Interaction vs. reaction: But enough about you…

The problem with media’s definition of interactivity is that’s all about controlled reaction to media’s agenda: Come talk about our stuff. It is designed like a children’s museum, with buttons you can push to keep you busy and happy. That may not be the intent, but it is the result and message of forums and chats and blogs that are about what the newspaper publishes. And it misses the point.

Interactivity is about more than reaction. It is about creation. It is not about controlled authority. It is about sharing authority.

That is a lesson newspapers and media companies need to learn. And that need is evident in the kerfuffle over interactivity and invective at In my earlier post, I addressed two fundamental misunderstandings of interactivity that this incident exposes: that people are concentrating on the negatives (the misuse of interactivity by a few blinds them to the value of the whole) and that they think we need someone to tell us who the bozos are (aka, enforcing civility).

But it struck me after writing that that I was missing the forest for the kudzu. The real value of interactivity is that it empowers. The real potential of interactivity is that it extends news and journalism and news organizations and communities to create. It’s fine to have forums to argue over ombudspeople, if that floats your boat.

Among the ways that interactivity can be used to empower the public and create value:

* Hyperlocal reporting: You know the drill — NashvilleIsTalking, Baristanet, NorthwestVoice, and my wish that somebody will podcast my local school board meetings so I can listen since I can’t attend. Newspapers can’t be everywhere, but readers are.

* Collaborative reporting: The community can join together to throw their information into the crockpot. Maybe everybody shares their horror stories with dealing with town hall and building inspectors to throw the bums out or they create a data base of health care hassles to build a case for change.

* Problem solving: The crowd is wise and our crowd is wiser, every media brand should believe. So why not throw problems out to the people when the experts we go to all the time fail: What should we do to fix that health care mess? Define a school that works.

* Aggregated smarts: Why not have our audiences Digg our stories — and others — to create the front page of the people? Doesn’t mean the editors can’t have one, too. But why can’t and why shouldn’t the people? See also Flickr interestingness for the aggregated taste of the crowd. The crowd is smart if you know how to count them.

* What’s missing: Rather than making interactivity about what we’ve already written about, wouldn’t it be better to find out what we’re not covering? Ask and listen.

* Shared knowledge: See an earlier post about turning the newsroom into a classroom. Why not create the means for people who know what they’re talking about to teach what they know?

* Social moments: Any friend of mine is a friend of yours, eh? So shouldn’t news and media be hosting Meetups so folks can meet each other? In the old days, we didn’t want to meet our readers. Now, we want our readers to meet each other. And who knows what wonders will ensue?

I know that’s amorphous, but I’m trying to assign buckets. What have I missed? What examples can you throw in? What should interactivity really mean?

: SHAME ON ME: In my standard lists of interaction locally I should always include Phillyfuture, which Karl Martino start and which is even endeavoring to help save a paper.