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As part of the major transformation we’re undergoing in the information space, the Internet has supplanted two business advantages publishers once held — distribution and production. Distribution has been taken over by the likes of Comcast and Verizon, while production has been taken over by device-makers like Apple and Amazon, who can charge a premium for new reading experiences (the recent price breakdown of the new iPod nano hints at the hardware markup Apple is generating).

But are we about to lose our grip on things even closer to our souls?

In Nick Bilton’s consistently interesting “I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works,” two terms describe familiar and powerful ways in which publishers, librarians, and others have historically sought to provide value and make themselves central to the lives of their constituencies  — “anchoring communities” and “trust markets.”

Anchoring communities are created by those abstract notions of affiliation, relevance, and belonging we all use to define and orient ourselves. For some, it might be a sport league, a professional organization, and a school committee. For others, it might be political affiliation or locality. It’s where people return to check in on fundamental identity and affiliation issues.

Trust markets are exchanges built on the innate trust among those within them, be they customers of who trust that market’s recommendations and reviews, subscribers to Netflix who trust its recommendation system, users of Facebook who trust its “my friends” environment, or adherents to Twitter who rely on the “only friends” trust market it creates.

Bookstores, libraries, and publications in general attempted to approximate anchoring communities and trust markets. The fact that journals and professional societies have co-existed with such reliable frequency attests to this fact — they often emerged simultaneously or at least contemporaneously. But new anchoring communities and trust markets are moving away from societies and their publications and into different, user-controlled spheres of operation.

As intellectual centers, libraries have been shifting away from functioning as a meaningful academic anchoring community for years now. Bookstores have drifted from their anchoring role by becoming boutiques for novelties. And books and journals, as they have shed their physical forms, have become fodder for new anchoring communities.

There is hope, however, but publications need to change to embrace them. Amazon’s recent introduction of “most highlighted passages” hints at how books can remain anchoring communities for readers. It introduces a warm touch of apomediation to the proceedings.

Apomediation is a term meant to convey a shift from intermediation. When we relied on intermediaries, it was partly because resources were scarce — books had to be shelved, preserved, stored, and organized, and people were best-suited to do this. Journals had to be shelved, counted, and organized similarly. Intermediaries were placed between users and scarce information resources to protect the resources and help users navigate a poorly organized, somewhat opaque system.

Today, apomediation is much more common — a recommendation from an acquaintance, a rating/review by someone you don’t know, a recommendation from a machine (e.g., the Netflix “you might like” engine).

Editors used to be a source of apomediation, an expert who wasn’t interposed between a user and information but rather someone who sought to organize information as a friend might. Now, however, editors are being overwhelmed by other apomediaries. There are just too many other people suggesting, recommending, pushing, and ignoring information for an editor’s role to carry value for more than a millisecond.

The journal as a proxy anchoring community is too weak a player to matter much today. The anchoring communities have moved out into realms journals barely participate in. Even then, they are relatively unobtrusive participants.

Certain articles can serve anchoring communities, but a journal’s entire issue? The atomization of information in today’s world makes that highly unlikely.

Trust markets are even more interesting to contemplate, I think. The trust that journals still possess among readers is phenomenal, but it’s not isolated and it can be approximated or replicated in other ways. New forms of trust are being generated, some not competitive, others that won’t appear competitive until too late.

Google is a trust market that’s vital to any professional. While it’s often hard to get professionals to admit to using Google or — horrors! — Wikipedia, the dirty truth is that often they do. These information sources have a growing presence in the trust market that traditional media used to own via branding and distribution.

Facebook is another trust market, as is Twitter. We trust them because people we know act as our filters. Twitter recently claimed that 25% of tweets from Twitter contain links to other information. With 90 million tweets per day, that’s 22.5 million links to information per day. This kind of trust market filtering is becoming powerful, valuable, and robust, with the Flipboard app showing just how you can turn it around into a beautiful publication, completing the transformation from one trust market to another (old-fashioned trust market to modern trust market).

In fact, the speed and disposability of current anchoring communities and trust markets may be their Achilles’ heel. Science moves more slowly, and permanence is an important part of a stable substrate. The recent proposal around nanopublications introduces an intriguing alternative:

As the amount of scholarly communication increases, it is increasingly difficult for specific core scientific statements to be found, connected and curated. Additionally, the redundancy of these statements in multiple fora makes it difficult to determine attribution, quality and provenance.

This is yet another way of making an anchoring community, but perhaps a way that’s more relevant and useful for the sciences. Yet, notice that what’s distilled still leaves the problem of trust and anchoring outside the current article containers.

People still trust journals, librarians, and books, but the new trust markets are controlled by individuals working inside personally defined anchoring communities. So, broadcast information becomes granular, targeted, and relevant in ways traditional information purveyors no longer control.

Curation of this magnitude, proximity, and reliability is hard for traditional media to replicate. Friends and non-friends are using apomediation and tools from new anchoring communities and trust markets to filter information in ways that are more dynamic and relevant than a book, journal, or librarian ever can be with traditional approaches. Which is why they’re feeling less relevant and pertinent every day.

And if you’ve made it through all these buzzwords and heady concepts, feel free to share this post with people in your anchoring community’s trust market via the links below.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.

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16 Thoughts on "Anchoring Communities and Trust Markets — Advantages Shift to the Users"

I for one do not understand all these buzzwords and supposedly heady concepts. It would help if they were explained in plain language, preferably scientifically, but that would take a lot more space.

