It’s about context not content

The Havas Media Lab just put out a paper on user-generated context — a significant tweak of the new media mantra about user-generated content (meaning all those videos, blogs, and podcasts that the people formally known as the audience are now making for themselves). The authors argue that most of this new content is really not new information but rather commentary upon professionally-developed content. All those enterprises that are trying to capitalize on the explosion of new user-generated content are in danger because they mistake context for content. And more importantly they don’t see the value that people are providing by their context making. “We discuss the mistaken strategic assumptions behind the idea of user-generated content, and why it’s preventing the media industry from exploring new paths to business model reinvention.”

Most user-generated content, is, in fact, context. The bulk of what connected consumers create isn’t content: its context—information about the value of goods and services. Context, in turn, lets connected consumers search and navigate the exploding universe of media more effectively, and massively amplifies incentives for quality.

The report is a bit thin and not very clear about what it means by context. But I’m happy to leap in and provide some ideas and put their work in a wholly different context. Let someone else worry about business models (but please someone do so) — let’s think about political models.

If we replace the report’s economic language with political language, it gets pretty powerful. Instead of consumers and users, think of citizens, people, political agents, and the public. Then the report becomes good for understanding the political and democratic dimensions of new media.

* citizen media and professional media can complement each other; they needn’t be seen as competitors

* individual citizens don’t and can’t create context; communities do and that’s why new media is so powerful; it let’s the public interconnect:

A naked rating, ranking, or review on its own has little value or meaning—but millions of them, in the aggregate, weave complex and multilayered webs of meaning. Put another way, context is the result of the complex, multilevel, network effects that happen when millions of [people] connect.

* context isn’t really “generated” but is that is “deeply culturally specific and socially bound”

The report gives a nice language for understanding something that’s been apparent for a long time. Professional players feel under siege, but not because the audience has morphed into producers but because the public finally has a way of articulating the sense it has and can make about “all the news that’s fit to print.” No longer are the old, big players the arbiter of what’s news and what’s entertaining; the people themselves can loudly say whether what’s on the news or in other media is actually meaningful and useful for their lives.

If this kind of phenomenon had been going so strong back in the 1990s, the public journalism movement would have been on a whole new footing. But that’s a thought for another post.

Austin Eats

nota bene:  I’ve expanded this post with input from a friend

As a once and always-in-spirit denizen of Austin, Texas, I’m often asked where to eat there. Below is a list of what I just sent to my friend Jonathan Tasini who will be there next week for a bloggers’ meeting:

Comment with your ideas and I’ll keep this post updated. Check back for updates.

First take note: Sixth Street is mostly fun for tourists and Frat Boys, not for food and music aficianados

If you want to wander, head to South Congress a few blocks below the river

Some of my favorite restaurants:

Guero’s — Fun place on hip South Congress Street, a Bill Clinton fave for Tex Mex

(If you go to Guero’s for dinner also check out the Continental Club across the street for music

El Sol Y La Luna — Unpretentious small Tex-Mex, Central American restaurant on South Congress, good for lunch. I love this place

The Shady Grove: on the grounds of an old trailer park on Barton Springs Road; pick a table outside, hang out, very Austin, a good place to go with friends; hippie, cowboy and some Mexican food:

Changos — Grab some fabulous fish tacos on the go (I never miss this on a trip)

Fonda San Miguel — Fancy Mexican; a beautiful restaurant though a little snooty; this is gourmet Mex not Tex Mex

Cisco’s: on the east (read black and Hispanic) side of town, open only for breakfast and lunch, the most authentic place on this list; if you haven’t gotten them elsewhere for breakfast, get the migas

Jeffrey’s impress your date — High end fusion / nouvel cuisine;


The Salt Lick
Head out of town for world-famous BBQ:

The Oasis out on Lake Travis — For the fabulous view, not necessarily the food; worth the trip to get a sense of the Hill Country

Other restaurants recommended by my buddy Beth Myler:

Uchi-sushi on s. lamar

Mars-now on s. congress

Vespaio-great italian, good bar on s. congress

home slice pizza-s. congress

boticelli‘s-italian w/beer garden on s. congress

“Can you tell I spend a lot of time on S. Congress???” asks Beth

Las Manitas-downtown [also one of my favorites, where all the leftie politicos go for brunch or lunch – but I heard it may be going out of business]

ZTejas-W. 6th

Galaxy Cafe-cheap and healthy West Lynn+11th

Zocalo-healthy mexican-next to Jeffreys on West Lynn

Chez Nous-downtown, french

My favorite shopping:

Moxie and the Compound

Neiman’s Last Call

Cole Campbell’s Ideas More Relevant Than Ever

Still on the subject of journalism and media… I just came across this commentary that I missed when it came out a year ago, written by Cole’s colleague and a friend of mine, David Ryfe.

