Are media consumers mostly couch potatoes?

Scott Karp, the managing director of research and strategy for Atlantic Media, seems to have a way of writing things that get under my skin. First he said that bloggers have it all wrong when it comes to the “new” media, and that the vision of people choosing and even helping to create their own media was fatally flawed. At the end of the post, he responded to some of the criticisms from the blogosphere, and then wrote another post that was more conciliatory, discussing the idea that old and new media should work together.

That was fine. And then he wrote another one more recently entitled “Web 2.0 is not Media 2.0,” in which he returns to his previous theme — which is that sites like and and and so on are not helping anyone except geeks, and that this is all a symptom of the problem he has described before, which is “too much media.” He says Newsvine is way too much work for the average person, and that what consumers want is someone to filter and synthesize for them. Jeremy Wagstaff of the Wall Street Journal says the blogosphere is a bit of an echo chamber.

I’m not saying Scott doesn’t have a point, or that Mitch Shapiro at IPDemocracy doesn’t have a point when he says the tools we use need to evolve. Obviously they do — and they likely will. And yes, people need filters and synthesis. But I’m not sure they need to be led by the hand quite as much as Scott seems to suggest they do. Yes, reading a newspaper is easier than going to — but not much. You have to buy the paper, for one thing, and then flip through a bunch of crap you have no interest in. How hard is digg? You go to and click on something. Don’t want to tag? Don’t tag., which Scott uses as an example of an easy and successful Web 2.0 app, is just as hard as, if not harder — if you want to tag, and join groups and so on, which plenty of people clearly do. Anyone who has tried to actually buy or sell something on eBay knows that it’s no picnic — and yet millions of people do that. Readers also show a huge interest in carrying on a conversation, either with each other or with writers, as we’ve found at my newspaper the Globe and Mail, where readers can comment on any story. That is a huge part of the draw.

Yes, people need filters, and they are time-pressed. But they will go where their interest lies, and they don’t need as much hand-holding as I think Scott is suggesting they do.

5 thoughts on “Are media consumers mostly couch potatoes?

  1. Mathew, sorry about the skin problem. My point here is not so much about easy of use, but that these Web 2.0 media applications don’t solve real problems with media. I don’t think the problem is not enough choices — we’ve got those by the boatload. The problem is overload, and I’m sorry, but Digg just makes that problem worse. I just went to Digg and found:

    – New way to lose weight: stay in the dark!
    – Police Computers Clash With Dunkin’ Donuts System
    – Iceland the First Country to Try Abandoning Gasoline

    Now there’s a killer app. I mean really, you can’t seriously argue that this is useful. Cool, fun, sure. But is this really the best way to spend my limited media time?

    Flickr and eBay are successful not based on ease of use, but because they give people an easier way to do something that was hard to do. How does reading Digg solve my information overload problem?

    I’m not trying to push to the other extreme — the Globe and Mail is a great example of middle ground — I see news I can use presented in a user-friendly way, with the opportunity to comment if the spirit moves me.

    Can’t promise I won’t get under your skin again, but I do enjoy the conversation (I’m geeky that way).

  2. I think we actually agree more than anything, Scott — but what fun
    would it be if everyone agreed all the time? 🙂 And I hear what
    you’re saying about media overload — believe me, if anyone is
    interested in there still being a market for filters and synthesizers,
    it’s me. But I also think people are more adaptable than we give them
    credit for — when they see something they’re interested in.

    Who would have thought that something like Flickr would have taken off
    the way it has, even though it takes a fair bit of work to understand?
    And you are right that it and eBay give people an easy way to do
    something that used to be hard. But I think Web 2.0 apps can too (and
    Digg might not be the best example) and that is to find things that
    interest them. Newspapers and other “old” media don’t make that as
    easy as they should — in fact they routinely make it a lot harder
    than it should be, and some of that is just the nature of the media.
    But I think that’s the itch that the Web can scratch.

    Thanks for the comment, and for taking my jabs so well. Let’s keep
    this conversation going.

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