Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

User-Generated Media And Its Future Next To Traditional Publishing

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As surely as the birth of jazz music was shunned by many classically trained musicians the rise of user-generated media has gained the scorn of many professional content producers.

Photo credit: Daniel Altherr

But when you're using pretty much the same tools as any professional producers in a medium that reaches the world as easily as any one the differing qualities of user-publishers should not be discounted too quickly.

User-generated media from individuals and institutions is more than just a fad - it's the major publishing trend of our times that has informed and modified how we approach professional publishing forever.

Photo credit: Pierre Alain Goualch

At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 much of the surplus war material of the U.S. expeditionary force in Cuba was shipped back to the mainland via New Orleans, then the hub of U.S. shipping for the Caribbean.

Amongst the goods rolling off the cargo ships were surplus band instruments from the army's now-demobilized musicians.

All of a sudden New Orleans was awash in high-quality trumpets, clarinets and tubas that most anybody could afford - including local musicians entertaining visitors to the more upscale brothels in the Crescent City.

Tossed into this musical mix was the unique intertwining of cultures that fueled New Orleans and that flowed up and down the Mississippi River on trains, riverboats and barges. Presto - jazz was born.

As much as jazz is revered today as both popular music and a high art form it was dismissed as rather junky and raunchy stuff at its inception.

Critics were sure that it would never have the lucid intelligence and quality of classical music created by highly trained musicians in grand concert halls.

Yet by the 1920s jazz and other forms of popular music had begun to overwhelm classical music as the phonograph made it easy for audiences to choose and experience the music that interested them the most where it suited them best.

It wasn't that the qualities of classical music were no longer appreciated; no, it was just that those qualities had become rather limited in their appeal and application in comparison to surging popular forms of music.

In today's burgeoning market for user-generated media the lessons from the birth of jazz as an art form, come into clear focus yet again at an accelerated pace.

The highly affordable tools of the publishing trade found on the Web today have allowed self-proclaimed publishers to create their own content in ways that publishers could never dream of ten years ago, while the global Web allows it to flow to audiences as effortlessly as a river heading for its delta.

In the face of this phenomenon many professional journalists and publishers frown at the quality of user-generated media much in the same way that the classically-trained "longhairs" dismissed the popular appeal of jazz.

Yet as much as Washington Post journalists may spout off about webloggers attacking their work and Wikipedia gets slammed for lax editorial practices these spats miss the real point of what is quality content in user-generated media.

The quality of user-generated media is not in trying to replicate traditional media outlets but in its ability to create new forms of quality that can be appreciated by audiences both large and small.

Here are a few points to bear in mind about the emerging qualities of user-generated content that can complement and amplify those of traditional publishing sources:

  • A few sour notes won't ruin a great song.
    The quality flap surrounding Wikipedia's poor management of some user-generated entries in their online encyclopedia neglects the fact that the broad base of this highly respected source is both well-edited and well-written. The prestigious international journal Nature recently compared entries in Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica and found user-generated content in Wikipedia to be of equivalent quality.

    The peer review processes of a user-generated source are not flawless but neither are professional sources. Don't mistake the flaws of a young craft with permanent disabilities that cannot be outgrown.

    The fundamental quality of many user-generated media sources is far higher than most publishers are willing to admit.

  • Sometimes a different tune is not a bad tune.
    As noted on our ContentBlogger weblog a service such as that gathers input from user-publishers may be creating content forms far more abstract and raw than traditional editorial processes would ever allow - and that's not a bad thing.

    User-generated media is creating new patterns and rhythms in content aggregation and composition that capture the pulse of human intellect in ways that are oftentimes fundamentally different than today's professional publishing methods.

    The differences in user-generated media should not be discarded but embraced as dynamic new experiments that will sprout oftentimes into vibrant compositions that will find immortal value as surely as Charlie Parker's riffs are still unforgettable.

  • The merging of two great forms will create even more value.
    The cultural value of jazz was codified by George Gershwin's melding of jazz themes with classical forms in the 1924 composition Rhapsody in Blue. Jazz has informed classical music ever since, and vice versa. There will always be an audience and a strong need for traditional professional publishing and journalism, but it need not try to find its value in isolation from user-generated media.

    Professional publishing will evolve as surely as classical music had to evolve and respond to the needs and themes of modern audiences who became used to new norms for musical composition. That evolution may leave many journalists and publishers in roles more like the newcomers than their old roles, or it may mean much more specialized roles within the realm of traditional publishing.

    Regardless of which path they choose the joining of these two publishing schools will create far more value than trying to insist on separate purity for its own sake.

    This is the road that major portal providers such as Google, Yahoo and AOL have been traveling for some time and that more progressive business-oriented publishers such as ALM have been pursuing as well.

    Aggressive pioneers in melding these two forms will be rewarded richly.

Publishing is already taking the same shape as the musical world, with a handful of audiences appreciating ever more rarified classic publishers and journalists while popular user-generated media from individuals and institutions captures both the human heart and mind more effectively for many mass and focused audiences.

The qualities of each will continue to be appreciated in parallel with one another, to inform one another and even combine with one another when harmonious opportunities arise. Regardless of its evolving forms user-generated media has become and will remain the dominant source of electronic content as long as the publishing playing field remains as level as it does today.

John Blossom -
Reference: Shore [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, December 20 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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