Techonomy’s founder, David Kirkpatrick, on What Matters in Social
TRUE conducted a wide-ranging discussion with Kirkpatrick about what executives and professionals should focus on in the swirl that is social media’s—and for that matter, technology’s—feverish evolution. Below, a video and an excerpt from that Q&A focus on which channels really matter, what companies need to consider as they navigate the ever-changing landscape, and where Kirkpatrick sees media and communications heading from here.
An Excerpt from TRUE’s Chat With Kirkpatrick
Q: How has media evolved over the past decade, and more importantly where do you see it ultimately heading?
Kirkpatrick: It has been a process for some time of fragmentation. It’s been a process of diversification, enrichment in my opinion on balance, and multiplicity of points of view. Moving forward, media will continue to be highly fragmented. So everything from the New York Times to my daughters Facebook news feed are going to be the sources of news for the foreseeable future. The question is where does authority come from? Historically, it wasn’t a question because there were so few sources of news. Almost by definition, they had the most authority. Today, you have the choice of looking at an almost unlimited number of news sources. The question really quickly becomes where is bias, what is fact, and who has the kind of reliable authority that people who need to make decisions based on the news will rely upon.
Q: Governing presumes the ability to create consensus. Does the fragmentation of media and lack of authority undermine the ability to create consensus?
Kirkpatrick: I’m more interested in genuine democracy than consensus, so that doesn’t worry me. In my early adult life, I found it very disappointing that there were so few sources of information in mass media in the United States. That meant a number of critical points of view were almost always completely absent from the public dialogue. That’s an unhealthy world, a world where there isn’t enough debate or disagreement. To me, the existence of something like the Huffington Post is extremely healthy for democracy. Just as the existence of some of these right wing blogs is also healthy. Now, it may be problematic that some people only watch Fox News or MSNBC and come away with a distorted point of view. In the end, I think that’s a better problem to have than to have everybody consuming the same watered-down New York Times, Wall Street Journal consensus or the ABC-NBC-CBS pablum that dominated for so many years.
Q: What has society gained from the transformation of media and what has it lost?
Kirkpatrick: Society gains a lot from the fragmentation of media, despite the opinion of many that it’s a negative. I think one of the main things it gains is the sense on the part of citizens they are empowered. It gives individuals the ability to create news, to be a source of news. I think it’s empowering for individuals to have all these social tools that allow them to effectively become broadcasters. Make no mistake; that is what Facebook does for the individual. It turns them into a broadcaster. In the early years of my life, there were a very small number of broadcasters—Walter Cronkite and a few others. Today, all of our kids are broadcasters.
Q: Which social media do you focus on?
Kirkpatrick: Whether services like Snapchat and Vine per se will be around for the long term, I don’t know. I don’t think either one of those two has nearly the same stickiness of a Facebook or Twitter. Something like WeChat, which is coming out of China and extending itself globally, may have more. I think another interesting one is WhatsApp, which is being used very aggressively in some of these citizen revolts in Turkey and Brazil and elsewhere. The reality is we’re going to see more and more innovation in communications. I think Vine is a feature. I think Twitter is a transformative tool. I think Facebook is a transformative tool. Instagram is a transformative tool. You know it’s going into video. That’s a significant new development that people should pay attention to. It’s a challenge for anyone in business to keep up with the pace at which society is changing. And I say society very deliberately. Technology is just the set of tools, but technology is also the central force changing society. If you want to have a window into where the world is going to be in a few years, you have no choice but to pay attention.
Q: Is Facebook with more than a billion users in trouble because its teenage following is moving elsewhere?
Kirkpatrick: It’s very easy to get all caught up in subtle shifts; my teenage kids are using Facebook less or whatever. That isn’t what’s going to determine the future of any of these services like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. What’s going to determine the future is whether the number in Brazil goes from 60 million to 100 million…or what happens in Russia or South Africa. These are global businesses, and you’ve got to look at their prospects globally. You’ve got to look at their challenges globally.
Q: What do you think about Yahoo buying Tumblr?
Kirkpatrick: I think Yahoo! buying Tumblr is a fascinating development. Yahoo! is infrastructure at this point. It’s trying to regain a little bit of topicality. Tumblr is a hugely successful service with young people who use it basically for entertainment. And if Yahoo! wants to return to the center of the dialogue of communications, it needs to have tools that are obsessively of interest to young people. So yes, absolutely it makes sense. I think it’s up to Marissa Mayer’s shareholders and her board to argue about whether the billion-dollar price was appropriate.
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