Posted by Flux on 

15 May 2012

What’s Trending Now?

Signal Has Arrived

Signal is a citizen and photojournalism news app which is going to have the entire offline media world in a panic.  Using the combination of picture- and story-sharing, everyone with an iPhone is about to be properly enabled to really make the news.

Why It’s Important?

Citizen journalism is no longer a novel concept.  You might know it better by the names “participatory” or “democratic” journalism, but essentially the term refers to the process whereby public citizens report, analyse and then disseminate news and information. But why is Signal important?  Isn’t it just like Twitter?  Well, in one sense, that analogy holds; Signal disseminates information, it is real-time, and gives users the freedom to choose what or who to follow.  But Signal goes further.

Whilst newspapers and magazines may have been able to argue for a peaceful coexistence alongside various social media platforms, there is no way that Signal isn’t the disruptive technology print media were always worried about.  “Professional journalists still have serious clout over the tweeting mob,” wrote Paul Sawers in 2011.

But ‘Signallers’ are not the tweeting mob, and the professionals will no longer benefit from that clout, because the app has its own means of disseminating information.

In other words, the big advantages of accountability and reliability that professional journalists used to enjoy are no longer unique.  They have been conferred to users of Signal too.  And that should be terrifying to the traditional media industries. Signal is also introducing geo-location tracking, so that one can filter in the interesting stories that are literally around the corner.

What’s the Butterfly Effect?

I can think of four knock-on effects.  Firstly, although Signal is only in Beta on the iPhone at the moment, there is little doubt that it is lining up for an Android release in the near future.  This may well put the final nail in RIM’s coffin, unless somehow the developers are convinced to work on a Blackberry version as well.

Secondly, expect organised protest action to step up several levels.  The events in the Middle East and North Africa could easily be emulated; and with South Africa’s hugely powerful trade unions, strike action might well become more crippling than ever in the years to come.

Thirdly, apolitical news is not going to be stopped by the Information Bill.  In fact, within a few years, the Bill may well become redundant.  News-houses and broadcasting outlets are easily controlled by ruling parties, but democratized media is not.  If Signal creates a true culture of citizen journalism, then traditional media is likely to be displaced rather quickly; especially if it is being censored.

Fourthly, technology companies are going to follow the success of Instagram and Signal by building technology that is capable of disrupting industries, not users.  Innovation will become synonymous with brand strength – as we have already seen with Apple.

The Pioneers

Signal has been developed in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring by entrepreneur Mark Malkoun, and is built around the idea of having a “simple way to see what is happening around you straight from the people.”

The real question to ask is how can companies get involved?  And at this stage there is no clear answer.  The technology is so new that it is difficult to define the role a brand would play in the new ecosystem.  I would imagine that being seen as a credible source of interesting news – with many geographically accessible subscribers – is very appealing.

Global Hotspots

In case you believe that South Africa is a long way off from being affected by this trend, remember that it has its very own citizen-generated news network, and one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world.The market here would love another empowering app.

However the iPhone app launches only to a Lebanese audience this month.  Services will be coming to other countries in time and it is likely to have additional features, such as video, built in by then.

By: Benjamin Shaw


About Benjamin

Benjamin is a broad-thinker, fast learner and passionate trend spotter.
He particularly loves reading about the integration of technology into society, and the role that entrepreneurs have to play in new South Africa.


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