Last Wednesday, Sept. 15th, a website called Kommons went live – and is sort of brilliant. It’s basically Formspring meets Twitter meets “Meet The Press,” or something: A community that seeks smart, conversation-furthering answers prompted by smart, probing questions — publicly. Here are a whole bunch, and they’re good — smart questions of smart people made in an open forum, viewable by the public and their peers.
It’s like pre-curation: You know that what you’re going to get will be interesting and good. So far there are questions out – with some answers – to people like Jeff Jarvis, Yancy Strickler (Kickstarter), John Borthwick (Betaworks), Donald Glover (Community), Nieman Lab, Ezra Klein, Elizabeth Stark (Vowch) — and me! Co-founder Cody Brown, who founded Kommons with NYU classmate Kate Ray, sent me a question on Saturday, and caught me in a moment of weakness with this catnip for media wonks: “What was the NYC media community like before Twitter?”. I spent the next hour blurting out my response. Boom – free content for Kommons, and now, Mediaite. My answer is below, in its blurted form, free of the links I would have probably spent half an hour methodically inserting. You know what? Find your own damn links. Just kidding. But as I told Kool Kid Kody, I’d been meaning to write on this for a long time and now I am glad I did. My answer below:
Twitter really did turn everything on its head, particularly for people who were classic “bloggers.” Prior to Twitter, there was RSS of course, but being linked and mentioned in other blogs was the social currency. Things got written up, as opposed to tweeted in 140-character bites. (So, panels and parties and events would tend to get write-ups. I did a lot of that at “Eat The Press” at HuffPo, and a lot of reports on TV moments, and a lot of transcribing. Also, pre-Twitter, I remember how reporters thought it was very clever to seek out people on Facebook for quotes (that, I recall, was at one point revolutionary). This is the more narrow answer to the NYC media community question.
More broadly, though, ACCESS was just different (and when I first became active in 2008 I was steeped in the election, so my community was in NY and DC). It was like Twitter was its own little city, wherever you were from, if you were in that mix, you were in it. And it was like a little badge of membership, of commonality. Twitter has created connections between people who would not have otherwise had them (it’s how I showed up at Joe Scarborough’s book party circa March 2009 to an effusive welcome from Suzy and Jack Welch, my Twitter buds). That was back in March 2009 – when Twitter hadn’t yet “tipped”: Ashton and CNN hadn’t yet battled – Oprah hadn’t yet anointed – Maureen Dowd hadn’t yet embarrassed herself with a clueless, condescending interview with Ev and Biz. So Twitter was also a huge flattener. Before it went “mainstream” as it were, it was much more of a conversation and the attention people used to court by, say, posting comments on blogs could be gotten by @ replies. So if you were an early adopter, it was useful.
(BTW, I was an early adopter for media but not for tech – I became active in mid-2008. So for me Twitter was a huge part of covering – and consuming – the 2008 Conventions, but was totally absent from my experience during the primaries. Which up until this Kommons question, I hadn’t thought about.)
One of the big things about Twitter though was how it broke news – it subverted the gatekeeper function of the traditional media and allowed people to just shout stuff out. And so famous people Twittering became news stories (Shaq finding out he had been traded on Twitter is one.) It was also a way to break stories – if you cared more about planting a flag (“First!”) than traffic or a byline, there it was. So as people were building their own “brands” the incentives started to blur a bit, I think, too.
I wrote a lot about this stuff here, in a post that is now a relic but also, a time capsule: Pet Peeve: Journalists Opining on Twitter Who Have No Clue About Twitter
But I have to say that what seems to me to have changed things maybe even more (is that sacrilege?) was the rise of embeddable code. When I started at FishbowlNY in April 2005, there was no YouTube. There were very few people clipping TV moments, you had to see it or read about it after. (My bread and butter for a while was doing next-day write ups of The Daily Show, and I actually remember how it felt to have technology make you obsolete.) The ability to pull and embed clips from across the dial changed the distribution game, and made water-cooler moments shareable to those who had missed them – in now *created* water-cooler moments from things that would otherwise have been missed. (I remember how the clip of Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck went viral – as I can recall, that was the first real widespread “View” moment. I still credit Danny Shea at HuffPo with making The View must-watch daily TV for aggregators – he pulled a Sherri Shepard clip of the day and recognized it as a goldmine of clippable moments. Online, I feel like “clip culture” has taken over (despite my preference for the written word over video). It’s not long ago at all that the big media companies were violently opposed to permitting clips – there was NBC pulling all those clips of SNL down from YouTube (they went embeddable just a few weeks after the return after the writer’s strike, in Feb 2008, just in time to become a player in the election with Tina Fey’s “bitch is the new black” – the ability to disseminate those moments every week played a huge part in the SNL resurgence); there was Viacom pulling Stewart and Colbert off YouTube, before reluctantly coming up with their own embeddable system; and there was Hulu, finally entering the picture in March 2008 as well. NBC and MSNBC were the first to offer their stuff in embeddable, clipped form. And they saw an advantage in this in how they were picked up and disseminated. The upshot: “Next Day Pickup” became a metric. Probably the best example of a TV show that got this from the start is Jimmy Fallon. His team got that, sought out influencers, played to online interest – not in a calculated, fake-feeling way but because the Fallon team identified an audience they wanted to reach and gave that audience material that demonstrated that they understood and respected it, rather than being all, “Internets! Jimmy Fallon has deigned to notice you, now you shall post this video!” Which you have seen from other MSM types. That ain’t a winning strategy.
Anyway – there have been a lot of big game changes since I started five short years ago (I mean, really. Five years. Wow). But I do think that while Twitter was a major major game changer, the whole embeddable-code thing has also ended up being, as Joe Biden would say, a BFD. And thank you Cody for your question because I have been meaning to write about this for a while, and now I can just scoop up this first-draft version and paste it into a blog post – and then, of course, tweet it out. xoxo
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