The Age of Participatory Media

The Economist has published an excellent series on new media titled “Among the Audience.” It’s overarching point is that two-way, broadband access creates the conditions that enable feedback and self-expression — the defining characteristics of the era. Here is a summary of the series.

“I’s the links, stupid,” defines blogging as “the unedited voice of a single person” preferably an amateur (quoting tech guru Dave Winer). “Compose Yourself” looks at the citizen journalism phenomenon through the lens of South Korea’s OhMy News, a profitable and influential site that has also taken a shot at giving amateur contributors some payback. The article notes:

“One of Ohmy’s biggest innovations is economic. The site has a “tip-jar” system that invites readers to reward good work with small donations. All they have to do is click a little tip-jar button to have their mobile-phone or credit-card account debited. One particularly good article produced the equivalent of $30,000 in just five days.” (Note: Sadly we are not told what sort of item garnered such support, whether it was gossipy or high-brow; nor are we enlightened as to the median tip.)


The Wiki Principle” looks at the group-editing process and and “Heard on the Street” is a snapshot of podcasting.

Wonders of the Metaverse” is perhaps the most futuristic and fascinating of the pieces, zeroing in on the increasingly realistic virtual environments like Second Life (about which I’ve written one narrowly-focused piece). Here is one extract from the Economist:

“In time, metaverses could disrupt the economics of mainstream film-making. Philip Evans at Boston Consulting Group estimates that Linden Lab has so far invested about $25m into the Second Life environment. But as “about 90% of the content is created by the players”, calculates Mr Evans, this works out at a total “investment” of perhaps $250m, which brings Second Life up to the budgets of Hollywood blockbusters. “The production values are amazing,” says Mr Evans. This potential economic disruption to Hollywood, he thinks, “could be the harbinger of something very much bigger.”

tn_second life.jpg

An article titled, “The gazillion dollar question” seeks to define what constitutes a media company in this shifting landscape (boring!). The package of stories closes with a piece titled “What Sort of New Media” that asks whether this new world will be utopian, dystopian or as muddled as life today. I like this closing thought: “every society will get the media it deserves.” (The Economist also offered a link to selected resources and interview subjects.)

All in all the sort of comprehensive work for which The Economist is known. Hats off to correspondent Andreas Kluth, who offers a podcast overview.

As I read this series and think about this media evolution, I recall the folk saying, “too much of a good thing.” Media is becoming so immersive, so powerful and so present that those who can afford its distractions could get lost in them. The Economist closes its series by suggesting that new media will be the mirror that reflects culture back on itself. It might be time to recall the myth of Narcissus whose curse was to fall in love with his own image.


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