Monday, September 21, 2009

Is the revolution over?

I've written a few times this summer about my growing sense of Web 2.0 ennui -- this feeling I have that as B2B publishing bounces back from the recession, things just aren't as interesting as they were a year or so ago.
And I'm beginning to get a sense of why:
The revolution is ending.

For a decade or so now the world of journalism has been one of ceaseless change and challenge. Consider, if you will, just some of the major technologies and practices we've adopted: external links, blogging platforms, mobile delivery, slideshows, podcasting, database reporting, RSS, email newsletters, Webcasts, Twitter, Facebook, search-engine optimization, etc.
Think, too, of the cultural changes we've made in our working lives as journalists: comments on articles, Creative Commons licenses, open-source software systems, user-generated content, revenue-sharing compensation plans, aggregated content, standalone journalists, etc.
It's been a madcap series of never-ending developments. It's been glorious and exciting.
But I think it may be over.

Be honest. What was the last new development in journalism/publishing that you were truly excited about?
Twitter? Sure. It's wonderful. But it's hardly new. It launched in 2006! And it caught fire in 2007.
The iPhone? Yea. I love mine too. But it's already more than two years old.

I got an email the other day from an editorial director for a mid-sized B2B company. He told me that he'd recently discovered that his team was beginning to forget some of the basic skills of online journalism they'd been taught in the past few years.
But that wasn't such awful news, he suggested.
He'd found that the pace of new developments had slowed to such a degree that he had more time to focus on reviewing the basics.

Old Revolutionaries
In the past few weeks, two of the companies that helped revolutionize our world launched media products that simply bored me to tears.
Google debuted its Fast Flip -- a scrollable version of magazines that looks no different than the half-dozen or so products in the digital-magazine world.
Microsoft took a stab at saving the newspaper industry with a new aggregation tool. But the only interesting thing about it was the confusion over whether Microsoft lifted the idea from TweetDeck or from Sobees.
And if there is one thing that is certain about these "new" products, it is this: we won't have to spend any time teaching folks in the newsroom how to use them. They just aren't significant.

If the revolution is over, we shouldn't be surprised.
There's probably no such thing as ongoing change. Things advance at an extraordinary pace ... and then they reach a sort of stasis. We go from massive change to incremental change. We go from revolution to improvement.

This may be the very nature of human technological advancement.
We lived with propeller planes for decades. Then we developed jet engines and the world was suddenly new.
Then it wasn't.
The jets grew bigger and faster. But they were still jets.
Consider this: I am 50-years old, a child of what was once called "the Jet Age." But there's clearly nothing revolutionary left in airplane travel. The Jet Age just drags on and on and on ... seemingly stripped of its ability to inspire.

If I'm right and the media revolution has ended, I'll say now that I was thrilled to be a part of it.
And in the post-revolutionary period -- we could call it "the Web Age," if you like -- I'll continue doing what I do, practicing this profession to the best of my ability.
But I will look sadly at the newcomers to our industry -- just as I look sadly at the thousands of impatient folks I see each week at the airport -- and I will think the same thing:
Can't you see how cool this is?


  1. Interesting insight! I also find it exciting to be a part of the media world when it's going through all of this change and innovation. It may be difficult at times, but it sure is exciting to say you're a part of it.

  2. You're right. And you just made feel incredibly grateful for being a part of it all.

  3. I would say there's still plenty of new stuff in store ahead. Remember the quote from the close of the 19th century from the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." I think we're in for a wild ride. A but of a lull for the moment, but more to come, surely!

  4. Paul, on the social media front, I totally agree with you. That is a good thing, can now focus on really implementing and reaping the rewards. So back to basics in a way.
    But I think there is a possibly even bigger wave related to Semantic Web or Linked Data or whatever one calls it these days. Bernard

  5. Paul - I'm not sure what you are really saying here. Yes, we are finally beginning to see the effects of everyone being connected, having the ability to publish, the proliferation of content sources, etc.

    In some ways, the ongoing change will be more of the same in that it's still all about everyone being connected ... but ...

    I can't believe that you could be saying that the next few years will not be an incredible time of change. The environment and dynamics are extraordinary. Even without any real significant change in technology, we are still going to go through amazing shifts in media.

    I personally believe it will be those who can sit on top (aggregation, social filters, semantic web) that will be the winners. But the change will be remarkable.

  6. Two words: DATA PORTABILITY

    Miles to go before we sleep...

  7. Very well put, Paul, and I totally get where you're coming from, as I wrote on the ICM blog. Sure, the bells and whistles will get a little bigger (or smaller) and shinier, but the core seems to be settling.

    And I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought that Google Flip thing was a big yawn.

  8. Exciting: Google Wave.

    And I can't imagine that the revolution is over when the demolition of old media systems is not slowing down. -Something- is going to replace them.

  9. I’d second Hunter’s comment, particularly regarding Google Wave. (Thanks for the L. A. Times link, Hunter!).

    Paul, is your new-media ennui the real reason you post so sparingly these days? I don’t buy that excuse about paying gigs getting in the way. Who cares about making a living when you can be writing brilliant blog posts instead?

    The only positive about your relative silence is that it reminds me to keep up with my own blog!

  10. Hunter, John, et al,
    I'm hopeful that something wonderful is yet to come. I'm particularly hopeful about Google Wave. I even posted something to this blog about it over the summer:
    But whether it's ennui or something else, I'm losing the sense I've had for years now that we're living and working in the midst of a revolution.

  11. Much of what has taken place in the journalism revolution has been focused on style rather than content. All these new platforms are great (although I have to admit that Twitter still leaves me baffled), but let's not get carried away and lose sight of what journalism is really about: producing original, informative and entertaining stories.

  12. Hi Greg,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I'm a little perplexed by your remarks. I can honestly say that I cannot name a single journalist who has been "carried away" by the revolution and has lost sight of what journalism is really about.
    Rather, I've seen journalists who have used the new tools to do a better job of telling "original, informative and entertaining stories" (as well as to do the other, equally important function of journalism: to provide unadulterated data and information to end users.)
    On the other hand, I have seen journalists who were so frightened by the new tools that they were carried away by their resentments and anger. They missed the chance to improve their storytelling skills. And thousands of them lost their jobs in the past few years as a result.
    When historians look back over the media revolution of the past decade, I don't think they'll say that too many people lost their heads. I think they'll say that too many of us kept our heads in the sand for too long.
    As for Twitter, let me share the wisest thing I've ever heard about that platform: If you're not finding value in Twitter, you're following the wrong people.
    Give it another try.