You kids just go ahead and entertain yourselves

Let’s talk for a few minutes today about how you’re trying to take my job. By “you,” I mean all y’all, the vast public throbbing with creativity and wired up with broadband. And by “me,” I mean me and JP and countless writers, photographers, filmmakers and artists who historically have constituted the class of Professional Creative Types. These latter folks used to be identified by their trade names, but starting with AOL’s growth surge in the early ’90’s, accompanied by the birth of the Web, they became known collectively as “content providers,” the people who were paid to produce the editorial material in between the ads. That’s how it worked with newspapers and magazines and television, and to media companies that’s how it looked like it would work on the Web. Silly media companies.

Take a gander at what’s happening, as illuminated in the latest report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. It found that 48 million American adults — 35 percent of Internet users — have contributed some form of user-generated content to the Internet (that’s adults — you’ll have to factor in all the kids posting to MySpace and the like). Of those users, 36 million posted their own artwork, photos, stories and videos. Empowering this urge to share is broadband penetration — of those who contributed content to the Net, the report found, 73 percent had high-speed connections. The Web is “shifting now to user-generated content,” said John Horrigan, associate director of research for the project, “It shows people engaging with the Internet in a number of different ways in their lives. It shows that people are pretty interested in using the technology to put something of themselves on the Internet, not just pull down information from the Internet.”

Bingo. This is the rude awakening awaiting any media company that’s still snoozing. Consumers are no longer restricted to consuming. “It’s the mass talking to the mass,” said Jesse Drew, associate director of technocultural studies at the University of California-Davis, specifically talking about video-sharing site YouTube but laying out the general principle. “Now there’s no central spigot that everything comes out of.” Writing in GigaOM, Robert Young says, “Today‚Äôs social networks (along with other forms of social media, like blogging and online video-sharing) are just the tip of iceberg when it comes to the long-term potential of digital self-expression. … To some extent, self-expression should be viewed as a new industry, one that will co-exist alongside other traditional media industries like movies, TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. But in this new industry, the raw materials for the ‘products’ are the people.” Young goes on to make the case that the primary job of a successful social networking site will be to manage the relationships among users who both consume and produce.

Well and good, says Nick Carr, but he raises two concerns about what he calls “the global karaoke machine”: Is there any money to be made serving as a user-to-user clearinghouse? And how close is this to a zero-sum game? “If people are busy creating their own private reality shows, how much time and interest will they ultimately have for reading newspapers or going to the movies?” Carr asks. “Self-commoditization is in the end indistinguishable from self-consumption. And narcissism is a very deep well. Young may be right that ‘digital self-expression’ is an iceberg. But if that’s so, the traditional media business may be the Titanic.”


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  • jerry

    But if that’s so, the traditional media business may be the Titanic.

    Which is why the RIAA, MPAA are busy enacting legislation protecting their business model, why Disney extended copyrights for 5 life sentences served serially, that is being followed by Journalists that try to ensure that first amendment protections are given only to some sort of big organization journalists….

  • Sid Zorkowski

    Thank you for your interest . . .

    We’ll keep your resume on file . . .

    Good Luck in all future ventures. . .

    . . . Next Please . . .

  • Joey

    And we’re supposed to go into mourning over this?

  • Jack Armstrong

    This scare reminds me of the one that was in vogue about twenty years ago about how computers were going to make paper obsolete. Since then, I for one have made a nice living using computers to produce paper documents.

    So I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I were you. Besides, you are the ones who were supposed to put newspapers out of business and what happened? I still get my paper every morning. Two of them even. So relax.

  • Esteban Kolsky

    My, my, my… what did we get for breakfast this morning?

    I tell you what is missing from your well written article: trust. Just because someone wants to put their stuff online does not mean I am going to consume. You and I, sorta, built a relationship over time and I came to know you, your views (in certain matters), and to trust you. You don’t know me from the next guy. As a result, I read what you write – you earned my trust, which in time leads to establishing a reputation (there is only so much tath trust can do – the rest is the old algorithm of trust x time = reputation).

