Is the Future of Online Media to Go Offline?


I often go to media conferences – such as this week’s National Conference on Media Reform in Boston, where I’ll finally have an opportunity to speak out about hate speech in the media, after years of proposing such a panel – but few media chatfests are as valuable as the regular We Media gatherings. The annual affair features people and ideas shaping media, technology and society – and this year’s one-day event was as usual “filled with must-have intelligence, inspired ideas and brilliant people looking ahead to what’s next and what to do about it,” as conference organizers Andrew Nachison and Dale Peskin put it.

This latest confab, replete with such thought leaders and luminaries as Craig Newmark of craigslist fame, Bill Mitchell of the Poynter Institute, Rafat Ali, founder of leading industry site, top consultant Merrill Brown of MMB Media, Steve Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation, my ex-NewsTrust colleagues Tish Grier and Kaizar Campwala, Rex Sorgatz, (“aka Fimoculous, New York’s coolest medianista,”) Ben Berkowitz, CEO of SeeClickFix, independent Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, Steve Rubel, Senior Vice President for insights at Edelman PR, and a host of others too numerous to name here – took place recently in downtown Manhattan at the aptly-named Digital Sandbox, and as usual it was alternately provocative and insightful.

It was Meetup founder Scott Heiferman who really grabbed my attention this time, however, warning the gathered not to “become obsessed with media.” Telling a crowd of media obsessives not to obsess is a first – but Heiferman followed it up by explaining, koan-like, that “the future of social media is not media.”

He began by asking “What is the most important word in the media today?” and answering with just one word: “Let’s! Let’s hear it for ‘Let’s!’” He followed that Q and A with another, asking if anyone knew who had said, “After twenty five years of connecting with my audience, what if my audience connected with each other?” – and then quickly supplying the answer: “The Oprah of the future will have local Meetup chapters everywhere."

“Use the Internet to get off the Internet!” Heiferman exhorted the assembled digerati. In other words, his prescription for the future of online media …is to go offline.

In Heiferman’s analysis, "the media business is a relatively small business.” The truly Big Business, he points out, is the business of “people connecting and talking to one another on a huge scale.” Think Groupon, where consumers have come together to command discounts from retailers by using their collective purchasing power.

Meetup, Heiferman explained, was a “9/11 baby, created as a simple idea: make it easy for people to self-organize and no longer be a city of strangers.” in the wake of the terrorist attacks, he used it to “meet my neighbors for the first time.”

His big takeaway? “Be powerful together! – Tell the story of Me to bring out the story of We.”

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