I am an avid consumer of digital technologies, which makes this course very relevant as we struggle with how content should be distributed and how to monetize it. In the beginning of the quarter I presented myself with this question, “Is there an instance where something touches digital networks and doesn’t feel the effect of falling costs?” This is in response to Moore’s Law, but do I feel I’ve reached the answer? Maybe. It is obvious that as a digital immigrant I still hold onto the “atoms” of production in some sense, meaning I still feel there is a physical representation of everything, but I need to alter my thinking. Today everything touches digital networks, with maybe a few exceptions in developing worlds that haven’t been gifted technology yet. Ayush Agarwal from Madrona Venture Group said in an October lecture “we don’t till farms, we till information.” This is very true. We have evolved into a society that relies on the combined knowledge of the collective. In Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody he speaks about the dissolution of specialized trades like the scribe; today we see journalists shrinking away with the advent of user generated content and citizen journalism. We even see the whole structure of marketing changing with the shift of content creation going to the common man.
Traditionally we’ve relied on advertising to learn about products, today we have user reviews on Amazon, Gizmodo and many other places that tell us what real consumers think of the products. In fact, companies like Amazon and even the Super Bowl rely on their consumer audience to produce advertisements for them. This is something that would have never happened prior to the Internet for many reasons. First, we’ve proved over and over in the MCDM that the cost of technology is so low, anyone can make a video, do some graphics, create a song, or use other’s content to create something completely new like a mashup of a Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani song. What is even more fascinating is that people enjoy creating content with limited or no monetary reward; this provides a real authentic look at consumerism, but is very challenging for companies trying to make a profit. Because of these few reasons, (but surely not just these two reasons) blogs are so popular.
When Tracy Record, the Editor of the West Seattle Blog came to talk with our class in October, she emphasized that hyperlocal journalism is just touching the edges of capability. Prior to her discussion I often didn’t think of blogs vertically, I just thought of them in categories like sports, local, pets, etc. She opened my eyes to the breadth still available for blogs. For example, she feels there is still tremendous opportunity in her immediate community for additional blogs that focus on the youth. This could be anywhere from teen issues around sex, education and after school activities, to a place where elementary children can come to engage in games, pictures and stories. They sky is the limit, and I was interested to hear Tracy’s opinion on hyperlocal journalists teaming up with the Seattle Times. I agree with her view that these should be separate, with some courteous connection for the sake of reporting honest news. It seems that larger media corporations are trying to dangle the idea of “exposure” to journalists who have already found their new niche outside a failing journalism career.
One of my most interesting reads this quarter was the Christopher Elliot article, Everything Wired Must Convergence. Likely back in 1997 it was meant to be an insightful prediction of the future of networks, but today it is amusing. I especially enjoyed his assumption that branded networks would be something we will pay for in the future, which is absolutely not the case today with Facebook, LinkedIn and even online media networks like CNN. This concept is quite a contrast to Anderson’s view of Free. But one interesting thought Elliot brought up was the idea that networks would not finish growing until we have reached a point of instantaneous communication. I argue that network size is infinite even though we have reached a stage of instantaneous communication. The more we create and share, the more networks will grow.
What I believe I learned most in this class and in this program is the importance of people’s ability to affect change. Although this is obviously apparent, the question of how is through the Internet. Our world is ever evolving and the Internet is the key to connection. With connection we can explore things we could have only dreamed and with so much information around us, people are starting to capitalize on the idea of information management. Companies like Gist are taking advantage of this information overload and helping people organize…people. It is a strange development that we now have hundreds of personal connections, rather than just a few close ones. Other companies like Waze or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk are crowdsourcing and leveraging the community to do their work for them.
But crowdsourcing, hyperlocal journalism, and user generated content doesn’t live in a fairytale without conflict. It is important to remember there is always another side of the story, one more often with copyright and policy at the top of mind. Randall Davis explores the proposed promises the Internet brings us, but only with failures for those who contribute. While Davis primarily talks about digital products like software, we need to remember that a big concern for newspapers is that consumers can find a free way to the content they desire. Not having all the answers is what makes playing with the Internet fun. It is difficult to predict the future like Elliot tried, but what I have learned is that the way we communicate defines our culture, and that is something we are shaping with the digital technology.