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An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Feet of clay May 19, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 4:35 pm
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Collateral Damage Affinity GroupImage via Wikipedia

Good lord, I must sound like a Clay Shirky groupie by now. I’m not. Really. He’s just such a prolific writer that it’s taking me awhile to browse his stuff and share some things.

Today I found “Communities, Audiences and Scale.” In this 2002 article, Shirky does a great job of articulating the difference between a community and an audience.

It’s all about scale. A community is a smaller group by necessity, because a community is about interaction between individual members, many-to-many communication. An audience is larger and so the corresponding communication is one-way, center to edge.

Shirky points out that the larger a group, the more complex interaction becomes: “As group size grows, the number of connections required between people in the group exceeds human capacity to make or keep track of them all.”

In our context, our products (newspaper, TV, online, niche print pubs) have an audience and we communicate in what Chuck Peters has called the “megaphone” method — a centralized blasting of info to the masses.

What we must grow — what I am experimenting with — is a community, a smaller, originally recruited group of people to get talking and interacting around a slice of content. If we get it right, the community
will grow because people who care about it will join and run with it. The structure we build gives the community form and, yes, some boundaries, so it doesn’t implode from the forces of growth or group behaviors. See related post “Group Think” of May 12.

(Just to muddy the waters a bit, Shirky also argues in his book “Here Comes Everybody,” that social media tools make it easier than ever before for groups, large or small, to form, communicate and thrive.)

Now, the question is — with thanks to Chuck — how do we cross-pollinate? We’re a business, looking for revenue opportunities. Can we “tag” community members so as to target audience-advertising to them, too?

What do you think?

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4 Responses to “Feet of clay”

  1. Tracyp Says:

    Good question! …and might I add you’re doing a super swell job with this topic and your blog!

    Perhaps what you’re looking for is already being done out there in webland and simply needs to be adapted or remodeled for this more divine purpose. I’m certainly no tech expert, but here are two interesting examples: twing’s beta site, which is a search for online communities and forums, and Sprout’s beta, which claims to learn your news and entertainment preferences (web sites, feeds, blogs) based on the positive & negative feedback you give it .

  2. contentninja Says:

    Thanks for the links, Tracy. I’ll check them out. Matthew Manuel has been asking the same question that you do. Do we really need to create from scratch, or can we find it being done elsewhere? I, Matthew and others are looking for other examples all the time, so send us more links if you find them.

  3. Matthew M Says:

    Sprout essentially is tagging user profiles based on their IP address, I assume. It is similar to spy wares that watch you and spam you with pop-up ads, but Sprout is friendlier???

    Twing is a cool niche search site like Flickr is to photos, sort of. The beauty of it is when I am looking for PHP code snippets I don’t have to sort through all the muckety muck of Google when I really need to search forums only.

    More on Sprout….
    It better figure me out quick and show me what I want or I will use Twing to search the Forums on how to easily uninstall it.

    Thanks for the links Tracy!


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