The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

There's been a couple of items posted at Poynter about user-produced online content initiatives:

- is a community news site built by students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. The goal was to run the site with as much resident-written contributions as possible, and compare the experience with similar efforts around the country. Results are available in the free report, "Hyperlocal Citizens' Media: Connecting Communities, Improving Journalism, Building Democracy".

- In a slightly different tack, the Open Source Media Project is looking to build a massive repository of open-source media files, with the goal of allowing people to utilize media anywhere, anyhow, anytime. The Internet Archive has offered to provide the storage.

Each proposal is based around the centralization-through-decentralization concept: Draw material from the public at large, then present it in one consolidated location. As such, it relies on fairly active audience participation.

And that's why, ultimately, they're both dead ends.

Ideas on the dissemination of media through Internet-based vehicles always assumes that there's a desire among the masses to create and contribute content. Those who see blogging as a phenomenon count on this.

My experience is that it's a much more limited impulse than most new-media acolytes would like to admit. In the larger context, there's a relatively small group of motivated content creators out there. Once the novelty of blogging/open media/whatever wears off, those numbers dwindle further. Eventually, these sites that rely on fresh infusions of user input slow down or become stale. This is particularly the case with community news sites; in the case of the Open Media Project, I can easily see it becoming hijacked into a porn depot.

Referring to these projects as citizen-oriented is appropriate--but not in a positive way. Citizenship is a status that's taken for granted by most; it's just there, and rarely exercised in the form of voting or other government participation. Online content contributing would probably be regarded the same way: Nice to know it's available, but likely to be rarely exploited.