Jan 10 2006

New Media Deal, Part II – the We Media Deal

New Media Deal, Part II – the We Media Deal

My original New Medial Deal posting from August, 2004, is my favorite posting of all 220 or so that I’ve done to date. It has the most clicks of any posting I’ve done. People mention it to me all the time. I even used it as the foundation for the preface to our book at Return Path, Sign Me Up!

The general thesis (although the original posting is short and worth reading) is simple. Old Media was one-way communication – they produce it, you consume it, and Old Media had a deal with us: they give us free or cheap content, we tolerate their advertising. Think about your favorite radio station or an episode of The Office on TV. The New Media deal is an Internet derivative of that, that is founded on some degree of two-way communication: they give us free services and more targeted advertising in exchange for some of our personal data — just like the Old Media deal, we are willing make a small sacrifice, in this case, some pieces of our anonymity, in a heartbeat if the value exchange is there. This is true of everything from personalized stock quotes on My Yahoo! to the New York Times on the Web. The New Media Deal doesn’t replace the Old Media Deal, it just adapts it to the new environment.

But what about the new generation of services that have popped up on the web around peer production?  The ones that aren’t one-way communication or two-way communication, but community-oriented communciation.  (Note I am resisting hard calling them Web 2.0, but you know it’s there somewhere.)  Does the New Media Deal still apply, or are we on to something else?  I think the rules are morphing once again, and now there’s a new deal — let’s call it the We Media Deal — that builds on the “data as part of the value exchange” moniker of the New Media Deal. Like its predecessor deals, the We Media Deal doesn’t replace the New Media Deal or the Old Media Deal, it just adapts it for new types of services.

The We Media Deal has two components to it:  (1) the value of the service to you increases in lock-step as you contribute more data to it, and (2) the more transparent the value exchange, the more willing you are to share your data.

Ok – that sounds very academic – what do I mean in plain English? Let’s break it down.

1. The value to you increases in lock-step as you contribute more data.  This is something that probably wasn’t obvious with the original New Media Deal, since it wasn’t clear that if you gave My Yahoo! incrementally more data (one more stock quote, for example), you’d get more relevant ads or services.  It’s a pretty static value exchange.  But think about the new generation of web services around peer production.

– The more you use Delicious to bookmark web pages, the more relevant it becomes to you, and the more dependent you become on it as your own “Internet within an Internet.”

– The more you wite a blog or post photos to Flickr, the more engrained the act of blogging becomes in your daily existence — you start looking at the world, ever so slightly, through the lens of “that would make an interesting posting” (trust me).

– The more you use Wikipedia (or wikis in general), the more committed you become to Wikipedia as your first go-to source for information, and the more you get infected with the desire to contribute to it.

The bottom line with the first part of the We Media Deal is that the more you give to the system, the more you want and need out of the system.  A big part of peer production is that most people fundamentally, if quietly, want to belong to any bit of community they can find.  All these new web services of late have transformed the mass Internet from a read platform to a read/write platform, so now everyone can have a say in things.  The same reason eBay is cooler and bigger than the New York Times on the Web will drive this new generation of services, and new spins on old services, forward.

2. Next up — the more transparent the value exchange, the more willing you are to share your data.  Transparecy rules.  When you contribute to the web, you’re exposed, so why is trasparency a help and not a hindrance?  Let’s look at the same 3 examples.

– Delicious let’s you delete your account and all your personal data.  They’re blatant about it during the sign-up process.  The result?  It increases your trust in the network since you can easily exit at any time.

– Blogging and Flickr couldn’t be more transparent.  They’re personal printing presses.  If you’re good at it, you really have to think before you write. It’s you – you’re really hanging out there transparent for all the world to see – therefore you’re even more invested in what you write and derive even more value from the activity.

– Similarly, Wikipedia tracks who changes what, and if you make an error, the community will correct it in an astonishingly short time frame, keeping you honest.

The good news is that, while the We Media Deal is coming of age, our New Media Deal is alive and well and growing stronger as the web evolves as well.  Free services and more targeted advertising in exchange for some of your personal data makes a ton of sense when the right balance of service and data is there.  Transparency and control make the We Media Deal an even stronger stronger bond between company and individual, mostly because the bond is between company and community — the deal gets more solid the more we as individuals invest in it.