Posted on March 6, 2008
An audience is not a community
Clay Shirky has a new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. It’s about technologies of social networking.
I don’t know if this is in the book; Shirky wrote it for a blog from his publisher, Penguin:
A good deal of user-generated content isn’t actually “content” at all, at least not in the sense of material designed for an audience. Instead, a lot of it is just part of a conversation.
Mainstream media has often missed this, because they are used to thinking of any group of people as an audience. Audience, though, is just one pattern a group can exist in; another is community. Most amateur media unfolds in a community setting, and a community isn’t just a small audience; it has a social density, a pattern of users talking to one another, that audiences lack. An audience isn’t just a big community either; it’s more anonymous, with many fewer ties between users. Now, though, the technological distinction between media made for an audience and media made for a community is evaporating; instead of having one kind of media come in through the TV and another kind come in through the phone, it all comes in over the internet.
As a result, some tools support both publication and conversation. Weblogs aren’t only like newspapers and they aren’t only like coffeeshops and they aren’t only like diaries — their meaning changes depending on how they are used, running the gamut from reaching the world to gossiping with your friends.
I couldn’t shake this out of my head after I had read it.
Newspapers used to be centered in communities. Now they are mostly not. People in much of North America don’t even live in communities.
Is this why newspapers are dying? Because there are no communities?
I heard about someone asking a speaker how we could get young people to read newspapers. Reportedly, the speaker took rather a long pause before replying. When she did speak, her answer was essentially, “We can’t.”
This makes a lot of people feel sad. Others feel angry.
But this is not about newspapers.
It’s about what Shirky said: Audiences are not the same as communities, and communities are made up of people talking to one another.
What does a community need? How should journalists supply what communities need?