The Institute’s focus on Connective Media reflects the Institute’s commitment to experimentation and the exploration of socially and economically timely topics.

The Connective Media program targets prospective students who are leaders that think broadly, simultaneously excelling at the technological, sociological, and entrepreneurial aspects of creating new media platforms.  

BB: What is Connective Media?

MN: To me, Connective Media really suggests the new world order where communication, information, and media collapse or converge into one. When you look at different players out there, like Facebook, is it a communication tool, an information tool, is it media? How do you define their new Paper app that they just launched today?

Connective Media is changing the way that we behave as a society: the way we act, the way we get information, the way we diffuse information, the way we shape our views and our culture. Everything has been changing and will continue to change because of this convergence. For us, Connective Media is really the study of the ecosystems of communication, information, and media that has an impact on how we live our lives.

BB: So much of studying Connective Media is about redefining media?

MN: Yes, because of the convergence of information, we have seen processes of disruption that come out when all the media that cannot adjust lose their footing. Information in media has value and the ways to generate this value are changing, so we need to think about what it means to be a media organization of the future.

BB: You talk about news, social media, communications and mobile. How do you define media?

MN: If we take the view that the media is one to many broadcast channels, then almost everything is media, right? From YouTube to The Washington Post to a billboard or something in my local grocery store posted on a bulletin board–that’s all media. Facebook is also media based on that definition. That’s where we’re seeing the convergence.

Now, media is a form of communication, but that communication also becomes information. In the same way if The Washington Post is posting something it’s no longer just a news article that is just on a piece of paper and is not interactive and is not social. Instead, it’s highly connective and becomes an object of discussion, it’s used for communication on the page and off the page. This is how everything converges around, for example, a news story.

BB: But Connective Media is distinct from social media?

MN: Connective Media is broader. Of course, it depends on how we define social media. Social media, to me, are services that were designed as communication platforms and networks first and foremost, so Facebook and Twitter and other sites that build significance through individual participation. You could claim that media organizations are getting closer to that model, but I still cannot log onto The New York Times and post an article. Comments on select pages aside, it’s still not social in the same way the Facebook and Twitter are. To me that’s a distinction, but obviously we’re getting convergence and a lot more overlap between the different platforms.

BB: How would you summarize the profile of the ideal candidate for the M.S. in Connective Media?

MN: I think they’ll have at least a basic understanding of technology or basic education in systems fields, a minor in computer science or more. But they’ll be fascinated by social systems, they’ll be asking themselves questions about “Why is Facebook so popular and how does it make its user come back everyday?” and “Does The New York Times comment section work and did it work better before or after the redesign?” Or “What happened to You Tube comments after they added Google Plus integration?”

BB: You are looking for leaders who can think broadly?

MN: People that are going to excel in this landscape are going to need to think broadly–they’re going to have to have expertise in many different areas. They’ll be interested in the principles of designing user-center processes, why people do what they do, but the will also have business savvy. This program is unique in that it also integrates industry leaders who can teach you to become a successful entrepreneur in the Connective Media space.

BB: Tell me about some examples of your own work that represent Connective Media.

MN: In 2006, my research group started thinking about how the worlds’ events are reflected in social media and how everybody’s individually saying what they’re doing and what they’re paying attention to. What emerges is a really new type of information that tells us broadly what a lot of people are interested in. That becomes very clear in the context of an event. We got support from the National Science Foundation, Google and Yahoo that made sense of all that information around events. That project became the company

BB: And what type of audience does have? People just looking for news or journalists?

MN: We think everyone that’s interested in anything that happens in the world. If you went to a conference or if you missed a conference and you want to see what happened, good luck trying to read 30,000 Twitter posts. You can go to our page and understand what happened. The goal is to become a Wikipedia for everything that happened in the world.

BB: Do you think that Connective Media is part of a new paradigm that’s going to stay for a while or is it of this generation or moment and it’s going to morph into another hub that is more contemporary?

MN: Great question and a question that has to do with the hub structure here at the Jacobs Institute. As one of the Institute’s three hubs–or research areas–we’re going to use it to bring together multidisciplinary researchers that work on society’s most interesting problems. Today there’s no question that Connective Media is a critical hub. It’s still a field that has disrupted many other industries and will continue to disrupt them for a while and we’ll definitely continue to pursue Connective Media for the foreseeable future. Whether or not it will be here in 35 years, I don’t know, but by then our graduates will already be at the top of their game and will be agile enough to pivot as society dictates.

BB: Who else is doing Connective Media?

MN: Everybody in the world and if they’re not doing and thinking Connective Media, they’re doing something wrong.

BB: Or they may be doing it but they don’t know they’re doing it? They don’t call it that?

MN: They don’t call it that. They may not be considering all the factors so maybe they’re not thinking about it that way but if you are an organization that exists in the world right now you are doing Connective Media. Now, whether or not you have the tools to do it correctly or to do it well, that’s why we’re here. We want to give our students the deep and broad understanding of all the different factors that come into play in Connective Media, so they can be real leaders in this space.