Written by Sean C. Stacey and Brooke Thompson

Dan Gillmor, Founder and Director of the Center for Citizen Media, spoke about the future of Internet-enabled media and content, focusing on the democratization of mass information consumption produced by the enabling ability of the Internet to allow anyone to be a media producer, rather than just a passive consumer. Consumers can not only produce media and information to present to traditional production companies but to each other too. Mr. Gillmor stressed that consumer-driven production on the web does not consist solely of blogs but many other traditional and emergent media forms as well.

Some examples he gave illustrated the vast difference between public-enabling technology today and the previously enormous expense required to develop content for mass consumption. The New York-based Rocketboom.com produces high-quality video newscasts daily, yet does so without the backing of the traditionally expected old media production company and facilities. Application mashups are popping up around the web, kludging together existing applications to create new and useful or entertaining tools and resources, such as the Chicago Crime Maps made with local public statistics overlaid on Google Maps using their open Application Programming Interface (API). For a bit of levity, he played a (YouTube famous) video mashup of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair apparently singing a duet professing their love for each other, through creative editing of existing video culled from various sources.

These new technologies have enabled anyone to become an authority or publisher, but along with that new found capability come some caveats. Mr. Gillmor pointed out that the last few decades of passively consumed media have trained people in general to be more accepting of what they read in print or see on television. However, with the explosive growth of citizen-produced information, one must retrain oneself to become more skeptical of those sources and resources, and to research and verify the points they have made. We need accuracy in our information delivery and must be able to trust its producer or carrier. Just because something is published on the Internet does not necessarily make it true, as witnessed by the “Tourist Guy” phenomenon in connection with 9/11.

Big media companies have begun to adapt to this new paradigm and some have attempted to work with their audience communities by creating “hyper-local” neighborhood-oriented discussion sites, or by requesting audience contributions of documentation of natural or man-made disasters. But media companies are not required for these things to happen, as people will do it themselves whether asked or not. An example from just a few decades ago was the well-known Zapruder amateur film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Back then, such things were rare to be produced by the average Joe. But one can imagine that, had the event happened today, it might have been captured and uploaded by a thousand parade-goers recording the event with their cell phone or digital cameras.

Citizen media is a term synonymous in the ARG world with grassroots games, which are entertainment experiences produced by the very same Everyman or Everywoman in Anytown, Earth. Such things will likely never replace commercial productions backed by large amounts of funding, but neither will they ever disappear. For as long as technology has advanced, it has been embraced by those who could afford it and used to satisfy their creative, informative, and performative urges. As access to the Internet becomes more and more universal, it will empower everyone to create content and provide them with an audience.