Omnishambles; officially your word of 2012. I quite like it really. Qualified by the great and fictitious Malcolm Tucker as ‘You’re like that coffee machine, you know, “From bean to cup, you fuck up.”‘ it does exactly what it says on the tin. But such a negative word – you cry – and 2012 has been so unparalleled in optimism! The Jubilympics, 4 more years for Obama, we saw a man jump from space! Yet, this year we have lived through the greatest recession of our generation, scandals within industries that should really have our complete trust, devastating natural disasters, all whilst hurtling towards certain Mayan doom; and we have lived every minute of it through whichever medium WE chose. Isn’t that wonderful?
2012 for me defined a trend that has been building for the past few years. Where news and reporting has become no longer about journalists feeding us stories, but about capturing information in real time and sharing fact, opinion and analysis at will.
The effects haven’t been instant; the Egyptian uprising; the raid on Osama bin Laden, protesters being killed in Bahrain, all stories broken via Twitter, Facebook or Youtube over the past 24 months. However in this past year, news stories broken in social media and by regular citizens were no longer anomalous events, but part of the way we now consume our information.
In November I made it to NYC, despite Hurricane Sandy’s best efforts. Seeing the destruction of the ‘Frankenstorm’ was a humbling and unsettling experience. Talking to residents rebuilding their homes and businesses really drove home New Yorkers ability to rebuild and rebuild together; grassroots relief initiatives have made all the difference in the following months and recent NYC tech community efforts have left me pleasantly stunned by both their ingenuity and practicality. As well as the numerous news reports and human interest stories, Twitter and Instagram users took sharing to another level. From jokes to sheer devastation this was unfiltered story telling – making it impossible for authorities to ignore ‘forgotten’ areas for long and bringing the news back to people’s lives from the faceless numbers.
The trip, eventful as it was, also coincided with the US general election. Aside from the overwhelming feeling of ‘crashing the party’, seeing the the influence of technology on the election was startling. From campaign success and voting practicalities to election night coverage, the entire process has been very quickly overhauled (in some cases too quickly). Suddenly, once impersonal political ‘big’ issues were made relevant to all. Don’t think anyone else is voting? Check out Electiongrams. Think you’re the only one stuck in line? Obama’s team uses #stayinline to keep up moral. From the wider trends to to personal issues, this was an election that forced politicians down from the pulpits and into their voters’ conversations.
We increasingly look to search engines and social media for what is going on now and return to traditional broadcasters for confirmation and deeper analysis. It is this behaviour that has has led professional journalists online to break news first, and further increases the gap between online and print news revenue. This physical effect on news is coming to fruition, last week Newsweek shut down their print edition for good and rumours of a similar strategy still surround The Guardian.
There has been a concentrated effort in redesign of sharing and learning services for the good of the user. Whilst networks like Reddit and Quora are simple and comment led for a reason; I have never enjoyed using them for browsing or searching as they appear cluttered and overwhelmed. Mashable’s new site redesign counteracted this by emphasising clarity, depth of content and ease of use. The discover and share functions are simple to access without taking over the experience of reading. The Guardian have also made moves in their ‘Open Journalism’ approach, removing their Facebook app to gain greater control over their content. Whether this is a move forward or closer to their philosophy is under debate, but centralised hubs for media is a trend I have seen more and more of.
Narrative and information platforms are rapidly and often uniformly going through redesigns; Storify, Pocket (formerly ‘Read it later’) and soon to be Delicious are all undergoing transformations to become more hub and less message board like. Even though the idea of social aggregators has been around as long as social media sites have, they have produced some beautiful services this year with emphasis on ‘curation’. Although Flipboard was technically released 2010 (and we may be a little biased) it remains one of the most relevant and most beautifully put together aggregator on the market, and the only one out of beta. Brand spanking new this year, Glossi brings in a more personal homepage approach, but with some privacy issues, and with arguably the best interface but worst name is Rebel Mouse, your own private bulletin board, with far greater personalisation than the other options, but at a price.
It is these services and the way people are personalising them that excites me so much. No longer is news about one authoritative voice. We have some stumbling blocks along the way, but like our friend Omnishambles, to truly begin to understand how the big unreachable stories are affecting people, the rough and ready stuff brings it home.
Finally, despite my initial flabbergasting, Google has done a wonderful job of summing up the real sense of personal joy and immediate nostalgia this year’s events have instilled. I dare you not to cry. Dare you.