It wasn't long ago that "citizen media" meant a gang of political bloggers fact checking Dan Rather—and maybe a chubby kid doing a wild dance with a light saber. But my stars, how they've grown. Citizen media is about the aggregating, licensing and management of content created by everyday people for advertisers, marketers and product developers as well as the brokering of citizen media makers for live events. It's about the shift from a diffuse cacophony of voices to a viable business opportunity. A look around the Internet's homerooms confirms that citizen media has plunged into adolescence with business plans, VC money, and Hollywood waiting to cash in when they become of earning age. Of course, we've seen this pep rally before and know that today's valedictorian can be tomorrow's yearbook memory. But before the zits and angst set in, we present how citizen media really is like high school.
The BMOCs angling to be the Viacom and Disney of citizen media
Pod Show: Adam Curry's podcast network could be Citizen Media's first conglomerate, but it risks getting passed by medium-of-the-moment videoblogging and whatever comes after it.
Podtech: Pod Tech is looking to be the digital lifestyle's media of record with a network of corporate-branded podcasts, event coverage, and interviews with tech honchos. Most notably, it grabbed blogebrity Robert Scoble away from
Weblogs Inc: AOL bought the blog publisher in 2005 and tapped founder Jason Calacanis to "save Netscape." Netscape's conversion this spring to a social bookmarking site has angered Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, the genre's heavyweight.
Gawker.com: The first publishing conglomerate of the Citizen Media has slimmed down to 10 blogs and stayed proudly independent. Still making mirco-celebrities of its editors and hauling in big name advertisers but is text-based blogging the future or so 2003?
9 Rules: Older and scrappier than Gawker or Weblogs Inc, 9 rules doesn't broker ads for its network of blogs but acts as a curator and promoter of independent content. Non-commerical and proud of it.
The video kids that want to create your home for uploading, hosting, and sharing video.
YouTube: The Library of Congress of citizen video clips and a ton of professional ones illegally uploaded too. If you haven't heard of them, we can't help you.
Dailymotion: Think Friendster with videos as the currency. This may be a prime example of late-to-the-party-piggybacking or just the mashup the space currently lacks.
Blip.tv: If YouTube is the public access cable of the Internet, then Blip is taking a TV-network approach. It focuses on serialized programming, distributing videos from such folks as CNN, Conde Nast and William Shatner's SciFi DVD Club (!) to iTunes, Dabble and other content aggregation spots. Producers can include opt-in advertising and license their videos through creative commons.
Vimeo.com: A subsidiary of New York-based Connected Ventures (who also has a little-known project called College Humor), Vimeo claims nearly 70,000 registered users but is, at the moment, yet another site for sharing video clips. The madness created around a Google-You Tube acquisition may make short work of their anonymity.
Grouper: Sony's August acquisition of this YouTube lookalike may foretell what will happen to the online video space once the big boys crash the party.
(Class of 2007) FireAnt.tv: Will bring the "network TV" model to video, catapulting it to success like those who followed this model for audio (Podshow) and blogging (Gawker Media).
These audiophiles want to make creating podcasts as easy as Web surfing.
Hipcast: Its simple interface lets bloggers create audio and video posts in seconds. Formally audioblog.com, Hipcast predates Odeo and was created by citizen journalism pioneer Eric Rice.
Libsyn: An open-source podcast creation and hosting site. It offers four tiers of paid memberships, podcast length, and audio quality.
Class of 2007 Odeo.com: Has all the tools and talent to bring podcasting further into the mainstream, giving us no shortage of "Will
Their blogging tools began the citizen media revolution. How will they evolve?
Wordpress: The latecomer to blogging software is now the platform of choice among the blogerati and a San Francisco-based, five-person company headed by former Web 1.0 veteran (onetime Outpost CEO) Toni Schneider.
Six Apart: The husband-and-wife-founded company behind popular blogging tools Movable Type, Typepad and Vox, it acquired Web-based news aggregator Rojo this fall and mobile blogging client Splash data in the spring. Valley buzz predicts more grabs for this "little giant" of citizen media, long rumored a target themselves.
Blogger.com: Has the the Model T of citizen media gotten too comfortable at the Googleplex while social and mobile devices alter the meaning of the verb it helped invent? Or will potential new sibling You Tube rev it up again?
Where the media you create becomes the center of socializing
Dabble: Aggregates video from YouTube, blip.tv and other hosting services and lets members tag and organize their clip collections into playlists. It could become the flickr of video, but are we ready for another media locker to keep tidy?
