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The new watercooler for a fragmented world

February 19, 2012

In a fragmented world, the water cooler effect is bigger than ever, but so very different.

Massive news events are now following a similar and somewhat predictable pattern.

The news of the recent passing of Whitney Houston was broken on Twitter, rather than a conventional media source and it gathered momentum as the news spread like wildfire; there were 2.5 million Tweets within the first hour of the news story= over 1k/second. As seen in other news events, there’s often one powerful major news outlet that creates the “accelerator” effect, in this case, it was MSNBC.

People wanted to express their own thoughts and get involved in the ways that the web now allows them to- by curating, creating and commenting.

People created their own radio stations-  apparently Pandora saw 640,000 Whitney Houston stations created in a couple of days.

Facebook saw the number of people talking about the singer and becoming fans increase dramatically- in the past 7 days more than 1 million people have become fans and the “talking about” numbers have grown from under 100k to over 800k.

What’s interesting is the bigger the news- the faster the tone of the story moves.

While in the pre-internet days the passing of a major celebrity would have been played out solemnly over maybe a week on the major news outlets, the way the story unfolds now over the hours is very different. There’s simply too much information being shared, changed and with so many people weighing in that the story quickly moves from the sincere to the cynical, so cynical that just hours after the news you find scammers who look to capitalize on people’s attention around the topic.

Technology is transforming many of our experiences and our involvement in news stories is one particular facet. The early and tragic death of a celebrity who was a major presence in pop culture in the formative years of everyone in the Millennial Generation was likely to strike a significant emotional chord and therefore to see the story play out on the web with people actively getting involved and engaged is not surprising.

It’s an illustration of the transformation that a connected web has brought to our lives. As we’ve become massively fragmented into our own discrete groups, where we are consuming and sometimes creating our very own flavors of media, once something strikes us all, we have a profoundly human response, which is to gather around the water cooler to share.

The difference is that while this water cooler serves the same emotional function, it’s simply bigger than ever and the volume of and range of conversation and importantly expression is exponential orders of magnitude more powerful than the office water cooler-making it a completely different and new “shared” experience.

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