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ARTICLES AND THINKPIECES

A USER GENERATED WORLD

User Created Media and Infrastructure


September, 2006

"There's something happening here; What it is ain't exactly clear." We've got trends and counter-trends relating to a movement with potentially massive societal implications, not just economic and legal.

Trend:

Consolidation of media. This isn't news. In fact, it's so "not news" that the discovery of the fact that the FCC was burying a study on the consolidation of media was barely news. By the way, the study concluded that it was not a good thing. For those living underground, mass media is now concentrated in the hands of a handful of corporations, with potentially dire consequences for the creation of art and entertainment, and a complete distortion of the ideally clean flow of data from "what's happening" to "what's reported."

Counter-trend:

Democratization of media. We are seeing an entire world of normal folks creating the entertainment we consume, and reporting on the news, changing the way we inform ourselves. Cases in point:

  • MySpace and the entire social networking phenomenon: 100 million people hanging out with each other online, decorating their own virtual space, recommending new music, displaying music, slide shows, videos.
  • Fan Fiction: Just regular folks, writing stories about their favorite characters. Is it big? If you go to www.harrypotterfanfiction.com, currently (October, 2006), you can read one of over 36,000 Harry Potter stories not written by J.K. Rowling. Go to www.fanfiction.net and browse literally thousands of categories in which there are anywhere from a few to thousands of stories. This is huge.
  • Wikipedia: "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." It says so right on the site. The English language portion of the site currently has over 1.4 million entries. Where do you go for immediate information?
  • Open Source Computing: A radical idea; that software can be more effectively and efficiently developed if done in public, shared and vetted by many different skilled professionals, and left open to innovation and use, rather than developed in secret, using code names, and owned exclusively by one company. A sharing, cooperative, interdependent, transparent process. And, sometimes FREE!
  • Creative Commons: Inspired by the Open Source Movement, a different and more sharing approach to copyright law. As the site says, "Enabling the legal sharing and reuse of cultural, educational, and scientific works." It is a collaborative way to approach intellectual property rights.
  • Blogging: Media stars are made simply by the perceived value of the contribution. More and more people get their news and analysis from The Rude Pundit, The Huffington Post, and many other sources having nothing to do with the mass media outlets.
  • Intelligent agents/aggregators: Where do you find these bloggers? Between Google and applications like the customized MyYahoo home page, there is growing awareness of and access to these alternative sources of news and commentary.
  • Mashups: What does it sound like when Lou Reed, David Bowie and The Notorious BIG find themselves in the same song? We are finding out. A massive sub-culture of digital artists/DJs is taking works owned and "controlled" by major media companies and combining them to make new art. Pretty compelling stuff, too.
  • MMRPGs, Second Life: Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games enable anyone who wants to create a place to live, virtually, and to have entertaining adventures, play games, share community, live virtually. The major media companies have no real advantage in this space. Second Life (www.secondlife.com), in a way, takes this even farther, by not tying the experience to a game. People simply inhabit the Second Life world as they would the real world – with a few differences.

The Participatory Web aka Web 2.0: There's a new browser concept coming, and it's based on sharing. The activities most prized and the functionality most transformed are about community, sharing, and receiving customized content from many sources. See www.flock.com. Not brought to you by Microsoft.

Trend:

Consolidation of infrastructure. So much the reality that it's almost not a trend, although the large media, computing and communications companies are continually seeking to dominate infrastructure in each new area as it develops.

Counter-trend:

Democratization of infrastructure. As in the area of sharing of media creation, collaboration and sharing are powerful trends changing the way we work, and, in some cases, do business.

  • Distributed computing: Pioneered by the SETI Institute, various projects requiring massive amounts of computing beyond the capability of those working on the project, including the Human Genome Project, requested that common computer users like you or me allow their own computers to be taken over in the hours they are not otherwise being used, for the purpose of crunching vast amounts of data. Millions of people have participated.
  • P2P distribution: As Napster proved, people will create their own distribution networks. As the music industry looked on, tens of millions of individuals participated in a music distribution system that had nothing to do with the entrenched powers, shiny discs, trucks, or even payments. This model is moving into other types of content.
  • MySpace: Yes, it is now owned by News Corporation. It is also an emblem of the ability of a start up to so completely catch fire that many types of content can be displayed, performed and distributed to a community that can (and does) number in 9 figures without having to set up a traditional network of any kind.
  • YouTube: Again, suddenly, and without involvement from established media or infrastructure companies, YouTube now logs over 100,000,000 video downloads per day! This staggering figure has been achieved by a company that was founded last year, 2005! The revolution is upon us!

In each of the above examples, content is being created and/or infrastructure is being provided by individuals with no thought of immediate financial compensation for their efforts. And, yet, it is a global phenomenon. On the content side, for many, it is replacing much of the leisure time entertainment and news experiences formerly provided by the big media companies. This clash of the titans – big business versus the rest of us – citizens, consumers, viewsers, however one might characterize it, has potentially huge ramifications for the way business and life is done in the 21st century. Who knows? It might even be a harbinger of a changing global consciousness! One can only hope.