Social Computing is overhyped. It will be big for small news, but small for big news. 4/14/08Posted by Steve Boriss in SocialComputing.
The latest fad in future of news speculation is that social computing will dramatically revolutionize the news process. We are being led to believe that news outlets and news sources will be interacting with each other in what Jeff Jarvis calls a “press-sphere,” working together quasi-cooperatively to refine and advance the news. Audiences will be transformed from news couch potatoes into news athletes, switching from passive observers to active participants via social computing tools and opportunities. And suddenly, news consumers will have a taste for the work of amateurs — amateurs in their topic areas and in their writing skills.
Pardon me for being anti-social from the social computing crowd, but I think we’re getting a little carried away. Yes, social computing will be big, but in an area I consider news, but few others do — news of family and friends,. This “small news” is provided through platforms like Facebook, MySpace, and various blogging services. Note that there are no amateurs here — the user-generated news on these sites is being provided by experts in their small world of news microcommunities.
But when it comes to “big news,” at the community level and higher, social computing will largely be a way to distribute news, not to create it. News distribution will not resemble Jeff Jarvis’ “me-sphere,” with individuals at the middle surrounded by news sources. Instead it will resemble a supply chain, much as it does today, with news sources on one end, news consumers on the other, and middlemen-media in the middle. What’s new is that these new news middlemen will have to do more than just serve as passive vessels simply passing on so-called “objective, disinterested reporting” to audiences that could not get this news anywhere else. Instead, the middlemen will have to earn their keep by adding value that sets them apart — e.g. expert opinion, superior aggregation of news stories for specific audiences, entertaining writing styles, and developing a community of like-minded readers. Like talk radio, where only a small percentage of listeners call-in and can impact a program’s content, only a small percentage of online news audiences will make comments that make a difference. Social computing in “big news” will be no big deal.