- In the recent years, one-way communications have become one of the main characteristics of mass media compared to so-called social media.
- But with audiences big enough, social media behave like mass media: one-way.
Back in the days when the blog revolution was in its beginnings, many bloggers evangelized the values of instantaneous feedback. Readers can send their thoughts just after the article is finished and published. Compare this picture with the traditional media, like journals and TV. Internet allowed interaction between senders and receivers, in so many ways that today is even difficult to distinguish who is who (i.e. Digg). Rightly so, many of us welcomed the arrival of social communication tools. There is no doubt that corporations and organizations are embracing social media and modifying their communication plans accordingly to Cluetrain Manifesto's thesis markets are conversations.
100 million blogs, 400 million Facebook's users... In the light of social tools popularity, may we ask whether social media is going to kill mass media? Don't think so, and probably the question is nonsense. Let's see why.
Social media don't scale
Having a conversation in this humble blog is quite different than to follow all the daily threads in Digg. Little communities can be handled, not big ones. That's why Microsiervos (one of the most popular blogs in Spain) decided to close the comments and invest time spent in community management to write interesting posts. Similar behaviour is seen in the most popular accounts on Twitter or Facebook. With thousands of followers, popularity has a price: communication becomes mainly one-way. To manage the community, high levels of participation need a big amount of resources.
A bit offtopic, another difference between mass media and blogs is in content quality. Many bloggers vocally has distinguished themselves from traditional media claiming more variety and higher standards of quality. There is no doubt about variety, but as we have seen, anxiousness lead to the same diseases as journalism. We've seen a recent case involving Jason Calacanis and the iPad. Calacanis used twitter to purportedly disclose Apple's tablet characteristics, hours before formal presentation. In the end, it was a practical joke, but both professional blogs and journals cited Calacanis, without double-checking the claims.
«Egalitarianism is possible only in small social systems. Once a medium gets past a certain size, fame is a force move. Early reports of the death of traditional media portrayed the Web as a kind of anti-TV -two-way where TV is one-way, interactive where TV is passive, and (implicitly) good where TV is bad. Now we know that the Web is not a perfect antidote to the problems of mass media, because some of those problems are human and are not amenable to technological fixes. This is bad news for that school of media ctriicism that has assumed that the authorities are keeping the masses down. In thet weblog world there are no authorities, only masses, and yet the accumulated weight of attention continues to create the kind of imbalances we associate with traditional media»
Which imbalances is he talking about? Is a reference to his popular writing Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. When analyzed, the attention is mainly concentrated in a small number of blogs. Shirky discovered this fact. JJ Merelo, Fernando Tricas and me did that math for the Spanish blogosphere back in 2003.
Let's return to the question whether social media is going to kill mass media. It's demonstrated that social media are interactive only communities are small. When they growth, the interaction is reduced and becomes mainly one-way, or less personal, or both. So in the distant future it's possible that press, radio and television go out of business and that digital media replaces them. That day, un-interactive media would be vanished. But mass media wouldn't, because that depends on audiences and apparently they tend to concentrate.
I would love that politics and other public -and private- characters could have open conversations with society as a whole. Many of us have learned a big deal about a wide range of topics in comment threads, and even considered blogs with disabled comments weren't real blogs.
But after pondering the foretold arguments, I think it's better to let pass the romantic idea that popular people can blog under the same conditions that we do. And some of the basics of corporate communication regarding social media may need some rethinking.
Original spanish version: ¿Acabarán los medios sociales con los medios de masas?