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It’s close to a compulsion — this need for traditional media to expound on the real meaning of user-gen media. Social phenomenon. Old wine in new bottles. No substitute for pros. Pick one or all. Then there’s Jon Pareles who feels so compelled in Sunday’s NYT to make 2006 a watershed moment that he compresses the acquisitions of MySpace.com and YouTube into one year. (MySpace was acquired for $580 million in July 2005.) He views both properties as “empty vessels: brand-named, centralized repositories for whatever their members decide to contribute.” MySpace is “an ever-expanding heap of personal ads, random photos, private blathering, demo recordings and camcorder video clips.” YouTube is “a flood of grainy TV excerpts, snarkily edited film clips, homemade video diaries, amateur music videos and shots of people singing along with their stereos.” (Much of the TV and movie content I’ve viewed on YouTube video is far from grainy.) “User-generated content” is “the paramount cultural buzz phrase of 2006” but Pareles prefers self-expression. Whatever it’s called, it leads to more fragmentation countered by user ranking/filtering that mimics the old media gatekeepers — and a further splintering of “cultural unity” in an online world with endless choice.
As he explores the cultural meaning, what Pareles skips over is that News Corp.and Google weren’t buying the content as much as the community, the massive traffic and the distribution MySpace.com and YouTube.com provide respectively. That, and the idea that sophisticated online advertising can overcome fragmentation. Of course, that’s our job, not his.
Update: Meant to link to this last night … Jeff Jarvis goes deep on Pareles and the changing role of the professional critic — or, at least, the critic’s environment.