jueves, 22 de febrero de 2007

Chapter Five: Wikipedia, collective intelligence and the long tail participation

“The call is historic because it doesn’t issue from a political party. It issues from the Internet, and it’s democratic because there are cybercafés everywhere. The Web is the weapon, and that’s why old politicians don’t understand what’s happened. They only use it to look at naked chicks”.
Chilean student

Our global society is in the early stages of what could be a media revolution as great as that produced by Gutenberg’s printing press in 1448: the birth of the participatory media. The era of the mass media, which began in the twentieth century, is undergoing a crisis. The way in which people connect to information is being crucially changed by a series of technological modifications. There has been born a new force of citizen journalists, armed with photograph-taking cell phones, connected via the Web and with blogs as their means of publishing.
The question is how does one join the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the final picture looks like? By starting at the edges. That is why we certainly cannot predict the exact shape the communications media will take as a result of this revolution. Neither do we know what kind of citizen will arise as a consequence of the use of the participatory media. But at the edges of the system we perceive signs of change whose impact we can already see.

The long tail
The Internet made a U-turn after the 2001 collapse of the dot-coms. After the bubble burst, the only survivors were the software, sites and proposals that form the so-called Era of the Web 2.0. And this is not just about the Internet – because, in its infrastructure, it implies not only access to the Web (which has been in existence for decades) but also a widely spread, always-online broadband access. An access in which uploading speed will soon match downloading speed.
In the new model, small sites constitute the majority of Internet contents. Google’s success (and that of its advertising service, Google AdSense) lay in reaching the entire Web – the extremes and not just the center, the long tail and not just the head.
Thus, the most competitive companies will be those that reach a critical mass of information thanks to users’ participation and transform said contributions into system services. The challenge: to turn clients and consumers into contributors.

Signs: I participate, you participate, we participate
• Around November 2005, 57% of American youths created Internet contents, from texts to photographs, music and videos (source: Pew Internet & American Life Project).
• You can browse over 25 million blogs in the Technorati directory. The blogosphere has grown 100 times in 3 years.
• In the relatively small market of Argentina, 1 million people are broadband services subscribers. In any small town in the country, one can use Internet at a cybercafé for twenty US cents an hour.
• An Online Publishers Association research carried out in February 2006 has shown that 69% of American users had seen videos on the Internet, that 24% did it at least once a month, and that 5% did it every day .

Ohmy News, CNN & BBC: The birth of citizen journalism
In South Korea, Ohmy News, an online newspaper created by Oh Yeon Ho, a journalist retired from the traditional media, receives 2 million visits a day. But his newspaper has no editorial office or staff, no war correspondents, no prestigious columnists. Just 33,000 ordinary citizens who contribute their articles. It also possesses a rating system that places the most-read notes above the rest. A further novelty: just as people at a bar or restaurant leave a tip, Ohmy News readers can make small donations when they enjoy their reads. One article made USD 30,000 in one day. But Ohmy News is not an isolated case. The CNN has just launched the CNN Exchange section for the rising citizen journalism – where the public can upload texts, photos and videos. “Send in your story. Share your ideas. Leave your mark,” they urge. The English BBC, through its website, also encourages its users to participate. In that country, photos taken with cell phones during the London metro attacks surpassed any expression from the traditional media.

Wikipedia, the collective intelligence

Wikipedia is the best example of a novelty – collective intelligence. This free, user-written online encyclopedia already boasts 1 million articles in the English version and is 12 times bigger than the printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Over 100,000 people from all over the world have contributed to the building of it. It has more visitors than the New York Times and CNN sites, among others. And it has been in existence for only five years.

We, the media
Every second that passes, a new blog is created in the world, according to the blog-searching engine Technorati. 50,000 new posts (entries of information, texts, photos or videos) are entered every hour. And yet a blog is more than a personal page such as have existed since the nineties – the difference being that now the new technologies allow us to link one blog with another, subscribe, and receive a notification every time the blog changes. It’s not just a link; it’s a “permalink”. The permalink is what has transformed blogs from a publishing tool into a conversation tool. From this chaos of dialoging and superimposing communities, the discussion has arisen. The Chat appeared. A “we, the media” world appeared. A world in which the audience is deciding what’s important.
It was none other than Charles Johnson, a blogger, who discovered that a photograph from the international news agency Reuters about the Israel-Hezbollah conflict had been digitally adulterated. The agency had to apologize publicly and withdraw from its files that and a further 920 pictures taken by photographer Adnan Hajj, who was fired.

The time of the Mojos
Research on audience tastes indicates that people increasingly want local news, sports, entertainment, climate, and traffic information, and less agency-produced, long reports repeated ad nauseam throughout the media. People expect to be told shorter stories and to be given relevant information. Based on this information, Gannett, the greatest newspaper group in the world, is trying to make its journalists focus on more local issues. That’s why it has invested in “mojos” (mobile journalists) equipped with laptop computers and always out in the streets, where things are taking place that matter to the community.

Clip culture: vlogs

Towards the beginning of 2006, the vlog (video blog) Rocket Boom was being watched by 350,000 people a day , half of which are outside the USA. A perfectly ordinary girl who every day issued her own three- to five-minute television program on the Internet, giving her own peculiar vision of reality. The cost of producing that program? Twenty dollars a day, plus a USD 14,000 Sony HDV camera and a set in producer Andrew Baron’s apartment in New York’s West Side.
YouTube was born in December 2005 out of the simple idea of making it easier to upload homemade videos to the Web. A million videos had already been published before its official launching. Halfway through 2006, 50,000 videos a day had been uploaded, and people were watching some 100 million videos a day. And these are figures that keep growing.
Contents change, supporting devices change too. Multimedia reproducers become portable. Users download videos to watch in their iPods or cell phones. Entertainment has ceased to be a synonym for sitting on the sofa in front of a square box. Reception moments become more personal.

The end of the media as we know them
For the first time in more than a century, ordinary citizens represent a challenge to the few corporations dominating the mass media. Borders between audience and communicators become blurred and sometimes downright invisible. The old media model was “there is a source of truth”. The new model is “there are multiple sources of truth, and together we’ll determine which are the most important contents and values”. An Oxford professor’s blog can become as popular as that of a Shanghai secretary telling about the trivial details of her daily life in China. The decision is in people’s hands.

Questions arise: How will the brands make use of these new media? How do they want to talk with the new, participative citizen? Even though the media may have become sophisticated, successful models demonstrate that their strategy is among the oldest – telling stories. The challenge is thus to tell stories that move, inspire and promote participation.

No hay comentarios: