Plowing through the middleman

Snow plow in Arlington County

Snow plow in Arlington County. Creative Commons image by Ron Barber.

The snow day. Growing up in Michigan, it was always a treat. Whenever a significant amount of snow was in the forecast, I’d wake up early to see if I got the day off. I’d listen to the radio as the DJ went through the school closings or watch the crawl on the local morning news. It took some patience as they went through the list, but once in a while that patience was rewarded with a day off.

Kids today don’t have that level of suspense. As a fan of Arlington County on Facebook, my newsfeed showed that school is closed today. A quick check of the Arlington Public Schools Web site also provides that information. No more listening through “Angelus Academy, Anne Arundel Community College, Anne Arundel County Schools, Apple Montessori School, Aquinas and Old Town Montessori School…” (In a large metro area, this is killer.)

It’s yet another example of how media consumers can cut out the middle man and go directly to the source.

In much of the discussion about aggregators such as Google News and digg, what’s left out is that much of the media are themselves aggregators — compiling data from school districts, local businesses, funeral homes, police and fire agencies, etc.

Newspapers didn’t really get to play in the school closing game, but compilations of local events, lunch menus, high school sports scores, police blotters and obituaries have been a key part of the newspaper content mix. Such content is an even greater proportion of What People Care About. Many of these needs are now being better served online as easy-to-use tools such as Facebook, Twitter and flickr get adopted by these news sources.

Instead of reading about promotions and awards in the newspaper, I can get that information delivered to me through LinkedIn or Facebook status updates. Sadly, I’ve found out about the death of a high school classmate through Facebook.

And it’s a much better experience than what fits in a newspaper:

  • The filter is personal. It doesn’t matter whether that person was important enough in the eyes of a newspaper’s editor. I also don’t have to read through long lists of people I’m not interested in.
  • The content is richer. Clay Reid’s Facebook page is filled with photos and remembrances from friends.
  • It’s interactive. With promotions and job changes, I can quickly reach out to friends and congratulate them.

In the case of a snow day, you can make plans with your other friends who suddenly have the day free right on Facebook. And then upload the video of you snow blading down the hill.

More on: newspapers, facebook


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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