But to the extent that I do understand them I see nothing in them to make journals feel less relevant. On the contrary, what these changes mean is that many more people may read a given article. Your link to the nanopubs people let me read an article from a journal I never heard of.

I used to read journals in the library and discuss them with my physical colleagues in the university. Now both activities are global. How does this diminish the relevance of journals? Journals aggregate new science by topic and importance. That function is more important than ever, not less.

It may make certain articles more or less important, but the amplification, sharing, socializing, and contextualizing is going to go on without the journal business model or community-setting function. I think part of this is that granular information now has a swift path to readers, and many small audiences exist that can’t be addressed by broadcast publication.

Unfortunately I do not know what the following words mean, in the context of journal articles:
granular information
swift path
Hence I do not understand your paragraph. Perhaps you can point me to a work that defines or explains them.

Oh, it’s sooo tempting to answer “dictionary.” But I can’t. I just can’t.

Amplification — addition of extra material or illustration or clarifying detail; intensification
Socializing — the social act of assembling for some common purpose
Contextualizing — placing (a word or idea, for example) in a particular context
Community-setting — defining a community by establishing boundaries or affiliation markers
Granular information — the information inside a larger package, such as articles inside journals, images inside articles, words inside sentences, and so forth
Swift path — faster than snail mail, photocopies left in in-boxes, and so on

Hope that helps.

Sorry, but it does not help. I still don’t understand how you mean these abstract activities to relate to journals, such that journals become less relevant. I can see how they might apply to Internet activities stimulated by journal articles, via blog discussion for example, but that makes journals more relevant, not less. What am I missing?

Articles become more relevant, journals become less used. Information finds people. Browsing in trust networks and anchoring communities replaces browsing in journals.

To elaborate a little more, when you combine this with the attitude that “the news will find me,” I think you can see how journals become feeders for new trust markets and anchoring communities.

This is interesting Kent, because the more you say the less I understand what you are saying. Bear in mind that confusion is my field, especially conceptual confusion during technological revolutions. I have a diagnostic system of 126 kinds of confusion in technical writing and discourse.

Of my possible 126 confusion causing factors “vague concepts” is the one we seem to be dealing with here. On the other hand you may be using well defined technical jargon that I am simply ignorant of. That is why I asked you to refer me to a source where these concepts are explained. If there is none and you are simply making these words up then we have a problem.

For example, saying “amplification” means adding extra material does not help. Do you mean journals adding extra on-line material, as Sciencemag does? Do you mean blogs adding extra material by discussing an article? Is every discussion amplification? On an elevator or just on-line? Or are you referring to some other form of extra material entirely, such as the way science builds?

Given all these diverse possible interpretations I still really have no idea what this term means in this context. Same for the rest that I list, and more. (You can be glad I am not your editor.)

Then you say “Articles become more relevant, journals become less used.” Isn’t a journal used every time an article is read, or even just looked at? The articles are the journal, last I looked.

Let’s work on “amplification.” When an article link is shared, it’s usually broadcast to more people than just one. It’s amplified through distribution. Also, context is often added, so that’s new/additional information. So I think saying “amplification” means adding extra material is actually accurate. But instead of there being no record of it, in a social network there is a persistent reference that’s contextualized (even by virtue of who sent it into which community) and broadcast.

As for the “articles become more relevant, journals become less used,” the analogy that might break through is albums and music. As songs have become more relevant (and reduced to Ping, Genius, Spotify, and Pandora profiling), albums become less used. Same here. The music industry is struggling because they aren’t set up to sell songs. Are we set up to peddle articles? No, we’re set up to peddle subscriptions and licenses to long-term subscriptions. If anchoring communities and trust markets of information shift away and break information apart with different filters that we can no longer address, what then?

Now we are getting somewhere. I never said these big new words were not accurate, just that I did not know what they meant. It looks like amplification, contextualization, etc., are simply features of public discussion, which has increased dramatically. The problem is that more people are discussing their articles but the journals don’t make any more money from this, correct?

It may well be that the subscription model is obsolete but this is not news, It would be interesting to see someone try a 99 cent article instead of $30.

Yes, we are getting somewhere, but not all the way yet. In addition to public discussion increasing, it’s also increasingly fragmented, customized to little pockets of each person’s Twitter world or Facebook friends (trust networks and anchoring communities). Publishers used to be proxies for communities — that’s where we came from. Now, communities are moving away, fragmenting, and still using the content. Distribution has morphed again, and people identifying with societies, libraries, and journals rather than Twitter and Facebook — well, it’s an open question where their allegiances will be strongest now.

Apomediation still seems to me like a form of intermediation. But, that quibble aside, I’d like to highlight one relatively new arrival on the scene of apomediation: groups of university alumni who self-organize according to specific interests. I currently subscribe to five online discussion fora hosted by the Princeton Alumni Association that focus on law, music and the music business, writing and publishing, nonprofit organizations, and politics. The discussions range over a wide territory and may include everything from recommended reading and job postings to debate over current events and arguments about matters of style in writing. These are both anchoring communities and trust markets, to use your terminology, forged by the common bond of one’s alma mater. (The politics discussion group, called “Advocates and Skeptics,” is dominated by libertarians, for some reason.)

Exactly right about the trust markets and anchoring groups. We all have more of them online than ever, and can self-organize easily.

BTW, apomediation differs from intermediation in that the apomediators don’t control the resources in question, they just send out signals about them. In the past, the professionalization of movie critics, book reviewers, restaurant reviewers, etc., made this a scarce and elite activity. Now, it’s common and non-elite (not to say that some posers don’t act elitist, but that’s another issue).

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