Green Spectrum: Individuation Engines & Shattered Editions

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During the 1990s when the Internet was opened to public usage, perhaps hundreds of millions of people initially began to use it for the purpose of accessing the contents of Mass Media vehicles such as newspapers and magazines. And as billions of people began using Internet once broadband access to it became commonly available ten years ago, many of those newer users also might have initial began to use it for the purposes of accessing Mass Media vehicles or to use Social Media sites. However, almost all of the more than two billion people who now use it soon began to realize that the Internet is a far more articulate and immediate means of matching their own individual mix of needs, interests, and tastes than any Mass Media vehicles in print or broadcast over-the-air or via cable television can any provide for them. Most continue to use the Internet as a convenient way to access Mass Media content, but more than most use it as much or more to find specifically topical content that no mix of Mass Media vehicles can provide to them.

The most popular way in which these billions of people do that is by using Internet search engines. People don’t necessarily need to use a search engine more than once to find a Mass Media company’s edition. For instance, if once you’ve used Google to find The New York Times, you can easily bookmark or even remember www.nytimes.com. Instead, the majority of the billions of people online frequently, indeed almost regularly, use search engines to find items of content that are much more specific matches to their own unique mixes of needs, interests, and tastes, than any Mass Media company’s edition can provide to them. For example, a search engine lets an individual interested about the songs of Glenn Campbell, growing bonsai plants, Zumba exercises, roles portrayed by the actor Adrian Brody, Thai cuisine, a town in which she once vacationed, and perhaps dozens of other equally specific interests, obtain much more information about those than any newspaper, magazine, or radio or television channel can provide. The number of people who use search engines daily to hunt and gather a custom match of contents to their own mixes of interests, needs, and tastes, is in the hundreds of millions if not more than a billion. For example, according to Alexa.com, the percentage of Americans online who used Google ‘yesterday’ was 34.64%.

Whenever I hear a Mass Media executive or academician unthinkingly claim that people don’t want news, entertainment, and information that is custom-matched to those people’s individual needs, interests, and tastes, I remind them that every day hundreds of millions (perhaps even more than a billion) people are online, hunting and gathering for that. They are using the Internet to self-customize the selection of content they see, rather than relying on any single Mass Media company’s edition. It’s the main reason why people use search engines, and why those search engines the most heavily used media vehicles in the world. Traditionalist in the media industries who fail to see this can’t see the forest for the trees. It underlies the difference between the lucrative future of Individuated Media and the waning primacy of Mass Media.

As Peter Horrocks, director of World Services at the British Broadcasting Corporation, speaking about news, noted during 2009:

“The consequence of this change in users’ consumption has only dimly been understood by the majority of journalists. Most of the major news organisations had the assumption that their news product provided the complete set of news requirements for their users. But in an internet world, users see the total information set available on the web as their ‘news universe’. I might like BBC for video news, the Telegraph or Daily Mail for sports results and The New York Times for international news.

“The ability of audiences to pull together their preferred news is bringing the walls of the fortresses tumbling down. In effect, the users see a single unified news universe and uses technology (e.g.Google, Digg etc) to get that content to come together.”

In Horrocks’ metaphor, the “fortresses tumbling down” are the products (i.e., the editions) which Mass Media traditionally produce. People see their newfound cornucopia of access and choices from online as their new ‘daily edition’ itself. They are now ever less likely to consume the traditional products of Mass Media. Yet companies which produce those traditional products seem blind to this stunningly clear new color in the media environment.

Indeed, this evolutionary change in how people gravitate towards content is natural. Centuries back when they might have had access and choice of only one source or information, there were for the purpose of consumption of information a unitary Mass. The staff of a king, state, publisher, or broadcaster chose what stories they would consume, and held that power over them. That staff didn’t have to worry about each individual’s interests or largely worry about group interests: the Mass itself was the group. And anyone wishing to advertise through that sole media didn’t have to make that decision based upon demographics, because this media reached everyone.

Yet when those people gained more than one source of information, things changed. They became not a unitary Mass but Masses or, rather, demographic groups. The king, state, publisher, or broadcaster lost some power (unless all the sources were control from his hand). The people naturally began to choose their sources according to which best served their own demographics (i.e., a natural group). The staffs of those sources of information likely began to worry about what selection of stories to include that would appeal to that demographic. And any advertisers would choose which source best reached the demographic most likely to purchase their products or services.

