MySpace and the future of the Internet

One of the biggest points I was hoping to make at the UMass Media Giraffe conference is that the Internet is as fully vulnerable to the negative effects of commercialization as “traditional” mass media has been.

Rupert Murdoch’s prescient acquisition of MySpace.com was my primary example.

How ironically gratifying to come back to SF and discover that Wired mag’s featured article this month, “His Space,” is on exactly that topic.

It’s certainly true that the Internet is taking power away from media corporations and give it to “the people.”

But in so doing it is showing corporations how to access markets and cultivate their traditional fare on an exponentially more “personalized” level. “The Daily Me,” I believe, is how it’s been phrased.

Methinks it’s high time Thomas Frank updated “Commodify your Dissent” for the Internet era!

As Murdoch understands, the Internet offers extraordinary potential for developing truly pervasive and implacable “one to one marketing” and “customer relations management” technologies and methods:

“The most immediate [challenge] is to avoid doing anything that might interfere with the runaway growth that has already made MySpace the biggest aggregation of people on the Web. But that’s just step one. Step two is to turn MySpace’s teeming masses into a wholly new kind of media entity, an advertising, marketing, and distribution vehicle that gives News Corp. a hand on the steering wheel of popular culture worldwide.”

The capital and savvy corporations will bring to the task may in fact eclipse, or at least seriously co-opt, the democratizing power of the Internet — assuming one subscribes to the thesis, advanced by Bagdikian et al., that monopolistic commercialization of media is anathema to democracy.

It’s clear from the article that MySpace is the raw material from which Murdoch intends to build his next-generation media empire.

But what does this mean for commercial news operations online? Well, suffice it to say that Murdoch is the man who made Fox News possible.

My comments, by the way, should in no way be taken to imply that commercial news media is incapable of serving the process of democracy. I know for a fact that there is deep and lasting commitment to the public good in for-profit newsrooms. I’ve worked in them before, and most likely will again.

But I think we must frankly recognize that, with the extinction of viable newspapers due to unrealistic, Wall Street-driven profit expectations, there are some serious problems with the commercial news model.

Establishing the “Public Media sector” online should be one of the highest priorities of New Media thinkers, producers and funders — and media reformers in general.

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