Two Thursday Reads
Yes, it’s another Twitter article — but this one is by Steven Johnson, which is a big point in its favor, and it ends with a very interesting discussion of how thoroughly Twitter has been changed by its end users.
As Johnson notes, Twitter isn’t the only service that’s been reshaped by a continuous cycle of innovation — he cites Facebook and the iPhone as other examples. I’d add TiVo, which like the iPhone is an example of hardware whose function morphs and flows because of its software. It’s amazing to me that we now happily buy gadgets which aren’t quite ready for prime time because we know software updates will fix problems and add functions to them, without our ever having to go back to the store. If you’d even imagined such a thing 20 years ago people would have thought you were insane; it’s old hat now. (Last winter, I wrote a Real Time column about this phenomenon and how it’s fed modding culture.)
Johnson’s article left me wondering how end users might reshape newspapers that fully embraced user-generated content and social networking. The “networked newspaper” model that I and many other people have explored assumes a big role for readers in generating news and information for the community; it stands to reason that that model would work best if hemmed in as little as possible, allowing it to be shaped as much as possible by the community. What would they do with it?
The second read that grabbed me this morning was Josh Catone’s examination of NPR on Mashable. Catone’s points about NPR’s local focus are contested a bit in the comments, which is itself something great that we’ve quickly come to take for granted — I’m sure Catone would be the first to say it’ll make his next piece even better. Meanwhile, his review of NPR’s embrace of social media, open standards and multiple delivery channels stands as a valuable lesson for other organizations trying to turn themselves into an information habit for their audiences. This is how to do it: full speed and right now.
This year, I’ve seen social media go from a what-if to a necessary component for many newspapers: Instead of just worrying about the different flavors of comment moderation, our potential customers now ask us how readers can follow each other, be notified of replies to their comments and send each other direct messages. Newspapers are moving at different speeds and with different comfort levels, but they’re increasingly realizing that they’re now in the social-networking business as well.