new media

The future of the new improved media

150 150 eriks

I have been interviewed by a number of newspapers and news channels lately. The main focus of the interviews has been the future of citizen media or as I prefer to look at it, The New Improved Media. I will try to give my view on the future of it and why it will work.

Parts of the intro-text to the main site are:

“… Delivering unfiltered, uncontrolled and as free news as possible is a crucial part of any work towards and/or to sustain democracy. Making people trust the news media and to enable them to feel part of the news making is equally important. … Imagine people being able to report back from events such as the London bombings, the riots in Paris and the recent events in Belarus or maybe just report from your neighborhood about any crimes or other problems.”

Looking at the on-going conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, the need for citizen journalism is as high as ever. We see a lot of reports on sites such as YouTube, and the discussions inside communities such as MySpace are more intense than ever.

Looking forward: What can we learn? What is the future? What can traditional media do? What can we as individuals do?

I believe some of challenges for the future in citizen media are:

  • Empowering all citizens of this world
  • Credibility and authenticity of the delivered content
  • Friendship between persons regardless of citizenship, ethnicity, race, religion and so forth
  • Solving the connectivity problem

People in regions such as the Middle East are frustrated – frustrated of embargos, tired of war and in many ways frustrated that their voices are not heard. The new media could solve this in many ways. The professional journalist is giving the professional, objective and thought-out version of the story, as does the professional photographer. By giving the working tools for the people on the ground, where event are taking place, people will be able to share their personal stories, the way they see in – in shaky, fuzzy pictures and videos from their digital cameras, their texts from cell phones and shaky voices in audio clips.

They will start to believe that there is someone listening to them, and that they are not alone. Exaggerated, all of a sudden common people will start to feel and believe that there are people listening to them, other than the fundamental religious groups. The concept is known and for the unbelievers I recommend that you read the book: “Naked blogging” by Scoble/Israel.

Unfortunately, just providing them with the proper channel is not enough. You will also need the credibility of the traditional media to make this channel legitimate in the eyes of both the people in the troubled areas and the audience in the rest of the world. Today, many websites such as YouTube suffer from the fact that the authenticity cannot be validated. I do not blame these sites for this, but nevertheless, in order to make the citizen contributions valid, there is a crucial need to create an organization that addresses the authenticity of the citizen reports. The problem is found in both the policy (makers) as so partly in the technology. If the traditional media would get involved the situation would definitely change.

What about the friendship part?
This is according to me the most important part. If anyone wonders why, I thought I would give you an analogy to see the simplicity. When you buy a new TV, you usually ask your friends and family for advice to see what they think and what they have bought. Likewise you do when you trying to digest matters such as the crisis in the Middle East. How can this madness continue? Who is to blame? What can I do? You are asking your friends and family. Sitting at cafés, bars, around the dinner tables and talking about the problem. Trying to understand.

Wouldn’t it be better to also ask and/or listen someone with first hand information? Someone with a human face. Someone to relate to. Someone that will give you the unfiltered, unbiased(?) and uncensored truth.

– Come on, Erik. That does not exist!
– You are so right my friend, but it should!

Why will this work? The philosophy behind the UN and the European Union is to build friendships and relations between countries to prevent them from getting into arguments /disputes that end up in wars. It is a known fact that you don’t, hopefully, attack your friend. (At least my friends don’t.) What is so cool today is that modern technology enables borderless and “blind” communication between all individuals, especially when you enable wireless posting via cell phones such as SMS and MMS. You can speak to anyone, anywhere at anytime. Why not use it? The New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman writes about it in his book “The World is Flat” even though I think that the conclusion is even broader than he concludes in his book.

Wow! Why hasn’t it been done before? Actually it has, but the obvious potential was not seen for some reason. Today in the troubled and/or rural area of this world, there often is no internet, no high-speed connectivity, and no DSL connection. Still their voices must be heard, should be heard and must be heard. As cell phones today are almost ubiquitous there they become the obvious choice.

The “right” solution therefore relies on the facts:

  • Cell phones today transmit audio, video, graphics, photographs and text.
  • When combined with the proper web application, cell phones enable any citizen in any country of any background to publish information and share it with the world.
  • Citizen journalism (or grassroot journalism), coupled with traditional journalism, results in better, more informed and credible news reports.

My project here at Stanford takes advantage of all of the above and I have created a way for anyone to blog to your blog, your photo gallery, your video gallery with their own cell phone. The only thing needed is a cell phone and some quick setup screens online. Soon setup via SMS will be enabled.

Cool, but if a person cannot write? Anyone can take a picture, a video or even tell their story via a simple phone call (see the cool technology by PodTech, Typepad/Skype) or audio clip. A picture tells you more than a thousand words and a video even more. User experience research has shown that the keypad of the cell phone can be replaced by symbols thus enabling illiterate people to send in messages.

The technology is here. Are we?

I am as a friend told me today, hopelessly optimistic about this. I however am not naïve. We will need to give it some time, but we will get there! I believe in humanity and the good of the people. The good guys always win. At least in my world. :)