First, it was Google; now, inevitably, it’s Facebook. The rise of Google led to a spate of articles and books about how all sorts of industries needed to “act like Google.” Jeff Jarvis was a leader of this crowd. He penned an ode to Google, “What Would Google Do?” that elevated the search engine to exalted status. He’s apparently looking to do the same with Facebook. Jarvis has written an interesting essay in The Guardian on what the media can learn from Facebook: using content as a signal for “connections.” He pretty much echoes the old business-school critique of railroad companies at the dawn of air travel thinking they were in the railroad business rather than the transport industry.
The problem is, the media is not built for relationships because our industry was born in a time of factories, not services. We rarely know who our readers are (and we still call them just readers or, at best, commenters — not creators or collaborators). We do not have the means to gather, analyse and act on data about their activities and interests at an individual level. Thus, we cannot serve them as individuals. Our product — content — is not built for that. It is built for the masses. That is what our means of production and distribution demanded. So now we try to adapt that content for new tools, impressed that we can add motion, sound or touch to what we have long done. But our online books, magazines and newspapers are still recognizable as such. We haven’t gone nearly far enough yet to rethink and reinvent them. We should instead start with the fundamental questions: Where does our value reside? What need do we fulfill, and what problem do we solve? What business are we really in? How do we serve our communities? And how do we sustain the enterprise?
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