"...the salvation of the news industry... will come not from corporate board rooms but in unleashing the pent-up power of the citizenry as one leg of a multipronged participatory media strategy."
This from J.D. Lasica over at MediaShift's IdeaLab who was reporting on a New York Times project to give outside programmers access to the data in the Grey Lady's databases for them to do with as they will (more on this later).
Lasica gets it. As, apparently, does the New York Times. In the past, newspapers gained power by hoarding their knowledge and releasing it in drips and drabs. That worked because we readers had nowhere else to go for information (and, for that matter, not a whole lot else to do with our time). So we put up with that paradigm. Kind of like how in high school, you put up with crap from the popular kids, because they're the ones who hold all the chits.
But then you graduate from high school. The world becomes much bigger, and suddenly the popular kids no longer hold the sway they once did. The newspaper world is undergoing the same paradigm shift. Their previously devoted readers now have lots more to do with their time. And plenty of places to go for information. So news organizations now actually have to work for their money and woo those they once took for granted.
The smart ones realize you get a lot farther when don't try to do it all yourself but instead leverage a variant on the "wisdom of crowds." Instead of only using the 100, or 1,000, smart people within your own organization, you give the thousands (tens of thousands) creative folks out in the ethernet a way to produce dandy material -- whether blog posts or neat mashups -- for your website. And as everyone from Wikipedia to DailyKos knows, they're happy to do it. Some because they like being helpful. Others because they want a big canvas on which to exercise their creative talents.
Facebook knew this. That's why just about a year ago, they opened up their databases and let outside programmers and companies develop applications for Facebook users. Facebook knew that tens of thousands of highly motivated souls would come up with cool features that folks inside Facebook might never think of (and certainly would never have the time to actually build). And with every great application available to Facebook users, the value of Facebook itself goes up. Exhibit A: Within a month of launching the Facebook Platform, 40,000 developers had asked to participate.
The New York Times is apparently clueing into this. And it's clearly intuitive to Lasica:
"For every journalist on staff at a mid-size daily," he wrote, "I'll wager there are at least 10 data jockeys willing to dive into some aspect of its datastream to create an interesting new map, widget, chart, game, animation, virtual space -- anything that feeds off a rich source of data."
And that, boys and girls, is one of the ways you create content your readers love--and that keep them coming back.
Photo courtesy of Hc 07