Nico Flores, a blogging friend from the BBC, writes a provocative post about content:
Content is nothing on its own. It only exists as part of conversations — understood not in the usual ‘blogsphere’ sense of deliberation, but as shared concerns (not my term), concerns that we must partake in to be part of communities. When I buy a novel I choose it not just because I think I might enjoy it, but also because it is also being read by other people, because it’s part of a larger movement that I’m interested in, or because it is relevant to something else I read. Reading is satisfactory only if I bring with me a certain baggage; and reading will add to my baggage, allowing me to appreciate other works and, crucially, to have more of a shared background with people around me. My point is that content–or, more precisely, the transaction of consuming content–is only meaningful as part of a wider conversation that is made up of countless related transactions.
He goes on to write about the role of discovery in content itself.
When Clay Shirky and I first saw AOL’s blogging tools and they fretted about the junk that may be created, we told them that “it’s not content until it’s linked.” That’s a glib line, but it’s in sync with Nico’s point about the larger definition of content.
Content does not exist without context. In the past, that simply meant we needed to know more about the creator or the time: The Diary of Anne Frank is about its context.
Part of what I’m trying to argue in my speculations about the fate of books is that context both defines and enriches content. Without that context, the content is poorer. The ability to link to and from content and its antecedents and successors in a chain of criticism, contribution, questioning, correction, argument, and remixing becomes part of the content itself. The timing of content matters, of course. What content does not say says a lot about it, as well. Who creates or consumes content also defines that content; chick lit is chick lit because it is written and read by chicks. And thanks to the ability of digital media to capture our content actions, the act of consumption is now an act of creation; our iPod playlists, our Amazon breadcrumbs, our Google clicks, our Flickr links, and our RSS aggregations are all collections of interaction with content that become content themselves.
But cutting off content from such conversation, in Nico’s broader use of the term — by imprisoning writing only in books or story-telling only on a disc or journalism behind a wall — we rob that content of content.
I obnoxiously ask who wants to own content from the media-company perspective. That question is usually asked, of course, from the creator’s perspective. On-Demand Media, a good blog, asks it from the consumer’s perspective:
Bill Gates says that CDs and DVDs will be the last physical form of media. I’ll go further and say: soon consumers won’t even be caring about owning files….
What does owning media let you do? It lets you play what whenever you ‘own’, provided you have the right devices, the media is handy, etc.
Now what if someone came and offered you a way to carry on with your practice, i.e. to be able to play what you ‘own’ whenever you want, in perpetuity, without having to worry about downloading, synching, or copying files (or worrying about physical media, of course)?…
What counts is the practice, not the thing.
Yup, life is about verbs. Or at least the internet is. And media should be.
Having read through the eBay-Skype PowerPoint justification, I guess I should be ashamed of myself that I didn’t get the deal before. It’s the Cluetrain, baby: If markets are conversations, then enabling the conversation enables the market and eBay is the new market. And if trust is king, then being able to talk to the person who’s trying to sell you something enhances trust and increases value. So I finally get the theory. The practice is another matter….
The Times-Picayune and Nola.com — former colleagues, all — have been doing a spectacular job using the web to get their news out because they no longer had presses and trucks and newsstands… and a city. This morning on On the Media, I listened to a good interview with T-P Editor Jim Amos, who said that blogging was absolutely essential to delivering the news. Rex Hammock says they deserve a Pulitzer for their breaking news blog.
I agree. The Pulitzer committee would do journalism well to separate the content from the container, the medium from the message, and recognize good journalism wherever and however it happens.
It’s a helluva hard way to discover the full value of the web (and not a little ironic for me), but the Times-Picayune has done it. And it’s not about PDFs and fancy formatting. The stories are fed into a simple weblog. Get that RSS feed and you will find great reporting from the biggest story there is.
People can’t see TV in New Orleans because there is no power to broadcast or receive. But the stations are broadcasting on the internet, just in case someone can see.
People can’t get newspapers in New Orleans because there’s no way to distribute it. But the Times-Picayune put up its entire edition on the internet, at Nola.com, just in case someone can see.
: LATER: See Terry Heaton and Rex Hammock on WKRN’s online and blog efforts during the storm in Nashville. Says Rex:
WKRN isn’t merely using a blogging platform to format news “content” (which I would applaud even if that were all they were doing), but they are using their blogs to help do away with the concept of “on-air-personality” and to replace it with, what?, on-air human beings — The station manager is even jumping onto the weather blog to let us know when one of them has to go home to get some sleep, when one of them gets sick.
The station has spent months inviting Nashville bloggers to the station (and even giving them and their kids air time. They’ve come to wherever bloggers find themselves together. They not only talk-the-talk but walk-the-walk. In short, they’ve earned “street cred” with a community of bloggers who, when we find ourselves in the midst of breaking news, will not only blog it ourselves as citizen journalists, but will gladly volunteer to be citizen stringers to help the station get the news out.
Working with bloggers, aka viewers/users/readers/people, is enlightened self-interest.
More interesting reaction to the who wants to own content post here and here:
Do you see how radical this is? It’s distributive. It’s about a life of intellectual abundance and the death of scarcity. It changes not only how you think, but how you feel. It’s expansive, it grows, it self-corrects. This is the revolution the denizens of the 1960′s only dreamed about.
: See this developing list of examples of “convergence culture.”
: Business 2.0 starts a discussion on how to make money when conversation is the kingdom.
: More here. There’s a discussion going on in French, thanks to Loic, but I can’t join in.
I keep concentrating on the media and citizen end of the explosions in content and distribution. But here‘s a post from my friend Will Richardson, the educator who understands blogs and citizens media better than any I know, and here‘s another from a a librarian looking at the question of who wants to own content from their perspectives.
Says the librarian:
So, one thing this suggests is that the parts of the content industry that have experience with relationships and trust–like libraries–should be in the ascendancy. Are we dismantling the fences and walls and expanding our trust circles? Slowly.
Says Will (my emphasis):
Schools used to own the content they delivered, but no longer. There is better content, in most cases, to be found on the Web than in standard texts. There are richer databases of information, more knowledgable experts, and more diverse sources of uniquely pertinent material that we can draw upon now. And that renders the one-textbook-for-all approach basically irrelevant. While these resources may at first blush appear more unwieldly and complex than those comfortable, traditional texts, we do our students a disservice by not tapping into their diversity and timeliness.
We need to create our own texts, because we can. Our students need to help us, because they can. We need to ask relevant, diverse, living sources to participate, because they can. This is a totally changed world we’re entering, and we need to begin serious conversations at our schools as to what those changes mean and what strategies we can use to take advantage of them.
It helps to analyze the future of media from more perspectives than just the newsstand or the bookstore: like the classroom and the library.
: SEE ALSO: Libraries offering downloads.
I’m glad to see my post asking who want to own content is getting links and comments and good conversation (including some who wish I’d stop prattling about this… but I’m just trying to get my head around how our new world operates, as I did when I suggested that small is the new big). I’m linking again only in hopes of keeping the conversation going…..