Social web – people power?

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Last November a breakfast with Wadds meant the usual 45 minutes of dealing with big questions. That morning Wadds asked me had the social web failed to live up to initial expectations? The discussion made it into his book Brand Vandals.

My take on this was that conversation on the social web isn’t aligned to the communities which it purports to influence; despite the common perception that it is the vox populi. It isn’t, technology doesn’t change thousands of years of human ‘software’. I pointed Wadds to ancient Rome where you had a large population of the proletariat who were kept happy with ‘bread and circuses’.

Rome had democratic structures broadly reminiscent of what we currently have in  the west and spaces where there were public debates. But in general these debates only touched a small proportion of the population; a bit like the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4.

Technology is powerful, it can make the world smaller, it can provide access but it can’t engage an apathetic audience. The social web only works in this context when it stokes (usually negative) emotions. This is why the status quo carries on despite massive upheavals.It generally takes a black swan moment to move things on.

By comparison, active social web communities are an elite of sorts, a bit more democratic than the chattering classes of yore or the Today programme listeners of today; but still a definite minority.

I heard a talk recently about the news media recently; it covered research that Vice Media had done internationally and one of the key themes that came out was that younger people were disengaged from the big issues that mattered because they weren’t engaging with the ‘elite’ culture of the quality news media.

It wasn’t that there was a lack of interest, but that those surveyed felt that content wasn’t framed in a relevant way and of sufficiently high quality. All of this means is that the active group is likely to skew older and shrink unless young people were provided with alternatives.

Monocle magazine’s mix of style, design and quality news analysis targets a slightly older group and has challenged the media status quo. But in media terms both Vice and Monocle are small but perfectly-formed businesses targeting a small minority of engaged consumers. More media-related content here.

More information

VICE News – an attempt to provide more engaging content for young (and not so young people)