A Zogby poll
released last week shows that ” two thirds of Americans – 67% –
believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news.”
The same survey found that “two thirds (64%) are dissatisfied
with the quality of journalism in their communities.”
The culprit? Of course it’s the web. According to Zogby “nearly
a third (32%) said Internet sites are their most trusted source for
news and information, followed by newspapers (22%), television
(21%) and radio (15%).”
Having spent time in the small-town newspaper world and online
media, consider me utterly unsurprised: traditional print media is
Paper and printing costs are expensive. Distribution costs are
significant. Physical offices cost a lot of money. Good, motivated,
and affordable local writers are very hard to find.
Yes, it will take a while for those used to reading their daily
paper to make the switch to digital, but that day will come.
Computer interfaces will become more user-friendly and less taxing
on the eyes.
Cell phones with mini-projectors will allow for simple and
elegant web surfing anywhere. Vested local bloggers, photographers
and videographers will produce and aggregate much richer
information than a small team of paid reporters. Paper will go up
in price as the environmental costs are factored in.
Now, this does not mean that the companies that own newspapers
will necessarily go out of business. Rather, they’ll be converted
into social media companies with digital distribution.
The form of this distribution may even closely resemble that of
a traditional newspaper. New
electronic paper interfaces will perhaps offer a new way to
experience the same old thing. But no matter how it feels, that
will be a switch to digital distribution that saves the parent
company a hefty sum.
I agree with
Tech Crunch’s Duncan Riley when he predicts that “it will be a
long and slow death”, which he bases in large part on the fact that
“we’re already seeing massive across the board downsizing now in
In your opinion, which year will mark the widespread end of
paper and ink newspaper publishing in the U.S?
It's part of human nature to label, classify, and quantify the world around us. We feel empowered when we're able to create structure and meaning out of our surroundings. Maps have been used for thousands of years to that end; enabling us to plot a course, make informed decisions of paths to take, and decide which trajectory will give us desired results. In today's modern culture, digital media has taken mapping to a whole new level, giving us the ability to visualize our world in 3D, and on a global scale
So what do maps have to do with social change?
Potentially, everything. A map is a tool, and historically those that have the best maps win. Several digital and social media tools are in the process of converging to create unprecedented platforms for sharing information in real-time. Whereas software like Google Earth allowed us to visualize on a macro scale, these new tools map information on local levels. GPS software, location based tracking, souveillance, and geotagging are coming together to produce information-rich maps that can be visualized in both space and time. Powered by social media, a space is being created where real-time maps can be used to empower communities to connect and collaborate instantaneously.
The lack of a functional and user-friendly micro-payment system is
holding back a great deal of online commerce and broader
innovation. One of the many services aiming to change this is new
which has created a site that “enables people to leave tips for
stuff they love online, and also earn money for making the great
content that people want to tip.”
The site is
basic in concept and layout, but it’s functional and certainly easy
to use, which is why it’s been getting a good deal of traction.
Since launch on February 8, they already facilitated $1428.56 in
Abby and Ivan Kirigin, the brains behind TipJoy, say their
product addresses the reality that “consuming content online has
become a social experience.” It’s a place where “content creators
can go to view analytics on the performance of their content, where
you can track what your friends are tipping, and where you can
track what the whole world is tipping—like a Digg but with
As veterans of Web 2.0 with an insider perspective on where it’s
all headed, Abby and Ivan were kind enough to answer some questions
(as a tandem) about their service, the importance of micro-payment
systems, the realities of starting an online business and the
future of the web in general.
A: What sites do you expect to benefit most from
A&I: We expect that sites which have
‘meaty’ content will be the ones that benefit from
Tipjoy the most. For example we expect people would be interested
in tipping an article which provides a technical solution for them,
or enables them to solve a problem. That’s the kind of content that
a person is very eager to thank the maker for.
We also think that content providers at the long tail have a lot
Notorious VC Fred Wilson has strong
opinions about the future of social media.
“I believe that we are headed to a world in which everyone will
share their lives with the rest of the world via the Internet. That
is social media. It’s a huge movement and we are at the start of
it,” he recently proclaimed on his blog.
