It’s an exciting time to be in the communications business. It’s not just that there are so many new ways to reach people. It’s also that we get to watch as each of these new media gropes for its place in the communications ecosystem.
Text messaging started as a side channel for mobile network engineers to communicate with each other. No one — least of all the operators themselves — ever imagined that it would become the lingua franca of the teenager or a new marketing ‘touch point’ or the perfect way to send alerts (including machine-to-machine updates).
Blogging just seemed like a self-indulgent personal diary opened up to the world. Some would say it still is — but it’s also become something much greater, carving a place for itself somewhere between journalism, gossip and private musing; giving companies a new, less formal way to express themselves; giving the opinionated the audiences they never could have found; creating online meeting places for ad hoc communities.
Social media came from nowhere to claim a significant chunk of the waking hours of millions of people. My 14-year-old daughter spends far more time on Facebook than she spends in front of the TV. Some business colleagues have thousands of contacts on LinkedIn and really know how to work the medium. And I can now touch bases with lots of people I had lost touch with (a painfully high number since I moved to the UK 19 years ago).
Twitter was a curiosity for geeks and people with too much time on their hands. Now it’s a juggernaut, giving millions of people the illusion of being heard; giving celebrities the constant attention they crave; giving celebrity-watchers their tiny slices of famous flesh; giving life’s natural networkers and community-builders fertile soil…
It’s fascinating to watch these new media emerge and either establish themselves or die off. Will Twitter be bigger than Facebook or go the way of the CB radio? How will YouTube evolve? How will the mobile web differ from the desktop web?
But as interested as I am in all of this, it does remind me that the medium is still just the medium. And that the idea and the story are still — maybe more than ever — the real engines powering all these phenomena. That’s somehow comforting to someone who’s in the idea and story business.