The Self-Media Decade

We’re almost at the end of the first decade of the 21st century (yes, it went by really fast!) and it’s probably time to reflect on what characterized the last ten years. Each decade gets its own descriptive “brand” and this one won’t be different. The seventies were all about “the peak of hippie culture“, social change and related values. The eighties were all about the individual, economic liberalization and some would say money and greed but it also saw the end of the Cold War. The beginning of the 90’s was very nihilistic with the grunge movement but finished on a high note with the start of a long period of economic growth, an amazing era of technology innovation and the dotcom boom.

So, what defined the 2000’s? We obviously could talk about September 11, the dotcom bust and the recent worldwide financial crisis but those are punctual events. They definitely influenced the zeitgeist but they are not the zeitgeist. I believe the decade that’s ending was all about “me” and the extreme democratization of media. I call it “The Self-Media Decade”.

It all started with the reality television phenomenon in 2000. Survivor, the famous TV show, ignited the genre and there’s been no looking back since then. Every time you watch television today, you see “real” people in “real” situations. In parallel to that, blogging and blog platforms arrived on the market (LiveJournal in March 1999 and blogger.com in August 1999). Throughout the decade, millions of people took up blogging. Some blogs became a real alternative to newspapers and magazines, journalists started blogging and the line with mainstream media started blurring. In the newspaper industry also, Craigslist democratized classifieds, allowing anyone to post a classified ad online for free. Their first real expansion out of the San Francisco market happened in 2000.

Another parallel was the arrival of Napster, also in 1999. By enabling downloads of individual songs, Napster was allowing everyone to become their own radio programmer (or CD mixer). Why listen to radio (or buy packaged music CDs) when you can just download your favorite songs and get instant gratification. We all knew at the time that television and movie distribution would be impacted in the coming years. Tivo became a phenomenon in itself and created the personal video recorder product category. No need to sit down at a fixed date and time to watch a television show. Can you guess when Tivo launched? Yup, 1999.

On the shopping side, the birth of Epinions (again in 1999) was the first signal of the important role consumers would play regarding merchant and product recommendations via user reviews. Up until then, directory publishers were pretty much the sole gatekeepers in a very advertiser-focused world.

With the introduction of these new sites and tools, the only thing missing was a solid broadcast ecosystem. Facebook (and later Twitter) created those much needed amplifiers starting mid-decade. By building your social graph, you’re creating your own media network. I quickly clued in to this when I wrote my “Robert Scoble is Media” blog post. We were all becoming media (production and broadcast) including myself.

I’m actually a good case study of the power of social media tools. Up until I started blogging in 2006, I had an excellent professional reputation but in a very small circle of industry colleagues and peers. By blogging extensively since then and by using broadcast mechanisms provided by sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, my worldwide reputation has grown tremendously. I now have thousands of monthly industry readers on my blog and I’m often invited to speak at conferences. I’ve become an important influencer in the directory publishing industry and I’m amazed at the speed at which it happened.

So, what did we gain as a society? We now have more transparency, democracy and meritocracy. What did we lose? We lost common “experiences” (traditionally focused by media) and we’re not always sure who we can trust out there. There’s a lot more noise. But clearly, we’ve all become media by participating, with everything good and bad that comes with it and this will continue in the next decade.

Topix Relaunches and Embraces Citizen Journalism; TF1 Does the Same in France

Via Mathew Ingram’s blog:

Topix, the local news aggregator that is owned by several big U.S. newspaper chains (Gannett, The Tribune and McClatchy), is doing what amounts to a relaunch of the site and adding “citizen journalism” or social media to the mix, as well as moving to a dot-com domain (it used to be dot-net). Founder and CEO Rich Skrenta — who describes on his personal blog how this came out of an attempt to “de-suckify” the site — has a blog post at Topix about the changes, and says: “We’re now inviting members from our hyperlocal communities to take over the controls and help us edit the news.” (…)

Skrenta says that Topix is getting about 37,000 posts a day, and the site was looking for a way of featuring the top 1 to 5 per cent of those contributions that actually add something to the story. Now, anyone can submit a story, or facts about a story, or an opinion, or cellphone photos, and they will be handled by what amounts to an editor. (…)

At the same time, my friend Philippe Martin sends me this news about TF1 (one of the top TV networks in France). On their 1pm newscast, they will ask viewers to send them local videos using the Wat.tv site (also owned by TF1), which might afterward appear on TV.

What it means: newspapers and TV news organizations are starting to clue in on the importance of hyperlocal news and citizen journalism. It is a key success factor for them in the future.

Doc Searls: How to Save Newspapers

Today, the blogosphere is aflame with comments around the future of newspapers following this posting by Tim O’Reilly re: some possible financial problems at the SF Chronicle. Many are again saying newspapers are dead but I think the best reply so far has been this posting from Doc Searls on “How to save Newspapers”. He offers 10 suggestions:

  1. Stop giving away the news and charging for the olds. Okay, give away the news, if you have to, on your website. There’s advertising money there. But please, open up the archives.
  2. Start featuring archived stuff on the paper’s website
  3. Link outside the paper
  4. Start following, and linking to, local bloggers and even competing papers (such as the local arts weeklies)
  5. Start looking toward the best of those bloggers as potential stringers. Or at least as partners in shared job of informing the community about What’s Going On and What Matters Around Here.
  6. Start looking to citizen journalists for coverage of hot breaking local news topics
  7. Stop calling everything “content”. Your job is journalism, not container cargo.
  8. Uncomplicate your websites. And please, get rid of those lame registration systems.
  9. Get hip to the Live Web. That’s the one with verbs such as write, read, update, post, author, subscribe, syndicate, feed and link.
  10. Publish Rivers of News for readers who use Blackberries or Treos or Nokia 770s, or other handheld Web browsers.

What it means: these are very actionable simple to-dos for any newspaper Internet operations. I strongly espouse the following recommendations: opening up the archives and referring to them in your current news. It’s one of the things I’ve learned while blogging. You want to bring back to the surface your “old” content as much as you can to create a stickier environment. I also fully support the idea of linking outside your “garden walls” and using bloggers and citizen journalists. Searls says “You’re not the only game in town anymore, and haven’t been for some time. Instead you’re the biggest fish in your pond’s ecosystem.” I totally agree! Overall, I think it’s all about redefinition of a newspaper stands for.