J.D. Lasica is one of the world's leading authorities on citizen media and the personal media revolution. A writer, blogger and consultant, he is the co-founder and executive director of Ourmedia.org and author of Darknet: Hollywoods War Against the Digital Age.
I recently sat down with him at the OnHollywood conference to discuss the current popularity of user-generated videos online and the movement toward a more open and democratic media system.
Micki Krimmel: J.D., youre a major hero of citizen media. Why is this so important to you? What potential do you see for it creating real change?
J.D. Lasica: Well, I think almost anybody whos worked in traditional media as long as I have I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years when you see how the sausage factory works, you know that we can do a lot better. I think its important for traditional news organizations to go out there and continue covering the world and providing a service to the public. Newspapers and news organizations are a public trust, in that sense. But its a different world today and people dont want to just be talked to or lectured at, they want to be part of a media conversation. And the tools are finally here to let us do that, whether its creating our own video or having our own podcasts or just commenting upon the things that we see in the mainstream media in a social network.
Im going to Seoul this summer to participate in the Citizens Media Conference, put on by Oh My News. South Korea, for some reason, seems to be leagues ahead of the United States in terms of having an online presence and a website where theyre really including tens of thousands of citizen reporters. Citizen media isnt just about journalism, but I think its an important part of what we need to do. Peoples distrust in the media is so great right now that theyre looking for alternatives. And if that alternative means that there are a handful of people outside the mainstream media that you can go to for reliable information, for their expertise or judgment on an issue, thats something anyone in journalism should welcome. Its important for us all to support the efforts of citizen media organizations because right now, theyre not getting a lot of dollars from the corporate big boys. We have to build this up ourselves. And in some ways, its a more noble effort to do something that we think is important for the social good.
MK: You noted in your panel this morning that a few years ago, there were only two video-sharing sites, and now there are 174. What do you make of this user-generated video explosion?
JL: Theres definitely an appetite in the land for users becoming part of a media conversation. I think were all tired of the top-down, one-way model of big media, and even the big media companies are starting to realize that they have to change the way theyve been doing business otherwise people are going to be tuning them out and going to alternative methods of communication. So the rise of the video hosting sites is no surprise; whats surprising is how fast its happened. What a lot of people thought would take years has really taken a matter of months, for better or for worse. My fear is that there is going to be so much noise out there that people are going to walk away. We need to improve the channels so that people can find deeper, more meaningful kinds of stories and videos about peoples lives and their communities and their families, instead of just the latest stupid cat video.
MK: Do you anticipate a trend towards filtering services to help people root through all the content?
JL: Filtering has a negative connotation because people think of big media filters and gatekeepers. But filtering can be useful. If it helps you find the kinds of material thats interesting or useful to you, then its a useful filter. So I think thats the next big wave coming. In the next year, were going to be seeing more and more sites using these social media tools like collaborative filtering, recommendation technologies, friends of friends, trusted peers. And I know people are working on this now - trying to figure out: OK, if I cant really rely on a million users of YouTube to surface videos that I find interesting, entertaining and useful, who can I rely on? And I think the answers going to come down to your friends and your social groups.
MK: What about citizen media for social change? Are you seeing groups forming around social issues?
JL: Yeah. One of the big changes we want to make on OurMedia in the next few months is to make it more of a community-centric site. The world doesnt need another YouTube. Im not picking on You Tube, but theyre the ones who are getting all the attention today. There are plenty of sites now where you can just upload your funny video, right? We want to get to a place where more people can feel like theyre doing something - theyre creating video for a social purpose. So, if your passion is all about local politics or the environment or energy or global warming, you should be able to share your thoughts in a text blog or video or podcast.
I would like to see some of these video-sharing sites enable people to go beyond their enclosed walled gardens to connect with each other. And thats another one of our initiatives to serve as more of a window into the open media world instead of trying to nudge people into single-destination sites. It sort of contradicts the traditional notion of what you do when you build a website, which is to try to bring people and have them stay. But I think were at a stage now on the web where the users are savvy enough to appreciate sites that send them away, and thats when theyll come back when they know that theyre not captive prisoners, but are pointed to something valuable, whether its on your servers or somebody elses.
