Back to this question about why we Americans are coughing up $1.6 billion a year for virtual goods but seem disinclined to pay for news stories.
Susan Wu says virtual objects are “graphical metaphors” that correspond to our behaviors. Etaoin Shrdlu says consuming news stories online is still too isolated an activity; it needs to become “an integral part of a social community experience.”
Already, sites like Gotham Gazette, Baristanet, West Seattle B-Town Blog, Voice of San Diego, et al., are engaging their communities differently from how the major metro newspapers have been doing it forever. They’re more like the little weekly newspapers where some of us started our careers, just daily and on the Web. To make these kinds of sites viable, it’s as much about community organizing as it is about building a news organization.
Yet, some of the largest news organizations have made the most important moves toward what Dan Conover calls thoughtful structures, which are the truly integrated multimedia information packages that I believe represent the news story’s likely future. This includes things like NYTImes Times Topics pages, MediaStorm’s Life Magazine-like multimedia stories, PBS Frontline program pages, the site Nick Bilton helped build for David Carr’s Night of the Gun book, or sites and tools such as The Story of Stuff, the St. Pete Times’ Politifact, This American Life’s Giant Pool of Money or NPR On The Media’ update of How a Bill Becomes a Law).
These structures can be built around research and live reporting, databases, documentary filmmaking and photography, art, animation, even gaming. The building blocks of this kind of content isn’t the news story anymore. It’s at once both a broader view of a subject, it could even be something like a virtual world, and more detailed, employing specific tools for doing a variety of things someone might want or need to do, related to the subject.
In developing community news sites, someone to watch is John Temple at Peer News, the Honolulu-based news service start-up backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Blogging his first week at Peer News, Temple, the former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, described how one of first tasks he discussed with his team of hosts/beat reporters during that first week was how to begin thinking about the online structures that would define their beats.
Local community sites should not only enable us to inform ourselves but should be built so as to become an integral part of how we interact with our governments, the media and even our neighbors for certain civic activities. Businesses and organizations should be able to use them to raise their visibility in their communities and connect with customers and members. As Mark Potts at Growthspur has said, helping them do that in the fast-paced, ever-changing social networked world is also a way content producers can get paid, rather than just selling ads.
So, a question: Are there graphical metaphors that might become central to the behaviors we’re going to be engaging in as we explore the new information structures that will be appearing on our community web sites?