The vision articulated by the late journalist and educator has provoked substantial criticism. But his insistence on bringing the public into the newsroom is also inspiring new projects for student journalists.

In his time as a public journalist during the 1990s, Cole Campbell was known as an “out-of-the-box” and innovative thinker. Truth be told, he was a bit of a radical. Anyone who would bring a coffin to a news meeting (to bury old ideas), or (gasp!) invite scholars to brainstorming sessions in the newsroom, is a bit of a risk-taker.

The news industry could use some radical thinking these days, which is one reason why Cole, who died in Reno last January (where he was Dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada), will be sorely missed. continue reading

Writing in May 2007, David Ryfe notes how in the new media landscape the criticisms of public journalism now seem off point. In the year since David wrote the piece, the situation for conventional journalism has grown even more dire and conventional media everywhere are looking hard at creating new relationships with their publics (not audience, Dave).

The Citizen of Citizen Media

An interesting discussion has taken place today about citizen media. The discussion started on Twitter (so that’s what it’s good for!) and moved on to a few blogs: One was on Jay Rosen’s Press Think, where he hazarded a definition of citizen journalism:

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

Another was Dan Gillmor’s Center for Citizen Media Blog where Dan Gillmor looked into the origins of the term.

Citizen journalism is an idea of the 2000s that grew out of the public journalism movement of the 1990s. I won’t go into the differences here, but a commonality is in the understanding of “citizen” in “citizen media.” As I commented on Jay Rosen’s post,

The political idea of “citizen” in “citizen media,” etc. is not about being a documented citizen of a particular country but about having agency in a political community, using the power one has as a member of the community to shape the direction of the community. The term citizen is better [than] “person” because it has a political connotation. Prior to digital media, people’s power was pretty limited (remember mimeographed underground papers?). So the delightful double effect of citizen media today is that the media technologies actually help turn people into citizens.

Jeff Jarvis is proposing replacing the term citizen journalism with networked journalism for lots of good reasons (e.g., to get away from the divide between citizens and professional for professionals are citizens, too). But this proposal somehow loses the potency of how members of a political community can use and develop agency through new forms of communication.

Wedding Crashers

Tomdispatch reports that since 2001 the US has bombed at least four wedding parties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tom Engelhardt’s piece starts with a snapshot of the Jenna Bush’s daugter’s wedding then cuts to this:

That was early May of this year. Less than two months later, halfway across the world, another tribal affair was underway. The age of the bride involved is unknown to us, as is her name. No reporters were clamoring to get to her section of the mountainous backcountry of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. We know almost nothing about her circumstances, except that she was on her way to a nearby village, evidently early in the morning, among a party 70-90 strong, mostly women, “escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates.”

It was then that the American plane (or planes) arrived, ensuring that she would never say her vows. “They stopped in a narrow location for rest,” said one witness about her house party, according to the BBC. “The plane came and bombed the area.” The district governor, Haji Amishah Gul, told the British Times, “So far there are 27 people, including women and children, who have been buried. Another 10 have been wounded. The attack happened at 6.30AM. Just two of the dead are men, the rest are women and children. The bride is among the dead.”

read more…

Just another chapter of the terror wrought by our so-called war on terror.

Tweeterland and Thinking

I have been dragged, kicking and screaming, in to Tweeterland, the twitter.com site that gives one an entire 140 characters to make any given statement. It was bad enough starting to blog where the attention span rarely runs over two paragraphs. It got worse with Facebook with the short updates allowed to friends. But one sense that these friends had a handle on who one is. My twitter guides tell me to let in all comers, and here I have only 140 words. The good news is that I can embed a link to a blog or a book website, so that perhaps I can lure people into a denser network of ideas. I worry that in between the “whatever” mindset intervenes. What’s become of thinking?

Deliberative Democracy Exchange

I’ve just come off of an amazing three-day meeting convened by the Kettering Foundation: the Deliberative Democracy Exchange.  There were about two hundred participants from all over the world coming together to exchange thoughts and think through little-d democratic politics, a politics that’s about deliberation, engagement, and civic agency.  I like to describe democracy as the opportunity for all who are affected by public matters to have the ability to shape their world.  That’s pretty basic, but still a lot to hope for.

Last night there was a panel of speakers form Latin American, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and New Zealand who talked about the state of democracy in the world today.  I was struck by the Columbian who said to America, keep your money, help us build civil society.  And I was especially struck by the Jordanian, speaking for the Middle East, talking about why it has been so hard for the Arab world to become democratic.  There are internal and external factors, he noted.  Internally there was the problem that various Arab regimes seized on the Israel problem as an excuse for forestalling democracy. Externally there was the problem that the best beacon for democracy — the U.S. — was modeling anything but democracy in the Middle East, by supporting dictators and brutal regimes, by waging an endless war, not supporting peace.  I got the message from all that the United States is still a country that others in the world admire and love for its values; they just wish the U.S. would start living up to them.