    I am not more inclined to watch videos on YouTube (ok, there is some morbid fascination there – but nothing professional, really) than I am inclined to read what someone wrote in their blog (ditto morbidity) just because it is out there.

    Now, if we were to ever figure out (appropriately) the whole issue of trust and reputation – then you are in trouble. Else, just give it some months and it will blow over… like most “mass consumer trends” in the internet.

    BTW, I am not dismissing this… i am saying, not quite ready for primetime.

    Take Care, keep up the good work


  • Mourning? Good heavens, no. This is the power of the network come to pass. Couldn’t stop it if you tried, and only fools and tyrants will try.

    Still, there’s no escaping Sturgeon’s law: 90 percent of everything is crud. Talent — whether employed by a media company or working out of a basement — will still be at a premium. And for all the glories of disintermediation, there will always be a place for a helpful and entertaining editorial voice to help sift and guide others through this ever more unmanageable glut of “content.”

  • There are cycles in history that relate to the availability of technology. We’re in just such a cycle.

    In the 1700s, anyone who could afford a printing press automatically becaome a journalist. The printing business subsidized the broadsheet (newspaper). There were some more successful than others (like Ben Franklin) and the good ones drew support (advertisers).

    The Internet is the printing press of our time. If you can afford the time and technology, you can post whatever you like. But the reading (consuming) public is still the arbiter of what succeeds. If the Internet is filled with people presenting thoughtless opinion and promultaging slander, then the people who can provide thoughtful analysis and fact in well-written and produced formats, the wannabe’s will be weeded out and ignored.

    It just takes time for the market to determine what is and isn’t valuable.

    And the traditional content providers who don’t get that it is objective truth and good writing that the market demands will go the same way as the wannabe’s.

  • Dan

    Uh-huh. And how much of this Pew study went into analyzing fanfic and fanart?

    This is a false dichotomy: that user-generated entertainment exists in a parallel universe to mean ‘ol traditional media.

    We are missing the built-in “riff effect” in this discussion. How much user generated content consisted of someone typing “The DaVinci Code sucked!” on a message board? Or an alternate Mulder-Scully storyline involving randy were-woodchucks? Or a rant against Kobe’s choice in make-up jewelry? Or a description of a Laser Disc copy of “Legends of the Superheroes” celebrity roast on eBay?

    The fact of it is, it has ALWAYS felt like there aren’t quite “enough” new box office releases per week. How many times have you gone to the video store (either in 1988 or 2006) and been unable to find “anything good?”

    Its been eight years since “content provision” has become a topic of discussion, and the fact of it is that the problem will be solved by both trad-med and users. Or, more likely, NOT solved. We could have all of the studios working at full capacity, with all “amateurs” providing both riffs and original content, AND AI bots replicating and modifying content AND mad scientists concocting potions to resurrect H.P. Lovecraft…

    And we’d still be short on content.

    Opening the gates of media may disable some old tools of the trade (say, traditional newswire services) but it isn’t going to drown anything important (say, an interest in news, or entertainment, or celebrities. Okay, I’m sad about the celebrity thing.)

    The belief that the masses are somehow competing with mass media is persistent, but erroneous in so many ways. The only difference today is that the masses can talk back, which can (if you want it to) really hone content so that when it does hit the channels, it is better than it would have been without the input.

    In any case, “57 channels and nothing on” is far more common a problem, and a far greater one, than a dominant content provider (whether traditional or new) can or will ever be.

    Excuse me while I catch the latest episode of 28 Day Slater on You Tube while chilling to the latest permutation of Lazy Sunday…

  • Red Rat

    Look, a lot of electrons are flowing along the Internet. Just about anybody can contribute (hey isn’t that what I am doing right now) that really wants to. I would venture to say the it isn’t 90% crap, but probably closer to 99.9% crap out there. I am enough of an elitest, I guess, to believe that only a handful of people have something really important to say. However, my 0.1% may not be yours. Like in all things, the bad will be weeded out–eventually. Esteban is right, the good will build trust and dependency, but this takes time, it cannot and will not be immediate. Time will tell who is putting quality out there. The problem will be find it because the rabble make so much damn noise.

