Re-intermediating the Media

189/365One of the things that most excited me about the World Wide Web was the way it crushed the distance between an idea and its reality.

The mere fact that I could, with a few spare hours and a scrapper’s knowledge of HTML, create a website – a “place” on the internet where nothing was before – seemed to me, a revelation.

Over the last 20 years we have seen a dramatic transformation in the media landscape. The promise of the early web has been delivered. Now, you or I can produce web pages and whole sites without the need of complex programming or large scale resources. We can produce “media” or what largely passes for media, using a $50 webcam, a microphone borrowed in the downtime between Singstar sessions, and a point of view all held together with a dash of passion.

The easy availability of technology and the digital publishing platforms sent waves of transformation through all forms of publishing – from books, magazines and newspapers to radio, TV and beyond. The full effect of this slow moving tsunami is yet to be seen or accounted for – but the lasting transformation is in the nature of power.

In the wake of these changes, the power that was once centralised in the hands of the publishers and broadcasters has been fragmented – tossed like so many pins into a new global haystack of content, opinion and conjecture. As Ben Shepherd points out, the winner here has been the search engines and content organisers like Google:

Google came in and created a tool that allowed internet users to find what they needed quickly and easily. It reinvented search and has allowed consumers to get anything they want, whenever they want, and for the price they want – generally for free.

But we are now experiencing another wave of transformation. Where the first wave shifted the base of power away from the broadcasters towards the content organisers, this next wave of disintermediation is moving information – and recommendation – away from the search engines. As a result we are seeing people powered networks (best characterised by sites like Twitter and Facebook) benefitting from this new shift in the locus of power. Tom Ewing describes it simply:

This shift is best interested, I think, in thinking about the difference between corporate brands and ‘personal brands’. The corporate brand entering social media is urged to give up control, to surrender some of its autonomy. But Twitter’s most popular users – its A-Listers, the celebrities – are using it to regain a level of control over their presentation and perception, through disintermediation.

This trend, while still small, will have Google worried, for while they seem to struggle with the human dimension of the social web, they certainly understand the power principles inherent in social network design and its resulting viral expansion loop. Interestingly, however, most social media participants, once they reach a certain scale, invest in the creation of what can best be termed “old-school media properties” – turning what little influence they do hold into a business modelled around advertising, sponsorship and editorial.

This seems to be a zero sum game to me – properties built on new foundations seem to sit uncomfortably within business models that they themselves, helped discredit. But what has been missing is a way to re-intermediate the new media – bridging the gap between business, brands, advertising, media buying and planning, and these long tail publishers. In the last few weeks two new players have stepped into this space. MediaScope, the brainchild of Denise Shrivell is “an online directory connecting advertisers, marketers and small business to 'alternative' media opportunities in niche, below the line, emerging and independant platforms.” It is due to launch in the coming days.

Media Cafe is also staking a claim in this space – but bringing perhaps a fuller community based publishing model to market. Currently in pre-release mode, Media Cafe is also open for the population of data ahead of a launch. Interestingly, Media Cafe appears to be putting new social properties on the same footing as traditional media properties. This aspect alone is likely to raise eyebrows, but will it unleash a new wave of innovation and transformation. No doubt both MediaScope and Media Cafe are banking on it.