HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Before the “teaching model” of journalism education: 5 questions to ask
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Dec. 19, 2012, 12:13 p.m.

The broadcast-ification of social media

“These platforms are all evolving towards a more traditional broadcast media model, because it’s more palatable to late adopters and because that’s the environment in which brands know how to communicate and, more importantly, spend.”

There is an inherent tension in social software between content discovery and the quality of conversation around that content. Group conversations get worse as groups grow, and groups grow as group discovery improves — if it’s easier to find something, more people will find it. Therefore, the easier time I have finding good conversations, the less likely those conversations are to be any good (e.g. Reddit’s front page vs. subreddits). Paradoxes should be named, so let me know if you have any good ideas.

Let’s look at Twitter through this lens. Twitter began as a space for conversation — a messaging platform. It exhibited characteristics of a “many-to-many” network. Anyone could publish, anyone could follow anyone else, and “discovery” in this context meant discovering people to follow, not content to consume.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen Twitter evolve its focus towards the discovery of content — hiding @mentions from user streams, the #NASCAR page, the Summify acquisition, the new Twitter email, the Discover tab. Today, it looks more like a broadcast medium than a distributed social network. Large groups of users (consumers, really) follow a small number of very large brands. Some of those brands are people (Bieber) and some of those brands are publishers (@cnnbrk). Lots of talking, very little listening.

Why is it in Twitter’s interest to focus their users around a relatively small number of mega-publishers?

First, Twitter needs to reach late adopters with a product that late adopters can understand. It’s much easier to bring people onboard to “a real-time feed of news links from publishers and celebrities that you’ve heard of” than it is to explain “a distributed messaging platform where you follow friends, some people you don’t know, some celebrities, and some brands…where you make lunch plans, share what you had for breakfast, and post your favorite links of the day…where sometimes it’s a chat room and sometimes it’s the nightly news.” Try explaining Twitter to your parents and see what works better. On a unique active user basis, evolving into a more traditional broadcast medium will be a boon for Twitter.

Second, brands (you know, the $$$) don’t know how to join small group conversations. They do, however, know how to shout at large groups of passive media consumers. If Twitter looks more like a broadcast product, then brands will have an easier time fitting Twitter ads into their campaigns (and budgets).

As with any piece of social software, as Twitter evolves from a space for conversation into a space for discovery — prioritizing features that support a one-to-many model at the expense of the many-to-many model — we will see its value as a conversational platform erode.

For lack of a better term, you might call this the “broadcast-ification” of the major social media platforms. I’m picking on Twitter, but it’s happening in different ways across the industry — see LinkedIn Today or Facebook’s asymmetric “Subscribe” feature. These platforms are all evolving towards a more traditional broadcast media model, because it’s more palatable to late adopters and because that’s the environment in which brands know how to communicate and, more importantly, spend.

So 2013 will bring two things: more ad revenue for the major social media platforms, and a massive opportunity for upstarts like Branch, Reddit, Digg (hopefully), and a company or two that doesn’t exist yet, to create spaces where small groups can engage in high quality conversations.

Jake Levine is general manager of Digg. Before that, he was general manager of News.me.
POSTED     Dec. 19, 2012, 12:13 p.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Predictions for Journalism 2013
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Before the “teaching model” of journalism education: 5 questions to ask
It’ll take a new generation of academic leadership — willing to incur the wrath of faculty, the greater university, alumni, industry, and analysts — to break through the old ways we train journalists.
Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
The near future of First Look’s next site, Racket, looks fuzzy
The site, promised as a “satirical approach to American politics and culture,” was set to launch this month, but now it’s unclear when or if it’ll get off the ground.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
413The new Vox daily email, explained
The company’s newsletter, Vox Sentences, enters an increasingly crowded inbox. Can concise writing and smart aggregation on the day’s news help expand their audience?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Seattle PostGlobe
Reddit
Mozilla
Foursquare
McClatchy
Hearst
The New York Times
FactCheck.org
Connecticut Mirror
DNAinfo
Sports Illustrated
PubliCola