Connective Media

Connective Media Apps
Connective Media Apps

What is “connective media”? I heard the phrase a while ago and knew immediately that it was significant – that’s the way a lot of my learning works. It’s hard to find a clear definition of connective media using (basic) Google but Cornell has set up a Masters in it. In the description they say, “The program will train a new generation of talent to develop technologies, applications and experiences that take advantage of the constant access to, and sharing of, online information in the digital and mobile world.” http://mediarelations.cornell.edu/2013/10/01/cornell-nyc-tech-launches-connective-media-degree/

Interestingly, Cornell didn’t add the perhaps overused term, “social media” and I am grateful, because it caused me to think more about what each is. What “social media” is seems to be broadly understood; what “connective media” is needs more fleshing out. I see social media and connective media as overlapping, but not as the same thing.

The current news about the Times dismissing Jill Abramson gave me some clues. As I wondered whether her firing was an example of misogyny or just nasty business politics, Twitter gave me this link – http://www.niemanlab.org/2014/05/the-leaked-new-york-times-innovation-report-is-one-of-the-key-documents-of-this-media-age/. Read it carefully; embedded in it are the aspects that display the difference between social and connective media, IMHO.

Wikipedia, my favorite quick source of info tells me that “social media is the interaction among people in which they create, share, or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media – just like I am sharing now, writing this post, and then adding it to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. However, Wikipedia, as of right now, has no page on “connective media”. So what’s this difference I see and think is important enough to write about?

In the leaked NYT report, the business dilemma being described is the wealth of material that is in the NYT database and accessible on the web, that is NOT being shared extensively. The accessibility is inherent to the web; the sharing is where connective media comes in. The implication from the report is that the NYT is not using the connective media efficiently and effectively.

In my opinion, there are two broad divisions within so-called “social media”, one largely social and the other primarily connective. Let me explain using Facebook. On Facebook, I am clearly within the social media. When my ‘friends’ ‘share’ pictures of their mothers on Mothers’ Day, or describe an exciting/disturbing event in their lives, we’re connecting socially. However, when we ‘share’ a blog post we’ve written or find interesting, or share a YouTube video, or other web”objects”, we’re moving into the area of connective media.

(Interestingly, Facebook can only share in and within; it’s a walled garden. Facebook Pages and suggested posts are an attempt to broaden the sharing. Twitter and the host of other connective apps are more open and, in the best possible sense, promiscuous.)

As a culture, we are sharing, not just our lives, we are sharing information and ideas of more cultural significance, and this can have real world impacts. For example, the “#bringbackourgirls” hashtag has spread the news about the kidnapping of schoolgirls by Boko Haram to other forms of media and has caused governments to act to try and help.

Or, more locally in Canada, a tenured dean was fired and a day later reinstated, after extensive sharing of how he was treated on Twitter – http://read.thestar.com/?origref=#!/article/5374fb23ec069127ef000520-university-backtracks-slightly-on-firing-of-tenured-dean

In my understanding of “connective media”, it’s the real world impact, the wide sharing of information and/or web objects, that differentiates it from the broader “social media” of Web 2.0. Blogs are social, but only in a limited sense. When their links are shared using connective apps, their ‘spreadability’ and ‘viralability’ become possible.

I think another aspect of the NYT’s report is significant here, and is tied into people’s, and especially business people’s, digital know-how, or lack thereof. When looking at the take-up rates of various NYT’s material, Snow Fall is mentioned as a success.

(The basic misunderstanding of what connective media is about, and the kind of approach that is central to it is described here – http://techcrunch.com/2013/05/21/snow-fail-the-new-york-times-and-its-misunderstanding-of-copyright/ – Most of the impact of Snow Fall, a very high-end, time and staff intensive product, can be created by skilled users of rich media in far less time at far less expense. The concept and aesthetic quality of Snow Fall were what wowed people and led them to share the link on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+, and Facebook, etc. Essentially copying Snow Fall was just a demonstration of what is possible with the tools available on smart phones and tablets.)

The basic shift in understanding that connective media demands is that it’s the connection that trumps everything; the ‘quality’ of the shared object lies not in its perfection, but in its ability to intrigue. The prevalence of cat videos and the rise of ‘memes’ demonstrates that pretty clearly. The strategies that can give the NYT a stronger presence on the web, more of the highly-desirable “going viral” links, are already being studied and described by entrepreneurs and digitally savvy people, the kind Cornell hopes to attract and produce, the kind often ignored by high level managers and administrators.

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