I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Planet Money: NPR’s digital stepchild?

So I wasplanet-money-200x200 late to the game regarding the giant kerfuffle between NPR reporter Adam Davidson and Congressional Oversight Panel chairperson Elizabeth Warren. If you didn’t hear it, here it is, but to make a long story short, on the May 8th production of Planet Money, Davidson and Warren sparred heatedly about the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It didn’t get personal, but it was pretty damn close.

Some PM listeners were offended by the aggressive tack that Davidson used to question his guest. It did get a bit FOX news at times and Davidson did cross the line a couple of times into condescension (would he have been so cavalier with a male guest?) Overall, it was a rare misstep from what is normally an informative and even-keeled production.

Alicia Shepherd, the NPR ombudsman, weighed in after an investigation of the production:

Planet Money is a relatively new venture for NPR, and the network is still experimenting with the format. “Planet Money has been an extraordinarily successful, popular project, with all it does,” said Uri Berliner, deputy national editor who edits Planet Money. “If you look at the way it has built an audience that responds and is engaged, it is pretty much without precedent at NPR.”

Here at TLF we are both fans of Planet Money, as a production, and as an effective model for traditional media outlets to engage listeners via social media projects. So it dismayed me (K.) to read the following:

Planet Money’s podcast does not have the same degree of radio production or intense editing and supervision as NPR’s regular shows.

In my months of listening to Planet Money, it did not occur to me that the podcast was not subject to the same level of editorial scrutiny as any other NPR broadcast. Honestly, I never thought of PM as anything less than an NPR show, albeit a show that was not being aired on terrestrial radio. Davidson was appropriately repentant, and  even admitted that he chose to edit the interview in a way that highlighted its most confrontational moments. But it did trouble me that Davidson, for whatever reason felt like Planet Money was a good place to check his journalistic integrity at the door. Because, you know, it’s only a podcast.

The admission of NPR’s ombudsman that the organization sees the podcast as a “lesser entity” of sorts is a bit disheartening for me as a listener, because I afforded the podcast producers the same level of trust, despite its digital roots.

In general, I do think NPR handled the situation well, by making the entire interview available for listeners, but I do feel like this is a bit of a blow for Planet Money‘s journalistic reputation and for the reputation of online-only news podcasts to be respected as real journalism, rather than just being a digital playground for amateurs. I keep making the argument that it’s about the content, not the medium, but if NPR doesn’t see Planet Money as “real NPR” then why should I?

Kill Social Media! Kill it Dead!

burning-house1I know this will sound crazy coming from someone who spends 12-14 hours a day working and socializing online in social media (including writing for this social media focused-blog) but, boy I am really ready to see this sucker die.

In fact, I’ve personally declared 2009 as The Year of Killing Social Media (make a note of it) because it’s really time to put a fork in “social media” as a term, a concept and a professional field.

Bogged down by meaningless buzzwords and riddled with experts, social media is in danger of becoming just as tedious, as insular and as conventional as the much derided MSM, in just a fraction of the time.

Don’t believe me? Start a Twitter account, then tell me how long it takes before a bunch of  “social media expert” types start following you. I’ll guess about half a day. And it just gets boring. At some point, there are only so many tweets about transparency, about social media optimization, about the “semantic web” before you just stop caring.

This blog post at fanboy.com calls it “social media deafness,” and yeah, it’s happened to me. With all of the industry talk about social media, the enthusiasm about it, the potential of online communications to really democratize media is being lost in the noise of social media hype and navel gazing.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still love this stuff; I still read Mashable every day, I still talk about this stuff with co-workers and geeky friends, I still ogle my Google Analytics dashboard everyday and update my Twitter/FB status regularly. Hell, I am still blogging. It’s my job to know about this stuff, to do this stuff, to find out what the so-called experts think.

But I’m also tired. I’m tired of reading about the rules of blogging, about who’s really working their “personal branding opportunities,” on how to replicate the social media success of the Obama campaign to sell widgets or raise money for homeless puppies (note to all: unless your widget/puppy comes with Barack Obama, don’t even bother trying.)

I’m sick of the discussion of how to leverage the influence of social media for immediate profits, without any discussion about actually creating a dialogue with your audience. That’s just too scary for some folks.

