What's Next for Open Source and Public Media?

by Doc Searls

Open Source has won. We've moved into Gandhicon 4. Now what? That's the question that occurred to me yesterday, while sitting in the audience of a tech session at Public Media 2008 in Los Angeles — the big annual conference for what most of us still call public broadcasting.

I sat there hearing panelists tell story after story about what stations can do with piles of open code, tools and standards. In cases where the nature or provenance of recommended code was in doubt, questions from the audience went, "Is the source code for that available?" or "Is that open code, or just an open service?"

This wasn't the only place I've seen this. In one business category after another, it's becoming clearer that we've passed the tipping point. Open Source is no longer just an option, no longer needs to justify itself. It's the baseline.

At one conceptual level up, I'll be on a panel today called Technology and Trends: What's Around the Bend? To prep for that, I thought I'd share are a few of my preliminary ideas.

  1. It's not a fight, but listeners and viewers will win anyway. They have far more choice about what they hear and watch. They can produce media as well as consume it. And they have the means to take the lead not only in the choice and supply of media and content, but in participation with stations, networks, program producers and everybody else who plays a role in the system. The market for public media will finally become, truly, conversational and participatory.
  2. There will be a new business model for public media, based on the ability of listeners and viewers to pay as much as they want, for whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. We'll call this new model VRM, for Vendor Relationship Management. It will supplement rather than supplant the old fund-raising systems. It will enrich and deepen the relationships between the consumers and producers of media, by working on terms provided by both sides, and not just by the supply side alone. This will not only increase the percentage of listeners and viewers paying for public media, but a new and vital source of funding for non-broadcast media — such as podcasts.
  3. VRM will reform CRM. Once we have tools that that will allow any of us voluntarily to pay for music and everything else we call "media" — and beyond that to relate with suppliers on terms that work for us as well as for them — CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems will cease to be one-way marketing vehicles and start to become two-way means by which real relationships between individuals and institutions are supported.
  4. Membership will mean more than schwag and promotion payoffs. We will cease to conflate transaction with relationship, and start relating to listeners and viewers in ways that conform to the shape of their wants, need an habits as well as ours. That means, if listeners care more about This American Life than about our stations, we help with that, rather than insist that listeners relate only to stations and silo'd CRM systems.
  5. The Intention Economy will happen first with public media. This is the economy that will grow around customers' and users' actual intentions — rather than guesswork about those intentions, or efforts to capture or drive people's attention. As a result, the advertising boom will come to an end, simply because the supply side will know more about what the demand side wants, and will have better ways of relating to it. Advertising won't go away, and never will. But wasting money time and money with guesswork about what people might want will fade as a value system, simply because a system that starts the actual intentions of users and customers will be in place.
  6. Cell phones will be the new radios and televisions. This will start to happen in a big way the minute Apple opens its iPhones to independent developers of native applications (rather than just ones that run in a browser). Then it will get a huge boost when carriers start selling open phones developed on Android, OpenMoko, Maemo, Trolltech and other platforms — all Linux-based, by the way. (Nokia buying TrollTech is a huge harbinger here.) The carriers will resist this development at first, and complain about how much bandwidth gets used, but they'll deal with it because demand will drive supply, and openness will outperform the closed alternatives.
  7. Websites will become as inadequate as transmitters. That is, both will remain necessary but insufficient means for reaching listeners and viewers, and for relating to them. "Live Web" methods such as streaming, file sharing, social networking and "rivers of news" will all play roles as well.
  8. Archives will be the ultimate killer kontent. Stations and networks will come to value not only their own archives, but will work to make those archives as easy as possible to find, consume and otherwise use — and to open CRM systems for VRM tools to make it as easy as possible for listeners and viewers to voluntarily pay for the privilege. Bigger inventory, bigger income.
  9. The end of analog terrestrial television will be a big mess and a wake-up call in more ways than we can name. The loss of analog TV's familiar channels, and in countless cases their signals as well, will go beyond annoying millions of people who never asked for DTV, and will barely understand it. In the long run it will help break everybody free from the ancient model of broadcasting as a system defined by limits in time and distance. No longer will everything need to be "live" — and constantly to hog bit paths to listeners and viewers who are tuned in to something else. No longer will local be a strictly geographical concept.
  10. Brands and reputations will matter more than ever. Familiar call letters, program names, personalities and institutions will have countless new ways to leverage their incumbent advantages, and to relate to their listeners and viewers, without both real and conceptual constraints imposed by transmitters and entailments such as "range". What will matter most about those names and reputations, however, will not be limited to their familiarity. Instead they will be enriched or impoverished by the degrees to which they participate in a marketplace sustained by real relationships, and not just by marketing that goes by that name.

So those are my first ten. Add your own below, and feel free to correct any or all of the above.