MMORPGs show us the future of media

Tomorrow I have the opportunity to facilitate a seminar for journalism students. Preparing the seminar I was surprised how strongly virtual worlds and gaming influence me. No, I don’t believe people will routinely watch and read the news in a World of Warcraft setting, dressed up as Orcs or Trolls. But yes, there is a more subtle but very fundamental influence with implications for the whole media ecosystem.

First I’ll talk about social media. I think it’s still useful to explain the social media ecosystem, mentioning immersive environments/virtual worlds as a way to organize small groups of very interested people, in order to get inspiration and feedback. Blogs, forums and chats are no marginal activities in a newsroom – they’re rapidly becoming core business.

This understanding of social media is just a first step towards gaining insights regarding the major changes taking place in the media. The second part of my presentation will be about the future of media, which sounds rather cliché, but then again, the participants in the seminar are that future.

In a MindMeister map I focus on two compelling aspects which hopefully point out the major change vectors: the social dimension and the real-time interaction. Both aspects lead to engagement of the people formerly known as the audience and thus to the relevance of the media operation.

It really does help to have even a minimal gaming experience. I used to play World of Warcraft for a while and these days I’m getting addicted to a very nice MMO on the iPad: Pocket Legends. The social interaction on forums, blogs and Facebook pages is fun, but what is really exhilirating is participating in a raid, fighting monsters in small groups.

What one experiences is the mental state of flow. Applications of this principle, even for serious news media, are obvious: just compare the action during a chat session with asynchronous commenting, or observe what happens when a comment has to be approved by moderators before it can appear (however, I am strongly in favor of real-time curation and moderation).

In the concept map I try to point out many other similarities between massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGS) and developments in the news media. This has important consequences for the business model and the management style of news media companies. Agile and Scrum suddenly become relevant for newsrooms. Openness of the development and of news production and curating process become crucial. Fast iteration of tools and design elements will become the norm. Theories about ‘the end of management (as we know it)’ become applicable (media more becoming like movie production, with teams which may get together and disband in function of projects and personal interests).

An example of this: the Liquid News project.
Other examples: have a look at crowdSPRING for design services or eLancer which also includes news-writing (thank you Dusan Writer for mentioning those services in an email-conversation). I don’t think my message for the students will be a pessimistic one. Maybe it will get harder to find a job at big mainstream media companies, but the media ecosystem is expanding. What is needed is an understanding of the many different components of that landscape and entrepreneurial talent.

The MindMeister map is a wiki-map, so feel free to add stuff.

Journalism in the age of data visualization

Journalists and data visualization, working together with comuter scientists, researchers and artists… Visit the site at Stanford University, produced during a 2009-2010 Knight Journalism Fellowship.

Journalists are coping with the rising information flood by borrowing data visualization techniques from computer scientists, researchers and artists. Some newsrooms are already beginning to retool their staffs and systems to prepare for a future in which data becomes a medium. But how do we communicate with data, how can traditional narratives be fused with sophisticated, interactive information displays?

Journalism in the Age of Data from geoff mcghee on Vimeo.

(hat tip Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture and Flowing Data).

Also Twitter wants to be fast, easy and fun – sounds familiar?

So Twitter should be fast and easy. And fun of course. If not, they won’t ever go mainstream. For someone covering Second Life, it all sounds very familiar.

One of the interesting points I learned watching Robert Scoble’s live video stream during the Twitter press conference this week was that the overwhelming majority of Twitter users just use the website, there where no self-respecting member of the tech-elite ever go. The social media and tech people think it is so self-evident to use clients such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic that they cannot even imagine that everybody else just goes to www.twitter.com.
That silent majority is rather, well, silent. They (okay, many of them) use Twitter as a kind of social RSS-reader without engaging in a conversation or even without retweeting stuff. Twitter itself seems to consider their service as a real time news network rather than as a social network. A news network like CNN let’s say, but more customizable. But many users are there to consume news, just as they consume news watching CNN.
Let’s compare this with Second Life. The most vocal residents are the builders and scripters, the traders, the organizers. They are a minority – even though without them there would be no such thing as Second Life. This is not surprising: on web forums, discussion boards and chat rooms the really active people are a minority, and the bulk of the activity comes from a tiny group of very active people.
The challenge is to keep that minority happy while realizing that the needs and expectations of the overwhelming majority are different. I guess the web version of Twitter will be a success among the majority, while the power users will stick to their sophisticated client where they can manage all their different social media accounts.
The same probably applies for Second Life and similar virtual worlds. One needs viewer versions or settings which cater for the socializers or for users of devices such as the iPad, other versions can focus on the heavy users and content creators.
“Fast, easy and fun” will be crucial criteria for new media wanting to gain traction. “Fun like the iPhone” Philip Rosedale said during the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) in Boston. “The iPhone is slower (…) but it’s delightful” he said. Just like reading Twitter or Facebook on Flipboard is maybe a bit slower, but more delightful. Don’t look down on that – making things delightful is the way to really change things.
Here is the video Scoble made at the Twitter conference: