If it Doesn’t Spread It’s Dead

Henry Jenkins and his colleagues at the Convergence Culture Consortium (Xiaochang Li,  Ana Domb Krauskopf  & Joshua Green)  have recently published in eight parts their whitepaper on Spreadable Media. The concept of spreadable is meant as a more insightful alternative to the problem-plagued (pun intended?) concept of “viral.” If you’re interested in the things this blog discusses and you haven’t read the series, you’re behind. So here are links to all 8 parts:

1. Media Viruses and Memes

2. Sticky and Spreadable — Two Paradigms

3. The Gift Economy and Commodity Culture

4. Thinking Through The Gift Economy

5. Communities of Users

6. Spreadable Content

7. Aesthetic and Structural Strategies

8. The Value of Spreadable Media

The same crew, with the rest of the C3 core team is presently at work on a book to be called Spreadable Media. I will be contributing one of several short sections. Another C3 affiliate who’s posted his contribution to the book already is Justin Mittell, who’s written this wonderful post contrasting spreadable media with what he calls drillable media.

Read and get smarter.

Blogs vs Twitter? It’s the Interactivity

In a  post that appeared remarkably soon after my last post in which I noted that I am easier to find on Twitter than on Online Fandom these days, Rob Walker of Murketing and Buying In fame, expressed “Nostalgia for Blogs” and lamented:

I checked the Twitter feed and it was, of course, far less substantial than the blog had been. In fact I didn’t seen a single tweet of interest, whereas this person’s earlier blog posts had been, with some regularity, worth a look. If I don’t “follow” this person, I miss the possibility of some future interesting tweet — at least a link I would have missed, something.On the other hand, if I do follow, I clearly have to wade through a bunch of garbage. The signal-to-noise ratio will clearly be way worse than it had been on the now-dying blog. I’m interested in this person’s thinking — but I’m not that interested.

I wouldn’t want to presume he’s talking about me*, but either way, I’ve got some thoughts.

I agree with him that blogs are (sometimes) more substantial and I think reports of the death of blogs due to Twitter and Facebook are wrong. For me blogging has been a great way to collect and share thoughts on a particular issue, to collect ideas for future longer projects, and to create a public persona as an expert with something to say about the topics I know a lot about. I like to think the blog has been useful to people I wouldn’t otherwise get to communicate with. I’ve come into contact with many people, especially those on the ground addressing the issues I write about here, through this blog. Blogging has been and I hope it will continue to be great. It also takes a lot of time to get a post to what I want it to be before I post it.

But that said, I think Walker’s characterization misses the point on a few scores.

1) Twitter isn’t a substitute for blogging. Some people may choose to Twitter instead of blogging, but I wouldn’t assume that anyone has that kind of either/or relationship. A tweet is not meant to accomplish what a blog post is meant to accomplish. Neither’s killing the other, they aren’t in competition anymore than, oh, say writing books vs. writing a blog.

2) People like Twitterers’ minutia. In my case, though we’re not talking big numbers either way, more people follow me on Twitter than subscribe to this blog. One man’s garbage is another’s treasure, or entertainment, I guess. People — even smart thoughtful ones — actually LIKE the mix of links, random thoughts, and bits of daily life. They LIKE watching the person, not the topic. I know I do. I find Twitterers who stick to posts about their one professional interest boring. Other people love them, and more power to them. I don’t. IMHO, that’s what blogs are for. If you come to Twitter looking for ideas about a topic, you’re better off watching Twitter trends and searching keywords than following individuals; Twitter usually offers great topical coverage only in the aggregate.

3) Looking at a Twitter feed or profile isn’t the same as following someone on Twitter. People who don’t actually use Twitter think that you have to read all the tweets that are directed specifically @someoneelse.  If you follow from within a Twitter account, there’s a setting so you don’t have to watch that banter unless it’s between people you also follow. That changes the signal/noise ratio  a lot. Yes, there will still be tweets you don’t care about, but let’s be honest, can you name a single blogger who posts only posts you find interesting? I sure can’t.

4) Twitter is about banter. That banter is the best part. I’ve written this blog for a few years and I’ve talked to lots of bloggers. Getting people to post comments is hard. Getting conversation going is harder. The majority of things I write here get no response at all. On Twitter I don’t get responses to everything I say, but I sure get a lot more fast feedback than I do here. It’s also a lot easier to make a quick response to someone else — much more so than commenting on a blog post, especially if, like me, you read your blogs through an RSS reader. That back and forth makes me want to keep participating in Twitter. In comparison, blogging feels like a solitary endevour.

