Click to Start – Written by the Readers

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It may sound strange, but it’s a well known fact around my house that I’m not a big fan of going to the theatre. Amongst other traits I have a habit of falling asleep about 20 minutes into the show. Which may all sound a little surprising when you consider a) I spent the first 15 years of my professional life working in the performing arts (the last three managing a performing arts centre); and b) I’m the co-founder and co-owner of the most widely read industry media outlet in the arts.

My normal comeback is I’m tainted by old habits – sitting at a production desk plotting lighting with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of brandy in the other. Well, ok, it was only one show we drank brandy throughout bump-in week. But it was a darn good brandy, and a darn good show moreover. Which of course means making me sit up straight and quiet for a couple of hours in front of a stage is a considerable challenge. I still can’t help myself, I still check the lighting rig, the audio, despite it being years since my heyday as a theatre tech.

After years working countless shows and endless performances, it takes a lot to capture my attention. Yet, most often, come an evening out, we settle the kids, brief the babysitter, and head out with me having almost no idea what we’re about to see (the social director of the household having made the necessary arrangements). It’s only when we’re seated I have a moment to scan the program and discover what joys the evening holds. Sometimes I recognise the names, sometimes not.

I do read the newspapers – one of the perks at Arts Hub is we have a big bunch of newspapers delivered through the week, including the interstaters, so there’s no shortage of exposure to arts event promotion. Oh, and did I mention I own a chunk of the country’s only arts news service? I’m supposed to know what’s going on, who’s doing what where, and when.

The problem is I hardly pay any attention at all these days to what I read in the newspaper. It’s not because I’m resistant – like most I like nothing better than settling in with the weekend magazine and a coffee in the garden on the weekend. The reason is the newspapers are no longer my sole source of information. Forget broadcast media. The only time I ever listen to the radio is in the car – which is usually with the children, which means Kylie Minogue on the stereo. The only TV news I see is Sky, BBC and CNN on cable late at night.

So where do I get my daily dose of world happenings? Well, let’s start with the half a dozen online newsletters I receive each day. Several are specific to my interests – web development, technology, subscription content. I get my gossip fix from Crikey. Plus I watch several web sites, use Google News to monitor specific issues – the list goes on.

The ‘traditional’ media, eg the non-online media, has taken a back seat. It’s only part of my daily dose, and it’s not the first thing I read each morning. In fact, I’ve now relegated the newspapers to lunch time reading – if I have time for lunch.

And what’s the big difference between the traditional and the online media I’m reading now – apart from the obvious difference between delivery methods? Might sound obvious, but after ten years of the growing and now widespread use by the population of the Internet, I’m still amazed at how many people in the arts don’t see the blinding light in front of their noses.

Traditional media is a one way pipe. Digital media is a two way pipe – it’s BIDIRECTIONAL. Virtually every source of online information I subscribe to has information traversing in two directions. The media source sends it out, the audience talks back. To take the concept a logical and inevitable step further, some digital media sources send out content which was created by the audience to start with – an easy example is Slashdot.org, the legendary site amongst web programmers and tech heads. They have something like 800,000 registered users, millions of readers, and are known for the famous Slashdot effect – when a web site is linked from Slashdot the resultant traffic is sometimes so heavy the promoted web site’s server crashes. Slashdot, at the end of a day, is a digest of news online. There’s even a digest of the digest – http://www.alterslash.org/. So how many writers does Slashdot employ? None. The content on Slashdot is entirely written by the readers.

And there’s the crux – it’s written by the readers.

Try this for size:

“In a national phone survey between March 12 and May 20, 2003 , the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more than 53 million American adults or 44% of adult Internet users have used the Internet to publish their thoughts, respond to others, post pictures, share files and otherwise contribute to the explosion of content available online. 21% of Internet users say they have posted photographs to Web sites. 13% of Internet users maintain their own Web sites. Around 7% have Web cams running on their computers that allow other Internet users to see live pictures of them and their surroundings.”

As web site owners and operators – and through those digital windows, as promoters and distributors of our products and services – we’ve got to stop assuming that internet users are passive receptors. They are active participants in the creation of the content on the Internet. Content which they in turn consume.

Heard of ‘blogs’, of ‘blogging’? You haven’t? Stop reading this article, open a browser window and Google the word ‘blog’.

Blogs are probably the biggest thing to hit the Net in recent times. For the uninitiated blogs are online journals, generally run by an individual, or small group. They’re the digital media’s equivalent of a diary. Sometimes they are simply the catalogue of a person’s everyday life, others focus on particular topics or themes. Most blogs allow the reader to contribute via a range of interactions such as submitting comments, votes etc.

The Pew survey noted above also found 2% of internet users maintained a blog. Another Pew survey in 2004 put that proportion at between 2% and 7%. Doesn’t sound a lot. But as with all statistics you need to know the raw numbers.

WORLD INTERNET USAGE AND POPULATION STATISTICS

World Regions

Population

( 2004 Est.)

