Remixing Mainstream Media

As we all know the most important part of any successful project is completely changing your idea at the last minute. In that spirit I am about to present a progress update on a project that has nothing to do with the revamped IRC interface I outlined last time (note that the IRC project isn’t dead, but I’ll be working on it over IAP instead).

Here’s my new plan: I am going to make it possible for anyone to control the content of front page of the New York Times. Want your kid’s little league game in the local news? That’s cool, but you know what’s cooler? Having your kid’s fame story smack dab front and center next to the article about Osama Bin Laden’s assassination. Suddenly little Billy is the talk of more than just the town, he’s the talk of the entire world!

Interested? Well hang onto your hats because I’m about to teleport to a completely different topic.

How to Manipulate the Masses: A Simple Guidebook

People say the Internet is liberating and I suppose that can be true; however, as a wise man named Ethan Zuckerman once said, it isn’t enough to have a voice. What you really need is an audience. For the average digital Joe or Janet that audience is probably something between zero and maybe a few thousand people. If you didn’t realize it from that last sentence I’m saying your audience is smaller than a colony of ants. Hell, what you have isn’t even captive, so good luck getting more than a few minutes of collective attention across your entire network in a given day!

How does it feel to know that your personal media power quotient, even with access to the latest and greatest forms of communication in all of human history, is pretty close to zilch? Feels bad, right? Kind of makes you not want to bother trying to do anything at all?

Well suck it up because you aren’t alone. In fact, “you aren’t alone” is exactly why so many grassroots messages have spread in a land of noise and tweets: they go viral. If everyone gets two minutes of daily attention from a network then the only way for to spread a message is to hijack your network’s airtime too. More importantly, you have to do so in a way that equips all of those people to hijack THEIR networks too.

You can get your network to share by either:

  • Pushing something that they will agree with (curse you filter bubble.)
  • Pushing something that is amazing
  • Pushing something that is hilarious
  • Cats

Keep in mind that comments on your content will do almost nothing for spreading messages beyond one network step, which is why “pushing something that will piss them off” isn’t on the list. “Cats” is a placeholder for the type of content that, as of now, is the only way to get to consistently get a network’s network to share.

Anyone who was holding a hat can let go now because I’m going to talk about my project again. For those who didn’t care before but whose interested has piqued now it’s your turn to hat hold. For everyone else, why are you still reading this?

Taming the Meme

I met Ben Huh, the owner of ICanHasCheebzburger.com, last week at a 2012 election coverage summit. If that sentence meant nothing to you, I’m basically saying I met a viral god. The nearby newsfolk peppered him with questions about how to use memes to spread their own messages. His response was simple: you probably can’t. It is so difficult to harness a meme because they come from a digital version of whisper down the lane (or “Telephone” if you’re from that other part of the country). People add twists, there is no central control, and this is almost tautologically part of why the thing becomes popular to begin with.

Memes spread because they easy to shape, which is how people can use them in ways that are exciting enough to share. Boom, viral content achieved

My proposed system is one that will hijack an existing tool to make it easy to twist and turn the front page of the New York Times, to share those twists with a network, and to have members of that network add (and share) further twists of their own. I also want this system to track the changes; I want to build a conversation around the evolution of a given strain of modifications. I would even like to help incorporate some real content into the picture since I have the real estate; maybe some actual news can slip or fade its way in sometimes.

The end result is more than a simple stage for content sharing. Through very minor forms of control (in the form of history and tracking and known context) it becomes possible to infuse the adapting content with useful information layers. Boom, meaningful viral content achieved.

Oh, and for the record, remix-and-share services do exist (consider Startup Spirit vs Citrus Flavoring) but they are systems designed to provide a technology. I’m proposing a system designed to empower viral conversations.

This has been cross posted on the civic blog.

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