Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We Media 1: How do you change the game?

Escaping February’s icy grip on the Midwest is always a treat. But for me that usually means a convention and more time in an air-conditioned room than in the sun.

We Media Miami promotes itself as a different sort of conference and I was treated to a different sort of introduction. I had to catch a plane that arrived seven hours before kickoff, which meant I had a chance to relish a Latin lunch and a few minutes of sun before I got to work.

Work? At a conference in Cocoanut Grove? Alas, there is no free lunch (especially cilantro soup). The Reynolds Journalism Institute sent me here to look at the We Media organization’s concept of “gamechangers” for the Web and the world.

We Media describes itself as “a Web site, a community, a conference and a global movement to make the world better through media.” It is the brainchild of Andrew Nachison and Dale Perkins of the Seven26groups consulting company.

The conference is framed around a competition for which 35 Web sites were nominated. A panel of judges this week pared that down to eight.

Prior to the announcement of the finalists, I went through all the sites myself and then asked 24 students in my citizen journalism-focused Online Journalism class to do the same. We each ranked the sites on a 1-5 scale and then made comments.
Twenty-somethings are hard to impress. I found a few gems in a mostly been-there, done-that field. But the students were harsh, giving only one site a “3.” At least it was one of the sites I liked well enough to grant a “4.”

I often notice in class how jaded young people are about technology. They have grown up with life-like video games, CGI movies and a Google answer for anything. To catch their attention takes work.

For We Media, the students wanted both new process and intriguing output. Mere content would not do it.

The site that did that was Charitywater.org. Like me, they appreciated the social benefit of funding clean water projects around the world. And we both enjoyed the ease of navigation and the web cam documenting well drilling.

To me that was not enough to “change the game.” But the way Charitywater.org ups the ante in fund raising is. The site looks like something from Ikea and has the same appeal to the pocketbook. You can give on any page.

But I think what most impressed me was Twitter campaign. Sure, we have all been asked to use that addictive SMS community to promote a cause. But this was the first time I was given a long list of pre-written comments I could copy and past into my Twitter feed. Very cool.

But not cool enough for the judges. It didn’t even place.

That’s the conflict of ideals and ideas I will explore this week. Through Thursday, I will be blogging from the conference with my observations on why people think the game needs to be changed and how they think we should go about that. And I’ll weigh in with my own opinions – which are never in short supply.

No comments: