The release of the Future of the Media report late last week, apart from being extremely interesting to read, was an indicator of the abiding interest in the future of online and offline media by advertisers, journalists, media organisations and increasingly, citizens themselves.
Why is this important for peacebuilding? Simply put, whatever you wish to call it – social media, new media, community media or any other epithet of your choice – media production in the hands of citizens is going to wrestle away the control of news and information from journalists, make media more reflective of and responsive to local community issues (for long alienated by national media), and result in new information frameworks that, if used properly, can be a powerful foundation for peacebuilding.
Highlights and brief observations
The value of the report is that it clearly shows that a revolution is already underway on how we define, produce, store and distribute media. Arguably, it is a revolution that may take longer to come to places such as Sri Lanka in comparison to markets such as the US, UK and Australia (which dominate the Future of Media Report), but change is inevitable.
First some highlights from the report that caught my eye:
1. The media and entertainment share of the global economy is 3% (pg. 3)
2. If, as the report states, Australian job advertising figures are indicative of global trends, we are looking at an tremendous year-on-year increase of jobs advertised online instead of in print (pg. 4). It would be really interesting to see whether those who are recruited from online ads results in middle and senior management, one or two decades hence, who on account of their own experience, choose online advertising even for senior positions – totally excluding print media.
3. Teenagers spent significantly more time with media than adults, yet they watch less TV (pg. 4). They also listen to much more music than adults, suggesting that the growth of sales in iPods and MP3 players isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
4. The growth of mash-ups is interesting, though 47% of mash-ups are concerned with mapping (pg. 5). The second largest mash-up group was search, which is interesting in that it sheds light on how Google, MSN and Yahoo may transform their core business in the coming years from pure search engines to content aggregating, news generating, user preference matching, location aware, pervasive information delivering, archive-distribution mash-ups!
5. 37% of blog posts are in Japanese, as opposed to 31% in English. That, to me, was the most surprising statistic of all in this report (pg. 6). The report itself gives no explanation as to why this is the case. I suspect it is, partly at least, on account of the pervasive nature of 3G services through DoCoMo that has resulted in a population in Japan that is able to produce content wherever they are using a wide spectrum of devices, from mobile phones to PCs.
6. The diagrams on pg. 7 of the report are interesting, placing Microsoft at (almost) the centre of the media industry networks. This is interesting, because Microsoft is not a company I would immediately associate with the dynamism of say, Apple, when it comes to the media industry. It’s also interesting that there are far more linkages in the diagram between Google and Apple than there are between Google and Microsoft. Compared to the situation in 2000 – 2001, the notable increase in the importance of Google and Apple in the media industry is, if anything, indicative of future trends as well.
7. A symbiotic relationship is emerging between mainstream media (such as newspapers and broadcast), and social media (such as blogs, podcasts, and online social networks) – pg. 9.
8. Format shifting and the creation new formats, as noted in pg. 10, is about a change in the digital file formats used to produce, store and distribute content, and also a transformation in the very frameworks of content production and consumption. This is linked to the point made in the next page (pg. 11) that the most fundamental shift is that both channels and devices are shifting to the mobile, rapidly enabling anywhere / anytime consumption of media.
9. Shifting, time compression, infinite content, generational change and pervasive media listed on pg. 12 of the report as 5 ideas transforming media are worth looking at in more detail. As noted in this blog earlier, those promoting public service values in media also need to look at the ways in which the production, storage, distribution and consumption of media is going to affect the standards by which we judge professionalism of media – esp. in a world of infinite choice.
10. And finally, though not really related to any of the points above, I was surprised to note as a owner of a Sony PlayStation2 myself, that 17% of those who own PlayStations in the US are above 50. This reminded me of a programme that I saw recently on BBC on the use of Sony’s Play Station Portable (PSP) gaming devices with old people in Japan to ward off dementia by getting them to play games that exercised their mental skills, reflexes and hand – eye coordination.
Observations in greater detail:
Robin Good, whose blog post first alerted me to this report, has a very good critique of the report here. I highly recommend you read it, since I do not wish to repeat myself highlighting some of the extremely valid criticisms of the report that Robin shares with us.
