Thursday, January 04, 2007

Engagement, Media and Broadband in 2007

Clay Shirky's post on YouTube vs HDTV is making me think a little. This, I think, is the crunch point, the crux behind YouTube popularity:
People like to watch, but they also like to create, and to share. Doubling down on the watching part while making it harder for the users to play their own stuff or share with their friends makes a medium worse in the users eyes. By contrast, the last 50 years have been terrible for user creativity and for sharing, so even moderate improvements in either of those abilities make the public go wild.
Very astute. Comments on the article also rightly point out that "For each level of service its own delivery mechanism", which is very important.

So we have 2 models here: the "top-down" model (or the "Total Controlled Content Delivery Package" as Clay puts it) - embodied in HDTV and DRM, and the "grass roots" model symbolised by YouTube. If I were to hazard a prediction for 2007 and digital politics, it'd be that political parties will tap yet more into getting users to generate content. Forums are no longer enough. "Create your own Tory movie" will be the Next Big Thing [tm], probably on a site called BlueTube or something. In other words, the rich, user-provided media that all the new Social Networks want to tap into is what the parties are after: eyeballs, attention, celebrity awareness.

Not everyone, of course, can or wants to create movies or mash-ups. Still, the "campaign" hits the headlines and thus the attention of those who want to tap it. Politicians, however, are in an interesting location - they have some influence. (Some.) Are they going to be able to tap into national policies and ideas in order to capitalise on this "new wave" of political/audience engagement? That is, in much the same way that many companies (banks, shops, etc) created their own, branded ISPs in the 90s in order to tie together medium and message, what methods might be used to draw "creators" into the fold of the elected?

The biggest disappointment, technologically, for me at the moment is the lopsidedness of (mainstream) broadband. This in itself seems to embody the "top down", consumption led model that HDTV shares. By concentrating on download speeds and providing relatively poor upload speeds, it is assumed that users will exchange small amounts of data (say, numbers - "cash") for large amounts of data (rich media). However, does this help or hinder political engagement at a more "down to earth" level? Does such an assumption re-inforce a view that political services should be "big" providers in order to be fully functional? What would the on-line political arena look like if we have more symmetrical transfer speeds (equal up and down rates), and perhaps more decentralised storage systems (making it cheaper to set up a rich service, in terms of storage)?

Getting people connected is important, but we also need to examine the kind of services permitted by the type of connections being used.

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