networked media

This is a different kind of post. I started thinking about “networked media” last August. This began in the same way my longer posts usually do: a slow process of thinking, writing, and editing that spans a few months. But the process took a left turn in October when I decided to speak about networked media at betaday. My work on the blog post ceased and I focused my attention on betaday. What I’m posting here is a compilation of the introduction that I wrote back in August, a video of the betaday talk, and my general notes.

The impact of the “socialization of the web” (i.e. the social components of the web that now pulse through every web page) is a fascinating subject that I think we are only just beginning to understand. Though “socialization” is a politically loaded word, my intent here is not political.   Rather, my use of the word “socialization” is three-fold: I seek to 1.) to show how media is changing as it becomes integrated with social experiences. 2.) to note that the economics of media production is changing and 3.) to emphasize that this shift is a process, not a product.

Social disruption

Over the past few years I have written a fair amount about how the social web will change the way people discover and distribute information online. This started with a post in the spring of 2008 on the Future of News. Then in early ’09 I outlined how “social” would change the discovery process and disrupt traditional search. And then I wrote a long piece about what this shift in discovery means for the user experience on sites. These ideas, and subsequent posts, have informed a lot of what we have built and invested in at betaworks. New modes of navigation and discovery are being developed – from Summize to Tumblr to TweetDeck, and more recently from GroupMe to Ditto. It is now generally accepted that the impact of “social” on discovery and navigation is under way, but I believe the impact goes beyond discovery.

Undoubtedly, search has changed, and continues to change, the way we write, create pages, layout pages, tag and relate to content. It has also encouraged the creation of sites with limited or distracting content that exist solely to optimize search.  Search has not driven a change in the content and user experience once a user is on a page that they value. By contrast, the “social web” is changing the web itself – “social” is altering the nature of what we find. Social experiences are becoming the backbone of many sites. A web page that is part of the “social web” transforms content into a liquid experience, giving rise to a new kind of media: networked media. In the video from betaday, I walk through this shift and show data we have at betaworks that illustrates this change.


Link to: Networked Media presentation from betaday/10 on Vimeo.


General Notes re: Networked Media from my September draft:

Starting about four years ago it became clear that the social, real time web could change the way search and discovery happened online.   Fast forward today and that is certainly happened. The impact of this shift in distribution economics isn’t over but the trend has tipped to scale during 2010.   Last year we saw site after site announce the percent of traffic that it is getting from the social web now exceeds or is a second only to search.   In my post on how social will disrupt search two years back I used the example of youtube, and showed the speed at which it had become the second largest search destination on the web.   Twitter, Facebook, tumblr and other vertical social networks are driving meaningful traffic to sites around the web.    Take a collection of sites in the chart below, from news to commerce, from TV based media to sports for many of them social is now the largest driver of traffic.  Nick Denton said last month that referrals to Gawker properties from Facebook had increased sixfold since the start of the year.    And this is different traffic to search traffic.  Its socially referred, its of higher quality and embedded in it is the multiplier effect that the social publishing platforms drive.


The socialization of the page

The question I would like to turn to now is how web pages and applications are been changed by the social, real time web.  Search changed the way we discovered the web.  Web sites optimized their pages for search bots but in most cases they didn’t actually change the content or substance of the page that was presented to the end user.   Put another way, search brought little tangible benefit to the end user beyond discovery.     Search certainly created new forms of sites.   Domain parking, content farmers, link bait, search spawned thousands of sites that managed to game the discovery tool to gain attention, clicks and visits by users who find themselves on site that has the meta data they were looking for but often little of the content.

But unlike search the dynamic of a web page becoming part of the social web is transforming the experience and the content of that page into a liquid experience that is giving rise to a new kind of media.  Humor sites changed because of search.   This was the one exception I found.   Fred Seibert told me last summer about how humor sites changed the content of their pages, placing the punch line up front — because that is what people searched for.

(for the interested, a short primer is here on what we do at betaworks)

Three steps re: how does a page becomes networked?

#1. An Activity window opens up Somewhere between 1-3 hrs after a story is posted a window of social activity opens.   An example, albeit a slightly unusual one: a product page on amazon for a set of speaker wires that cost almost $7,000 — this past weekend this page has all of a sudden taken flight on on Twitter and some of the social blogs.  The page was actually posted to reddit a month ago.  Yet for whatever reason, the insanity of a $7,000 cable didnt mesh with the zeitgeist until November 27th.   On the 27th the page was Tweeted by @PaulandStorm.  And off it went.   Screen shot of the page here.   In the video above you see this process happen in detail. I use Chartbeat to understand the progression and dispersion that occurs in this initial activity window.   Take a look at the dispersion patterns of typical stories on Fred’s AVC blog you can clearly see the window of engagement happen — just take a look at this as Fred puts up a new post one morning.  Look at the uptake starting about 1 hour after the post hits.  Usually the peak occurs at the 100 minute mark. Chartbeat data from 1000’s of large sites around the web suggests that for a blog the peak is usually around 60 mins after posting and for a news site its 130mins.  Its great how open Fred is with this data, lots to learn. These are windows of meaningful, concurrent activity.   Concurrent users is the key metric to track at this point.     Amplification in the social web is what drives the metric.    And amflification happens because of relative influence within your and other social groups.   Link and discuss: It’s Betweenness That Matters, Not Your Eigenvalue: The Dark Matter Of Influence:

