “people will not want to be managed within communities controlled by institutions, they will form communities to manage their relationships with institutions”.
So for me – the future is all about shifting the focus from the creation of new institutions to managing processes, recognising news and information as a raw material not a finished product and understanding the dynamics of the Community of Everyone. And finally, here are some thoughts I have just published which examine the idea of collective moderation based not on restricting information (old institutionalised publishing model) but by positioning information.
Hope this is food for thought!