If the future of social media means sitting around all day talking about one’s “retweetability”, then bump that noise: let’s burn that house down now. Or perhaps it will choke on its own hype, the way the dot-com boom did in the late 90’s/early 00’s.

Right now, “social media” is shiny and new for the general population that recently discovered Facebook and Twitter; it means executives are starting to take notice, at least superficially, and want to slap up a Facebook page and watch the money roll in.

What I am looking forward to is the day social media is fully and seamlessly integrated into the traditional media ecosystem; it’s already happening, for good or ill. This is the year we’ll see many print papers move to an online-only format, and adopt user-generated content into their mix. Millions of people already go online as their main source for information. “Social” media is becoming the media.

It can’t happen soon enough for me. But the novelty needs to wear off of social media, the shine needs to fade so that fads and buzzwords can settle into action and progress, and we’ll see media professionals adopt these tools as a regular part of their work. It will happen, mostly out of necessity.

I think the future is bright, once the social media hype runs its course, I am just eager for someone to pull the trigger so that we can watch the rebirth happen.

Media professionals? The future is not you.

OMG Shawn Gold: are you single?

I’m kidding. Kinda. But I am still extremely jealous of everyone who got to attend the Mediabistro Circus and to hear this little gem from the former MySpace exec:

When it comes to the old model of disseminating media in a one-way stream, “There’s some Uncle Milty shit going down right there.”

Classic television reference! Hot! What I would not give to drop that in a meeting sometime. You see, even though my job description says I work with social media, there are times where I am personally frustrated by the general lack of understanding about how the process of how social media works. Social media is dependent upon multi-directional communication, that your audience gives back more than just personal data or content to exploit, but that they are engaged enough to help build the content and community that will bring them back.

Professional communicators are not used to this. Journalists are used to telling their stories, informing the public and filtering any direct response through a letter to the editor or ombudsman (if they work at a place lucky enough to have them.) Professional marketers are used to sending out a message and measuring the success of that message through sales.

But that’s not the end game of social media. Social media forces professional communicators to reconsider the way we do our jobs, the success of social media is dependent upon some level of audience trust; trust that they are engaged enough, loyal enough, interested enough to participate. And that requires transparency, the willingness to expect public feedback and criticism, to communicate honestly to your audience, to admit faults and lack of omniscience. To put content out there and trust the fact that you won’t have complete control over how/where/when/why it’s consumed or used.

That goes against what most professional communicators have been trained for.

In the past few years I have worked for/with a number of companies/organizations that have expressed an interest in using social media for marketing purposes.

I have yet to work at a place that does it well.

This is primarily because of lack of trust, and a general lack of understanding about the multidirectional communication that is the bedrock of social media’s success. It’s not just communications professionals though, some of the hard-core IT/Web geeks I know aren’t necessarily plugged into social networking on a contextual level.

I don’t think we will see traditional communications organizations truly adapt to social media and use it to the best of its potential until current media professionals retire.

Gold really breaks down why:

“The Internet generation has grown up sharing their lives,” he said. “They’re aware of privacy, they’re aware that anything they say can be used against them, but they somehow don’t mind. Their lives are more scheduled and structured than ever before,” making them the model for using social media to connect more, quicker, and better than older generations. “They’re so limited in time, social media lets them efficiently connect.”

News Flash! Music Industry Officialy Doomed

From Mashable.com

eMarketer has published some new predictions regarding both worldwide and US music spending, and neither look particularly good for the industry. Overall, eMarketer expects worldwide spending to decrease from $31.8 billion in 2006 to $26.2 billion in 2011. Analyst Paul Verna says:

“The situation in the industry has gotten so bad that many top recording artists are steering clear of music companies and signing up with brand marketers whose expertise lies outside of the recording industry. Witness the alliances between Paul McCartney and Starbucks, the Spice Girls and Victoria’s Secret, and Madonna and Live Nation.”

The model has been broken for decades now. I think instead of trying to fix it (desperately trying to keep the CD alive, eliminating singles, punishing the fans who keep their product in the public eye, by shutting down file sharing) the music industry will have do some aggressive restructuring in order to survive the decade. Part of that will be letting go of the $15-18 CD pricing model once and for all.