I am media centric and user driven. #
Media centric? By now, we have all observed, learned or at least heard that the Internet is user centric: we have user-centric identity, user-centric design, user-centric media, user-centric Web architecture and user-centric databases management. And of course, when we’ll come to hosting communities, we’ll look closely at what “user centric” implies for architecture and content. #
But let’s be media centric for a while. The notion of “user centric” might be dizzying, so let’s go back to the media as the center of our world. Nothing wrong with it: that’s where we are. The users are out there, somewhere. #
Besides, I still believe that traditional medias can thrive on the Web. They just don’t have much time to make the right moves. #
We have just seen when observing figure 9 in Ecosystem that to fight erosion, a media on the Web can strengthen its exchanges with its sources, its advertisers and its users. Among those, our two sources of revenue are the advertisers and the users. And obviously advertisers buy ad space only because of the users. So our first priority is to strengthen our exchanges with our users, right? #
This isn’t really new, nor is it special to the Web. In 1984, more than 25 years ago, I was exploring ways of launching a weekly newspaper in Montreal. I went to see Jean Paré, then publisher and editor-in-chief of L’actualité, Canada news magazine in French, to ask for his advice. He listened patiently to my story; then he asked me: “What do you need first to launch a weekly newspaper?” That was an easy one and I answered right away: “Money”. #
“No”, he said, “The first thing you need is readers. If you have readers, you’ll find all the money you want.” #
This is certainly one of the most important lessons I have ever learned about media and the publishing business. #
So we may be media centric if we like but what do we find at the core of any media? Readers, viewers, listeners: users. On the Web, there is a grand unification of users: we all have to read, if only to choose a video or a song, so all users are readers. Readers are at the core of any Web media. #
That seems simple and clear to the point of looking banal: yes, of course, our readers are important. Of course they are our best asset. Of course we take care of them. On the Web? #
If this is so obvious, please get in the shoes of a real reader for a while and ask yourself why this kind of thing happens so often when readers want to participate in a traditional-media website: #
- You are warned about everything you can’t do, topics you can’t touch, words you can’t use. Upon arrival, you are treated as a potential danger.
- You have to agree that everything you write, every photo or video you post on the site will become forever the property of the media and you abandon any claim to it. Upon arrival, you are told that everything you contribute will be stolen.
- You have to give a name, any name, but the media doesn’t give you a personal page with your identity and the memory of your contributions. You can comment one or 100 times, you can write important information or rubbish, you can help drive a conversation, but nobody will remember it, nobody will be able to find it again. You have no real identity, you can’t build a reputation. Nobody cares about who you are or what you can bring to the media.
- You have a name and you may have a personal page with the memory of your contributions but you have no place to open a conversation, to contribute information, to propose a topic, to ask a question. The only thing you can do is to comment at the end of the golden words of real journalists. You can vent in your comments but you are not part of us and please keep your distance.
- You are warned that there are moderators around and they will check your comments and maybe delete them but you are not told who these moderators are, you can’t talk to them: they don’t participate, they don’t comment, they just exercise their power. You are asked to contribute in a media where the police is anonymous and where moderators are not members of the community.
- You are allowed to contribute in some places but not at others. Your input is accepted only when and where the “people who know” agree that you are allowed to leave something. Otherwise, whether you have an important question to ask or a key information to add, you are obviously not qualified to add it in some place, as if you were unclean or totally uninteresting.
- The rules of contribution are the same everywhere in the media because the owners don’t even know that topics and areas can be more interesting, more lively and become a more important part of the media when they have specific rules. So you have to suffer inane conversations because authors are not creating a tone and, worse, they don’t know that they could.
- Journalists think that “Community” is the place where readers are corralled.
I don’t especially want to name names, take your pick, but you can pass through that filter the otherwise great nytimes.com or guardian.co.uk . #
I know that most people who are reading media machina are waiting for me to answer the question: where is the business model? #
Business models are the easy part. #
Getting that readers are real people and not cattle is the tough part. #
I believe that’s part of what Jay Rosen means when he says in Rebooting The News System In The Age Of Social Media: “You gotta grok it before you can rock it”. #
I learned to grok it like everybody else: on the Web and in communities, mainly Worth1000 and MetaFilter but also slashdot, Something Awful and dozens of others. All these communities have grown organically around their founder. All these founders are passionate from the start about their members. Founders, admins and mods are not above the community, they are the best part of it. You don’t “manage” a community. You serve it. Yes, it’s messy: there are laughs and tears and yawns and tantrums and trolling and spamming and yes, banning. #
That’s life. Readers are real people. #
Readers are life. They are even the only lifeline that news media have. #
Readers are the business model. #
See notes. #