Is It Inside Out? Or Outside In?

Published on May 15, 2007
by Kara Swisher

So, yesterday, after my post on CBS’s efforts to become friend to one and all on the Internet, Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine responded to my response (don’t you just love the echo chamber that is the blogosphere?) to one part of his post about the main problem traditional media companies have with the Web. Specifically, Jarvis had written: “What they defined as inside is outside. This requires them to turn their world inside out.”

That confused me and I said so and Jarvis was nice enough to explain further, in a comment, and in a simple way my old-media brain can grasp. “What I mean is that media think of themselves as being on the inside, everyone else on the outside,” he said, noting that, in fact, the media are not the center of the universe they imagine themselves to be. “We, the people, are at the center and media must realize that they are on the outside, looking in. They must turn themselves inside-out. And when they do that–when they realize that they serve the people at the center–it changes their essential world view and the architecture of media. But I’m not sure they can do it.”


The concept got me thinking, because part of me agrees with Jarvis that the desires of the audience is where all the action has shifted, from the popularity of television shows like “American Idol” that rely heavily on user participation to the frantic creation by the masses on sites like Flickr, MySpace and YouTube. While I made fun of Time magazine’s selection of “You” (along with that funky mirror cover), the essential idea was correct. The audience was no longer just listening, but, with cheaper and easier digital tools, they have found they had a lot to say, too.

And while old-media types make a lot of fun of such creations (believe me, they do frequently and, of course, off the record) as so much sewage compared to professionally produced content, I find increasingly that a lot more of what is out there and being surfaced is very good and exceptionally entertaining. And I am not just talking about clips strung together or kids goofing around with a Webcam–amid all the noise, there is some pitch-perfect stuff.

Consider, for example, this live-action take-off of the “Mary Worth” cartoon, done using the same strange angles and stilted dialog that is in the comic strip. While it might not be of interest to you, it is hard to say it is not creative in its genre.

And more of this has to be a good thing, pushing aside the command-and-control model so well used by traditional media, which essentially tries to capture audience for as long as it can and then market the hell out of it.

As online video and content sites get better at surfacing user-generated content (and they are doing just that), the offerings can only improve and be better monetized (I know, it won’t ever be a zillion-dollar opening like the turgid “Spider-Man 3”).

But I am also more sanguine than most in the old media, many of whom are in what feels like the seven stages of grief about the situation. I would say they are past shock and denial and somewhere between bargaining and guilt (up next: anger, depression and, finally, acceptance and hope!). That’s because this new burst of creativity from the people is not an outright rejection of their products at all, but more of a broadening and deepening of the pool of content.

Internet news and opinion site founder Arianna Huffington has it right when she reiterates her oft-said mantra that this is not an either-or, but a both.

In other words, everyone is inside.

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