Changing ways in which society collects information

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The way we have gained information has apparently changed in the past 200 years, according to a really interesting and insightful graphical analysis of those trends by online magazine Baekdal.com.

The graphic analysis, as depicted above, aims to give some sense of the how the sources of information developed in common society. It suggests that in the next 10 years, we’ll find more and more news and information via social networks, with declines in TV, general Web sites and blogs.

After a few hundred years of newsletters, pamphlets and other written news sources known of in Europe and perhaps present elsewhere, the idea of a regularly published, verifiable collection of news source was developed in the United States in Boston, New York and Philadelphia in the mid-18th century. Leading to that turn of the century, more than 50 newspapers of varying stripe were bubbling in the colonies, leading to the idea of “freedom of the press” when the 1791 Bill of Rights were ratified.

This graphic and its explanation — well worth your time — gets the history down, if briefly, but I can’t say I agree with all its prognosticating about the future of news gathering.

In the 1830s, technologies brought newspapers to mainstream culture; the “penny press” let the printed word reach the masses in a new way, making news cheap enough to move from wealthy elites only to others, shown as the printed word first becomes a noticeable portion of the graphic at above.

The 1880 census cataloged more than 11,000 newspapers in the country, noted by the consolidation of chains and growth of the famed yellow journalism.

Newspaper growth in the 1900s was, as Baekdal says, was a “real revolution of information,” and their subjective graph says so, suggesting that no other news source so quickly or so thoroughly and for so long impacted society and the spread of news. Newspapers of all kind, like the Philadelphia Inquirer about which I have written before, changed the way people saw the world.

Commercial radio was first deployed in the second decade of the 20th century and grew, though, according to the above graphic, not nearly as quickly or as powerfully as newspapers did. By the end of World War II, TV news was just beginning to reach households and offer a very real triumvirate of news coverage, though much coverage was dictated by the powerful newspaper industry.

In the 1970s, though radio was being pushed around by TV, the pair offered a real threat to newspapers for the first time in their century of market control. Baekdal puts 1998 as the year in which the Internet reached a critical mass, in which, whether you had regular access to it or not, you certainly recognized it had a hand in the future of news gathering and dissemination.

Newspapers were well aware of this, though perhaps not as active in trying to affect that change. Some have said newspapers just guessed wrong, after all, that industry tried to invent the Web. But their mistakes have just been compounded as information changes matured even more rapidly in recent years.

The Internet has become home to a handful of different news sources — Web sites, blogs, social networks, social news and other choices. Some of the graphic’s assumptions about the future are as likely as we can guess them to be, but I’m surprised not to see any mention of direct-sourced news.

Universities, corporations, PR firms and any smart company or organization in the country are developing their own Web-based news arm. One way Twitter executives suggest they may make money is by charging for corporate accounts. It’s a chance at getting their news out in an unfiltered way — dangerous, sure, but certainly valuable.

The graphic, I think, accurately suggests the growth of social news and decline of influential Web sites and the fashion of blogs — whatever a blog means today, I’m not quite sure — I think more attention should be paid to direct-sourced news.

It makes mention of “Targeted,” which the source describes as chosen collections — like a la carte TV — but that seems a bit different than an information source.

So what do you think?

H/T to BJK for the story.