Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Is your school more like a newspaper or a pub?

More to muse on from Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus...

Shirky argues that old media, like newspapers, are on their way out as a model for making money on information.  Nothing new here.  But arguing from the analogy between a bar and social media, he suggests that social media can make money for content providers.  After all, people can drink more cheaply at home than in a bar, but they choose to go to a bar anyway because of the conviviality, social connection, and sense of common purpose that can grow in a bar (and in other third places, for that matter).  In the same way, people gather to use social media because it provides them a sense of common purpose, and are willing to pay for that opportunity, or at least look at advertisements that pay for that opportunity. To borrow from the title of Richard Putnam's follow-up to Bowling Alone, there are some things that are done better together.

Colleges and universities operate on implicit models.  It is frequently remarked that higher ed (and K-12) is built explicitly on a factory model.  But the closer analogy is not a factory, but a newspaper.  Newspapers, like colleges and universities and factories, are efficiency-based, low profit-margin businesses.  But newspapers and colleges and universities share something that not all factories embrace--the creation of new content.  After all, a newspaper that ran the exact same story day after day would fail.  A factory that produces the same widget every day succeeds. For the past four generation, it has been the creation of content by faculty members that has been at the heart of the "colleges as newspapers" educational model.

Both colleges and newspapers, though, may be overtaken by quicker, cheaper ways to create content. And some of that content will be produced in bar-like settings where people collaborate to create.  In this setting, the concern is not how to produce content more quickly or cheaply, but how to help their publics make meaning (including establishing the value and quality) of the content swirling around.  Here is where the pub analogy helps.  Pubs are meaning-making venues where people pay to make that meaning. The value-add is the setting and the interaction that a good pub with a good clientele creates.

So, some questions to think with: How is your school like a newspaper and how is it like a pub?  What is your school doing to become more like a pub?

No comments: