If you know me, you might be expecting the “old guard” in the headline to be referring to traditional newsrooms.
About six or seven years ago I had the pleasure of doing a cameo on the popular Gillmor Gang podcast. I can’t find the transcript, but I know it was shortly before the 2008 elections because that’s when Steve was having regular Newsgang podcasts which I participated in. That’s how I would have had phone line access because the same conference line was used for the Gillmor Gang.
During my brief visit I was somewhat beaten up by Jason Calacanis, who found I worked at a traditional media company and likened it to “hanging on to the Titanic” as it finally went under.
At the time I actually think his characterization of the industry was pretty accurate. I only disagreed with his assumption that I was “hanging on.” Maybe I was helping as many people into lifeboats as possible.
Fast forward and you could say the ships are still sinking. But in addition to lifeboats, we may see some rescue boats on the horizon.
This isn’t actually The Titanic, you know. There may be a different ending.
That said, the rescue is far from here. There is still no assurance that the ships can be saved.
But things move in cycles, and the companies that once disrupted traditional media are now looking ripe for disruption.
The centralization of services like Twitter and Facebook made it seem like a distributed system of news would never happen again. Because those services were, in many ways, a better initial experience than blogging, people flocked to them. It’s easier to press a follow button than to paste a feed URL. And they were more real-time.
Lots of the blogs turned into media companies. Lots of people stopped blogging.
You still see personal blogs. Lots of them, actually, but they seem to be a resource for writers (and their readers), not the “blogosphere” of conversation we once imagined and was tracked by Technorati. Dave Winer recently talked about that here.
Blogs disrupted traditional publishing. Centralized social networks disrupted blogs. Do we actually think centralized social networks will never be disrupted?
I can’t imagine anyone believes the web as we see it now is what it will be in ten years. In fact, we are seeing a sea-change in web development practices as we speak. Following that will be new and unforeseen services that take advantage of these new technologies.
Like the fact that traditional media companies haven’t yet sunk, I don’t expect services like Twitter to sink either. But I do expect newer and better alternatives to disrupt parts of their business.
The old guard from the headline has now become these centralized services. They have a business model that is tied to centralization.
They are now the ones that will cling to the sinking ship, even if newer and brighter ideas come along. Even something like the Calacanis news site Inside is clinging to a Web 2.0 page-view business model. That mentality is the new Titanic.
Meanwhile, we do see some awesome things happening at traditional media companies like all the great open source code and data flowing through their partnerships with the Knight-Mozilla Open News project. We need more stuff like that.
So the main question we need to ask ourselves is how we can make better services for news and sharing than the ones they give us?
And if I were a traditional media company, I’d be thinking about how I could disrupt Twitter. It’s a tall order, but not wholly unreasonable.
If a few large traditional media companies converged on an open, real-time news protocol to take advantage of this rising tide, I could see a mass exodus from these centralized services for a decent portion of our news needs. Again, I’m not suggesting Twitter would die, only that enough people would find it advantageous to use a newer system as well.
None of this is a slam dunk. The services need to be better. Though some users care about removing silos, we can’t rely on users leaving their beloved Twitter just because a system is open.
But the fact that traditional media is no longer the center of the news experience means they can now turn the table on the incumbents. They are no longer the ones in a position to lose. They need to disrupt the disruptors.*
Let’s think about this. It may take some bold moves and innovative thinking, but I think Twitter has peaked and we’ll see something new begin to grow in the next few years.
It may have already begun.
* I don’t think disruptor is a word except for the Star Trek type ; )