News, media & communications

The future of the Internet

Last year the Pew Internet & American Life Project (a US research centre) conducted a survey about the future of the Internet that tapped into the brains of 1,200 technology experts, academics and industry gurus. The results were far from conclusive. 42% of experts thought that civic involvement would increase over the next decade due to the Internet, but almost 30% disagreed. However, there were two points on which most the respondents did agree. First, traditional publishing, news and media organisations will be transformed by the Internet over the next few years. Second, there will be a "devastating attack" on the Internet (infrastructure) within the next decade. These, and other predictions, are being added to an online database created by Pew and Elon University in North Carolina (US).

Ref: New York Times (US) 10 January 20005. 'The Internet's future? It depends on whom you ask'. T.Zeller. See also

Where are all the women?

An article by Amy Sullivan in the Washington Monthly recently asked the simple question: where are all the great women thinkers? The context for this question is the media and, in particular, opinion and editorial (op-ed) writers, but the question is also applicable to public intellectuals. The answer, it seems, is elsewhere. In most serious newspapers and magazines the ratio of male to female op-ed writers in 4:1 and at some publications the ratio for submissions is 10:1. Indeed, the number of serious women writers in the media is probably the same as it was a quarter if a century ago. So the obvious question: why? The answer is firstly that politics and political opinion are fairly male dominated arenas where bluster and 'puff' count as much as insight and intelligence. The same is true on talk radio, where 70% of callers, and virtually all 'shock-jocks', are men. Moreover, the gender bias is probably no more or less than you'd find anywhere else in society. Malcolm Gadwell's recent book, Blink, notes that ever since orchestras have been required to audition performers 'blindfold' (ie behind screens) the number of female musicians has increased by 50%. A study discovered a similar quirk in the art market, where buyers were prepared to pay more for a painting if a woman's name was switched to that of a man. Then again maybe this silent bias is simply due to a couple of centuries of women being told to keep their opinions to themselves.

Ref: Washington Monthly (US), April 2005. 'Silent Femmes', A.Sullivan.

When advertorials become 'news'

What exactly is news and when does information become propaganda? This is a question that is coming to the surface in countries like the US, UK and Australia as governments produce 'ready-to-roll' news footage which cash starved news channels are only to happy to run without comment. This is similar to advertorials (ads that look like editorial) in the print media, but here companies are just trying to sell soap. Governments, on the other hand, are trying to sell ideas. Moreover, they're using public money to do it. What's interesting (and alarming) about this trend is that the traditional boundaries between news, comment and public relations is blurring. So too is the idea that the media is an independent force, or filter, through which events and ideas are analysed (note: don't confuse analysis with opinion). Perhaps in the future there will be two types of news; government and corporate news disseminated by giant corporations that are heavily influenced by governments and other corporations, and small independent publishers (e.g. bloggers and boutique publishers) who distribute a narrow world view. What's missing is the middle market - well-resourced organisations that gather their own news and put across both sides of a story.

Ref: The Economist (UK) 19 March 2005. ' Don't worry. It's only little brother.

A pro-am revolution in radio

As is often the case, it started on the streets. This time is was amateur DJs loading up their i-pods before descending on an unsuspecting public to play their personal music selections and collections in clubs and other music venues in London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. Now the idea has spread to the Internet. The latest example is a radio talk and music show co-hosted by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson. Nothing new there, except that Shel hangs out in California while Neville lives in the Netherlands. The trick is they both use Skype software to talk, swop files and play music for free over the Internet. Enter the virtual music station (or skypecasting), which is a result of another trend called podcasting (MP3 files posted on websites or sent to opt-in subscribers via chatrooms and other online communities). The good news is that sound quality is far beyond anything available using a standard telephone. The technology also allows virtual DJs based in Europe to interview a band in the US and then skypecast their latest album to fans in Brazil or anywhere else for that matter. The same principle can also be applied to video files so TV channels watch out. One suspects that this is an amateur revolution in the making.

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 'Software killed the radio star', C.Biever. See also and

Single digital devices

Could the mobile phone kill off Apple's i-pod? The question seems bizarre given the success of Apple's little Sony killer, but that's just what some technology experts are predicting. The theory is that the mobile phone is the most successful electronic device in history (1.9 billion current users and rising) and from a convenience point of view most people would prefer to carry one 'converged' device rather than many. Adding music download and music play capability is relatively easy (some phones do it already) so why bother with an -iPod? Equally, why bother with a digital camera? There is plenty of evidence to support the prediction too. A recent survey by a global advertising agency found that most people would rather give up their TV than their mobile phone and sales of smart phones now exceed sales of PDAs. However, hybrid devices cut corners. Design and functionality are compromised, as is performance. So perhaps a more plausible future is a variety of devices ranging from dedicated devices on the one hand to hybrids on the other with every imaginable niche product in between. The future, in other words, is divergence, not convergence.

Ref: The Economist Technology Quarterly (UK) 12 March 2005. 'The device that ate everything?'