Posted by: Andrew | May 14, 2008

Opening up the Web will save media

The Internet is clearly going through a rapid transformation toward a more open, social, and barrier-free incarnation.

As Google, MySpace and Facebook roll out platforms to turn the Web into one giant party and allow people to tote their data and apps around with them wherever the go online, it’s clear that the the destination site is looking more octogenarian by the day.

Dina Kaplan, co-founder of blip.tv, recently observed this much on a panel of digital media experts assembled by Andy Plesser. Watch her delivery or, if you’re in a crunch, here’s the meat and bones of what she said:

“The era of destination sites is over. The future of content, whether it’s text or video, is that it needs to be distributed.”

On the content side, we’ve known what this means for some time now: your users aren’t consuming your content on your site; they’re finding it on YouTube, Google News, Flickr, or last.fm. They’re sharing it on Digg, FriendFeed or Reddit. They’re posting it to their profiles. And so on… In a fragmented Internet marketplace, you need to put your content everywhere.

But the increasing decentralization of the Web goes beyond video, text, images and music. Currently, consumers have the ability to place content in bits and pieces on a myriad of sites, with each site requiring a separate distribution process. But the trio of platforms from some of the Web’s largest content aggregators will, I hope, enable content to follow users around the Web like a badge, without the need to actively upload or tag it on every site we frequent.

Seamless portability is becoming ever more crucial because, simply put, the Web is saturated with sites all promising similar experiences. How many loyalties can a person have on the Web? I’d like to see a study on this. My guess is that even among early adopters of new sites and apps, most people hit a natural ceiling of memberships or accounts they want to hold. For example, since many of us have already established a foothold in one social network or another, is it reasonable to expect us to upload our videos and create new online identities every time we encounter an interesting startup network? Moreover, as our social circles becomes more divided among new sites and networks, how can we more efficiently keep up with our friends? It’s illogical for anyone to create 12 profiles across different kinds of sites and silo friends into certain destinations: Facebook friends, Yelp friends, LinkedIn contacts. … For a more focused pictorial on what openness could mean for the Web, read one of Arrington’s more recent sermons on Twitter.

Decentralization means spending more time interacting with individuals. Content becomes the means by which we communicate, but it takes a back seat to our primary aim: interaction, which will reshape content as we know it. One of the most immediate benefits to an open online environment? Not needing to create so many damn accounts and profiles!

The bigger picture envisions an Internet that’s more consumer-friendly. By making it easier for consumers to transport and display their data and content, Google, MySpace and Facebook are opening the gateways for richer interactions and more fulfilling conversation. More people will be able to connect with each other in interesting ways. And the profundity of the conversation will enhance the ways we transfer information and build content that’s most relevant and important to the group. In sum, conversation will help us control and create more compelling, useful and important media. Bringing consumers into the mix as content creators and news gatherers is imperative to media companies today faced with an increasingly distracted user base, falling ad revenues and increased production costs. Ultimately, traditional media organizations will need to take advantage of the Web’s new open standards to syndicate their own content, as well as give the consumer a great role in shaping that content. Such moves will make for better news and better business models.

The watchword of a more open Web is “choice”. Rather than shutter ourselves within one or two online communities, we can step into other spaces without going through a front door. When it matters less where we are, we can focus on the core of the social media experience, the interactions and the content.

Barriers between communities will still exists to some extent, and I don’t think destination sites will disappear completely (their quirky ethoses can be fun). But if we frequent a site or social network, it’s because we choose to be there, not because we’re confined there involuntarily. In that regard, barriers will behave more like membranes through which we can pass osmotically from one space to the next.

UPDATE: Ha, well I guess the process of opening up will take longer than I expected. Looks like an oligopoly scenario where a few of the very large social networking players control so much of the market for their systems that they’ve locked each other into a stalemate. Hopefully we can see an end to this and one of these products – Friend Connect, Facebook Connect, whatever – will come out on top. Would be best for everyone, I think.

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