Machines + Masses = Media's Future

“The predominant 21st century media company has yet to avail itself … it will succeed at leveraging social media and optimizing content”

It’s inevitable: The machines are taking over media – but they’ll need the help of the masses.

Kicking off TheWrap’s conference on media and the entertainment industry, TheGrill, Twitter COO Dick Costolo and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner made clear that “machine learning” technology – leveraging information gathered from the raging river of social-networking information, of course – will lead the sea change in the digital space.

In other words, the company that succeeds at converging content, social networking and algorithmic technology to make itself most relevant to the user in real time, wins.

(Click here for video: Twitter COO and Linkedin CEO on Social Networking's Future)

Ultimately, that ability will be technology-based, not the work of human beings or media organizations manually curating content.

In other words, faceless computer servers – and the millions of people interacting with them — are the editors of the future.

“Going forward, tech will drive media … it will be driven as much by machine-learning and social networking as it will be by curation,” Weiner said.

And Twitter is certainly working on that problem, right now.

“When we launched Twitter’s new interface last week, the intent was allowing users to interface more with Twitter without having to hop off our site," said Costolo. "Over time you’ll just see more and more of that from us.”

LinkedIn is also doubling down on its ability to leveraging its user/publishers: “We’re investing heavily at this point in extracting as much information as possible from LinkedIn,” said Weiner (above; photographs by Jonathan Alcorn).

This tight integration begs the question: Are companies like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn tech companies, or media companies? It’s not an entirely comfortable question for digital leaders like Costolo and Weiner – and they get asked it a lot.

“If the vast majority of revenue is coming from ad sales, you’re in the media business,” Weiner said. “(Ad-based companies) may define themselves as tech companies, but they’re media businesses,” Weiner said. “And that creates some friction.”

Costolo conceded that Twitter is evolving quickly from a tech company to a media company.

“It’s getting so that when events happen, they happen digitally on Twitter. We’re comfortable with that. Over half our employees are engineers and technology people – but we’re certainly becoming a media company.”

Future money will be made on organizing the vast torrent of information that can easily overwhelm even the savviest users – though it was launched in 2006, Twitter processes nearly 100 million tweets per day, with 370,000 people joining the conversation daily.

“A surfer can only organize so much information,” Weiner said. “Google’s mechanism was the algorithm; capable of indexing tens of billions of pieces of information. With social networking now added to that mix, the companies that will generate the most value will (extract it) from that massive stream of information – and with the most clarity.”

 

Of course, with Twitter still not experiencing profitability, the multi-billion-dollar question is: How will all of this wonderful new technology make anyone money?

“You don’t have to laugh when you ask me about revenue, Sharon,” Costolo said, in response to the query from TheWrap’s founder and CEO Sharon Waxman.

Costolo was quick to tout the recently introduced “promoted tweets,” which allow movie studios, for instance, to plant trending-topics in the stream.

But profitability is clearly something Costolo isn’t concerned with at the moment.

“Let’s protect the user experience, let’s roll this thing out cautiously, and then the revenue will come,” he said.

For now, Costolo seems more concerned with fixing what’s wrong with Twitter than profiting from what’s working so far.

“One of the things that’s a bad experience on Twitter is discovering and exploring real-time events. … With the VMAs, for instance, our integration was great, but within Twitter, searching for content just got you bits and pieces. We need to do a better job of bringing the whole event together within Twitter. And we’ll do that.”

If they believe their own rhetoric, they'd better.

“Will technology ultimately prevail … to control content?” Weiner said. “I think the predominant and defining 21st century media company has yet to avail itself. It will succeed at leveraging and aggregating to optimize content, and develop competencies at curating content through those methods. Whether one of these existing companies can pivot to do that, or whether a new company will emerge, remains to be seen.”