Investing in the future of citizens' media

I don’t have any data to prove it, but I’d guess that cyberspace is growing today at a much faster pace in absolute terms than it ever has before.  The citizens’ media movement has a great deal to do with that, as do innovations like Creative Commons and other forms of institutional support for new modes of production in text, audio, and video.  It’s not that more speech, or a bigger cyberspace for that matter, is in itself better.  It’s that more people have access to increasingly cool printing presses with increasingly simple, powerful features, allowing for straight text publishing as well as new forms of creative expression.  These innovations have the potential to become a major force behind the spread of participatory democracy.  The effects of these changes are only now beginning to reveal themselves.

The most important thing in support of this explosion is people themselves, people who are interested in and willing to experiment with new technologies and to join the growing online conversation.  A first generation of leaders, as with most movements, has paved the way over the past few years.  Now millions are following, and themselves leading in new directions — and not just in English, but in Chinese, in Persian, in Portuguese, and virtually every written language in the world.

One thing that can help at this stage in the expansion of the RSS space is further capital, deployed in a deliberate manner, to take the most promising of these ideas — technologies in the family of tagging, RSS, OPML, search, social software, and related next-gen standards — to market in a way that supports the emerging ecosystem.  There are many such experimental technologies that could and should take the next steps forward.

So, this by way of both discussion and disclosure: as an activity outside of my official duties at the Berkman Center, I will be involved with a group of smart, dedicated, experienced investors who are putting a new fund together, to be announced shortly, to invest in this emerging RSS family of technologies.  Fortunately, the other guys have a lot of experience in managing funds, so my job is to help see where the promise lies in the space.  (If ever there is the potential of a conflict with my day job, I’ll recuse myself early and often, and I’ll keep my disclosures page as up-to-date as I can.)  Of course, this fund will be a business intended to result in a return on investment.  In the process, I have high hopes that such a fund can further the tremendous movement in citizens’ media underway and will promote the growth of global freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation.