Adam Gee was the chair and kicked off with an overview, from his position as Factual New Media Commissioner at C4, of some of the channel’s current online initiatives, such as the Big Art Mob project to create a user-generated map of public art in the UK, and 121 which features paired blog exchanges between the UK and countries including Iran, Russia and Sierra Leone. He also talked about Four Docs, a space for watching, sharing and making documentaries. This dovetailed with Emily Renshaw’s presentation about Current TV, billed as ‘the TV network created by the people who watch it’. Both sites rely heavily on user-generated content, but it was interesting to hear both Adam and Emily distinguish them from YouTube by describing them as ‘editorialized’ spaces. As an editor myself, I was intrigued by this – it seemed to go against the prevailing ‘wisdom of crowds’ ethos of many of the Web 2.0 success stories. So I asked them how they saw the role of the editor in the brave new internet world. Both acknowledged the value of greater interactivity between the editor and readers/users/creators, and saw this as an opportunity for editors. For Emily, the editor’s role will be to “set the tone, take a lead and curate” content in dialogue with users; while Adam emphasised the importance of the editor as a filter of information in a world of overwhelming data, who can become a trusted source of recommendations.
The second half featured James Kirkham of digital agency Holler and James Fabricant, Head of Marketing and Content for MySpace UK & Ireland. Both were enthusiastic advocates of online communities, exemplified in their recent collaboration on the groundbreaking campaign for Channel 4’s Skins, which fostered a massive community of fans on the Skins MySpace page before a single episode had been broadcast. Though understandably vigorous advocates of the possibilities of technology, they emphasised the primacy of human interaction and creativity. James K summed it up by saying that for all the technological wizardry, you still need a “blinding idea” to cut through. James F provided an example of one such idea, with Foureyedmonsters, who overcame the barriers to distribution of their film by using MySpace to get people to sign petitions to have the film shown in their local cinema, then took the numbers to the cinema owners and arranged the screenings.
Overall, a very stimulating evening that for me reinforced the sense that human creativity and relationships rather than technology per se is the real powerhouse behind the social media revolution. As James K put it, “technology facilitates, the audience creates”.