The Web isn’t 2-way; it’s 3-way

I keep reading in articles (about news disrupted) that the Web is a 2-way connection, which makes it different than the one-way connection of mass media. While technically correct, the thought is imprecise, for the Web is especially disruptive, because it’s a three-way connection. That’s what Jay Rosen refers to in his brilliant “Audience Atomization Overcome.” In addition to talking back to the press (2-way), we can also talk to each other, and this “horizontal” connectivity is what’s really changing things.

The idea that news organizations can interact with their audiences is pretty cool. We can work together on stories. We can comment on Facebook or respond to Twitter. We can send in pictures or video. It’s a wonderful new form of community, but it isn’t particularly disruptive. What is disruptive is the ability to talk to each other about what we’ve just experienced, whether that’s from a news organization or the local grocer. This real-time connectivity — what I call “hyperconnectivity” — is what’s changing the world.

Wikileaks is a great example. It’s not so much that we’re getting the leaked documents showing how our government routinely lies to us (a government of the people?), but that hyperconnectivity provides the means for us to do something about it.

If the local paper says something we question, we can immediately turn to each other in addition to notifying the paper of our disapproval. That’s the three-way connection. It’s why every institution of the West will have to account for itself one day. It’s one thing to holler back at a merchant who behaved mischievously, but it’s entirely different to use your social and other connections to tell everybody about it. They will then share your story with others and contribute their own experiences, whether it’s through some organized method, like Yelp, or simply via Facebook. It’s the stuff of revolutions. The world of “reputation management” has arisen as a response, but only approaching business with a 21st Century, hyperconnected mind will help. The license to get away with anything in the name of profit has been revoked.

You don’t like how your medical care is going? Don’t just complain to the doctor; ask for advice from friends. They have friends who have friends, and one day, technology will search all of that data and provide a service with answers. The doctor is still the doctor, but you’re now armed with knowledge and information. The needs of the patient, remember, are different than the needs of the doctor.

A one-way or two-way connection is vertical, up to down or down to up. The third connection is horizontal, between the people formerly known as the audience (to quote that wonderful phrase from Jay).

Horizontal connectivity, as I’ve written many times, is the great disruptor of modernism, because it guts any hierarchy built on protected knowledge. Wikileaks wouldn’t be nearly so disruptive, if we didn’t have the power to pass the stories around. We also have the power now to promote or take down whoever we like, as in the amazing case of Ted Williams, the Columbus, Ohio homeless man “discovered” by a Columbus TV station, a following YouTube video went viral. I heard about this from Mathew Ingram at GigaOm about mid-afternoon Tuesday. When I saw the video, I was viewer number 32,681. As of this afternoon, just two days later, 12 million people had seen the video, which has since been removed by the Columbus Dispatch on copyright grounds.

Horizontal connectivity will prevent wars in the future, and it’s what makes the totalitarian threat of Big Brother impossible. The connection there was decidedly 2-way.

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