The web is its own culture

This month is the 15th anniversary of the first Bloggercon, a conference for new media pioneers to advance the cause of blogging, which nobody else seemed to understand. The event was conceived and organized by Dave Winer, a man I certainly hope history will record as one of the key early players – if not THE key player – in the development of the paradigm shift in media:

    • That everyone with a web connection can be a media company.
    • That the cost of making media had been effectively reduced to zero.
    • That the web views hierarchies as inefficient and routed around them.
    • That the birth of so-called “citizen’s media” was a response to a lack of trust in the pros since Watergate.
    • That the web is a culture unto itself and must be given its due as such.
    • That this networking of people would become a cultural swing point similar to what Gutenberg had brought about with moveable type in the 15th Century.
    • That the blogging format was the proper way to communicate information via the web.

    There was always a profound sense of the future at Bloggercon and all subsequent gatherings, because the people who attended were pioneers and innovators. We talked a lot about where this was all going, and honestly, there’s no contemporary replacement for what was accomplished, because there are too many people today vying for self-centered inclusion in the web’s inner circle. Oh, there were plenty of big egos at Bloggercon; it’s just that they were all able to work together for the common good. There would be no podcasting today were it not for Bloggercon.

    So what’s happened 15-years downstream? The efforts of those early gatherings have been absorbed by the whole, and the vision of those days continues outside the mainstream, which continues to insist that the web is merely an add-on to our status quo. How unfortunate, for absent eyes to see, a whole generation is missing the innovations being made by mostly younger people who don’t view the web the same way as their parents. Let me give you a couple of examples.

    I’m not sure exactly how it began, but I’m a member of Bachelor Nation, that devoted group of fans who’ve crossed over into the darkness of reality dating television, specifically ABC’s The Bachelor. Even though I know it’s heavily edited to fit an ongoing producer narrative, I find that it fills a sort of mindlessness cleansing for me during exposure. The magnetism of this show is hot, young people vying for attention of a suitor, but it’s the backstory available to fans today that sheds a new light on what’s shone to the television audience.

    And, because I’m in the middle of it, I follow a guy in Dallas named Steve Carbone, known to backstory fans as the evil “Reality Steve,” who has a habit of spoiling the weekly episodes long before they air. Reality Steve provides the play-by-play of the creation and execution that is the narrative, and in so doing, not only “spoils” the programs (every one) but also reveals the story beneath the story, which, trust me, is far more interesting than the show itself. This knowledge, in fact, makes watching the program a different experience, because it teaches us all to think like producers.

    In this light, there’s an important media lesson in The Bachelor, a revelation, if you will, of one way the culture is adapting favorably to the digital age. You need eyes-to-see in order to engage, however, and this is always the problem for people trying to analyze currents as they relate to this new age. Enter the podcaster, the vlogger, the blogger, the social media influencer, and beyond. “Social media influencer” is a real job for a lot of real people who are simply responding to one of the means by which people are making a decent living while supporting themselves. And, I’m certain there will be those who’ll say that there’s really nothing new here, but vast companies are now doing business with people who have a significant following on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and so forth. Granted, it’s the old reach-frequency game, but the money is not going to traditional media players. Reality Steve has a podcast as do a great many others in Bachelor Nation.

    The program’s recruiting of nice-looking young people for the show has also shifted greatly in the wake of the above. Whereas earlier cast members of the program all joined with the ultimate purpose being to find love, today’s applicants have another purpose in mind when signing up to be contestants – it’s a great way to increase one’s influence in social media, which means there’s now significant income available to people who make the cast, and this has changed the nature of the program. “Is she here for him, or is she just interested in the fame?” This used to be a viable question with The Bachelor, but not anymore, for all contestants now get a shot at making significant money simply by being on the program.

    The simple truth is this: the web has evolved distribution of media (and most importantly, advertising), and this was one of the things we knew was happening back in those Bloggercon days.

    If you pay attention to how families use Facebook, you’ll notice another phenomenon occurring that has evolved to a business, and that is social media photography. Several times a year, each of the families in my daughter’s circle post professional photos of family members in addition to pictures they take themselves. Whether celebrating a season, a significant event, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, or just a spontaneous idea, these people want to look their best for what is becoming a book of life for participants. They want to look their best as they keep up with each other for bragging rights on who posts the best photos. This is spawning a whole new industry, one that uses the very technologies we were innovating at Bloggercon.

    One day, resorts will offer a similar service designed specifically to be made a part of the customer’s own media distribution, and documenting our lives will become an even more important part of our use of social media. This discovery is being made over and over again by the people who take full advantage of the distribution patterns provided by social media. Those gathered a Bloggercon knew that what the web does best is connect people, but mainstreamers can only bring themselves to use it as an extension of their old, brand-oriented value propositions.

    The web isn’t just another add-on to Western Culture; it’s a culture unto itself, and this is what Dave and the others we were all trying to say those 15-years ago.

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