PUBLISHING | With photo sharing, blogging and podcasting, the self publishing revolution is starting in earnest, says Ahmad Humeid.
One of the biggest trends that we’ll be seeing unfold over the next few years is the self-publishing movement. Sure, the commercial internet has been around for a little over a decade and some people have been publishing their own websites since the mid 90’s. But it is the increasing proliferation of the internet and the development of tools that make self-publishing easy that is driving the movement’s growth and entry into the mainstream.
These thoughts came to me after meeting a number of Jordanian bloggers the other day: young people who grew up with the internet and to whom self expression on the net is like second nature (see some of them at jordanplanet.com).
Dave Winer, a technology pioneer and one of the earliest bloggers (see scripting.com), has been talking about how blogging is affecting the media landscape. He says that our appetite for information has increased dramatically over the past decade. When we buy something or visit a new city, we expect now expect to find a wealth of information about our purchase or destination online. And indeed we do. Yet while much of this information is provided by traditional information and media outlets, increasingly, we might be finding information that was created by other users/consumers.
So it’s media for the people by the people.
A generation is growing up that would trust a blog more than a ‘professional’ publication when it comes to product reviews and recommendations. Of course, even individual bloggers can be ‘bough off’ by companies to speak favourably about a product. But any hint of that will instantly drive people away to another blog or motivate them to start their own. Welcome to the truth economy.
Mainstream media is facing the fact that it no longer has a monopoly over information provision. Not only newspaper and magazines will feel the pinch, but radio and TV too. Podcasting, which, in essence, is on demand audio content that can be produced by anyone with a computer, microphone and an internet connection will put a dent into the current radio business. The phenomenon is less than a year old but is growing rapidly, with industry players thinking up ways to make it as easy as blogging.
One of the interesting ideas that Winer discusses is that new technology platforms only become really big when the device itself can be used to produce content or programming for the platform. He cites the Apple II computer of the early 80s as an example of that. People where able to produce software on their computer (and not just consume it). Today, our web browsers can be used to edit our own websites, and, in the case of podcasting, some of the MP3 music players out there can be used to record audio in the MP3 format, ready for immediate uploading to the web. This signals the start of something big.
A site like blogger.com was developed with a vision of push button publishing in mind. Editing your site is a matter of logging in, writing inside your web browser and pushing the publish button. When I published my first personal website in 1996, the procedure was much more complicated, involving html coding, web space purchasing and uploading via FTP. In contrast, anyone can now have a blog up and running in minutes.
The photo sharing site Flickr (flickr.com ) uses the concept of photographic self publishing. I am seeing more and more blogs featuring photo streams from Flickr. With increasing bandwidth and computing power, videocasting is also on the horizon.
The coming few years promise to be extremely confusing for the media industry. Traditional media distribution channels and the advertising models of yesterday will be destroyed.
A final word on how the Arab world is relating to this. The low internet penetration levels put the region at a huge disadvantage. In some countries like Korea, high speed internet is reaching almost everyone, while our young people still have to go to an internet cafÃ© to access the web.
But what is even more tragic is that the big investors in the Arab world seem always to be going for copy-and-paste project ideas, even if the Western models that are being copied are already dead or, at least, dated. This is as true for the glass towers of the Gulf as it is for ‘big media’ projects like expensive satellite TV stations that imitate the 20 year old CNN model.