Over the years I’ve heard many futurists express similar
sentiments about the direction of our species, arguing that the
benefits of ubiquitous life-streaming, transparency, and the
sharing of all information are so powerful that they will trump
people’s reluctance to open up their lives to the rest of the
world. While I certainly agree that we are probably at the start of
open information movement and that pervasive sharing is a
useful trend on which to base forward-looking extrapolations, I
nevertheless find it highly unlikely that ALL people will choose to participate, especially
over the next 20 years.
Considering that we co-exist in a complex environment in which
different people with very different personalities, cultures and
behaviors each compete for resources and control, betting on such a
simple future seems to leave a great many other futures out of the
A couple of weeks ago I pointed out a new trend that was exemplified by the creation process of the Twitter application Twittority. Where big social media influence blogs like Tech Crunch, Mashable and others have the power to effect what gets created by defining a pain point. This trend was further confirmed a couple of days ago when Rachel Cunliffe's post on Mashable predicted ways in which Twitter would evolve over 2009. In pretty much the same time frame as the Twittority example (overnight), Dan Zarella designed a solution app in response to one those predictions.
Mashable was quick to recognize this effort and tout their status as a product cycle influencer the following day.
The power of web 2.0 is on full display here. The conversation aggregating nature of influence blogs is a major driver and the incipient response of hackers augurs enormous potential. This growing community of "first responders" are enabled by a developing toolkit that facilitates quick and inexpensive solutions.
According to Charlene Li , VP and
Pricipal Analyst at Forrester , “In 5-10
years social networks will be like air.”
Presenting yesterday as the Day One keynote speaker yesterday at
Social Patterns conference, Li laid out a future in which
“social context for activities” is so important, and the
supporting tools so pervasive and powerful, that turning off such
devices leaves one “gasping for air.”
Li predicted that in this future “relationship mapping will be
automatic and permission-based”, which would require the evolution
of online applications that can easily and securely manage access
to one’s identity and corresponding “social graph”. And a whole lot
of corresponding consumer trust.
Li said she expects users will be driven to participate due to
the tremendous value the derive from the real-time access to
structured information embedded in their social networks. This
would allow people to quickly make decisions based on the the
opinions of qualified members of their various networks.
In other words, if you’re in a video rental store (which
probably won’t exist in 2013) looking for a good comedy, you could
access the preferences of friends who share a common sense of
humor. If you’re betting on a much smarter web in 5 years, the
possible efficiencies are endless.
What’s the underlying business model? Li argued that “marketers
will pay to reach and influence valuable high-influence
individuals” and that “each person will have their own ‘CPM.’”
There was a bit of hubbub in the socialmediasphere about Loic Le Meur's complaint that there was no way to filter Twitter posts by authority, or the number of users suscribing to a particular person's feed. Le Meur's beef was that he and other attendees of his conference had a problem - they couldn't sift through the deluge of Tweets about and from people attending their event to find the signal they were looking for. While signal clarity and information overload is a problem (which I will save for a later post) - what I found most interesting is that less than a day after complaining about the problem, an ambitious group of programmers dug in and created a basic product that addressed this problem.
This is something we will see much more frequently going forward.
TechCrunch and other sites that are leaders in authority and Zeitgeist have the ability to drive conversation, memes and ultimately influence production itself. And the collaborative tools that they make a living reporting on are empowering people to come together quickly and solve problems. This compressed market process is likely to accelerate rapidly in an economy where there are a lot of free agents (read un or under-employed folks) with time, expertise and awareness of these platforms and painpoints. By addressing a zeitgeist problem quickly you have the opportunity to garner a great deal of attention from the community, which can result in elevation of personal brands, team and give the solution you've created a chance to get quick adoption and possibly immediate financial backing.
How can the power and scope of social networks, combined with human capital metrics, be used to facilitate shared creation and innovation?
Essentially a Wikipedia-meets-Facebook for the dead, new service Footnote.com follows Google News Archive Search as the second serious business model built around retro-active quantification of social information to make waves this week.
