This Beatles favorite makes for the perfect title of the final chapter in our series 2011 Review >> 2012 Trends. The best summary of the current effervescence in the digital media sector (and the best stimulus for a discussion that goes beyond mere year-end predictions) can be found in a recent article by Erick Schonfeld, in which he compares the unprecedented proliferation of technology start-ups to the Cambrian explosion and makes this enlightening observation:
“The internet is today’s steam engine. Anyone can tinker and build an app or a web business. The pace of innovation is similar to what was seen during the tail end of the industrial revolution in the late 1800s (…) Today’s most productive machine is the computer. But that machine is increasingly useless if it is not connected (…) It’s not just that the network is the computer. The network is society, the market, and politics all rolled into one.”
In all activity sectors and particularly that of media creation and distribution, this evolution will continue until society (the user) merges with the market (right-holders, producers, distributers) and politics (legislative machinery, regulation). In fact, the past few years have seen the user begin to climb back up the hierarchical ladder, moving from passive receiver to active transmitter.
As far back as 2006, TIME named “YOU” person of the year. Yet five years later, a division remains. Business is prepared to “listen” and “dialogue” with the user and even integrate user-generated content, provided users not alter the editorial or marketing trajectory of the company. User-generated content remains distinctly separated from that created by the professionals, and only rarely does anyone venture into co-creation terrain, where developers, authors and users unite to form a nucleus of inventiveness.
Granted, this year saw the progression, albeit timid, of such phenomena as crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and the alternate reality game (ARG), which involves the user (online and offline) in an interactive narrative. But many industry players see these initiatives as just more ways for companies to lose control. Transmedia storyteller Lance Weiler views co-creation with the public as a chance to bring “happy accidents” into a project. The Japanese example of Hatsune Miku is an astounding illustration of how a new economy of collaborative creation can turn into a phenomenal business success.
Control is not lost, but it must be distributed…fairly.
In the case of Hatsune Miku, creation is communal and users have the right to change and disseminate intellectual property (within certain parameters), but all contributions by the public must be not-for-profit. However, when the company uses the creation of a fan, a contract and remuneration are arranged. To not pay contributors would be an injustice, as demonstrated by the recent Voir vs. Huffington Post affair in Quebec(1). Such should also be the case for the giant platforms that feed off of the data they collect on their users, turn this data into profits on the markets, and use it as an asset to capitalize their business on the financial markets.
The past year has also been particularly active in terms of legislative review, regulatory upheaval, legal battles, patent wars, and privacy issues. This fight for control will take on new vigour and will confirm that in a world of quasi-continuous connectivity, society, the market, and politics cannot just co-exist…they must cooperate.
Returning to Schonfeld’s evolutionary metaphor, only those species that are able to adapt to this environment will survive. The Cambrian explosion began in Canada; there’s no reason why our talent, culture and politics cannot contribute to shaping the world of digital content tomorrow!
(1) The upcoming launch of a Quebec edition of The Huffington Post recently caused quite a stir in the blogging community when the weekly VOIR revealed that influent Quebec bloggers would contribute to the site without being paid.