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Monday, 26 November 2007


John Proffitt

While the idea that everyone will segment themselves into narcissistic tracks or homogenous groups is a possibility, I think this is a worst-case outcome and is often overblown in media and cultural analysis today. Usually it's old-guard people either misunderstanding the new world or trying to fight it. Often it's newspaper people. I'm surprised Mermigas fell into this analysis.

The Internet has two effects to note here, but neither are doomsday scenarios -- they're just different from today.

First, the narcissism issue. The Internet might allow us to divide ourselves up a little further than today, but in truth, the Internet simply lays bare the fact that we ALL have only so many interests and we self-associate with others that are more like us rather than less like us. We do it in real estate, in business, in careers, in love and yes, in media consumption and participation. Some of this is driven by family or personal history, some by stereotypes or preconceptions, some by education levels, some by geography or even ruthless self-interest. Whatever the case, we're already segregated in our lives by the many choices we make. Social networks in the digital world simply make our choices more visible and concrete (paradoxically). Our self-segregation is now a verifiable data point -- a fact -- rather than a social scientist's hypothesis.

Second, the notion of serendipity. In the past, due to the fact that media channels were limited (e.g. only four TV networks, etc.), serendipitous discoveries were almost forced upon us. In the Internet world, with fractured audiences, these chance discoveries cannot be forced and will have to happen on a smaller and more diverse scale. Discovery will be driven by network effects (small "n"), not by Networks (big "N").

Consider the social network. If we're friends and I'm interested in subjects A, B, and C, and you're interested in subjects B, C and D, there's a good chance I'll serendipitously discover subject D somewhere along the way (via you) and you'll discover subject A (via me). We're friends -- we share things ("check this out, this is cool..."). Amazon calls it "recommendations" and they do it with automated software. Friends do it more manually, but it's the same thing. In marketing circles this is the "viral" effect -- getting the audience to share the discovery of your product/service. Facebook and the like take this to the next level.

Finally, one non-Internet factor. Streamed, programmed, assembled media services (TV, radio, etc.) are not going away. So there will still be opportunities to discover and learn about other subjects and media. Let's not assume we're all going to be narcissists because the Internet made us do it.

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