Whew! Been awhile since I wrote a blog, eh? I often envy the CEO/Founder bloggers that have nothing better to do with their time than to blog 24/7, either because they’ve figured out some epic magic trick to keep them from working like a maniac on client projects for 22 of the 24 hours of their day, or because they’re just plain smarter than I am at running a business. Either way, let’s just be happy I cranked this out despite my mile long to-do list staring me point-blank in the face. (gun reference, #1)
When I awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning in Boston, a city much quieter than the throws of Los Angeles sirens, morning traffic, and summer construction, I felt relaxed. Relaxed enough to actually take the time to sit at the dining room table, make half a bagel, and *gasp* read the newspaper. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.
Normally, much like daily television news programs (outside of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report), there isn’t much that interests me in the newspaper. My interests lie in entertainment, technology, and social change (i.e. forward-thinking peace-like movements). Sadly, there’s not much of that in the news, since everything today is about traffic numbers, and those seem to peak from bombings, gun-shootings, horrific accidents, and melee that was drama for someone somewhere. We’ll get back to traffic in a minute, though.
The paper that happened to be sitting on the table was The New York Times (way more intellectual than the LA Times, by the way — now I see where I’ve been going wrong), and the headline was “Computer Scientist Begins Fight Against Big Data.” Interest piqued. The article is really a big boner stroke for Jaron Lanier‘s new book, “Who Owns the Future?”, and while I haven’t actually read the book (but plan to), it brought up a lot of great points that should resonate with anyone involved in creating content or marketing said content (which by the way, is pretty much — everyone!).
There was one paragraph in particular that really inspired me to share this with you:
Mr. Lanier may not have any personal animus against Mr. Schmidt (Eric, Google). But he describes listening to him and Amazon‘s Jeff Bezos discuss the future of books just as he, Mr. Lanier, was struggling to write his first one. This prompts an attack on how Siren Servers (read the article) could undermine and impoverish the world of reading, just as they did music.
His point here, less clear without having read the full context of the article, is that “web businesses exploit a peasant class”. I know, I know — what the fuck does that mean? It means this:
The big web companies are growing larger and larger by the second. They also monitor your data and web usage, and then use that data to serve up advertisements and content they think you will find relevant. Meanwhile, all the content you publish not only becomes their property, but now we’re beginning to see lack of privacy and control over said data, which in all technicality, should still be your property (although, I say if you don’t want it on the ‘net, don’t put it there). The more we allow these big data companies (Facebook, Google) to control our web experience (and thus, our world, really), the more risk we have of losing the “middle class” of the Internet.
You see, the Internet and .commers have all been successful because they’ve done one thing: unite us. For example, my background is in music and tv/film. I’ve been doing it for over a decade now, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with top of the top in those industries; but even with that, that’s limited to America, nowhere else. But with the Internet, the entire world now becomes your oyster — you have access to everything, from people to information to, most importantly, content.
An Example: My Mad Fat Diary
Last week, I stumbled across a blog in my news feed touting a show called My Mad Fat Diary, which is a British series set in the 90s. I’m going to go ahead and post the OP’s comments that got me to watch the show in the first place:
Maybe I’ve never been to England, but – like Rae (Sharon Rooney) and everyone in the gang on the show – I was 16 in 1996, and that makes everything about this show a nostalgia goldmine. It’s like they pulled it all directly out of my 8th-10th grade years. The fashion: chokers and Dwayne Wayne sunglasses, denim spaghetti strap mini-dresses and baby tees, rollneck sweaters, hunter green and navy Tommy Hilfiger shirts, grunge plaid tied around your waist. CK1. Going to raves. Spin the bottle. I’m pretty sure my best friend had the same alarm clock as Rae. Really bad teenage sex advice. Caesar cuts and tiny backpacks. Being worried about Toxic Shock Syndrome. That horrible time before everyone had cell phones. The detail paid to the decade is awesome.
Yup, that was me too. She goes on to outline the music, of which, I couldn’t deny reliving. Who could abandon the temptation of Oasis (wow, 90s website!?)? But you know what else it did? I made me start researching some of these other bands in the show that I liked, but had never heard of. I started learning more about British culture and catchphrases, which are fascinating. I started recognizing the incredible amount of talent over the pond that I would have never known existed (Sharon Rooney and Nico Mirallegro are both incredibly talented. I was wowed with their performances. Keep these folks working, people!).
So that’s all great and all. Thanks to the Internet, we’ve found ways to access information on a global scale, although even that’s diminishing. With Google’s local view on search, it’s becoming nearly impossible to find things outside of your geocached zip code unless you happen to be savvy enough to access the in-depth advanced features. Even if you do find the content, such as I did thanks to YouTube with My Mad Fat Diary (thank God e4 didn’t protest that!), good luck getting that money back to the people that deserve it. E4 isn’t making ad money off the folks that put it on YouTube, which means the actors aren’t getting residuals (if they do in the UK? I would assume so, right?). Is E4 going to front making multi-region DVDs and risk high shipping costs in a down economy? Not likely, at least not without a massive spike in Interest. But if everyone can watch it for free on YouTube already, what’s the appeal in buying the product once you’ve gotten it for free? Welcome to the Napster conundrum. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. That’s why Spotify is great. Thanks for redeeming yourself, Sean Parker.
So, back to Mr. Lanier’s point. It’s the content creators that suffer. If this is the case for a show on a major network in the UK with proven desire internationally, then what about the baby content creators that don’t even have an opportunity to get their shown seen or marketed t?. When big data companies like Facebook and Google automate the content curation process to an algorithm and only serve the needs of traffic and advertisers, it limits your ability to discover new content naturally. You can see this today in your news feed and in your search results — in fact, I’ll screen grab my attempt at finding the NY Times article through search. Advertisers. None of it was what I wanted (yes, this is not the only search I tried, nor the only parameters. I’m not an idiot, promise). My friends statuses are becoming less and less visible in Facebook. My search results are almost always irrelevant to what I’m looking for. The system is broken. And it’s only going to get worse the more people put content on a platform that no longer serves them.
We’re in danger of losing what was great about the Internet: uniting through discovery.
Look, as marketers, we all understand it’s about monetizing. I’ve spent the last year with Plastick Media trying to figure out how to get butts in seats at the theater, convince people to buy VOD, support Day & Date VOD / theatrical releases, and get people to buy music on iTunes, content from websites, and how to get sponsors to buy in to the whole ordeal. It’s a jungle out there, I get it. But at some point, you have to stop chasing the dollar and start remembering where the dollar is coming from. Serve the content, and the users will come. Serve the advertiser, and you lose the free market discovery tool that gives everyone, equally, an opportunity to get their content in front of valuable eyeballs.