From the general to the specific, my own observations are:
1. Design and content
The Future of Media is a beautiful report to read.
The lack of boring columns of text with the odd Excel generated chart or graph to break the monotony is a welcome relief. Of particular note are some of the very interesting data visualisation models used in the report, helping a reader easily grasp the changing nature of media worldwide.
Holding design over content is not a sin. Content is augmented by good design – so many of NGO reports that I often read are created with a specific audience in mind, those who know the issue and don’t usually read the report. For the rest of us, the design, or lack thereof, more often than not vitiates our ability to grasp the salient points in the report, given that we have to read to dozens of pages in order to understand key points that could have been visualised in a number of ways far earlier. Design is more than pretty artwork and layout – it is a fundamental tenet of information visualisation, of which I’ve written on in this blog before. Good design strengthens the content it highlights, bad design obfuscates content, making it harder to get a message across. NGOs sometimes know this as communication skills – getting their message across to audiences who are apathetic to their cause. The ability to convince is deeply linked to good design, and while good aesthetics alone isn’t a substitute for well researched content, it is nevertheless an integral part of any strategy that seeks to communicate the nature and intent of a study, campaign or movement (for democracy say) to peoples and communities who know nothing or little of the subject.
2. The premature announcement of the death of print media
Driving the revolution of social media / new media / community media in the West is often attributed to the ubiquity of internet access, usually broadband, an enlightening telecommunications regulatory framework, the high quality of network infrastructure and the extremely low cost of internet / web access.
These are all important points to consider, since the lack of one or all of these factors results in countries such as Sri Lanka being left out from active participation in the new media revolution.
There is however another factor that is not often pointed to as instrumental in the new media revolution, simply because, like air, it is taken for granted in more developed societies.
As I type this blog post, I’ve switched to battery power because the lights in my home are fluctuating rapidly, signs of an inevitable breakdown in the supply and also indications of spikes and surges that if plugged in, could possibly ruin my computer.
The problems associated with the generation of electricity in many countries in the world severely mitigate the potential of new media to engender a root and branch transformation of the print media that dominates the media landscape today.
Print media does not require electricity to consume. I can read printed media by candle-light or in the warm glow of a kerosene lamp. For all its sophistication, my MacBook Pro is no match for the longevity of today’s newspaper. What would be interesting to see in the coming years in Sri Lanka and similar countries would be to create ways through which conversations can be built using newsprint and mobile / PC mash-ups – so that feedback from today’s stories received via SMS or email are included in tomorrow’s newspaper, thereby tempering a national focus with regional voices, and perhaps resulting in a new journalism that in time uses these new voices to create the entire content of newspapers.
3. Where is the Global South?
Robin Good correctly points out the US, UK and Australian bias of the report. The movement to social media is hardly the domain of only these countries and in fact, as the report points out, if there are more Japanese blog posts than English, there surely must be other regions in the world that are taking to new media at a pace that dwarfs markets in these three countries.
In this sense, as with many other reports from the West that offer prescient views on the development of media, it wholly neglects to look at ways the media industry is changing in the Global South, in countries such as India for instance, where there are now people who look at entire Bollywood movies through their mobile phones, as noted in this fascinating podcast here.
For sure, as noted in my earlier point, there are challenges unique to the Global South that will, in some instances, impede the development of new media paradigms. However, the pace of innovation in the Global South, especially with the exponential growth of mobile telephony, is far beyond markets such as the US, UK and Australia.
I’ve written earlier about the content creation for mobile devices, and how new paradigms of access and distribution are set to revolutionise the way we understand the world around us (with obvious implications for peacebuilding, the raison d’etre of this blog) – much of these arguments hold true for the future of media as well.
4. The Metaverse Messenger
I wonder if any of the authors of The Future of Media report had even heard of the Metaverse Messenger, or for that matter many of today’s media pundits.
Before The Metaverse Messenger, we need to explore the ways through which MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing games) such as Second Life, and World of Warcraft can change the media industry. Players of these online games number in the millions – the World of Warcraft for instance has over 4 million inhabitants / players.