A one-stop shop for ancestral information, Footnote aggregates, sorts and structures historical documents “relating to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII, US Presidents, historical newspapers, naturalization documents, etc”, then mixes in social networking and user feedback to create useful timelines, historical links and family trees. Basically, they’re trying to corner the market on ancestral information by taking the most comprehensive approach possible.
It’s a brilliant and inevitable idea. As Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn, Google, and Wikipedia dominate the social networking and information pie, other companies looking to strike it rich are forced to carve out more focused value niches outside the direct scope of the big boys. From a macro perspective, it’s clear that these companies need to mix a monetizable model with novel/valuable content and a good user experience. And that’s exactly what Footnote is trying to pull off here.
By focusing on historical information, Footnote is avoiding major head-on competition (though Google certainly will make a big dent, but – then again – is also a likely acquirer) as it tries to rapidly grow community and data value. As a result, it has become yet another force behind the relatively nascent Retro-Quant trend, essentially making it a smarter historian thanks to it’s unique techno-social approach.
The fact that such a business model makes perfect economic sense reinforces the notion that Retro-Quant will grow to become a multi-billion $ industry sometime over the next several years. There’s simply too much value to be unearthed: human behavioral data, hidden crime (on many levels), genetic/evolutionary patterns, cognitive patterns, etc.
Biological history has much to teach us about our web economy. In particular, we can glean a great deal from the well-established patterns of punctuated equilibrium (the idea that growth and death come in spurts, which is very similar to many technology and social diffusion cycles) and evo-devo biology (a new theory of life in which Darwinian evolution acts in concert with structured development to optimize organisms AND biological systems for survival).
Just as the sudden death of the dinosaurs permitted small warm-blooded mammals to vary and scale during the subsequent ice age, so too is the swift death of old media models creating the ideal conditions for nascent software and social media models. Though this sort of cycle is nothing new, it is illuminating to apply it to the current economic situation in which printed newspapers are dying, open source IT is winning marketshare, and increasingly more people are sharing their information online.
When considering the near-term future and the year ahead, we can be reasonably certain that the dire economic conditions will serve as a breeding ground for new advantageous innovations. It was no accident that we experienced a spurt of great literature during the Great Depression as brains were freed up and exposed to an extreme environment. And now it's no accident that were vacillating from commercial enterpise to "programming subculture", as Kevin Kelleher at GigaOm puts it.
Not content to be outdone by the pesky likes of Google, Yahoo and Facebook, Microsoft finally walked the plank last night, cannon-balling into the tumultuous social media sea with the conversion of its live.com property.
In a single brazen move that augmented my long defunct Hotmail account with a smart new MySpace-ish application, Live, the 4th most trafficked website on the planet (trailing Yahoo, Google, and YouTube – just ahead of Facebook, MSN, MySpace and Wikipedia), upgraded itself to a full-fledged social network chock full of the usual friending, photo sharing, blogging and events coordination features, as well as a very interesting Cloud storage play called Sky Drive.
It’s a necessary and nearly inevitable reaction as the major players jockey for web users that can fuel advertising revenue and, more importantly, core application usage.
Most significantly it reinforces the trend of web companies providing ever more user value through applications that help them manage their online world. Even the Big Bad Wolf has now succumbed to the new market reality by launching a cuddly (sky blue theme) social network that cleverly integrates email-to-blog publishing, RSS import from all of the biggest platforms, 5 GBs of free file storage and super-easy sharing of photos and other data.
How long before President Barack Obama refers to social media as the Fifth Estate?
When I sat down to write this timely piece about the role of social media in government I was hopeful that by calling it "The Fifth Estate" I was about to be somewhat clever and original. Sheesh, was I wrong. A quick search revealed that many bloggers and pundits have in fact been calling social media The Fifth Estate for a while now:
There are in fact hundreds, if not thousands, of references to social media as The Fifth Estate that go back many, many years.
This of course has once again got me thinking that 1) there is truly no such thing as an original idea, especially on a planet inhabited by billions of meme processors all hooked into one global web, and 2) as innocuous as it may seem to us at any given moment, social media is truly a breakthrough phenomenon that is absolutely critical to convergent acceleration.