Clicks plus Bricks

Earlier this week I discussed the business opportunities involving time-shifting audio devices. I followed with a look at Web sites that collect, license and disseminate independent content. Today I’ll argue that Web-based collaboration and marketing sites will work best when online systems encourage and facilitate face-to-face contact. This is a gut instinct based on personal experience in media and online forums. I wish I had better evidence, but let me sketch out my thoughts. In the 1970s I ran a closed circuit radio and television station aboard a U.S. Navy ship. It was Mister Roberts meets Good Morning Vietnam. I was the only journalist aboard. My one-man television operation was sterile. I would punch in the camera focused on an empty desk, tiptoe over, take my seat and begin reading the news. The radio station was livelier. It was easy to run and I scheduled a succession of guest DJs who offered multi-cultural fare before the word came into vogue. Having made “mass media” inside this steel fishbowl, I got a strong sense of how people consume media — as social events, in the Super Bowl party model. (As I think of it, this was an all-male sample but are women different in this regard?) Between then and now I’ve worked in staff and freelance settings, generally in print media. For several years during the mid-1990s I moderated an online forum in an earlier incarnation of SFGate. Regular forum visitors wanted to meet for periodic dinners. We did. Okay, so that was then and the forums never really caught on. But nowadays I notice that outfits like job-network MediaBistro get positive buzz from creative folks by sponsoring gab-fests. IndyMedia, a politically-inspired activist group, works through physical locations that supplement its electronic forums. As Aristotle said long ago, “human beings are by nature political animals, who naturally want to live together.” I think social animals is the better term. Creating and consuming media are social acts. We can do both alone. But it’s more fun and less isolating when make it a group activity. Consider this thought from the Grotto, an office park, if you will, for writers in San Francisco: “The hypothesis is that working writers will be more productive (and have more courage to pursue the kind of writing they really want to do) if they work in a community of writers.” New media are still fluid. The great strength of the movement is the empowerment of individual creators, who can publish globally through electronic networks. But the strength of new media, and the sanity of its pioneers, will be enhanced if their networks find ways — profitable ways, like training classes — to bring people together in the face-to-face forums that we have always enjoyed.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media.