What kind of Internet do we want?
Some might consider this a vague, daunting and even ambiguous question, but it begs for an answer. Anyone who has been online for a long time knows how interesting, diverse and different the Internet – as a medium – was (and can still be). It was very different from anything that we had seen before. In my second book, CTRL ALT Delete, I frame it in a more simplistic way: traditional media was very passive (it was created, edited and distributed for us and we consumed it in a very passive manner). Sure, there were "letters to the editor" and more, but most of this interaction was still strictly regulated by the media owners and highly edited to fit a specific format. While there is nothing wrong with passive media (I like to sit back and soak in an episode of Charlie Rose as much as the next dweeb), the Internet brought with it a dramatic change: active media. From sitting back to leaning in. From looking to touching. From consuming to creating and curating. In fact, it hasn’t been all that long since the Internet has been commercialized, and yet here we are at a fascinating moment in time when all of it can come crashing down in a massive heap of mediocrity.
Traditional media wants to becomes active. The Internet wants to be like television (and become passive?).
What used to be the most charming thing about the Internet is quickly becoming somewhat homogenous and frighteningly similar to prime time television. It used to be that blogging opened up our minds to individual perspective. We would share these online diaries, comment on them, dissect them and more. It used to be that the trendy topics on Twitter was a driver of new ideas. Things, events and ideas to explore. The stuff you would never find mentioned on CNN. Now, the trending topics on Twitter tend to look an awful lot like the breaking news tickertape graphics that scroll across the CNN screen. Podcasting used to be the home of independent and niche thinking, but the most popular podcasts today are mass media re-iterations of their content. Where has the diversity of these ideas gone?
That’s not a slight against either media personality. I’m a huge fan of all things Huffington Post (I contribute there regularly and Arianna was kind enough to endorse CTRL ALT Delete), but we are no longer seeing much diversity as consolidation and global behemoths battle for Internet supremacy. Look no further than Business Insider‘s The Future Of Digital 2013 slide titled, Value (and power) are still very concentrated. What you will see is that the market value online is divided up like this:
Compared to "old media":
- Disney = 24%
- Comcast = 24%
- 21st Century Fox = 16%
- Time Warner = 12%
- Time Warner Cable = 7%
- Viacom = 8%
- CBS = 7%
- News Corp = 2%
It’s not a true apples to apples comparison, but you get the idea.
Sure, Amazon is one of the world’s largest retailers, but they’ve also just announced more original programming like Betas and Alpha House (kind of like their own, little cable network). At the same time, Apple is still pushing iTunes Radio and Yahoo is making all kinds of waves this week by announcing that Katie Couric will be joining the company as their "Global Anchor" (does anybody know what that title even means?).
It’s a strange world.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and television companies are all scrambling to figure out how to be more like the Internet, digital and active media to make themselves more relevant, while these online companies are developing television shows, buying newspapers and poaching television celebrities. What’s going on here? We had too many people laughing at Google for things like Google Glass and driverless cars while we’re handing out belly rubs and lollipops in the boardroom any time new media does something so very traditional.
My kind of Internet.
I don’t know about you, but my kind of Internet is all about innovation, new platforms and the ability to do things with this technology that you can’t do on a television or in a magazine. I love television, radio, newspapers and magazines, but I want the Internet to do a whole more. In fact, I expect more of it. My hopes are that Pinterest can grow to the point where they can build whatever the next Instagram could be. That they push the frontiers of how we define media and what the media channels of the future might look like. If all they do, is scale and bring on Martha Stewart to run a bunch of boards, it’s going make me bored. We need the folks at Reddit to re-imagine the quirky corners of publishing, news and tidbits that will never have the mass appeal and scale to reach The New York Times. We don’t need another Lady Gaga AMA. We need these new media companies to focus on the "new" and to keep pushing whatever their agendas are to be unique, different and not the same old, same old.
I am hoping that we get the Internet that we need… and not the one that we deserve.