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5/22/2006
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Application Insight: The Revolution Will Not Be Podcast

Replacing mainstream media with something more personal but less accurate just shifts the problem around without solving the real issue: Where do you go to find the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Writing a column that's relevant to readers is a tricky business. So I was surprised that the response to my last column, "Wikis, Blogs, and Other Points of Failure", was as huge and varied as it turned out to be. To say the column touched a nerve would be only half-right: It innervated two very different audiences in two very different, and largely opposite, ways.

The issue is really about a revolution--real or imagined--that will pit the so-called "new media" of blogs, wikis and podcasts against the "old media" of newspapers, magazines and even hybrid Web sites/ magazines like this one. Most of the responses to my previous column boil down to which side of the barricade a reader stands on: revolutionary or counter-revolutionary.

After reviewing this impassioned debate, I remain firmly in the counter-revolutionary category, despite some excellent arguments in favor of the revolution. There's one simple reason: Every technology revolution I've ever witnessed has gone in a very different direction than the revolutionaries had hoped. And while the new media proponents would argue that this revolution is as much social as technological, that's where their hubris exceeds their historical perspective. The powers that be have always been better at co-opting new technology than new technologists have been at overthrowing the powers that be.

The revolutionaries believe that sins of the mainstream media (MSM, as it's derogatorily called), driven by corporate profits and entrenched interests--and lots of misinformation--are too massive to reform. Only a revolution will suffice, one that puts the MSM up against the wall, pulls the trigger and places the new media firmly in charge of the truth.

The counter-revolutionary responses to my column were an unusually interesting mix of information science types, professors and data professionals who see serious dangers in the new media's growing importance in light of the lack of checks, balances and accountability to ensure that quality is not being sacrificed. This gang doesn't want to stifle anyone's First Amendment rights so much as they want to make sure the truth doesn't lose out in the process.

What I believe will happen to this so-called revolution is what happened to all the tech revolutions over the past 20 years: The PC revolution, the Mac revolution, the Windows revolution, the Unix revolution, the business process re-engineering revolution, the client-server revolution, the ERP revolution, the open-source revolution, and, more recently and most tellingly, the dot-com revolution.

Each one promised to sweep aside the old and wholly replace it with the new. Each proposed ways to disintermediate the sinners of the past from their manifold sins and show the world how the one true way could change everything we say and think and do. And each, by the time it had run its course, proved that "the more it changes, the more it remains the same" trumps "vive la revolution" in the slogan wars every time.

So with apologies to a true revolutionary, Gil-Scott Heron, who would also have to admit that his revolution was never as revolting as he would have liked, this revolution won't be podcast, blogged, wikied or anything else. Partly because it will be co-opted by itself--as in for-profit, corporate-controlled blogs--and by the MSM, which is blogging and podcasting its heart out as we speak.

But more important, the revolution will fail because technology can't lead revolutions, however cool that technology is. There are real problems with the MSM, but technology by itself isn't the solution. And replacing the MSM with something more personal but less accurate just shifts the problem around without solving the real issue: Where do you go to find the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Unfortunately, that's the revolution that still must come to pass--and it won't be televised, podcast, blogged or wikied either.

Joshua Greenbaum is a principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. write to him at josh@eaconsult.com.

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