John Battelle returns to musing on Packaged Goods Media vs. Conversational Media. I think bifurcating media in this way is a fascinating world view and holds some promise for helping us see through the glass a little less darkly.
When I read traditional media interpretations of “user generated content” (last weeks New York Times piece proclaiming 2006 the year of “You Media” comes to mind), I feel extremely dissatisfied. These pieces focus on the wrong thing – they judge Conversational Media by the standards of Packaged Goods Media, then find themselves smugly satisfied that CM doesn’t measure up. However, it’s clear that CM is here to stay, so writers from the PGM world struggle to make it fit their worldview. “Now we have to figure out what to do with it,” The Times piece sniffs. “Ignore it? Sort it? Add more of our own?”
A line clearly written by someone who doesn’t engage much in the world of Conversational Media. But that’s OK. I’d never argue that CM makes PGM irrelevant or that folks who don’t participate in CM are somehow better or worse than folks who do. But that’s not the point. The point is that people find the process of engaging in Conversational Media fulfilling in its own right. Tens of millions of us love following the conversations on our favorite blogs, reading and participating in community-driven sites or social networking services. And where tens of millions of people go, profitable business models follow.
This relates to mode of thinking about digital media that I’ve been trying to fix my own mind on. The way I use the web — and I suspect a lot of other people do, too — runs counter to how PGM media people think. The point isn’t to be sticky. The goal is to be part of the flow of participation, a voice in the conversation. We are all just participants in a grand, large, and noisy mega-super-store of ideas, pictures and words. Web sites, in the way PGM people might think of them, do not exist. They are just pixels on a screen that can be consumed or ignored at will. The mindset that says I must own the consumer or the user experience is a mindset that is doomed to failure. You cannot wrap content in a nice, neat, tamper-proof package and say “look, but don’t touch.” That world is dead and gone.
Many newspaper site publishers are thinking along the lines of: “how can I move the conversation to my site?”; rather than realizing media is already part of the conversation and we need to learn how to be polite conversationalists.
This also related back to what I’ve been writing about sharing the past week or so. The better we share, the more polite we are as cohorts in conversation. Ten years ago or so, the big buzz phrase was, “content wants to be free.” We all took that as, “you can’t charge for your content online.” But the truth is, free doesn’t mean only an absence of payment, it also means freedom from control.