Imeem.com: Social networker Imeem has many of the same moves as its competitors (blogs, photos, media swapability) but is looking towards music sharing and hosting communities around large media properties to set it apart. For example, it's recently partnered with Virgin Records and Warner Independent Pictures.
(Class of 2007) Yelp.com: The people-powered Citysearch is grabbing more metros by the day. Its Myspace take on cities could make local expertise the new digital currency.
City guides, dating and whole worlds created entirely by users. They just hand 'em the tools.
Second Life: Only two years old, this user-created universe has a GDP of $64 million and the real-world recognition that its forerunner Everquest never had. Marketers are suitably obsessed: The latest X-Men movie had a Second Life premiere and Adidas and American Apparel sell their virtual wares here. Maybe-presidential candidate Mark Warner has also been making the rounds.
People Aggregator: This pet project of Macromedia co-founder Marc Canter, People Aggregator's looking to be the giant bucket for your digital life. It includes a downloadable component for creating your own social network or stitching together others. The big question: Is this a great leap forward for an already crowded space or a ho-hum lateral slide?
Vox: The newest entry into Six Apart's portfolio of blogging tools, Vox gives personal publishing easy photo and video integration and a social network of private "neighborhoods." Still in invite only beta, Vox may be the all-in-one digital life People Aggregator is after or an even smaller slice of the blogging pie.
Consumating: Ostensibly began as a dating site for the geekily inclined but it's evolved into the too-old-for-MySpace social network of choice for nearly 20,000 users.
If there's gold in citizen media's hills, these guys are selling both the map and the shovels.
(Class of 2007) Federated Media: CEO John Battelle's standing in the blogosphere helped him build a boutique ad network on tech, parenting, business and automotive sites in just over a year. The Internet's the limit.
The Deck: An advertising network of bloggers with A-list standing in the Web and design communities. Run by Chicago-based agency Coudal Partners.
Blogads: An early advertising network for bloggers and other citizen mediamakers to build an ad-based business model to support their content, it became the preeminent player, repping citizen celebs like Daily Kos, Perez Hilton, and GoFugYourself. But recent gains by Federated Media and The Deck indicate that its hold on the social media advertising space is hardly firm.
Fruitcast: Aiming to be the Google AdSense of sound by making it easy to insert small ads in podcasts. Will need to develop critical mass or savvy partnerships soon. Company blog hasn't been updated since May.
Feedostyle: Turn rss feeds into syndicated content! Post that content on your blog! Premium members get content ad-free!
Feedburner.com If it can reassert that the RSS feed is the backbone of both podcasting and video blogging, it could set itself up as a prime acquisition target. But thus far, the geeks have done a terrible job of explaining what a feed is and what it's good for.
Radiotail: Utilizing more of an agency-model than competitor Fruitcast, Radiotail sells podcast advertising for both independent broadcasters and manages campaigns for media companies.
Guidance counselor's office
Taking media to the next level by putting a price tag on it
Blogburst: Syndicates blog content to major media outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Gannett newspapers, and Parade Magazine. Its parent company Pluck also sells a number of tools for building communities around user-generated content, from user blogs to community photo galleries.
(Class of 2007) SocialRoots.com: If it can get the right partners and management lined up, plan on seeing them invent the monetization of citizen media content the way
Who's worth paying attention to and who's still a kid with a light saber? Ask them.
Tailrank: "Finding the best content from blogs so you don't have to" is the motto of San Francisco-based Tailrank. It ranks the top 150,000 blogs according to its own algorithm, and then publishes a scrolling ticker-tape of influential technology, political and general news memes. Users can also create their own news filters.
Rapleaf.com: No one has been able to communicate to the old media what are the most influential blogs, which is what Technorati should be doing. Rapleaf could grab this ground right out from under Dave Sifry and co.
The Attendance Board
Technorati.com: If you're not on technorati, you don't exist.
Student who makes the morning announcements
Conversations Network: The non-profit wing of for-profit GigaVox Media, the Conversations Network has been called "The NPR of Podcasting." Plans are in the works for GigaVox to distribute nearly 60 monthly programs of recorded lectures and presentations on business, technology and social entrepreneurship by the end of 2006.
Work crew repairing and cleaning up around school grounds
Wikimapia: Combines Google Earth and Wikipedia. Pick any spot on the planet and give it a tag. This is either mindless fun—if used for good—or the beginning of 1984 if used for evil.
"Napster just doesn't have it anymore. No matter what they try, they aren't going to be the 'rebel' company that they were—and that's what attracted people to it. Anybody can do what they are doing; why would anybody want to do it through them?" —Gary Bourgeault
A version of this article appeared in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.