Monday, April 24, 2006


The Economist has a good article in their recent print edition:

Among the audience

Apr 20th 2006

The era of mass media is giving way to one of personal and participatory media, says Andreas Kluth. That will profoundly change both the media industry and society as a whole

THE next big thing in 1448 was a technology called “movable type”, invented for commercial use by Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith from Mainz (although the Chinese had thought of it first). The clever idea was to cast individual letters (type) and then compose (move) these to make up printable pages. This promised to disrupt the mainstream media of the day—the work of monks who were manually transcribing texts or carving entire pages into wood blocks for printing. By 1455 Mr Gutenberg, having lined up venture capital from a rich compatriot, Johannes Fust, was churning out bibles and soon also papal indulgences (slips of paper that rich people bought to reduce their time in purgatory). The start-up had momentum, but its costs ran out of control and Mr Gutenberg defaulted. Mr Fust foreclosed, and a little bubble popped.

Even so, within decades movable type spread across Europe, turbo-charging an information age called the Renaissance. Martin Luther, irked by those indulgences, used printing presses to produce bibles and other texts in German. Others followed suit, and vernaculars rose as Latin declined, preparing Europe for nation-states. Religious and aristocratic elites first tried to stop, then control, then co-opt the new medium. In the centuries that followed, social and legal systems adjusted (with copyright laws, for instance) and books, newspapers and magazines began to circulate widely. The age of mass media had arrived. Two more technological breakthroughs—radio and television—brought it to its zenith, which it probably reached around 1958, when most adult Americans simultaneously turned on their television sets to watch “I Love Lucy”.

Second incarnation

In 2001, five-and-a-half centuries after Mr Gutenberg's first bible, “Movable Type” was invented again. Ben and Mena Trott, high-school sweethearts who became husband and wife, had been laid off during the dotcom bust and found themselves in San Francisco with ample spare time. Ms Trott started blogging—ie, posting to her online journal, Dollarshort—about “stupid little anecdotes from my childhood”. For reasons that elude her, Dollarshort became very popular, and the Trotts decided to build a better “blogging tool”, which they called Movable Type. “Likening it to the printing press seemed like a natural thing because it was clearly revolutionary; it was not meant to be arrogant or grandiose,” says Ms Trott to the approving nod of Mr Trott, who is extremely shy and rarely talks. Movable Type is now the software of choice for celebrity bloggers. (full article)

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