One of the things that interests me the most is the way that media is created and distributed. I am not the first person that is fascinated by this, nor will I be the last, nor can I bring a “The Medium is the Message” Marshal McLuhan level of genius to the discussion, so instead I will approach the matter using my personal experiences and color everything I say with the brush of my personal beliefs. The reason that I am obsessive about these media questions is mostly a function of the times that we are now living in; I was born just early enough to have lived my first handful of years without internet access, the next few with sporadic on-ramps to the information super highway, and the rest with the always on connectivity that Lobot always asked Lando to pay those extra few credits to get. As my level of connection grew so did my wish to add my voice to the increasingly loud, and increasingly diverse media landscape. Finally three years ago, after a few aborted blog and website projects, I found a foothold for myself in the form of podcasting about mathematics. I currently have 3 mathematical podcasts, another in the works, and an odd podcast about 80s science fiction movies. I am also moderately active on twitter and tumblr, and recently started a mathematical writing blog with one of my podcast partners. While doing all of this I believe that I have isolated four distinct, and rather internet specific, modes of media creation and distribution: creating, aggregating, editing, and curation.
Creation is really the easiest one to speak about because it is exactly what its name implies, the person distributing the content is also the one that is creating. The first time I tried to put this into words I wrote that “Creation is the act of making something from whole cloth”. There are certain ways that creation is the one of these modes that has been the least changed by the new media world order, while the tools and specific mediums may be different a creator still has to make something original. The thing that is new and different as far as I can see are on the distribution side of creation. Gone are the days that required that a person who makes a new work needs someone else to help get that work into the world; now a creator not only crafts, she disseminates. We are in a world that when you go about creating something the project can be fully under your control. I really think that this is the key as, initially at least, the media that people are able to consume is entirely yours, no one has modified/mashed-up/remixed/edited/“enhanced” it. This sort of control over content is rare and fleeting. The engine that drives these modes of creation and distribution are also very important and creation has a very singular engine, the creator themselves. It is their idea both in concept and in completion. Once again it comes down to control, and, for me at least, it is this control that most drives me towards using the creation mode in media. A couple examples of creation are fiction blogs or sketch comedy group YouTube Channels. Those are admittedly obvious, but I never said they were examples you did not expect.
Aggregation on the other hand seems to be a completely new mode that could not have happened in an efficient manner before the advent of the connected world. This is because aggregation is all about the collection and distribution of large amounts of content. When a person is aggregating they scour the world for whatever media they can find on the topic that they have decided to aggregate. Unlike creation where the engine behind the media is the creator themselves, the engine for aggregation is the topic itself. This can become quite clear once one looks at the actual content that is being distributed by an aggregator because the quality is not actually taken into account. I imagine that a lot of people would be happy to tell me that even including aggregation on a list of media CREATION and distribution modes is fallacious as aggregation is not creation in any way; here I disagree because while they are not making a new individual piece of media, the aggregate that they gather has never been in a single place before and that clearly constitutes a new media object. This brings me to the control aspect of aggregation, which is essentially a forfeiture of control. In the end when the topic is king the only real control the aggregator has is the size and fineness of the net that they are able to cast. In the current landscape most aggregation is done not by an individual, but by the crowd itself, and the quality problem is dealt with by allowing the same people that form the net that finds the media to decide which media that is caught in the net should rise to the top. Reddit, Digg, and Metafilter are great examples of this mode.
Editing is where all of these modes start to get sticky. No longer in the world of creating something entirely new or aggregating another’s media, editing takes content that was created by someone else and repurposing it such that it portrays the editors opinion or vision. The act of editing is fundamentally a destructive act, because you are altering the media from the form that its creator had in mind. This does not mean that it is fundamentally a negative act though, edited media just represents the editors opinion and not the original content creator’s. Editing as a distribution mode is rather odd as the editor is distributing not only their edited produce which represents their outlook, but they are also distributing the original content creators, and let me just say hopefully citing who created media and where it can be found, media even though the original content may be found to contradict the message that is embedded in the new media. This is why the engine behind editing is the opinion of the editor, but also the original content. The latter is part of the editorial content as no matter how hard the editor works, there is no way that they can completely remove the original content. At the very least it is very possible the the original media could be found and presented next to the editorial by someone from the aggregator mode. The edit mode shows up in many different forms from the mashups of Girl Talk to the MSPaint enhanced photos of Perez Hilton.
Curation demands that carefully selection of some set of media and just as careful presentation. The whole idea behind the media that a curator chooses is that they are trying to represent some message through the what and how of their curated media. Curations can range from a selection of what a curator feels is the best media about a single topic to a much more abstracted representation of say JOY through the selection of art to be viewed as specific songs are playing in the background. This idea though has to be presented without the changing of the content of the original media that is presented. The topic trying to be communicated does not have to be the same as the original media, in fact many an effective curator uses contradictory media to great effect. The engine that drives curation is multifold; not only does the curators message drive, the curators taste, and the content of the original all spend equal time pushing down the accelerator. Distribution of curation is less fraught than distribution of editorial content or aggregate as unlike editorial content the original media is not being distorted by the curator and unlike aggregate the taste of the curator will demand a certain class of quality from the media. The curator though does have to be very mindful that the original message embedded in the media, or the channel of distribution do not overpower the new content developed through curation. Curation as a mode shows up both at blogs that curate things that they love, Kottke.org, to the radio show Re:Sound, audio as curated by the minds at Third Coast Audio Festival.
These may seem to be arbitrary classifications, especially as editing just seems to be creation using someone else’s cloth and curation could just be called aggregation with taste, but for me they have become a useful shorthand for the media that I voraciously consume on a daily basis. There is also no need for a person to stay neatly locked into a single mode, so why not become an editorial aggregator by remixing the streams of aggregate from your favorite upvote sites or a editorial creating by mashing up all of the original work on your hard drive. As much as I like classification, come on as a mathematician it actually hurts when I can not successfully classify, I know that these modes are as flawed as they are useful but I do hope that you will humor me and let me know just what mode, or combination there of, you feel that you most often fall under. If you wonder about what I feel about myself, well just wait for the next post where I will elucidate my personal modal position.