How Twitter Can Make History

June 25, 2009

Time for us to enjoy another video from the great intellectual resource that is TED. This time we’re watching Clay Shirky, a veritable “internet philosopher”, talk about the internet as a new form of media, and its place in our world. Or rather, our place in its world. I’m posting it here because it interestingly parallels the very first post I made on this blog.

Disclaimer: The video is about 17 minutes long. In the interest of appeasing our ever shrinking attention spans and the lack of free time in the work day, I’ll give you a quick summary. Read it with the knowledge that Mr. Shirky does a much better job presenting his points, and with the plan to watch the video later.

Basically, Shirky starts off by talking about the evolution of technology as a social tool. He describes how social technology, from the printing press to the telephone to the television, are effective either as 1 to 1 communication or as 1 to many communication. The Internet is the first vestige of many to many communication. He also explains how Internet’s nature is to absorb all other past forms of media, which we see occurring now and will surely see in more abundance in the future.

Mapping the Internet

Mapping the Internet

According to Shirky, the key to the “many to many” communication of the internet is the fact that it allows everyone to be both a producer and a consumer of media. Whereas with something like television, a message was crafted and then distributed from a relatively small group of producers to the wider consumer audience, with the internet, anyone can say anything they like, and anyone else can receive that message. The benefits of the simultaneous consumer/producer role was evidenced through the recent earthquakes in China. Shirky explains how citizens using the internet were the first to report the earthquakes which China traditionally tries to cover up. We also see the benefits of social internet through the protesting in Iran. Our traditional media outlets have been cut off from reporting in Iran, and as a result, social media through the internet has become a primary source of information.

Purposeful Twittering: Iranians Twitter Too

Purposeful Twittering: Iranians Twitter Too

Shirky concludes with the idea that what used to be the monologue of media, the producers forming a message which they distribute to consumers, is now a dialogue. What’s more, the dialogue is only part of a larger conversation among the audience as a whole. Now this huge audience of amateurs, a group substantially larger than the professional elite, can talk to one another en masse. Shirky postulates that as a result of this, the majority of our media, now and in the future, will be produced by the amateur crowd.

Shirky’s conclusion is that the internet as a new form of communication is less about the traditional methodology: craft a single message, send it to the masses, and more about creating environments for fostering groups of people who then converse.

The final question Shirky asks to end his talk is one which you as someone interested in marketing on the internet should consider, both as a producer and a consumer: As someone trying to reach people, how do you take advantage of this new media environment?

I think that’s a question we’re constantly endeavoring to answer through this blog, and a problem Pathfinder is consistently solving for its clients.

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