Does Rich Media Discourage Debate?

Last week, Neville Hobson, Shel Holtz and I had a debate about the merits of distributing information through audio channels. The debate took place in a text entry on Neville’s website.

That debate continued when Neville and Shel addressed my arguments in their popular podcast, The Hobson and Holtz Report. I don’t wish to pursue that argument here–we both have valid points of view and it’s run its course.

However, this series of events got me thinking about how different forms of media affect discourse. In a text world such as this blog, my dear readers and I are on fairly equal footing. I often use the example of the original, literal soapbox (like, say, this one). Though my voice is dominant, the comment mechanism and page layout ensure that, over time, most people will read comments as well as my entry (in the long run, far more people read the archived version of an entry, as compared to those that scroll down my front page). If you disagree with me and comment on this site, you’ve got a reasonable expectation that most of my audience will read your thoughts as well. [more]

Audio and video muddy this relationship. Essentially, they increase the imbalance between the creator and the consumer. That soap box stops being a box and becomes a soap crate or a soap shipping container

First, the rich media creator has far more tools at their disposal than the writer. We all know that old chestnut about non-verbal communication being powerful. Actors know that what you say is less important than how you say it. Add to that the profound power of the (audio or video) edit, and you’ve already got a big leg up.

We’re a rich content culture. Newspaper readership peaked in the 1970s, and radio listenership is rapidly aging. Television’s numbers are down in some demographics, but they’re largely being replaced by other visual media–computer games, for example. It’s no surprise that television news anchors seem to have more authority and influence than the average newspaper journalist. It’s also no surprise that television has lousy user feedback mechanisms (Speaker’s Corner doesn’t really cut it, does it?)

So, if I want to reply to Shel and Neville’s audio recording, I can:

  • Make a comment on their site – Unfortunately, most of their listeners probably won’t see it.
  • Leave an audio message for them, which they include in a future show – Not bad, but context is lost if it’s played days or weeks later, and this solution doesn’t scale. What if they get 20 messages from each session?
  • Post my comment on my own site in text form – Few people have blogs, and fewer are able to understand and track the relationship between Neville’s site and mine.
  • Post my comment on my own site in audio – Time consuming, difficult for the average person plus the above.
  • Post my comment somewhere in video form – This seems the best strategy, because video trumps audio as audio trumps text. If I had some flashy graphics and maybe an attractive young anchor, then I could really kick butt.

None of these solutions really resolve my fundamental desire as a consumer–to reach most or all of my fellow consumers of the audio recording. If Shel and Neville misrepresent my views (I haven’t listened to the recording, but they’re very nice and professional, so this is very unlikely), my recourses are few and difficult. Speaking from a PR perspective, being misrepresented by the media is one of the most common frustrations for clients. The problem doesn’t get any simpler as the media expands to include the masses.

As an aside, in my limited experience, the best way to provide feedback to a podcaster is by sending them a recorded chunk of audio that they’ll include in a future episode. As I’ve mentioned, this is beyond the average person’s technical acumen, time-consuming and more challenging compared to writing out one’s thoughts.

This may just be a speed bump. In 10 or 15 years, we may all enjoy a Star Trek world of exchanged video messages that are simple to create, manage, publish and swap. Comment threads may become chunks of video, automagically edited together to provide a cogent exchange of views.

Today, though, it’s not simple enough to create, manage, publish and swap good ol’ text. I’m frequently wrong, and the people who read this site are fortunately around to correct me. As we introduce other media, we need to consider how we’ll adapt the feedback model that blogs have created.

1 comment

  1. Are you sure about that?

    Once I read your post – and maybe even the comments beneath it, I only come back if I am really interested, have answered or so.

    In *this* particular comment, I hope I remember to come back, because I would like to see the answer, but in general, most people I know of only to a certain extend go over older posting to look into the comments.

    In which case an answer as a new blog post with perhaps a link update / trackback is superior to just commenting. That is sure to be read by most of your audience.

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