Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Politics, popularity, and personalization

June 22, 2008

I already said that i love DC. Another reason to love it, are the many opportunities offered by this city.

A week ago or so, i participated in a debate/discussion about “new” media and political campaigns hosted by Google and National Journal and titled “The First 21-st Century Campaign“. Being hosted by Google, the event attracted some very interesting people and was held in a format of discussion rather than a traditional (academic) presentation-style lectures. Unfortunately, i wasn’t smart enough to bring a camera even though the event was absolutely open and the organizers even encouraged people capturing it in any possible way. Another unfortunate thing was that i couldn’t stay for the entire event and in fact stayed only for the first panel (out of three).

Ad of the Google\'s June Symposium

Fortunately, though, the first panel was very thought provoking.  Nothing super controversial or innovative has been said, but it was great to hear thet the industry people are concerned with the same issues that academics are.  Actually, i think the panel would benefit from a visionary academic person who could bring the entire discussion under a comprehensive (dare I say, macro) umbrella.

The first panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS, hosted Mark Halperin (“Time” – as a representative of the old media), Katherine Ham (Townhall.com, even though she announced she has a new job now), James Kotecki (Politico – he and Katherine were the representatives of “new” media), Phil Singer (Clinton campaign), and Kevin Madden (Mitt Romney campaign _ he and Singer were the political practitioners on the panel).

Most of the discussion focused on the tensions between the “old” and the “new” media.  In my view it started pretty awkward with Kotecki’s remark that he doesn’t see himself as a journalist and was (i got a sense that he was implying that he still is) making his video just to feel popular.  It was particularly stonning because one of the main points of the discussion was credibility of the “new” media as a journalistic practice.  Kotecki himself was making claims for being credible, which (together with some of the other comments, such as those made by Singer) got me thinking whether or not the 2.0 culture equates credibility to popularity.  If so, i find that idea pretty disturbing.  One the one hand, i can buy into the idea of wisdom of crowds (that’s the term i think), but, on the other hand, i cannot buy into dismissal of expertise that seems to be attached to it (at least in the current discussion).

Another interesting point came from the campaign people and it was primarily about the use they make of information.  For Madden, the “new” media were all about speed and precision of the media message.  Even though they never got talking explicitly about how they use microtargeting (even though i raised that questions), it was constantly implied in the examples they provided.  Building of the idea of popularity, it was now also the ability of precise targeting of the message.  I would describe that as an ability of talking about “popularities” rather than a single popularity.  To a a degree that appeared as a distinction between the “old” and the “new” media as well.  I found the latter rather interesting – the basic concepts mass (popularity) did not change, but progressed and evolved (into popularities), but the substance became implicitly even less important.  In other words, there is no substantive change in the policy or in the ideas, but the package is more personalized.

As the discussion evolved, it became more interesting and sophisticated.  To one degree or another, the panelists touched upon many relevant points.  This highlight was, I think, when Singer or Halperin, noticed that the mere division between the “old” and the “new” was artificial.  Ham also was very sharp when talking about the relations between the “old” and the “new” media (even though she was clearly advocating for the legitimacy of the latter).  I found this particularly interesting, because usually you hear a very deterministically-dichotomous discourse where the “new” is presented as separate and mostly superior to the “old”.  Even though Judy Woodruff finished the panel with some techno-utopian remarks (mostly as a tribute to the host), it did spoil the overall flavor of complexity.

On the practical level i came out of this symposium with two titles for potential books.  Not that i plan on writing those this summer, but… If i were to write a book with critical analysis of the modern Western society, particularly focusing on the youth, i would title it “The popularity generation.”  Maybe there is such a book already and maybe it will become the label of generation Y with all the reality shows and a myriad of televised competitions (for popularity of course :).  The other book would be about this campaign, or about contemporary politics in a broader sense.  That one i would title “The politics of personalization.”

Finally, kind of getting back to one of my first points, i think the symposium would really benefit from an academic input.  Maybe even more broadly, i think this industry could learn as much from the academia as the academia is learning from it.  At the end of the day, all the points raised by the panelists are being discussed and studied, and bringing those inputs would enrich the discussion and probably take it into the next level.

