Messy media and messy lives

UPDATE: Well, the post below got me thinking two years back, and now it’s led to the formation of a company: MessyMedia. Found out all about it here.

Simon’s got a good post on an Economist article which accused Yahoo of no longer having a strategy – of basically being the biggest corporate thrower of spaghetti against the wall. Simon’s point is that “messy media” (a phrase coined by Kevin Kelly in his recent essay on the Web) may well demand “messy corporates”. I kind of saw the point of that, but it also kind of worried me. And then Nik explained why it worried me as much as it did:

All this means that we consumers are going to encounter quite a lot of unreliable or unintegrated services. And quite how we react to this going to have repercussions on the media monoliths themselves, which in turn affects the economy and our society generally. We could choose to accept a life of enforced variety, as we move our RSS feeds, e-mail accounts, VoIP services, etc, from one supplier to another. That would mean lots of redundancies in the media monoliths as they close down underperforming divisions (and rehire for equally short-lived new ones). Or we might force them to fix and consolidate their services. That would mean long periods of stagnation as they try to integrate disparate divisions, with disparate technologies, using people who realise the exciting company they joined 12 months previously is starting to look a lot like to nasty old company they left to go there in the first place.

I think that’s very true. Of course, this may all settle down before too much longer, but at the moment we seem to be in the middle of an orgy of technical innovation, unleashed by a combination of open standards, massive network capacity and the mainstreaming of huge computing capacity. The question is, will the orgy continue indefinitely? Because (as people have said recently when pointing out that most people haven’t a clue what RSS is) we run the risk of at best ignoring and at worst alienating the user base with all this stuff. Messy minds may enjoy messy media; tidy minds (or minds busy with living their lives) might find it a major turn-off.