MK: How do you think Hollywood is adapting to the trends toward openness on the web and participatory media?
JL: Well, Hollywood is always the last to adapt. Theyre technology resistant. Whenever theres a new technology in the marketplace, they resist it. So I think the same natural tendency for them to go slow, to watch what happens, and then to tread cautiously is happening now. They still look at the internet, unfortunately, as a set of pipes for delivery of their content to a passive audience of consumers and as a way to get people into the theaters or to buy a DVD. I get frustrated because there are a lot of really cool independent films that I want to see but theres no way I could ever order them through pay-per-view or any kind of video-on-demand service its just not there. The technologys been there for at least ten years. Why are we still having to go to darknet sites to download videos to watch at home? So I think once theres a mass movement in the marketplace toward more digital distribution, the movie studio heads and executives will finally perk up and start to do something. Were seeing a few innovations from Disney, of all places. Theyre doing some interesting things with set-top boxes and having movies digitally delivered straight to the living room. But everyone else is sort of doing a wait and see approach.
MK: Do you foresee a shift of power away from big media?
JL: I think television executives are waking up to the fact that people are drifting away from the networks, and even cable TV, to create their own media, to share videos, to play games, to engage in other forms of digital media. But theyve been really slow to embrace any kind of major fundamental shifts like making their media more interactive and letting people participate in the process. And I think the major movie studios - until they see an impact on the bottom line - theyre not even going to bother.
Some small, innovative production companies are doing socially-significant kinds of films and looking at the internet as sort of an additional or alternative distribution mechanism. And thats pretty exciting that they can get their movie out there without the bottleneck of the movie studios.
MK: In my personal work experience, Im seeing a lot of filmmakers that are very interested in getting online somehow. They see a lot of potential for interacting with moviegoers. Theyre not so interested in the typical poster and TV spot marketing campaigns. Its exciting to see the content-creators pushing for new ways to interact with their audience.
JL: Well, five years ago, it was still unusual to see a DVD with any kind of directors annotation or commentary, or scenes from the movie that didnt make it into the final cut. And today, thats pretty standard. So itll be really cool when Hollywood starts looking at the internet not as just a distribution channel, or as an alternative kind of forum for delivery, but also as a way to sort of supplement their works with campaigns, political action, letter-writing efforts, and all sorts of ways for people to get personally involved in the movie so that when you ship the final movie to the theater, thats not the end of the process. For example, I think Robert Greenwald has done a superb job of utilizing the web to supplement his work and to eventually involve the audience in creating a social discussion about the issues raised in his movies.
MK: Whats your next big project? Would you like to tell us a little bit about your new open media coalition?
JL: Well, last week a bunch of people who are involved in open media started talking about joining forces in some sense working together to help make it easier for people to share their personal media, to share their video, their podcasts, etc., across multiple sites and on multiple platforms. And what that means is when you create a video that youre pretty proud of and want to share, today you have to upload it to the various video-sharing sites one after another. Its kind of a pain in the neck. And then to ensure people discover it, its not a very easy thing. So were creating standards and methods of interconnecting open media websites and databases so that somebody sitting at home can just click on a link and have a video pop up on their screen and not really care where the file is actually stored whether its on my servers or somebody elses. And I think thats what open media really should be all about. Its about making your media accessible to a global audience in as easy a way as possible. And the technologys there now, now we just need the will of the people who are running these sites and who are putting up these devices to make them open enough for us to easily share these creations. And so were still at the really early stages of it, but I invite anybody whos involved in the open media movement to contact us so that we can cooperate in making this work.
thanks for such an on-point discussion here -very exciting stuff. the development of new apps on cool sites can not be overstated for connecting people in more meaningful ways.
get psyched :)
eagle rock, ca
The explosion of video sharing sites has not yet led to the inclusion of solid, social networking. Hopefully this is the start of something really worthwhile. Thanks for a great, in depth interview.
I answered her questions, I just did not volunteer any further information.
Secret History featuring yet another media appearance for Bessie and Ted.