Kevin Kelly on the Future of Media

November 10, 2010

in Conference, Event Review, Future of Conferences

Today at the New Media Days Conference (Web, Twitter, Facebook) in Copenhagen, Kevin Kelly (Web, Wikipedia, Twitter)  delivered a very interesting keynote on the characteristics of the “new media” environment and its opportunities for Media companies, be it old or new ones.

Kelly, who has just published a book titled “What technology wants”, focused on 4 key concepts that are shaping our (media)world:

  1. Trans media
  2. Share by default
  3. Generatives
  4. Database of things

Kevin Kelly at New Media Days 2010

Trans media

Trans-media or intermedia is a term that Kelly uses to describe the single medium in which text, photos, music, TV, radio and others are converging. Imagine for example one single large text that contains all documents connected through hyperlinks. This intermedia is usable through different kinds of interaction like gestures and also allows a very intimate relationship (eg. like when you caress the iPad’s screen). “It’s a whole body somatic experience”.
The content will evolve into a two-way relationship where it adapts to our way of using it. For example,  adaptive text (part of the semantic web or web 3.0) will change the way that content is displayed on a web page depending on how much reading time you’re spending on a certain part of the page or the attention you’re giving to it. In this scenario, the screen becomes a two-way window: we look at it, it looks at us – and adapts.

Share by default

All the screens we use, be it a cellphone, a TV or a desktop computer, are windows into the same thing: the cloud. But as Kelly explains in his latest book, we –humans– are part of the cloud too, not separated from it. The central verb in the cloud is “share” with and within the cloud, and this new paradigm opens a lot of questions about sharing like: who owns the content in the cloud, who can modify it (or erase it), who’s responsible and whose laws apply to it.

One of the biggest challenges for media companies is that of ownership and access. If you share everything, you don’t need to own it. If you can have access to all the music in the world, then why would you want to own it. But them, who owns it?

Users become more important too, as they are generating loads of new content. How far can you go in tapping into users creating content? Several companies have virtually outsourced their customer service by providing forums where users answer to each others questions, many other are counting on the same users to do marketing for them by spreading viral marketing videos and yet other are counting on users to finance each other through micro loans and social financing (think of According to Kelly though, not all content should be created by the users ans here is where professionals come into play, not by replacing the existing content but by complementing it through specific skills?


The ease of copying digital content has created a sort of “promiscuous fluid”. Kelly urges media companies to forget about selling copies and assume as if they were free. So the focus switches to things that are valuable because they cannot be copied easily.

In this point is where Kevin Kelly gives some hints on the biggest opportunities lying out there for media companies. A clear example is that of immediacy. Kelly recounts how when downloading a (legal) copy of the National Geographic magazine from the ’20s he was given two options: download it for free with one click and it will take one hour or so to conclude the task – pay a few dollars and you can get the file in under 6 minutes. In other words, the copy was free, immediacy was the item being sold.

He calls these “generative valuables” and apart from immediacy, other opportunities lie in authenticity, personalization, patronage (having a relation or supporting the curator), interpretation, accessibility, embodiment and findability.

Sharing becomes a default, generatives cannot be copied easily and have to be made in place. This is the future of media – copies will flow free, people will pay for something else (of value to them).

Database of things

We are moving from files to streams, which are not a static page but a large flow. The new metaphor is streams of stuff, the cloud, now (real time), we (instead of I). Real time is the currency for this new media and everything in the world will be producing data (think of RFID tags, open datasets, etc) building up a huge database of things.

From "files" to "streams"

Kevin Kelly is an optimist and after 7,000 days of the web and seeing everything that changed from the original goals and predictions, the lesson he draws for himself is that we have to get better in believing the impossible. What will the next 7,000 days of the web be?

At this point he looked at the audience, whose silent attention evidenced how desperate they were for concrete answers, and said “you’re not too late!”. Most of the stuff regarding the next 7,000 days of the web (or whatever form it will take, from videos to apps, e-readers, etc) has not yet happened, media companies can become leaders too.

The Future of Conferences

After his presentation I cached up with Kelly on what he believes the future of conferences will look like. He described how those formats that can happen better offline are taking the lead. From one hour presentations to the 18 minutes of the TED talks and the 5 minutes of Pecha Kuchas, shorter presentations become more dynamic and interesting, and easier to deploy locally when they rely on participation like at unconferences.

That being said, I enjoyed much more this 1-hour lecture that an 18 minute TEDx talk that he delivered just one year ago in Amsterdam. Maybe that’s because he had more than one idea worth spreading.

Dear conference organizer, if you made it all the way to the bottom of this article, I encourage you to think about what kind of generatives you can create for your event. If you share the content of your conference for free through a live streaming, what other valuable things (worth paying for) can you deliver?
To kickstart new ideas think of the generatives mentioned before: immediacy, authenticity, personalization, patronage, interpretation, accessibility, embodiment and findability.

More photos from New Media Days 2010 here.

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