Here is a list of the top 100 sites from Alexa. Today, I count three traditional media sites (BBC, CNN and NY Times — just squeaking in at number 100). The web of five years ago would have shown a different picture all together. It begs the question: Will there be any traditional media sites in the top 100 in three years time?
Dominating the list are search engines, social media sites and e-commerce sites. Shows how the internet is levelling the playing field, and that traditional media is far from the dominant force it once was. JP Farinha, CEO of 24.com, did what I thought was an excellent and pretty insightful presentation at the web 2.0 conference in Cape Town today, where he made the point.
These lists are inherently misleading. I think it would be wrong to interpret this as “the end” or “decline” of the traditional media model. Social networks and self-publishing movements have existed in society before the internet arrived. Perhaps now we’re just becoming more acutely aware of the power of social networks and individuals as information sources. On the other hand, the web — one big network itself — has given a more coordinated, meaningful and therefore more powerful expression to them.
Also, size isn’t everything. For example: How would you measure the influence of a small, niche publication read by the political and business elite in a society vs a broad-based tabloid, read by millions? Arguably the former, which is in a position to influence policy and bring down a government carries the weight? Same goes for comparing a social network like Facebook to a traditional media publication like NY Times. Size is not the sole determining factor of influence. So it’s not a simple case of looking at a ranking and making a determination.
Another point to make is that the media sector is a mature sector and therefore more fragmented. Compare this to search engines and social networks, which are relatively new and aren’t really facing tough competition yet. Google is so big and dominant precisely because there is no substantial competition out there, but if there were — I doubt the search engine would be as dominant. In contrast, there are millions of traditional media publications competing against one another, so the the dominant players wouldn’t be as dominant because they have to share the market with tough competitors. So it’s no wonder that there are big, oversized market leaders like Facebook, Google and YouTube on a list like Alexa. Compared to traditional media publications, they look very big, but they are competing in a very new market with less competition and fragmentation. It tells me that looking at a ranking doesn’t tell the full picture here. And again, size ain’t everything.
There’s also an overlap here: For example social networks and aggregators are distributors of traditional media content, so it’s not that clear cut either.