  • charles

    I frankly find many of the people producing product for the web rather sadly bereft of basic knowledge and the capacity to express their thoughts if they have any, in proper English. There will always have to be professional content providers who are experts in their chosen niche of the vast amount of knowledge that exists today. For example I just wanted to do a bit of research on a horse named Seabiscuit. Only an individual who had access to horse racing history with ability to write in a coherent manner could have provided that information. The masses will never control the content of the internet. “Your hot” is not an example of the reason we access the Web although her picture might be worthy of examination in case we are short of fantasy material.

  • starprofit

    [chuckle] I guess everyone overlooks the simple fact that someone who is working at the legacy media (artists, journos, etc) is producing something each day as part of their job. the amateurs (altho some are not so ammo) produce the their stuff ad hoc and more as a diligent hobby. then there are the flybys who are following the leadership groups and doing ‘like’ what everyone else is, ‘y’know’? Bottom line is that there are some ammos who are better at the job than some pros, just as there are are pros who more often than not do it better than the ammos. In all this mishmash, one thing is very clear, organized info (hence ‘search’) will become more and more important as time goes by. And we will get some fantastic art from ammos and generally mediocre art from most pros. It should be noted that Da Vinci was a genius but was no pro at anything.

  • RKFoster

    It looks like the comments have already said it all. I’ll just add my voice though. What, it’s already been said so why repeat it? I guess it’s just the mass talking to the mass.

    This reminds me of the early years of the Internet boom when the talk of the day was “websites”. Everyone will have a website, the age of self-publishing had dawned and the place to be was your own website. Of course the web is now littered with defunct websites that were eventually bought by porno operations, the only ones making money at the time. Now here we are at “Web 2.0” and websites are now “blogs” and we have the same OMG going on from the “established” media. It seems quite simple to me — no one is going to sit at their computer and waste their time on junk (at least their interpretation of junk). The best media will succeed, whether it is from Time-Warner or Joe/Jane blogger.

  • Blogs and vlogs remind me of the desktop publishing boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was an explosion of “ransom note”-style documents, but only the better-written, classier newsletters survived the on-going onslaught. I suspect the same will happen with Web publishing, only much faster this time. The cream will rise and become famous brands. The key is to be unique and find your audience.

  • You can slap all the lipstick, eyeshadow and fancy perfume you want all over that porker, even put a designer outfit on it, but it’s still a pig. Bloggers and YouTube uploaders are responsible only to themselves — not readers. That’s why so many of them are seen only by…guess who. TV was supposed to replace radio and destroy the movie business. But that’s not the best analogy. Quality content drives audience size. Crap drives flies.

  • While everybody seems to be running over to YouTube, Revver, etc. we at are quietly hosting professional videographer and filmmaker videos, tapping the amateur market and probing deep into other markets. We are being pressured by these groups in some ways but we suspect that in the long run, we have an enduring path that is very different from the masses grabbing at the most popular sites of today. As Sheridan says above, “Quality content drives audience size.”

  • I’ve got a blog with a tiny audience, as do many of the MySpace and LJ folks some of the commenters here are disparaging, and that blog, like other blogs I read regularly and like some email lists I belong to, is part of a community of friends. And that’s perfectly fine. While we might be afraid to share our latest song or raytraced picture with friends in our living room, we do it easily online. The new tools just give us bigger sheets of blank paper. For instance, it wasn’t till I read their blogs that I found out that two friends from a music list I’d known for more than 10 years, and who I’d met in person, are very good photographers.

    People who are paid to be content creators (and some of the commenters here) don’t quite get that creating isn’t what creative people do, it’s what people do.

    Everybody is like Fra Lippo Lippi in the Browning poem, and given an outlet,

    …my head being crammed, the walls a blank,

    Never was such prompt disemburdening.

  • techbee

    Middle men disappear. Traditional medias disappear. TV (as we know it) disappears.It’s fine by me if another item disappears: money for food. But…(struck by a thought)maybe money will REALLY disappear.