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 Amazon.com 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.