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Monday, January 29, 2001

Rant #1
Web Effect:
Turning the Mass Media Model on its Head

Instead of content trickling down from on high, the internet provides a way for content to bubble up from the crevices, from the niches.

Media folk and content providers have a hard time shifting their mass-audience mindset. Advertising support has always operated on the size of the audience reached. Well, the mass audience has left the building, it's a niche audience thing. And there are more and smaller niches every day. Reaching a mass audience -- which has been scattered, splintered among all these new media -- has become increasingly impossible and cost prohibitive.

The promise of the web is not to develop one global brand or product for the global audience. Rather the promise of the web is about empowering niche interests that previously could not collectively gather or communicate or trade because of geographic or other market constraints. The more unique and narrow a special interest, the more passionate are the participants -- it's the opposite of opiate for the masses, the dumming down of America. Witness the success of eBay. It is a collection of passionate niches. People with specific, passionate interests. In the web niches, communities flourish, passions heat up, expertise is shared, knowledge grows, commerce happens.

These smaller, specialized splintering audiences are indeed challenging the mass market mentality -- (one-to-many). Can original high-quality content be created at a profit with these shifting audience economies of scale? CNN is trying by taking its original content and repackaging it for many sub-audiences (one-to-several manies). That's a shift on the old model. But the web is creating an entirely opposite approach. Instead of content trickling down from on high, the internet provides a way for content to bubble up from the crevises, from the niches. (one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many).

Stay tuned. Who will make money under this model? Unknown. But wonderful things are taking shape at self-organizing content sites like Plastic and Slashdot, where content bubbles up from the primordial ooze -- editors and user ratings act as filters allowing the good stuff to rise to the top. Then there's sites like Epinions and good old Amazon, where users contribute the lion's share of the site's content and credibility. The same principle is at work on eBay, where the more the users participate, the more self-regulating and credible the site becomes. (In support of my rant... here's a May 8, 2001 Internet.com article from Australia heralding the success of user-contributed content sites.)