Too Much Media
Media proliferation and media saturation are well-worn concepts that describe the exponential growth in media outlets and the exhaustion (and utter confusion) we experience from the overwhelming choices. The growth curve in media steepened considerably with the advent of the Internet, but now with blogs, social media, Web 2.0, etc., the curve is nearly vertical.
A new Web 2.0 site for news called Newsvine has reportedly launched in beta by invitation only. According to CynerJournalist.net:
The site is a slick combination of some of the trendiest news-related tools online now, incorporating news aggregation, social networking, citizen journalism, blogging, user ratings and online discussions. Think of it as one-part Slashdot, one-part del.icio.us and one-part Google News, with a few other neat features thrown in.
The site is built around four general actions: reading, discussing, writing and seeding the news.
The site posts thousands of Associated Press articles that users can read.
Among the things readers can do with stories or links: vote for it, to raise it up the Newsvine (i.e. give it better promotion on the home page); participate in a live chat with other users about the story; leave comments; report inappropriate content.
Users can write their own articles, and get to keep most of the ad revenue from those pages. You’ll collect 90% of the earnings from your own domain (yourname.newsvine.com). The other 10% goes to the person who referred you to start writing on Newsvine.
Users also get their own page or “column” — basically a blog-like page that lists all of a users’ posts — with the nice URL of yourname.newsvine.com.
The revenue model sounds like a Ponzi scheme, but leaving that aside, here’s the real question:
Who’s got time for all this?
There’s Flickr, del.icio.us, Digg, MySpace – already I’m too tired to list the dozens (maybe hundreds) of collaborative and participatory media. Surfing cable TV could consume an entire Sunday. Now we’re being asked to tag, comment, create, contribute, vote, refer, subscribe, engage, rate, report, add, chat, seed…
When we’re all creating media, who’s going to be left to consume it?
As an active participant in this revolution, I suppose I should be careful about throwing stones with glass all around, but I see it in the experience of launching this blog. You wouldn’t believe the number of blogs on media, and blogs on blogging, and media articles about blogging. It makes you long for the days when media wasn’t so comprehensive, so completely exhausting. We asked for alternative voices, and now they’re all streaming out of the box.
Do bloggers blog in order to be a voice drowned out in the cacophony? No, we want to be read, to be important, authoritative, influential. But we can’t all be at once, and the more of us there are, the more our aspirations start to defy the laws of physics. American’s in particular don’t like to be bees buzzing in the hive — it’s an affront to our sense of (entitled) individuality.
All of this makes me wonder about unintended consequences on the horizon for media. Wiki’s and Web 2.0 applications have shown the ability of the collective intelligence to make order out of chaos, but what happens when the collective is overwhelmed by too much chaos in need of ordering. Are we witnessing a new media order, or the beginning of media entropy?
In 1880, there were 7,000 newspapers in the U.S. By 1940, before the advent of TV, there were less than 2,000. Markets have a way of regulating the number of choices. Consumers benefit from competition, but in reality, people don’t like too many choices. It makes your head hurt. (Witness the Medicare Part D fiasco.) That’s why so many people succum to the Wal Mart spirit of conformity — it doesn’t matter if I’m buying the same thing everyone else does, as long as I get a good price.
There’s a reason why Google, which produces no content, is the #3 most trusted source of content online — it’s ONE place to go to find what you want. For most people, when something appears in the top 10 of a Google search result, that’s enough endorsement. They don’t keep sifting through all 100,000 results in hopes of finding exactly the right match in result #37,952. (Can’t vouch for the newspaper stats above since I grabbed them from the first Google result.)
Consumers have taken control of media, but how much control do they really want? It seems (as always) we’re caught between right and left, between the (perceived) fascism of old static media and the pure communism of new collaborative media. Modern society has rejected the extreme left and extreme right of political structures, and so it will likely reject the extremes in media.
Is there a glimmer of hope here for trusted content brands? At the end of a long day, most people aren’t going to collaborate their way through the day’s news. They just want someone to give it to them. Maybe that someone will be the collective intelligence of citizen journalism, but they’re still going to pick one outlet they trust.
Publishers may not control the distribution of content, or even its creation, but they still have brands that people trust. I guess at the end of the day it’s all about control. If you don’t control the creation or the distribution of the content, what do you control?
I may not want journalism delivered in a static print publication. But I also don’t want to be awash in a sea of stories. Even in a town hall meeting (or any meeting), you don’t accomplish much when everyone talks at once.
So who’s going to throw us a life preserver? Who’s going to find the balance between left and right, an American democracy of media?
Whoever figures this out will have the next Google.
UPDATE: Sure enough, concerns are starting to bubble up in the trade press. The focus of these two pieces is skepticism about the digital video on demand revolution:
First Pet Peeve of ’06: Media Adulation About ‘Innovative’ Media Delivery
Will Consumers Bite?