A parallel online life is essentially the premise of Second Life by Linden Labs, a MMORPG that for a number of reasons, most notably for a vibrant and sophisticated in-game commerce and industry model that is pegged to the US dollar, has resulting in the increasing attention of researchers, business, professional gamers and interested individuals alike. I’m a frequent observer of events in Second Life – as Sanjana Hutton, my online avatar roams different worlds in search of online behaviours that help me better understand how MMORPG’s can contribute to conflict transformation initiatives in the real world.
Which brings us to the Metaverse Messenger – which proclaims to be “a real newspaper for a virtual world”. The Metaverse Messenger is a media product for those who inhabit the worlds of Second Life. It combines real world characters and events (in the most recent issue the coverpage is on Mitch Kapor’s slated attendance at the Second Life Convention in San Francisco) with news and features of events, issues, characters and businesses that only exist in the worlds of Second Life.
There are a number of interesting questions that crop up for reflection. Do real world standards of journalism apply in publications such as The Metaverse Messenger? Are consumers of The Metaverse Messenger rising even as subscribers to newspapers decline? In the future, can we envision communities who may be more interested in news of online / virtual events more than real world issues? How do media such as The Metaverse Messenger fit into the social / new / community media paradigm? If the year-on-year exponential growth in MMORPG’s continues, the millions of those who inhabit the worlds of these games may create media that is only understood by fellow inhabitants – using new media (podcasts, blogs, mobile content etc) to communicate issues that may only exist online? See for instance the story on pg. 8 of The Metaverse Messenger on a podcast series dealing with secrets of Second Life.
But most importantly, how is the media industry going to address the challenges of audience fragmentation between real and virtual worlds?
Reading through The Metaverse Messenger is an eye-opener. This is not some school magazine trying to look and sound like a mainstream newspaper, this is actually news of worlds, lives, issues, events and business that exists in virtual domains today.
If the future of media is to be explored, publications such as The Metaverse Messenger and indeed, the plethora of new media on MMORPG’s and the lives of those who treat them as seriously as real life need to be examined in far greater detail.
A well-known journalist told me recently that for social media / new media to be successful in Sri Lanka, the standardisation of vernacular fonts needed to occur first. I concurred. Despite lengthy debates on the issue, there is still no sign of resolution to the fact that to date, we do not have a way of ensuring that Sinhala text entered in one device renders accurately on another. So text entered through a mobile may not display on the PC, text entered on one PC may not display on another, text entered through Windows will not display on a Mac and text entered through the web may not display on mobile devices.
This needs to change urgently.
Experiments such as Moju and Kottu are limited in their appeal and scope in that they do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, aspiration and fears of communities who do not articulate themselves in English.
If the Japanese have been so successful in blogging, it is because they have mature standards for the rendering of fonts on a wide spectrum of devices. Countries that wish to avail themselves of the new media revolution need to first understand that communication through media is not just the birthright of those articulate in English. Media that captures the viewpoints of those who may not be able to read or write, but can speak their minds in Sinhala, Tamil or in any other swabhasha, on issues important to the local community is guaranteed an audience far greater than that which mainstream media commands today.
Of particular note in light of these discussions is a podcast from the Bloggercon IV session on Citizens Journalism available here (33 MB, 1 hour 12 minutes). As Amy Gahran reports on Poynter Online, NYU professor Jay Rosen had led this session, and had structured discussions in line with a post in his blog PressThink about Users-Know-More-Than-We-Do Journalism.
“That specific type of citizen journalism is especially revolutionary because, as the session discussion revealed, it dispenses with some very basic aspects of the form and practice of journalism. Also called open source journalism, the idea is to enlist large numbers of people in gathering similar types of information to create a collaborative mosaic of news and views.”
As The Future of the Media report states “most innovation will… come from the outside, either from young people, or from companies outside the existing media establishment”.
Frankly, I think that this is one of the most prescient comments in the report. The pioneers of new frameworks of peacebuilding are, in most cases, the same wellsprings of innovation and creativity that are shaping the new media revolution.
They need our support.
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