Seesmology: the science of contributor finding

Today I’m thinking about the potential in Seesmic.

For the uninitiated, Seesmic is a video sharing service, which positively encourages video conversations between participants. It’s simple to use, and there are options when it comes to recording and uploading – see here for more details.

The communicative potential here is mindblowing.

There are people debating the finer points of many a political issue. There are people sharing their personal feelings, and experiences – serious and trivial. There are even videos of people communicating in sign language – an impossibility in the text-based platforms which dominate today’s online communication platforms.

I’ve seen it used to good effect to take debate beyond the virtual learning environment in academia – Paul Bradshaw’s videos on online journalism are always worth a view.

But it only just struck me today, having had a quick play, just how much potential Seesmic has, not only for finding journalistic contributors, but also for shaking up the mass communication methods we take for granted.

The usual caveats apply – the present user-base is more US than UK, and there doesn’t seem to be (nor is it reasonable to assume that there is) equity in socio-demographic representation at present.

These things take time (and policy, and money) – but when this site and others like it start to take off, then things will really start to change.

Seesmic comes into its own in regard to the trust we place in information we find online.

Forums and even social networks, can provide a smokescreen for disinformation and lies. It’s easy for anyone to sit at a computer and type out pretty much anything they like, defying the gravity of social constraint which hold us in check when talking in public. This necessarily makes web2.0 space a more difficult place to find authenticity than reality. It makes web2.0 a place where extremes of every kind have an inflated currency.

But when people can cheaply and easily put their face to an opinion or an experience, then all of a sudden the playing field is not so much levelled, as dragged into a new dimension. Of course this is a self-selecting method of finding contributors, and those shouting loudest may well drown out the rest at first – but all it takes is some patience and quality control to revolutionise the editorial process of tapping into opinion.

Just think about the potential for finding people who have experienced a news event, or have strong opinions on a local issue, or who have experience or knowledge of a theme and want to share it. Just think of how many ways in which this would breath life into the existing journalistic contributor pool.

But in addition to unearthing members of the public, this platform also has the potential for streamlining the interviewing process with career contributors.

Say every organisation (company, charity, university etc.) in the UK had a webcam and an empty room, where their experts, opinion-formers and talking heads could retire to every time an issue relevant to their patch crops up on the news agenda.

They could quickly and effectively get their message out there, and use the many means of distribution available to get maximum exposure. Systems like Seesmic also have the potential to empower those groups who aren’t so well represented in the media – allowing them to grab the issue with both hands, and really make a name for themselves or their cause.

When journalists are looking for contributors, they want to be sure their contributions will be worthy of reporting – that their personalities or insight will breathe life into the package. At the BBC I teach folk how to dig out past actuality of contributors from the archives to check them out. But with a system like Seesmic, an editorial decision can be made much more quickly, much more effectively.

Amidst the to-and-fro on the Vice President debates, I stumbled across Adam Curtis’ genius documentary The Century of the Self, posted in six parts under the header Propaganda in America – History of Public Relations.

You can’t help but marvel at the irony of someone posting this film on a platform which represents a new chapter in the brave new world of one-to-many communication.

Edward Bernays would have been made up…

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