Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So is this finally what they meant by New Media?

I was chucking out some old magazines the other day as I prepare to vacant Aotearoa and head off to England to seek fame and fortune and I came across an old Time magazine with the title page "The Strange New World of the Internet". This bought back all sorts of memories for me about the days when the internet was just starting to cause ripples. It really amazes me how far we have come in such a short period of time, less than fifteen years ago the internet was primarily a text based medium with fairly narrow bandwidth but even back before the web was the primary window into the internet, people were seeing the potential for it to revolutionise the media and the way people of the planet communicate. Probably not bad and somewhat obvious assumption, but we are really only now seeing the beginning of some of the things speculated on way back in the early days of the web.

Back in the early nineties I collected a whole bunch of magazine and news articles, like that Time magazine, just as the internet broke out of the cloistered arena of academic institutes and into the wider world. Back then there really weren't any generally available magazines (other than industry and academic papers) around with any sort of focus on the internet as such. There was the odd mag dedicated to BBS's and the odd article filling a few pages in the likes of Time magazine. So when something hit the headlines I usually grabbed and consumed it. Then along came Wired magazine.

Starting out before the web really existed in the public mind, Wired was a funky magazine full of edgy and hip techno articles heavily flavoured with a focus on the emerging internet, which was back then known and accessed via a collection of old school services such as irc, gopher, telnet, ftp, mail and Usenet. Wired had articles and information about all sorts of cool stuff that you could reach out and touch on the internet if you were lucky enough to access to a connection. I remember finding the Coke machine at some university (CMU and MIT) in the US that you could 'finger' to find out how many cans of Coke were available and if they were cold or not. Sounds silly now, but back then the idea of communicating with something as odd as a Coke machine was very cool indeed. Especially since the machine would respond in what seemed impossibly quick time to give you real up-to-the-second information about a piece of the world thousands of miles from you. Every month Wired published a new list of cool little 'sites' you could find like this, it was great fun! Add to these funky tidbits, articles by guys like Nicholas Negroponte and Kevin Kelly and Wired was defining and shaping the new internet culture, leading the way into the future of this great "New Media"

As the web became more pervasive, speculation about the delivery of new content via this New Media was becoming more and more common. We were told to expect to use electronic newspaper content more often than the paper stuff, personalised news portals would be the way to get your daily dose of information. Multimedia content would be streamed to you via the web, opening up choice far greater than what you could find on conventional media. You'd need an internet feed and news ticker on your desk at all times because you must be wired in! Services and tools like RealMedia, and PointCast (remember that! The 'push' buzz word) exploited these ideas to deliver some of the these promises. It was a start.

This was the vision being cast during the early emergence of the public internet, a grand vision of ultimate choice and opportunity. Then along came the .com bubble... Suddenly the internet was no longer a place where new media and forms of expression were the dominant pursuit, now the net was a shop front, an information super highway, a new way to make a buck or in fact a lot of bucks. The .com monsters came in and refocused the world on this false economy. Ridiculous amounts of money were tossed at any hair brained idea that promised some sort of internet based aspect. Stuff on the internet suddenly had to be worth something and it was calculated by the amount of money it could make through an IPO. Perfectly sane companies rebranded so that their new identity reflected some feeling of net savvyness even if there was none there. As a result all through the .com period meaning, direction and purpose was lost. Although many great innovations and amazing leaps forward were made by some of the .com's, the freshness and funkyness of the "New Media" stagnated slightly as the e-commerce juggernaugt rolled by.

But now, beyond 2000 the e-commerce craze has settled somewhat, the madness of the .com bubble has subsided and the idea of what is a sensible internet business has matured into some truly great and now iconic institutions like Amazon, eBay and in New Zealand, TradeMe to pick only the obvious examples. The successfully internet based businesses have discovered the way to make a long lasting success is to consolidate the niche markets exposed by the reach of the internet, exploit the low overheads in having an internet store front, offer a wider and different choice to your audience than the regular outlets and to head back towards the ideals of the early web.

Traditional media outlets as well have found that the net compliments their offerings and have seamlessly integrated internet based services with their own, and perhaps finally we are seeing the emergence of a truly new media.

With the spread of affordable broadband internet connections the possibility to get large doses of your news and entertainment from the net is a reality. Sites like AtomFilms are both an outlet for talented animators and filmmakers and a source of genuinely good entertainment you can't find anywhere else. Web based serials like The Scene attract a dedicated following waiting as eagerly for the next episode as viewers of the TV series LOST. News in multiple formats can be grabbed from most of the major providers for free or little cost, the likes of C-Span offer a comprehensive range of news programming over the web, all on demand. The BBC offers a huge amount of online content, including the most excellent BBC Radio 4 site that has an archive of it's superb radio programming available. In the States PBS hosts many of its excellent programs online also. The scope and depth of content you can find on the internet now is breath taking, from very stylish, high quality and arty content you can find at Pleix Films to the off the wall comedy of Weebl and Bob, there is literally, something for everyone, and I have not even scratched the surface! I am sure if I sat down every night and surfed the net for new and interesting multiple media format content from the likes of the sites detailed above I could last an entire year without watching or listening to the same thing twice.

As well as the whizzy sounds and movies, new (ish) internet based services like this one (Blogger.com) offer an easy to operate publishing platform for nutter's like me to rant or for genuinely moving and clever sites like PostSecret. You can now get all your answers from the massively successful collaboratively created online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Google who are not happy with just revolutionising the way we find all this good stuff on the net, are creating more and more rich web services like Google Maps and GMail that are really blurring the lines between what you do on applications hosted locally by the OS on your own machine and what you can do directly on the web... To steal a tagline from another early internet pioneer company, Sun Microsystems, "The network is the machine"

So are we finally seeing the New Media talked about in mags liked Wired in the early days? From the mire and pressure cooker of the .com boom some real new media gems have emerged, but the maturing and renaissance of the internet as a new media mechanism has really only just begun. I can only guess what the next fifteen years will bring, but maybe if you look at the wildest speculation of today you wouldn't be to stupid expect it to be a close to a reality in 2020.


Anonymous Tim Haines said...

I think things have really started to get interesting in the last 6 months or so - it seems as though the technology has been taken to a whole new level - or perhaps is just being applied in much smarter ways. For example - go to technorati, and do a search or check out their tags. One of the interesting things about this is that they show pictures sucked from Flickr on the side. I think we're going to see a lot of cool community linkage synergy in the next 2 years.

10:52 PM  

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