You can read a short post following the event on Google’s blog or you can actually watch the entire thing on C-Span (and enjoy me asking some questions :).

The AP drama

June 20, 2008

I just learned about a currently developing online drama.  Associated Press (AP) decided that they are going to charge bloggers and anyone who cites their content.  The tariff is $2.5 a word or $12.5 for five words.  Now, as I understand it, if I post here a title of AP’s article with a link to it, I will have to pay, and if i cite anything from their article and provide a link to it, i will still have to pay.

AP are explaning this move in copyright terms and are apparently threatening to sue some bloggers. Frankly, I am finding it really difficult to follow their logic.  If they don’t want people to cite and link to their content, why are they making it available online?  Either I am missing some huge point here, or peole at AP don’t understand the “rules of the game” they are into.

Another face of media concentration?

June 10, 2008

I am not sure if many of the readers know, but my Masters’ thesis was on media industries dynamics. One of my original motivations to start looking at media industries was vast literature on media economics, particularly media concentration/conglomeration, i was exposed to during my undergraduate and graduate studies. In a super-simplistic way and in a nutshell, the common concern regarding the dynamics of media industries is that as time goes on there are fewer hands controlling the growing number of media outlets. Of course the actual picture is more complex and i should probably blog about it (and my thesis?) at some point.

However, the point of this post is different. Yesterday I read a Washington Post article about the shrinking membership of the Entertainment Software Association – an association of video/computer games producers. The fact of intra-industrial battles was not as interesting as the mention of merger discussions between Activision (Guitar Hero) and Vivendy (WoW). This news comes in a span of just a few months from EA’s (The Sims) attempts to take over Take-Two Interactive (Grand Theft Auto). Are we moving towards

I find it really interesting and tied to the debate over mass media ownership at large. Ironically, being a huge and rather fast growing industry, video games industries are gaining less attention compared to the mainstream media. At the same time, i think the cultural function of video games can be legitimately compared to that of the popular culture. As video games become a more prominent outlet for leisure time we can start asking similar questions about this industry as we were asking about other culture-related industries.

I think the link above will become even more obvious as the two industries continue moving towards each other. For example, not too long ago I read about an attempt to create an interactive movie based on the popular WoW. The idea is that it would combine elements of the game and users’ input with cinematography and it is a clear step towards merging the two domains.

Probably the combination of the two developments – conglomeration of the video-games industries and amalgamation of cultural outlets – prompted me to think about the WP article in terms of another expression of media concentration. What do you think?

A note on clichés and online credibility

May 4, 2008

I read a post from “Technology Evangelist” (who in turn replied to Micro Persuasion, who in turn quotes Edelman Trust Barometer :) on how much people trust various sources of information ranging from “a person like yourself” through academics, employees, executives of companies, etc., to “blogger”. The result, unsurprisingly i think, is that people trust “a person like yourself” the most and “blogger” the least (i am pasting the graph below).

Ed Kohler offers a few points of criticism about the way the categories are labeled in this question and i tend to agree. Moreover, it got me thinking how often we tend to place issues in well defined conceptual bins. “Blogger” in this case is some esoteric creature on the internet, which is probably far from being truth for many of the regular blog readers. I wonder how does this trust question correlate with blog-reading patterns or more generally with media consumption patterns.

Regardless, I think one interesting thing in this graph is how the general trends of trust fluctuate in time. Note that while the absolute values vary among the different categories, the general trend is the same. Interesting.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2008

Compartively speaking

March 28, 2008

Thanks to Digital Inspiration I came across this interesting project that visualizes the geographical focus of selected mainstream media outlets. One of the interesting comparison you can do is that to the blogosphere. When you go to the website, feel free to click on the menu, because it is clickable even though at first it may look like a picture.

Tired of boycotts

March 1, 2008

One of my RSS subscriptions follows the blogosphere for instances of OneVoice. I blogged about this initiative before and about the ridiculous calls for boycotting it. Recently, thanks to this feed, i learned that a new season of boycotting Israel has began. How come the organizers of the boycott are not getting tired? It seems like even the media are tired of covering it and the current season is passing primarily unnoticed. Hopefully this lack of public attention will finally make the organizers rethinking this method and understanding that it is wrong and counterproductive.

Washington Post on mobiles

February 25, 2008

Just recycling the news.  Washington Post technology section is featuring the mobile phone today.  As usual, there is a deterministic flavor to the article (“mobile revolution”, “transform the world faster than did electricity, automobiles, refrigeration, credit cards or television”, etc.).  However, it has many interesting facts about the mobile industry and, even more interesting, the gaps between predictions about mobile communication markets and the actual outcomes (which made me think about my previous post on market analysis again).  If you have a few minutes to spare, it makes an interesting read.

Market analysis – studying the trends or setting them?

February 22, 2008

Recently I read a Ynet article (HE) on the future of digital photography in light of growing presence of mobile phones with embedded cameras. The basic argument of the article is that the growing numbers of mobile phones with embedded cameras and the constant improvement of image quality produced by these cameras, are inevitably leading to extinction of photo-cameras as we know them.

To a degree this is a typical article trying to analyze technological trends with a deterministic flavor. However, what really surprised me is the way they build support for their argument. The support comes from analysts who suggest various numbers that are supposedly illustrate the point. For example they point at Nokia as the largest producer of digital cameras who went from producing 100 million mobile phones with embedded cameras in 2005, to 140 million in 2006, to 170 million in 2007. All is good, but how do we know if the people are buying the phones because of the camera or because of the phone? In fact, today it is really difficult to buy a phone without an embedded camera. I even got one for free.

Another example the analysts provide is that in 2006 there were 750 million users of mobile phone cameras and 500 million users of regular digital cameras; in 2009 they expect 3 billion users of mobile phone cameras and 1.3 billion users of regular digital cameras. One thing that isn’t clear to me is what constitutes a user. I may be an anomaly, but since i got my phone with embedded camera a year and a half ago, i took something like 20 pictures with it, most of which stayed in the phone and will probably remain there (and i am a picture freak taking probably at least 100 pictures a month). My guts feeling is that everyone who owns a mobile phone with embedded camera was considered a user for the purposes of this analysis. I think their argument could be stronger if they would actually refer to the usage patterns of the various types of cameras. Alternatively, and i wonder if this is feasible, it could be really interesting to estimate the actual number of pictures taken by mobile phone cameras vs. regular digital cameras.

So, the question I had in my mind after reading this article was a more general one about the role of market analysts. To what degree their role is analyzing the trends vs. setting them? Of course i am not doing justice to the cited analysts, because i have never seen their actual reports and I am sure these are more detailed compared to the highlights picked be the media. At the same time they are being used to propagate certain agenda and they don’t seem to object.

The analysts are in a privileged position compared to everybody else, for they are looked up to as experts and in this sense they do act as agenda setters, particularly when it comes to technology. I would even go further by saying that they are in a position to influence the frameworks we use to think about and interpret technology and innovation. Putting it in Giddens’ terms, they enjoy comparatively stronger agency and thus ability to shape the relevant structures, and the media here serve as an amplifying mechanism.

So, the question i am stuck with at the moment is to what extend market analysis is in fact aimed at analyzing trends and to what extend it is actually setting them. What do you think?

A classic media event

January 9, 2008

George Bush is coming to visit Israel and it is a great example of media event. I was watching a morning program today (on channel 10) and the anchors proudly announced that the entire day today will be dedicated to the visit (mind you, he hasn’t even landed yet). And this obsession is characteristic of all the Israeli media today. A classic example of media event.

Commodification of advertisement

November 13, 2007

A few months ago i wrote about commodification of tech support. Now it seems we also got to a point of commodification of advertisement. No, i am not talking about the fact that many commercials do look the same and the only creativity you see is during the Super Bowl. Today, you can actually buy a ready-made commercial and have your product or you (in case of politicians) placed in it. Advertising is becoming a shelve product… I find it an interesting development.