Participatory media: Encouraging people to ‘level up’

Derek Powazek has an interesting analysis of the quirky quiz show on US public radio (NPR) called Wait, Wait Don’t Tell me and looks at the lessons the show provides in developing participatory media projects. What I like about this post is that he’s looking at a relatively traditional media format, the radio quiz show, through a different lens, from the point of view not of radio but of social media and gaming. I like from the start how he re-defines the term “crowdsourcing”.

For my purposes, it means collaborating with the people who used to be the silent audience to make something better than you could make alone.

I’m going to focus on two of his points and let you read the rest of the post to get the full monty. I couldn’t agree more with his second point about structuring input. You have to give crowds a goal, something to aim for.

Too many crowdsourced projects create a blank canvas and have a rather utopian view that the crowd will create a masterpiece. It just doesn’t work like that. You’ll most likely get obscene graffiti rather than a Van Gogh because not a lot of people engage with something when it isn’t clear what they are engaging with. A vacuum encourages vandals. They assume that no one is looking after your particular corner of the internet and will usually start trying to sell Viagra if you’re lucky. I still hear Field of Dreams strategies at conferences, a “build it and they will come” ethos that was discredited by anyone with credibility a decade ago. (If someone espouses such a strategy and dresses up with a lot of buzzwords stressed to impress, run away. They really are just snake oil salesman.)

I think Derek makes another good point when he says “Encourage the audience to level up”. Again, this is taking a concept from gaming and applying it to participatory media. Most people still passively consume media (although many more people are sharing and recommending media). It’s often referred to as the user-generated content pyramid or the 1-9-90 rule (although this might be changing). A participatory media project or service should give “new users a clear path, limited tools, and an awareness of that those on the next level can do”, Derek says.

Too often, media create crowdsourced projects that are akin to bad dates, they are all about us. It’s focused on what we, the media, not what we, the people, get out of it. As I’ve been saying for several years now, if user-generated content plays actually provide value to users, not just media outlets, then more people will participate. Creating levels for users and clear benefits for them as they contribute more is one solid strategy for achieving greater participation and better results.

2 thoughts on “Participatory media: Encouraging people to ‘level up’

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