Thursday, October 16, 2008

The social aspect of content consumption

I've noticed that the ways I consume and experience content -- both web based and traditional -- has changed over the years. There once was a time where I was content to sit in front of the computer to read articles, listen to podcasts, watch videos or rush home at the end of the day in the hopes of not being late for the start of my favorite program which I'd often sit alone and watch.

Those days are gone.

Now, my content consumption is much more socially based and tailored to my schedule. I want to watch the news while commutting, I want to catch the latest episode of my favorite shows whenever I have time, I want to listen to podcasts and other programs while I walk or bicycle. I want all of my media consumption to cater to me and my lifestyle and not have to schedule my life around my media consumption.

Perhaps most importantly, I want a good deal of that consumption to be social; I want to share it with other people and interact with it in a way that adds value.

Last night's presidential debate was a good example of my desire to have a social experience through the media I consume. Dave Winer totally changed the landscape of the debate for me by introducing the simple element of a live IRC discussion while the debate was going on. Now, instead of passively watching the candidates debate the issues, I was able to participate in a worldwide discussion about the debate and the issues surrounding the election with other people in a real-time format.

There once was a time when the 'instant reaction' meter at the bottom of the network screens mattered to me. It didn't last night because I was experiencing something much richer than pundits and a select group of people reacting to what was being said. I was experiencing the socialization of the debate and it augmented and enhanced the entire experience with me. Now, I was experiencing the event, not in the privacy of my living room, but right along with hundreds of other people as it happened and it totally rocked.

Most importantly, I got to experience it on multiple levels and through multiple communities: there was the instant reaction of the television networks, the live chat on IRC, Twitter and Seesmic discussions, Friendfeed posts, even SMS messages friends were sending me. It was an inclusive experience that made the debate much more personal and "real" for me.

What makes experiencing media with a social aspect different? Interaction and challenge.

In times past, I'd sit in my living room viewing the debate through my unique pair of rose colored glasses. I experienced it through my own experiences, my own judgements, and my own political leanings. If there were other people with me, they usually agreed with what I thought because those are the people I'd invite to watch with me. Last night was different. Last night, it was a free for all. I couldn't choose who participated with me so I got everybody. My thoughts, prejudices, political leanings were all challenged and I was forced to think in ways I might not have thought had I been alone or with a close group of friends.

And I came out better for it.
It was a richer and more intelligent experience.
I grew.

Experiencing media - any type of media - with a social aspect always enhances the experience. It totally changes the way you perceive what you're watching or listening to because you get the immediate thoughts and input of a collective of minds instead of your own limited view. And everyone is catching on to the value of socializing media. Major television networks are including live internet based discussion during some of their programs, radio shows routinely include IM and Skype interactions with the hosts, and those who create media are realizing that there is value to socializing it. It engages people in ways that the passive experience simply can't. It emotionally involves your consumers at a deeper level than passive consumption. It solidifies their connection to both the media and to each other and that adds value to both their lives and the media they're consuming. It morphs it from something they are experiencing to something they are part of and that's a very powerful thing.

Personally, I don't think this trend is going away. We're seeing the beginning of a worldwide revolution in media consumption and interaction. Right now, it's usually the viewers and listeners who organize the social aspect of group consumption. In time, we'll see more content creators formalize that experience and we'll see richer and even more engaging experiences emerge. It's going to be chat, voice, IM -- a conglomerate of technologies coming together to deepen our ties to what we're consuming and each other.

It's going to be a worldwide party and everyone will be invited.
Black tie and tails will be optional.

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