And now that they’ve rather suddenly gained magnitudes more access and choices, things have changed even more dramatically. This cornucopia of choice and access allows the people individuate from all sources their consumption information. Except in the most restrictive or poorest lands, the king, state, or any dictator has much less control and power over what information his people access and choose. People no longer are forced by a king, state, or dictator, or even by publishers or broadcasters, to access and consume topical information according to a demographic package (if someone wants to see a particular story about antique automobiles, he no longer has to purchase an entire magazine about antique autos. If someone wants to see a tennis match, she no longer has to subscribed to the Tennis Channel on television or wait until other network’s evening news sport report. And if someone wants to hear a song, he no longer has to purchase its entire album, etc.) Any staff of an information source who wants to reach them effectively profitably had best consider methods to individually target stories to any individuals who might be interested in those stories. Any advertiser who wants to reach such individuals likewise needs to consider individuated marketing methods. (Until more sophisticated methods are developed, an initial method by which editors and marketers can reach those individuals is behavioral rather than demographic or other forms of Mass marketing.)

That is the natural evolutionary path of mediated public communications: the unitary mass of people becomes various demographic masses then becomes a massive number of of Individuations. Prior to the Industrial Revolution and during slightly more than the initial first half of it, consumers were seen by media producers as a unitary mass. During the latter half of the Industrial Revolution and unfortunately now during the initial years of the Informational Revolution, consumers have seen as various demographic Masses. But they now are rightly beginning to be seen by media producers as a massive number of individuated consumers.

Another gravitational hue that is similarly altering the people’s behavior towards media in this New Media environment is what American business author Evan Schwarz, in his 1998 book Webonomics, termed unbundling:

“You can already see it happening right before your eyes. Once they enter the Web economy, all magazines and newspapers that you can hold in your hands deconstruct–in the true sense of the word. They lose their unity. They break up or decompose into their constituent elements. No longer is the editorial product a cohesive package tightly controlled by a team of editors. Once on the Web, the editors must relinquish some of that control to the readers, who play a big part in reinventing and reinterpreting how that information is seen. Instead of flipping through pages in a linear fashion, readers may pick and choose from menus of stories, look up stock quotes, search databases of classified ads, and have conversations with editors and other readers. They may never even see what the editors deem the top story of the day.”

Although websites provide greater immediacy and timeliness than any printed newspaper can supply, plus audio, video, and animation that the printed edition cannot, an edition put online is are arguably much more difficult and time-consuming to read than the printed periodical. When the average consumer of a printed newspaper reads it, he tends to thumb through it from its front page to last page, glancing at each headline if not reading a story. However, when that same newspaper edition is put online, virtually nobody reads every page of it. The average user of a news website will either start at its Home Page then click on just one, two, three, or four stories’ headlines that interest him. Or else he will visit the site but not use the Home Page; such as from clicking a hyperlink on another site, which takes him directly to a story on the newspaper’s site. Indeed, nowadays the majorities of people who visit major newspapers’ websites no longer even visit those sites’ Home Pages, but jump directly to a webpage via a hyperlink they’ve received. They might have received that hyperlink from a friend via Facebook, Twitter, ВКонтакте, Renren, some other Social Media site. Or from a blog or from an email. Although there may be a chance that, after reading the story, that these users might see another headline that interests them located on that website, the odds are that most will simply return to wherever she came (such as Facebook .)

This behavior of using a websites only for very specific stories leads to another gravitational hue in which each media company is reduced to its core competency.

Back when people’s choices of daily and access to changing information in text format was limited to just one, two, or maybe three newspapers that were locally distributed in printed form, people read those few edition as their only means to satisfy all of their international, national, regional, and local news, sports, and feature story needs, interests, and tastes. However, now that they have ready access online to all news periodicals and broadcasts, they are very much less likely to use only those few newspaper to satisfy all those needs, interests, and tastes. They’ll instead visit many more website, visiting each for its core topical competency, one which fits their needs, interests, and tastes.

For an example, a resident of Willimantic, Connecticut, probably used to read the local newspaper to satisfy whatever his interests were in international, national, regional, and local news, sports, and feature stories. However, now that he has Internet access, he is much more likely to use NYTimes.com, CNN.com, ABCNews.go.com, or BBC.com for his international and national news interests; to use ESPN.com or SportsIllustrated.CNN.com or AOL.SportingNews for his sport news interests; and to visit finance.yahoo.com or Forbes.com or Money.CNN.com for his business or financial news interests. Those are sites that specialize in those categories of news. He’ll visit his local newspaper’s website only to satisfy his curiousity about local news interests, which is that local newspaper’s core competency. Likewise, a citizen of the New York City borough of Brooklyn who is interested in news of that borough is much more likely to visit NYDN.com or NYPost.com (the websites of the New York Daily News and New York Post, respectively) or visit brooklynpaper.com site, than he is to visit NYTimes.com, whose core competency isn’t New York City borough news but national and international news.

Next webpage: More People, Less Frequently and Less Thoroughly

Index of the Rise of Individuated Media webpages

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