The Corporate Monster, a New Media Trajedy

Lot’s going on with Netmix and me personally. I’ve been looking for a new employment opportunity. The Associated Press just wasn’t the place for me. I met some really great people but it just didn’t work out. The company is going through growing pains that just aren’t right for someone with my extensive new media development experience. The situation led me to think about my new media experiences.

My studies at New York University and my over ten years of Internet industry work have taught me both from books and from experience the theory of new media production, all the while giving me a bird’s eye view at how media companies function in a technology laden society.

It’s quite amazing going from the dotcom boom to bust, then going to work for major media companies and seeing the differences in management philosophy and lack of understanding of new media.

My experience has been that some of the large corporations I’ve worked for use new media tools or build web projects, without really thinking through their impact, usability or functionality to the end-user. It seems as if no one wants to talk about why they are using the technology and how it can improve communication to either entertain or inform the viewer/reader. They do a little research, bounce a few ideas around, build a product and then divorce it and move on to the next thing, relegating it to second class status. They don’t send anyone to attend conferences or panels to get a deeper understanding or perspective on how new media ideas, user patterns and philosophy impact the industry.

Companies like the Associated Press, while great at aggregating news and delivering it over the traditional airwaves and cable, are not so great at understanding delivery through new technologies. For example, the Java based application we ended up implementing, Roller Weblogger, accepted comments without moderation, so we had to figure out a hack and ended up being forced to take comments by email and posting them to a category, because we didn’t have the development resources to actually build the feature into the open-source product. On a blog, you can’t leave off a feature like moderated comment, as the blogosphere won’t allow for it. You have to come out strong, with all your ducks in a row, so to speak, or you could get flamed by some kid who really knows his or her stuff.

So, why Roller Weblogger over Movable Type or WordPress? That’s a good question that I’ll leave up to your imagination.

If you’re a young reader and you visit an AP blog that doesn’t accept comments the way most blogs work, what do you think is the message that’s being sent is to the young audience you’re trying to attract? The implication speaks for itself. The drive to get new readers will be impacted by the fact that the Associated Press didn’t take the time to understand the power of blogs at their core, even though their reporters frequently cite bloggers in their news stories and many of their reporters have personal blogs they keep.

Today, companies are hiring people specifically to think about the Internet and tie all of the disparate groups together, so everyone understands and achieves the end goal, to have a functioning product with all of the correct features built-in at launch. It would be beneficial for the Associated Press to have someone on staff, an Internet Strategist if you will, who will help the company navigate the digital waters.

For my Political Economy of Digital Media class at NYU, I just finished reading Silicon Alley, The Rise and Fall of a New Media District by Michael Indegaard. In the book, the author writes about the circumstance leading up to the Internet boom, the years of prosperity and innovation and then the ugly events that surrounded the subsequent bust. I found the book fascinating, mainly because I lived through it and can identify with the characters, the greed and the ashes left behind. Indegaard really captures the essence of what went wrong; where greed, money and power colluded with corporate, government and real estate interests to prop up the new media business and enjoy the fruits while the thousands of victims of the bust were left with next to nothing in the end.

What I found most interesting was the Indegaard’s pointed commentary on the role of major media companies in the dotcom space, then and now. And, his descriptions of what happened to all those creative people who dared to dream of innovating and breaking the corporate ties that bound us to their media messages and monopolies. He ties together the dotcom crash and Septemeber 11, 2001 as the one-two-punch that led to the decimation of the new media industry in lower Manhattan. As everything fell apart, Indegaard says, “Even corporate titans left the arena in disarray. In the wake of the rout, the district’s unraveling begin in earnest. The institutional ties and narratives that had kept everything lashed together began to quickly melt away, leaving the creatives exposed.”

At the time, I was embedded in the new media economy as President of the Netmix division of Polyverse, Inc. (the company my partners and I originally sold Netmix to) and had to think fast to figure out what I was going to do. With about five years of new media experience running a company that went from 10 users in January of 1995 to 1 Million unique visitors a year by 2000, I thought my skills and experience would be valuable in the post-dotcom arena.

Much to my dismay, at that point, so many people were losing their jobs. There were no real opportunities until June of 2001 when a business acquaintance at New York’s MetroTV helped me land a position as Senior Online Music Producer. It was a phenomenal job and I’ll never forget the opportunity. I have to say one thing about Cablevision, they really treat their employees well. It was probably my best work experience and we got so much done; The Daily Beat, TVDJ, The Greenroom, Bid New York and Full Frontal Fashion–all for Internet and iTV. MetroTV was a company who did new media well. I learned a lot and I am certainly glad for the experience.

After 9/11, the economy tanked and Cablevision laid off over 5,000 people. After that, there were few opportunities for someone like myself. Anyone in a job certainly wasn’t leaving and there were so many people looking, but most jobs were going to a small circle of connected friends. It was an extremely difficult time, as Indegaard describes, “New economy workers found that what had counted previously as “skill” or desirable traits was not necessarily going to be valued.”

Today, new media workers in New York City find themselves at a crossroads. Do they leave the city and head west for San Francisco and LA, where it seems there is more innovation, venture capital and growth opportunities in new media? Or, do they stay in New York, where corporations hire those with virutally no new media experience to build Internet products that they, themselves don’t really even understand.

That’s the vibe many of us are getting here in NYC. To work in new media in New York City, is to work for corporations who are running around building applications on the whim of executives who have no new media training.

Do you think any major corporation in America could have created a MySpace, Friendster, Napster or Ruckus Networks? Most likely, the answer is no. But they will co-opt those networks, because money talks. The smaller companies take venture money to grow and are beholden to the shareholders who are betting that they will cash out or go public; take for instance the recent sale of MySpace’s parent company. So where does it end? As small companies generate excitement and a user base, they get acquired and then cash out leaving MBA’s in charge who don’t understand the underlying concepts or content that drove users in the first place. They set about changing the business model to maximize revenues while alienating their user base with pet products no one really cares about. It’s a vicious cycle that I’ve seen all too many times. The smaller companies innovate and the big corporations come along to swallow those iideas.

Indegaard quotes Maria Bowe, (former Word editor) who said that “New York was the content capital of the US, but argued that money and big firms had undercut the new media spirit. ‘There is no longer interest in experiencing the medium. And big firms kept putting people in charge who did not love it. Now we’re talking about content like a dead person on a table.'”

As for Netmix, things are going well. I’ve signed my deal with Burst Media and over the next week will start hosting Burst sold advertising. People are loving Madsol’s shows the world over. We’ve got visitors clicking on streams from New York City to as far away as Japan and Australia.

We also just signed our agreements for ASCAP, SESAC and BMI, which are very important for Web casting on the Internet. This makes the site legal and in compliance with the Digital Millenium Copywright Act.

I do have a lot of work to do with the scheduling system. My first attempt at scheduling went okay, but there are some quirks of the system I’m learning and I have to go back and regenerate playlists. This week, I’ll also be adding new music content and some past Netmix show as well. Stay tuned!

That’s my rant for today. By the way, I’m looking for the perfect job in new media and music, where I can actually use my skills…if you know of anything, I’d appreciate the head’s up!

Tony Z.

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