The Net is a giant zero

Great post by Doc Searls on why the mainstream media should open up their walled gardens:

The Net is a giant zero. It puts everybody zero distance from everybody and everything else. And it supports publishing and broadcasting at costs that round to zero as well.

It is essential for the mainstream media to understand that the larger information ecosystem is one that grows wild on the Net and supports everybody who wants to inform anybody else. It no longer grows inside the mainstream media’s walled gardens. Those gardens will continue to thrive only to the degree that they do two things: 1) open up; and 2) live symbiotically with individuals outside who want to work together for common purposes.

Framing is a huge issue here. We have readers and viewers, not just “audiences” and “consumers”. We write articles and essays and posts, not just “generate content”. “User-generated content”, or UGC, is an ugly, insulting and misleading label.

“Content” is inert. It isn’t alive. It doesn’t grow, or catch fire, or go viral. Ideas and insights do that. Interesting facts do that. “Audiences” are passive. They sit still, clap and leave. That might be what happened with newspapers and radio and TV in the old MSM-controlled world, but it’s not what happens on The Giant Zero. It’s not what happens with blogging, or with citizen journalism. Here it’s all about contribution, participation. It involves conversation, but it goes beyond that into relationship – with readers, with viewers, with the larger ecosystem by which we all inform each other.

… Established media institutions have enormous advantages. But they can’t use them if they continue to live in denial of the nature of their new world – and of the interests, talents and natural independence of the other inhabitants there.

Although Doc refers principally to the mainstream news media, his comments are applicable to publishers across the board. As the net develops, it is increasingly difficult for publishers to assert their proprietary rights and charge for content using old subscription models. They must open up more content and develop alternative models for leveraging its value. As an example in UK law publishing, witness the climb-down by the DCA in opening up the Statute Law Database.

Publishers must not simply add Web 2.0 widgets to their existing services. They must embrace “citizen journalists” and acknowledge the contributions made rather than seek to exploit them. On this Doc quotes Dan Kennedy:

Corporate media executives who genuinely want to use citizen-media tools to build community and experiment with new business models will be rewarded for their efforts.

But those who think they can profit by suckering amateurs into giving away their content will soon discover that what they’ve created is a host of new competitors.