An interesting post by Clay Shirky on the collapse of complex business models. This points to an issue which jumps out at me when I read the Moran Review on the Public Service. How much complexity, how much subtlety, how much productivity is it reasonable to expect a large centrally directed monopoly institution with all sorts of constraints on it from without to achieve. Anyway, here’s a nice story from the middle of the post.
In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.
In spring of 2007, the web video comedy In the Motherhood made the move to TV. In the Motherhood started online as a series of short videos, with viewers contributing funny stories from their own lives and voting on their favorites. This tactic generated good ideas at low cost as well as endearing the show to its viewers; the show’s tag line was “By Moms, For Moms, About Moms.”
The move to TV was an affirmation of this technique; when ABC launched the public forum for the new TV version, they told users their input “might just become inspiration for a story by the writers.”
Or it might not. Once the show moved to television, the Writers Guild of America got involved. They were OK with For and About Moms, but By Moms violated Guild rules. The producers tried to negotiate, to no avail, so the idea of audience engagement was canned (as was In the Motherhood itself some months later, after failing to engage viewers as the web version had).
The critical fact about this negotiation wasn’t about the mothers, or their stories, or how those stories might be used. The critical fact was that the negotiation took place in the grid of the television industry, between entities incorporated around a 20th century business logic, and entirely within invented constraints. At no point did the negotiation about audience involvement hinge on the question “Would this be an interesting thing to try?”