Internet Usage,

( Year 2000 )

Internet Usage,

Latest Data

User Growth

( 2000-2004 )

Penetration

(% Population )

% of

World

Africa

893,197,200

4,514,400

12,937,100

186.6 %

1.4 %

1.6 %

Asia

3,607,499,800

114,303,000

257,898,314

125.6 %

7.1 %

31.7 %

Europe

730,894,078

103,096,093

230,886,424

124.0 %

31.6 %

28.4 %

Middle East

258,993,600

5,284,800

17,325,900

227.8 %

6.7 %

2.1 %

North America

325,246,100

108,096,800

222,165,659

105.5 %

68.3 %

27.3 %

Latin America/Caribbean

541,775,800

18,068,919

55,930,974

209.5 %

10.3 %

6.9 %

Oceania

32,540,909

7,619,500

15,787,221

107.2 %

48.5 %

1.9 %

WORLD TOTAL

6,390,147,487

360,983,512

812,931,592

125.2 %

12.7 %

100.0 %

Source: http://www.internetworldstats.com

Just in case you’re curious about Australia :

OCEANIA

Population

( 2004 Est. )

Usage, in

Dec/2000

Internet Usage,

Latest Data

Use Growth

(2000-2004)

% Population

(Penetration)

% Users

Oceania

Australia

20,275,700

6,600,000

13,359,821

102.4%

65.9 %

84.9 %

2% of 800 million is a heck of a lot of bloggers (people who write blogs). The founder of a business set up to specifically create tools for the blogsphere (the world of blogs) reckons “about 12,000 new blogs pop up online worldwide each day. On about 10 million blogs today, writers are posting about 400,000 new items per day. That’s more than 16,000 per hour“. He says:

“This reminds me of the Web in 1994. It’s an ecosystem that’s evolving and just being built”.

Here’s some specific perspective:

“Super-popular blogger Glen Reynolds, of Instapundit.com, leaves his traffic logs open, where we can see that he averages around 100,000 visitors a day and more than 2 million uniques a month. Considering that he’s only one guy, that’s astounding. By comparison, HoustonChronicle.com reports 1.5 million unique monthly readers. Granted, Instapundit is one of the most widely read bloggers out there, but it puts the phenomenon in perspective.”

One guy’s online journal attracts more readers than a leading online US newspaper? How wild is that?

The other day I read a great article online, an interview with Jeff Jarvis – amongst other things the creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly. He’s also a well-known blogger. I was completely struck by Jeff’s forceful explanation of this world of self-published digital content:

“So now anyone can control, create, market, distribute, find, and interact with anything they want. The barrier to entry to media is demolished. Media, always a one-way pipe, now becomes an open pool. And, most important, the centralization of media — the marketplace, the network, the monopoly — is replaced by a decentralized universe. This changes everything. It changes the relationships. It changes the economics. It changes the power.

Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will. Today they are challenging and changing media — where bloggers now fact-check Dan Rather’s ass — but tomorrow they will challenge and change politics, government, marketing, and education as well. This isn’t just a media revolution, though that’s where we are seeing the impact first. This is a chain-reaction of revolutions. It has just begun.”

I immediately emailed the article link off to our company’s chairman Terry Cutler, who soon emailed back a one line note: ‘remember cluetrain.com’.

I haven’t actually confessed to the boss yet, but I had completely forgotten. I have a bad memory at the best of times, but the crunch is Clue Train was written in 1999, years before we even invented the word ‘blog’, and before many people were even talking about the phenomenon of self-published digital content. At the time I didn’t get it either.

Clue Train is a book, and you can read it for free on the web site http://www.cluetrain.com/. At the heart is the Clue Train Manifesto:



























we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings – and our reach exceeds your grasp

deal with it

The Clue Train Manifesto

Online Markets…

Networked markets are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the web, markets are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most business organizations.

…People of Earth

The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.


The front of the web site says:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

Scroll down the home page and you can read the 95 Theses. Yeah, it’s a few pages to print out, but all you arts managers must print it, and read it. Try number 27:

“By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.” Sound familiar? I’ve worked in and around the arts for 20 years, and I still marvel at some of the arts crap spewed out at an unsuspecting public – a public which, in the main, didn’t study Brecht and Voltaire for three years at NIDA . Some read like a PhD dissertation.

I’ll let you read the other 94. It’s the best darn half an hour you’ll spend this month, if you truly want to understand how an arts organisation – indeed any business – needs to think, act and react in today’s digital online world. A world where 13,359,821 of your own countypeople are online, where 812,931,592 of your global compatriots access the internet. Where nearly 60% don’t just sit passively in front of a computer screen, but actively contribute their words, thoughts, photos, experiences, opinions, their lives.

I think the days of me turning up like a passive blob, sitting up straight, in a theatre, indeed any arts event, are over. My days of relying on the guff you arts publicists send out to me via the newspaper, direct mail, press release, poster and flyer are over. The days where the only insight I have into the performance is the one page of Director’s Notes in the program are over.

Because I feel a responsibility to actually research my Click to Start columns I conducted an extensive poll of my findings. Oh, alright, I had a chat to one of the Arts Hub staff over a smoke in the backgarden. She’s an experienced theatre director and performer, she immediately had two ideas – a web cam live to the Net during rehearsal, and writing a blog when her new show hits the road in a few months.

Goodness, a director willing to let the great unwashed randomly access the development of the art without a filter or editing; and then willing to write about taking the art to the masses across the country. Heresy – for a non-digital world. Natural – in a networked digital marketplace.