Journalism needs new buzzword: interestnet?

A posting that referenced the Washington Post’s new web site focused on suburban Loudoun County, Virginia, drew a thoughtful comment from Roselea Barker that I would like to amplify and discuss here. She said:

“In order to describe what’s happening with the way people interact with media, we need a new word that’s somewhere between ‘internet’ and ‘intranet”. An intranet is traditionally something that’s restricted within a particular organization, while the internet is the amorphous universe of all webpages that are publicly accessible.

These days, people interact with the internet as if it were an intranet, where the ‘organization’ isn’t behind closed doors but is out in the open for people to gravitate towards as they follow their interests.  They might narrow or broaden those interests depending on what links they follow.

It’s a clumsy word and not the right one, but ‘interestnet’ is close to the concept I’m getting at. In that context, the local little league game database with its email function is an interestnet that is very finely tuned to a particular geographical group with particular interests.

I think newspapers/journalism really need to find a concept word to use as their own that becomes  part of everyday language, because the words ‘community’ ‘audience’ ‘market’ are too reminiscent of a culture that has died.”

What a provocative thought. Let me tell you what little I know about the speaker then add some thoughts of my own. Rosalea is a New Zealander living now in Northern California and writing an online column — Stateside with Rosalea Barker — for folks “down under.” She and I met personally through a night school journalism class and literally bumped into each other on a Berkeley sidewalk not long ago.

I have thought before, perhaps you as well, have thought before that people create, or would like to create, some safe subset of the wild and wooly net where they can roam and get what they need and feel comfy. I think this is especially true at the hyperlocal level where people may find entirely new uses for networks — i.e., the who will housesit my pets while I go away question. I’ve been able to find a local housesitter to save me the kennel fees but I’m fortunate in this regard to have a college-aged young woman living nearby, with her mom, who welcomes the chance to get a house to herself and her boyfriend. But it has occurred to me that within a circle of neighbors I might feel comfortable saying the same thing if I didn’t have this face-to-face option.

I’ve thought about this concept therefore through the lens of “trusted nets” but when I went to search that term this morning I see that it is generally used by system administrators in the computer security realm. I did find one slide show posted by Intel that seemed more to my way of thinking, that is, to use the trust concept to describe the relationship between the web site and the downloader. There is also lots of interest in trust around e-commerce.

Rosalea is talking about something different, I believe — the notion that there is a series of online sources upon which people can rely, that would have the authority that was once the (exclusive) province of the mass media. And contrary to her protestation I think interestnet is a fine buzzword to organize our thoughts — and Lord knows even to raise money around if one had the rest of the elements of what would actually service this supposed local, or hyperlocal interest.

These days as I look at the media evolution, my prime concern as person who desires change and would like to see a much more democratic media, is that what Rosalea describes is branding — the creation of a comfort zone for content much the way chain stores create a comfort zone for hamburgers or coffee or whatever. In other words, I see that branding takes market power — not an obsolete word — and well-funded efforts like the Post’s will simply drive the power of mass media into the local fabric — as an extension of the marketing megaphone that media have become — without creating any real grassroots ability to feed ideas back up into the larger world of ideas, or even to create a problem-solving forum for local people. For instance when I went to the Loudoun site today it’s cover story is about local bookstores getting ready for the latest Harry Potter book. Do we really need another godamn venue to hype this latest fad? Apparently we have one.

So while I wake up every morning and blog away, hoping that grassroots media will coalesce into some real alternative to the SHOUTING MATCH THAT IS MASS MEDIA most days I am disappointed to learn that the manifestion of new media is to drive whatever vapid headline happens to dominate the moment into every electronic device known the man. What difference does it make if we have a billion channels — all dominated by Potter-mania today, and Paris Hilton’s pecadillos tomorrow?