#2. Social clustering occurs With the engagement window open and concurrent users on the page peeking clustering starts to happen.   What separates this from just an open engagement window is the level of engagement.  Users arrive on the site and they start posting comments and the conversation begins.  “Each comment someone takes the time to leave serves as a proxy for 100 or so folks who properly echo that sentiment” (Batelle).    Examples… The importance of the time of day that you publish into the social web.   Timing relative to what your social group is talking about now is what triggers clustering.    This is why socialflow works — it knows when is the right time to send the message that lights up the social web.   Below is an image from some analysis that the NY Times using data.   It shows the dispersion of a particular story — in this case a Kristof piece about the Pill — across the social web.   In the image you can see the clustering occurring, this burst over time of influencers and social engagement.

#3. The page becomes Networked Snap a synchronous experience occurs.   Critical mass of users on one page at the same time and something magical happens.   Think about it as a page becoming a live event or a live site. Similar to a concert there is a residue of the social experience when you go back — even if its way after the event.   If you watch the opening of this live concert you will get a visceral experience this looks like and what happens when media becomes connected with the audience.  Its Springsteen’s hungry heart and while he plays the opening of the song he turns it right over the audience to pick it up and sing the opening.       Forking of content.

— Rise of agile publishing: what is it?   Lean editorial teams, instrumentation of sites, getting the data feedback, adaptive CMS’s, importance of posting at the right time up, importance of tracking social engagement, how every page is becoming a front page

— Serendipity.  Some of this is science, some of it isnt.   An “old” page can become networked out of no where — point back to the amazon example.   You don’t know where its going it’s going to happen, you need tools to track and alert you when its happening

— We are moving into an age of networked media.   Dana Boyd’s analysis of the shift from broadcast to networked media

— closing of comments post the activity window – proximity references / boyd article, couple of old ones are in close proximity to this one – Structured data types to allow for debate topics.

Example: Gawker.  gawker is experimenting ,  new design that is both more dynamic (real time) and more immersive, without the restrictions of reverse chronological.    Users are no longer navigating from page to page across isolated sites. Rather they are experiencing the subset of sites as a liquid experience, where there is a consistent flow from site to site and the consistent aspect is social.   Users flow — ambient experience of media.

Example:  Dribble and iTunes icon, this became a networked media event.

Example: Yahoo bloggers adapt content to the refers and links to the spiker

Example: “the quality of the dynamics of the conversation shift from one where parlor tricks can sustain themselves beyond the quality of the content to one where we can get sort of immediate tactile connection with people” (source: 4.18.09 Gillmor Gang 1.01 min).

Example: Red State :  Twitter 140 charac wish they could aggregate topics need standardized metrics re social engagement

Points of tension to discuss and think about further?

– Advertising as the primary mode monetization and pulling people in vs. pulling them away.

– Tension between platform owners who monetize w/ advertising on their site, trying to intergrate web sites into their monetization flow

– The monolithic assumption that one social platform will rule all.   How vertical use cases of social (from tumblr to Foursquare to Groupme to Instagram) illustrate how social is fragmenting into specific workflows and uses.  Do “digital networks architectures naturally incubate monopolies” Lanier?

– How are the economics of social media are effecting networked media.  Ownership of data, ownership of content, if users are creating the content what rights do they have over it?

– Importance of the link structure of the web its the most fluid form resist the temptation to vertically integrate and “consumption” sites.

– dimensionality reduction too much data

– Importance of the link structure of the web its the most fluid form resist the temptation to vertically intergrate and “consume” sites

– Heisenberg principle of social media, the act of a page becoming social changes it

My reading collection on networked media:

  • Ted Carroll

    Very interesting given your position in social media development circles Mr. Borthwick. It’s like examining the components or subassemblies of the new media world prior to full assembly. Whenever I think of Betaworks I think of Edison’s Menlo Park laboratories. As to “media” however please reflect at a later date on the intersection of technology and trust and credibility. No media form has I believe ever prospered without building and maintaining these two gold standards.