Broadcasting vs. community

Broadcasting vs. community

I have to give a talk soon about the changing world of the media, and so I’ve been re-reading Clay Shirky’s stuff, which is consistently brilliant and insightful. Here’s a quote from his essay comparing broadcast mentalities with community-focussed ones:

“#3. Participation matters more than quality.

The order of things in broadcast is “filter, then publish.” The order in communities is “publish, then filter.” If you go to a dinner party, you don’t submit your potential comments to the hosts, so that they can tell you which ones are good enough to air before the group, but this is how broadcast works every day. Writers submit their stories in advance, to be edited or rejected before the public ever sees them. Participants in a community, by contrast, say what they have to say, and the good is sorted from the mediocre after the fact.

Media people often criticize the content on the internet for being unedited, because everywhere one looks, there is low quality — bad writing, ugly images, poor design. What they fail to understand is that the internet is strongly edited, but the editorial judgment is applied at the edges, not the center, and it is applied after the fact, not in advance. Google edits web pages by aggregating user judgment about them, Slashdot edits posts by letting readers rate them, and of course users edit all the time, by choosing what (and who) to read.

Anyone who has ever subscribed to a high-volume mailing list knows there are people who are always worth reading, and people who are usually worth ignoring. This is a way of raising the quality of what gets read, without needing to control what gets written. Media outlets that try to set minimum standards of quality in community writing often end up squeezing the life out of the discussion, because they are so accustomed to filtering before publishing that they can’t imagine that filtering after the fact can be effective. “

Clay has also written insightfully about the differences between audiences and communities