5) Twitter is temporal and cumulative. I made this mistake myself; it’s not until some time after you’ve decided to take Twitter seriously and made it part of the ritual of daily life that you really get it. If you check out someone’s feed, you can get a sense of whether they’re interesting to you, but it’s not until you live with someone’s tweets day in and day out that you know whether the rhythms and content of their messages are going to be rewarding or not. It’s not like a blog where you can read all the archives and get pretty much the full effect. On Twitter, it’s what happens interactively amongst the twitterers over the long haul in real time that makes it interesting.

6) Twitter is a great site for language play. The 140 character limit is a fun challenge for wordsmiths, and those who do it well are joys to read. As a genre, insamuch as it is a genre, the language of Twitter is just way more fun than the language of blogs.

7) Ugh. Can we just quit judging every new mode of communication that comes along and finding it wanting in comparison to the last one? Haven’t we been doing that for millenia? Don’t we always look back later and feel kind of silly?

Don’t like Twitter? Don’t use it! Disappointed someone’s blogging less? Encourage them to keep on blogging by letting them know how much you appreciate the volunteer work they do through blogging. But don’t be disappointed because people don’t twitter how you want them to blog. That just doesn’t make sense.

* Update 03/09/09: Rob has assured me since this was posted that he wasn’t.

What will happen to the music industry?

Since MIDEM, I have been reflecting a lot on the future of the music industry. As I wrote below, as an outsider, I was discouraged by what seemed to be backwards thinking regarding what I see as the great opportunities of the era of the networked audience.

Two posts today from Techdirt and the MIDEM blog question whether the recording industry is really ready to collaborate and cooperate with new services and fans or whether all that talk is just another PR campaign.

What struck me at MIDEM was that for all the sobbing or cynical snickering from those within the industry about the damage being done and the jobs and revenue being lost, I found that most of the time I was surrounded by really smart, really optimistic people who were creating new jobs, new revenue streams, and having a really good time doing well in the music business.

The thing was, all those people had accepted that the audience is irrevocably networked and that digital music is and will always be easily and freely shared. They were building businesses that use social media to turn people on to new music, to connect people to one another around music, and to provide comprehensible data analysis to the people making and marketing music. They weren’t in the old jobs working for record labels and publishing companies.

If I were a futurist, I would predict this future:

As the old industry behemoths focus more and more on controlling intellectual property, fewer and fewer artists will be willing to deal with the restrictions this places on their fans’ ability to build excitement around them. Rather than fearing the exchange of their music for free, or the propensity of fans to make their own videos and remixes, more and more artists will seek it out, realizing there’s plenty of money to be made giving the music away and selling scarcities (see Masnick’s Techdirt writings for long exegeses of this idea).

Third party companies and services  on the internet will make it easier and easier for artists to spread their music and reap financial rewards outside of the sign-with-a-label/get-on-the-radio system. Eventually the recording industry as it stands now will become a small marginalized part of the industry as the people who understand that “protecting” intellectual property is a good way to kill your business, while sharing is a good way to build it decide it makes more sense for them to forego major label representation. To the extent that rights-holders opt in to a system that locks them into a protectionist-orientation, they’ll be increasingly irrelevant. To the extent that they bypass that increasingly restrictive system, they’ll thrive. Eventually there will be so many outside the system, what’s now fringe will be the norm.

Now I understand that it’s not reasonable to expect musicians to also be ace marketers and social media experts. The people at labels do real work, and I don’t mean to dimish that. The huge need is going to be a new kind of intermediary, not a label, not exactly a manager (though they’ll still be useful), but the social-media-advisor who can make sense of the many forms of media through which word is spreading, the many kinds of social activity through which those words flow, and guide the musicians’ media presence.

For those who say “but musicians should be able to make a living by charging people for the music, they shouldn’t have to do all that other stuff” I say, well yeah, in the perfect world. But this is the new world. Some people may still get away with that, but clinging to that historically brief past in which recorded music could be a primary source of income will only lead to obsolescence.


On a housekeeping note, I apologize to any readers who are bummed that I’ve been such an infrequent blogger. I find my thoughts these days are either happening in 140 character form or really long form (since my blogging slow down I’ve written four book chapters and two journal articles as well as a few talks). Blog post length seems either too long or too short. But I’ll keep trying.