Summary/Afterthoughts on IVP Conference
At "Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy," summit, participants come back to the question: "Who will pay?" and decide it depends on what they are served and whether the focus in on fixing a broken system or inventing a new one.
By Emily Sussman
The author is a Missouri School of Journalism graduate student and a researcher on the Information Valet Project
“Frustrating...daunting...confusing.” These were some of the sentiments expressed at last week’s conference about the task of ‘Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy.’ So after nearly three days of roundtable discussions and presentations from a hand-picked group of media professionals and academics, did we get any closer to articulating an Internet service/product that doesn’t yet exist?
That depends. Did we decide what the IVP would look like or how it would operate? No; its conclusions, for the most part, stayed within the theoretical. A more appropriate question might be: did we decide what the IVP would do? The sum total of the discussions would seem to indicate yes.
Backing up a bit: The participants -- chosen, appropriately, for their diversity of expertise -- seemed to approach the impetus for the IVP differently. Was the IVP trying to create an opportunity (by offering a product that would make web surfing and e-commerce more efficient) or was it trying to fix a problem (by figuring out a commercial vehicle that would finance the current, economically unsustainable model for media content)? In other words, did the key to a ‘blueprint’ lie in creation or remediation? Or both?
The group kept drifting back to a question that seemed to encompass both of those starting points: what would it take to get people to pay for something they’re used to getting for free? The participants agreed that privacy, credibility, community and convenience were ways in which the status quo Internet experience could be improved upon. Discussions of existing disparate web services and sites such as the Information Card, PayPal, BaristaNet, and others proved useful in making those concepts more concrete, but the ‘blueprinting’ stopped short of how those would be integrated into one broad information-delivery system.
Also discussed: The concept of valuation. News content per se may not be commercially valuable, the participants agreed, but personalized news content that the consumer could control, even form a kind of secure, interactive “network” with, would be. Similarly, a random pair of eyeballs aren’t as valuable to an advertiser as a demographically tailored network of them would be. Yes, the participants agreed, there ought to be a way to marry those two facts in the form of the IVP—the more a user gives in terms of his or her demographic information, the more he or she will get in terms of personalized content and services. However, an important question was raised to that end: how could a service that purports to be ensuring privacy also function as a vehicle for the “invasion” of ads?
By mid-morning Friday, however, discussion had shifted sharply from talk of how the IVP would be staged to the importance of sustaining journalism as a civic space, a critical public service. There is a “cause-related aspect” to the IVP, the participants noted -- the survival of journalism itself -- that might motivate media companies to coalesce behind an idea like the IVP.
Outside perspective might also be helpful in assessing the post-conference direction of the IVP. A brief and informal inquiry of some MU journalism students who read through the conference materials (blog, wiki, etc.) revealed deep confusion about how the IVP would function. How does it bode that even the ‘Internet Generation’ is unclear about how they could work with or benefit from this technology? Over on the blogosphere, commentators responded to a comprehensive review of the conference with an appreciative but critical eye, applauding the efforts to find a new revenue model for journalism while reminding us that the habit of “free” would be an extremely difficult one for users to break.