Jim Griffin provided great food for thought at Aula with the insight that mainstream media used to provide a basis of common facts for society to hold conversations of value and policy upon. Regardless of they were indeed facts, it differs from fragmented media where each (e.g. Fox News) frames their own facts, leaving society to debate their differing facts (e.g. was 9/11 ordered by Saddam?) instead of higher value conversations that foster community. And as advertising drives media towards isolated personalization, Jim's insight is that increased media choice when the network is a delivery mechanism, particularly in the mainstream, has a different societal impact than when the network is an interaction mechanism. With the former, communities will erode, providing the latter a call to action for social media to build anew.
The first way to counter this trend is familiar to those of us engaged in social media -- leverage participation to strengthen existing communities and foster new ones. The concern here is while early adopters have developed practices and tools to be more broadly connected, echo chamber arguments aside, mainstream crossover is a challenge. Fifty million members in MySpace is more of a network than a community with a common grounding of media facts. Stronger tie networks like Meetups or core communities engaged in collaborative intelligence hold promise.
The second way to attack this problem is the underlying advertising model. Hyper-targeted advertising, notably keyword targeting, assumes intention to buy within search, but ignores social influence on transactions. Alternative ad models that incorporate multiple media influences and the participation of social networks on individual buying decisions effect the shape of media. Composite form follows composite funding. But these forms have yet to arise.
The third and most promising dynamic that runs counter to fragmentation is how social media is connected to itself. That is, unlike broadcast, media influences other media and the primary user activity is sharing. When a fact reaches escape velocity, memetics serve to establish common fact. A false mainstream fact is checked by the blogosphere. A fact gains credence from it's distribution.
In this post I'm not using the word fact in absolute terms, as I don't believe in absolute truth and would instead offer that facts are social. The litmus test for if a common fact can be established across fragmented media could be simple: if a left-wing blog can cultivate a meme to the point of leverage where Fox News broadcasts it. In that case, if its on Fox, it's got to be true.
The reason common fact matters is the accelerating pace of change presents a grave risk if we cannot collectively make sense of it. In a world of decentralized and fragmented media, is there a source of collective fact-oriented media and underlying community. I think there is one, so far -- Wikipedia.