Andrew Keen on New Media

Choose your words carefully, the blink media revolution has begun

Blink and you'll miss this message. Brevity is the new digital cool. As handheld computers such as the iPhone and the BlackBerry replace the desktop, mass media is being transformed into micro media. Technology is chunking, slicing and shrinking the message. Welcome to the age of blink media.

One of the most hyped new Silicon Valley companies is venture capital backed Twitter, a short messaging service that empowers its members to broadcast their words across multiple platforms including Twitter.com, Instant Messaging, SMS, RSS and email. Twitter's only restriction is length. The service limits your message to 140 characters. Twitter, then, is a micro-blog that forces us to broadcast the highlights of our life. And, in Silicon Valley's perpetual hurricane of creative destruction, the almost 2 million cutting-edge Twitterers are already making traditional bloggers seem verbose and archaic.

Twitter isn't necessarily turning us into twits. That's because brevity doesn't equal stupidity. Both Wittgenstein and Nietzsche might have been challenged by Twitter's aphoristic culture. The next media stars will be masters of intellectual brevity. Be famous in 140 characters. That may not generate a digital Tolstoy – but it will force all of us to get our point quickly.

Twitter forces textual concision, but other Silicon Valley start-ups are developing blink rich media businesses. There's Seesmic, founded by Silicon Valley based French blogger Loic Le Meur, which is trying to condense video blogging into easy-to-digest, network-friendly chunks. Then there's Fuzz.com's Blip, a so-called "Twitter for Music". And the intriguingly named Pownce.com – a micro-media software engine that allows users to send multi-media clips to their friends.

In this new world of blink media, it's not surprising that one of the most innovative new British digital companies is called BlinkBox. It is the movie version of Twitter. Rather than watch a whole movie, you go to the BlinkBox website to select clips from movies that you can personalise and send via email or over your mobile phone. BlinkBox turns us all into clip artists. There are currently 10,000 scenes at Blinkbox.com from 1,600 movies. BlinkBox's partners include Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures. While their current focus is on movie clips, I could also imagine a very lucrative blink business that is based around the exchange of video sports highlights.

So what's the future of blink media? How much terser can we get? Will a next generation Twitter limit its users to 14 characters? Will BlinkBox 2.0 offer highlights of highlights?

All I know is that the future will be brief. Cool, eh?

We have between five and 10 years to save journalism. That's the stark message in SuperMedia: Saving Journalism So It Can Save The World (Blackwell) the provocative new book by Charlie Beckett, the founding director of POLIS, the London School of Economics based think tank about journalism and society. For evidence of the imminent death of journalism, Beckett points to the decline of the newspaper industry, the concentration of media ownership, the increasing domination of the internet by Google bosses and Chinese politicians, as well as the rise of anti-democratic forces such as the Russian mafia and Islamic extremists.

So can journalism be saved? According to Beckett, this can be achieved by something called "networked journalism". Journalists, he tells us, need to use all the latest collaborative and open-source tools of the Web 2.0 revolution – from blogs, wikis and social networks to the virtual republic of Second Life – to make their work more relevant and accessible to an engaged public. That will save journalism. And then, Beckett confidently assures us, journalism will go on to save the world.

Last week while I was in Barcelona at a conference about internet advertising, all the chatter amongst the local Catalan digerati was about the American new media company Google. The 2008 Prince of Asturias prize for Communications and Humanities – which is Spain's version of the Nobel prize – had just been awarded to Google for its "decisive contribution to the progress of peoples, breaking down ideological, economic, linguistic and racial borders".

Google CEO, Eric Schmidt was, of course, thrilled by the prize, responding to a congratulatory telegram from Spain's Socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, by expressing his passion for "helping everyone access the information they are looking for in whatever language they want".

But I talked to a number of Spanish digital entrepreneurs much less enamoured by Google's contribution to communications and the humanities. Given the search engine's more than 90 per cent penetration of the Spanish internet market, I can understand the resistance of indigenous new media entrepreneurs to the American digital advertising leviathan. Their scepticism isn't just sour grapes. Like them, I find it hard to understand how the monstrously powerful Google - which also owns YouTube and Doubleclick - is really breaking down ideological, economic, linguistic or racial borders. In fact, given the huge wealth and power that Google has amassed for a tiny oligarchy of Silicon Valley geeks, one could argue that the Mountain View company has erected monumental new barriers that are radically cordoning off the haves from the have-nots in the digital economy.

No, this award mystifies me. Especially the "racial" bit. How in the world can a search engine contribute to racial harmony? Google's artificial algorithm might be intelligent, but it still isn't able to distinguish between links to racist and non-racist sites. Google is no more or less "progressive" than News Corp, Microsoft or General Electric. The company sells advertising space on its website. That's its contribution to humanity.

Bloody end for the Yahoo! acquisition

There's a nasty 24-hour horror movie playing in Silicon Valley these days – it's called Yahoo! The once dominant internet franchise is now suffering the bloodiest of bloody public humiliations. Last Thursday, after Yahoo! announced the end of acquisition talks with Microsoft, the company's stock fell 11 per cent and a number of senior Yahoo! executives announced their departure. All this on top of the distressing fact that billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn is now trying to replace the Yahoo! board with his own proxy slate as a means of finally selling the company off to Microsoft.

The Yahoo! horror story is the Google fairy tale in reverse. And to think Terry Semel, Yahoo's CEO between 2001 and 2007 could have once acquired Google (now worth $180bn) for $3 billion.

Semel's successor, Yahoo! founder and current CEO, Jerry Yang, has screwed up at every twist and turn of the Microsoft narrative over the past six months. Under Yang's gross mismanagement, Yahoo! has now bled its stockholders of billions of dollars of value.

ak@ajkeen.com

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