#CMS2010 – three big things, pt I

I was at the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit last week… look, see, really I was…



I did a lot of liveblogging in the morning, then was on a panel early afternoon.  I took some photos of people coming in, just for fun. 

Maybe you were there, and you can spot yourself…





But then, like the awful liveblogger, I got caught up in conversations and inspirations and the like…

…which meant the liveblogging fell away a bit. 

Rather than try and cobble together the back half of the day, I thought instead I’d capture the three big-ish thoughts I walked away with from the day. 

Hopefully these will offer fair compensation for anyone who was following avidly, only to find coverage tailing off like a drunk’s sentence…

(I’ve decided to split it into three posts, because I do go on… so here’s ‘part I’)

Part I – The ebb and flow of mass and niche

So, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia opened the day.  I love Wikipedia, it’s a community with a real sense of purpose, helped no doubt by a really clear mission…

“to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally”

As Wales said, “free, as in free speech, not as in free beer”.



And of course, it’s massively successful in achieving that mission.  But what’s next?

Well, it’s Wikia.  If Wikipedia is just the encyclopaedia in the library, Wikia’s going to be the other cultural artifacts in the library…

The mission of Wikia is “to enable communities to create, share and discover content on any topic in any language”

Not just educational content, learning, but anything people like.  The most successful ones so far are things based on big, cultural things that bring people together… like Star Wars, Lost, or Dr Who (more on The Doctor later, btw… )



See what they did?  They called the Star Wars one ‘Wookiepedia‘.  Clever.

And it’s not just the large, global cultural things that have their own Wikia sites…lots of smaller communities of interest do too.  You know all this, I’ll skip on.

They started as one big central technology idea, and are now spreading into lots of more precise cultural ideas…

Then Erik Huggers from the BBC was talking about the new vision for the BBC, where people would be able to edit and select their own personal, perfect BBC.  The BBC had sprawled into lots of niche and interesting areas of course, from before being one big central place…

…and all through the day, we heard from other big media companies saying they were spreading out into niche, niche and neat technology companies talking about going mainstream.

So it got me thinking about this notion of the ebb and flow of technology and media… back and forth, constantly changing, like the sea…



A new technology emerges, and something mainstream is done with it…

…because in order to get people using it, the technology can’t afford to be fussy.  It can’t serve the many and myriad needs of the population, it has to be for everyone.

Like television when it was just 4 channels, or like Wikipedia.

But when the technology matures, and people love it, more niche opportunities arise… people think ‘ahh, all these people love television, so maybe I could create a station that just shows films, and the people who like television, and like films, will like that better…’

…or think “right, people understand what this wiki thing is now, and they find it useful… maybe people who like wikis, and like a TV show like Lost, will like their own wiki better…”

But when a new technology comes along again, it has to be for everyone for a while… just until everyone gets used to it. 

Then it’ll break apart, and find interesting niches to serve.

For instance, maybe that’s where the location services like FourSquare and Gowalla will end up.  Rather than being technology for ‘everyone’, there will be precise iterations for foodies, football fans and bird spotters…

…the community you share it with will be the one in which you share interests, rather than the shared interest being the technology itself.



The tools of the modern age will make this happen a lot faster too… APIs to build specific versions of a general service, the ability to quickly share information with a given community.

At first, it seems people are interested in the technology.

But then, you realise they just want to find out how they can use technology to help them do what they liked to do anyway, but better.