Democratization of content not so democratic

Democratization of content
Democratization of information
Democratization of media

I’m noticing more and more use of the term “democratization” in articles about the media business.

The term is especially popular in discussions about social media. Social media, a relatively new term, has come to mean those Internet tools that facilitate the “wisdom of the crowd” model where meaning and value are derived through mass collaboration. Examples of social media sites would be such Web 2.0 stars as Wikipedia, Myspace, Facebook Digg, Flikr and Youtube.

Here’s an example from an article by Brian Solis, the owner of the Silicon Valley public relations firm FutureWorks PR.

Social Media is the democratization of content and the understanding of the role people play in the process of not only reading and disseminating information, but also how they share and create content for others to participate. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in a conversational format between authors and people.

Democratization, as I understood it, had to do with an authoritarian government moving towards a less oppressive, more open society. When applied to media or content, democratization has come to mean a move away from a perceived old and authoritarian media – the major TV networks, film studios, record companies and newspapers – towards a seemingly less oppressive, personally created environment provided by web technology where content is readily available, is free, and can be delivered based on ones likes and dislikes or even the likes and dislikes of one’s network of friends.

We are naturally attracted to words like democracy or democratization in the United States. It’s in our blood. We learn early on that democracy represents freedom. So when democracy is applied to terms like media and information, it’s easy to believe that this must be a good and positive thing.

My own feeling is that democratization can’t realistically be applied to information at all. By casting the media as authoritarian, the term can be used politically by those technologists who are trying to wrest power away from the established media towards their new Web 2.0 innovations.

Content is evaluated on quality, on how well it informs, entertains, teaches or illuminates truths. Using “popularity” as its measure is to greatly misrepresent it.

I enjoyed this blog post by Andrew Keen, author of last year’s controversial book The Cult of the Amateur. He points out in his blog post The end of the middle that democratization of media is in fact a falsehood and that, in reality, wealth and power are just being reallocated to new companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook etc.

3 thoughts on “Democratization of content not so democratic

  1. Scott W. Smith

    The democratization of media is a reality. I saw this with the rise of Photoshop and Pro Tools in the early 90s and more recently with the Final Cut Pro and the web. One thing to keep in mind is all of this is just in the infant stage.

    Sure there is a lot of crap being produced and just a few people making money on the content they are producing, but give it some time. And remember one definitions of amateur is to do something for pleasure rather than financial benefit.

    Filmmaker Ken Burns began making documentaries because he loved making them and always thought he’d be poor. This new world of media is going to open doors for more people to do what they love doing and earn a living. Professional-amateurs?

    The are a lot of amateur aspects to Jim Carney’s film “Once” but that little film snagged an Academy Award for Best Song and is better than most of the big budget studio films released last year.

    Scott W. Smith

  2. John Bickerton Post author

    I certainly wouldn’t challenge or deny any indie, guerilla, grassroots creative act of any kind. My point was that “democratization” is a loaded word and it is being used politically to advance the agenda of new technologically-based players in a battle for control of modern media.

  3. Pingback: Myths and Misconceptions of Technology » Democratization of Data and Content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *