Marshall Kirkpatrick has written a thoughtful piece over on Read/Write Web entitled 'Facebook and the future of Free Thought' in which he explains the hard facts about news consumption and the open subscription models that were supposed to create a more open playing field for niche voices. In it, he states that news consumption has barely changed in the last 10 years. RSS and Feed Readers drive very little traffic and most people still get their news from hand selected mainstream portals and destination sites (like MSN News and Yahoo news etc). In other words, mainstream users do not curate and consume niche subscriptions and are quite content to read what the mainstream sites feed them.
This is troubling news (pun intended) for those of us who believe that the democratization of publishing might open up the world to niche voices and personalized story-telling.
Marshall goes on to argue that Facebook might be our last hope. That since everyone spends all their time in Facebook already, that the service has an opportunity to popularize the notion of subscribing to news sources and thereby bring to life our collective vision of personalized news for the mainstream. Facebook already does a great deal of this with users getting large amounts of news and links from their friends as they share and comment on links.
Through my work with APML I have long dreamed of a world where users are able to view information through a highly personalized lens - a lens that allows them to see personally relevant news instead of just popular news (note that Popularity is a factor of personal relevancy, but it is not the only factor). That doesn't mean the news would be skewed to one persuasion (liberal or conservative for example) but rather to a specific topic or theme.
Could Facebook popularize personalized news? Should it? Do we really want a closed platform to dictate how the transports, formats and tools of next generation story-telling get built? If so, would we simply be moving the top-down command and control systems of network television and big media to another closed platform with its own limitations and restrictions?
Personalized news on closed platforms are almost as bad as mainstream news on closed platforms. News organizations and small niche publishers both need a way to reach their audience using open technologies or we are doomed to repeat the homogenized news environment of the last 2 decades. The one that failed to protect us from a war in Iraq, failed to innovate when it came to on-demand, and failed to allow each of us to customize and personalize our own news reading tools.
That's why technologies like RSS/Atom, PubSubHub and others are so important.
What's missing now is a presentation tool that makes these technologies sing for the mainstream.
So far, as an industry, we've failed to deliver on this promise. I don't have the answers for how we might succeed. But succeed we must.
Perhaps established tier 1 media sites have a role to play. Perhaps market forces that are driving them to cut costs and innovate will drive these properties to turn from purely creating mainstream news editorially toward a model where they curate and surface contributions from their readership and the wider web.
In other words, Tier 1 publishers are being transformed from content creators to content curators - and this could change the game.
In the race to open up and leverage social and real-time technologies, these media organizations are actually making way for the most effective democratization of niche news yet.
Niche, personalized news distributed by open news hubs born from the 'ashes' of old media.
Don't like the tools one hub gives you? Switch to another. the brands we all know and love have an opportunity to become powerful players in the news aggregation and consumption game. Will they respond in time?
Due to my experience working with Tier 1 publishers for Echo, I have high hopes for many of them to learn and adapt. But much more work still remains.
Learn more about how news organizations are practically turning into personalized news curation hubs over on the Echo Blog.