New Media Strategies

Version 1.0 by Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito
sample student projects

Vin Crosbie’s definition of new media

In his essay “What Is New Media?” Vin Crosbie argues that what most people think are communications media–magazines, television, computers, the Internet–are actually communications vehicles within a medium. He concludes that the defining characteristic of new media is that they are many-to-many.

Crosbie’s definition suggests that new media are defined less by the gadgets they employ than by the social architecture they construct.

Transportation media

Crosbie uses a transportation metaphor to clarify his point:

  1. The land was the original transportation medium, and it supports such vehicles as carriages, bicycles, trains, and cars.
  2. The water was the second transportation medium; its vehicles include rafts, canoes, ships, and submarines.
  3. The sky is the most recent transportation medium; its vehicles include balloons, planes, and spacecraft.

Crosbie further notes that only the sky requires technology for us to navigate, though it has the advantage of reaching anywhere on the planet.

Communications media

Crosbie extends this metaphor to communications media:

  1. The one-to-one, or interpersonal, medium supports speech as well as technological vehicles such as the postal letter and telephone call. Advantages include reciprocal and individual control of content; the disadvantage is that communications degrades into cacophony as the number of participants increases beyond two.
  2. The one-to-many, or mass, medium supports such vehicles as speeches, plays, books, newspapers, movies, and webcasting. Here the same content goes to all recipients, with the originator maintaining complete control over that content.
  3. The many-to-many, or new, medium supports social networks, innovative multiplayer gaming environments, peer-to-peer filesharing, place-based mobile apps, and much more. Here individualized information can be delivered to many people, each of whom shares reciprocal control over the content.

Many-to-many strategies

Each of the following new media strategies is a variation on a many-to-many approach applied to a specific problem.

Upstage the Man

To upstage is to grab media attention away from a “legitimate” power by subversive, often humorous means.

Example: The Yes Men exploited the ease at which the average person can buy a domain and copy a Web site to create satiric versions of home pages for the Dow Chemical corporation and the World Trade Organization, thus allowing two individuals an enormous influence over mass media’s perception of these established institutions.

Crowdsource the job

To crowdsource is to ask a community or the general public to contribute to a problem that would normally be resolved by experts.

Example: The best-known example of crowdsourcing is probably Wikipedia, which leverages contributions from 100,000 contributors to write and edit over 10 million articles.

Aggregate, automate, and visualize data

To aggregate data is to compile it; to automate a process is to use a computer to perform calculations and communications more efficiently; to visualize data is to give it a visually compelling or informative form. Interactive interfaces can often create new forms of access to images, information, or understanding.

Example: Open-source programmer Patrick Ball helped convict Serbian president Slobodon Milosevic of genocide by gathering hundreds of individual reports from the street and compiling them into persuasive charts.

Mobilize people

To mobilize is to energize people on the streets or other public spaces, especially using mobile devices such as smartphones or tablet computers like iPads.

Example: Phillipine president Joseph Estrada stepped down after a million protesters gathered in the EDSA public shrine, galvanized in large part by mobile phone messages exhorting citizens to “Go to EDSA, wear black.”


To “Do It Yourself” is to exploit the power of affordable or low tech to accomplish tasks that would normally require large budgets and organizations.

Example: Just as the advent of desktop printers gave ordinary users the ability to wield fonts and layouts to create custom paper publications, now readily accessible 3d printers are putting custom manufacturing, or “fabbing,” in the hands of ordinary users.  See Open Source Ecology,  TED Video

Distribute and connect information

To distribute and connect is to break up a problem into parts that can be solved by decentralized people or computers and then connect their results to piece together a solution, whether evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence or a cure for AIDS.

Example: Peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent accelerate the process of downloading a file by distributing the load across many different computers.

Share what was inaccessible

To share formerly concealed information can include making public computer code (as in open-source software like Firefox), information about a neighborhood (as in locative smartphone apps like Yelp), or corporate or government secrets (as in whistleblower sites like Wikileaks).

Example: When Valve software open-sourced their popular game Half-Life, their fanbase used its engine to create an even more popular game, Counterstrike.

Tap into local networks

To tap into local networks means to engage the nearby people or environment to solve a problem, whether it is social, technological, or ecological. Example: see the local chapters of

Example: Paul Rademacher married Google Maps and Craigslist to plot housing available by price and location for particular regions, which in turn inspired Google to release code that makes such mashups easier to create (Google Maps API).

Exercise 1: Which is the new media solution?

For each of the following capstone ideas, identify which solution embodies the “many-to-many” principle, and explain why in one or more paragraphs. Be prepared to read your answer aloud in the next class.

Problem: A disappearing language

Ian Larson wanted to help preserve the Passamaquoddy language from extinction.

Solution A

Create a taskforce from a select group of Native American language experts, and ask them to write down a dictionary of words and their definitions. Enter these definitions into a database and build a Web site that allows anyone to search for terms and hear their pronunciation. Hire a high-profile Web designer and marketing firm to ensure that as many people as possible learn about this resource.

Solution B

Distribute laptops with video cameras to schoolkids in the Passamaquoddy community, and ask them to record their grandparents telling stories in Passamaquoddy. Upload these to a Web site along with the grandparents’ definitions of particular words used in the story, and make these words searchable via a tag cloud.

Problem: Neglected ruins

Evan Habeeb wanted to make people aware of the beauty of abandoned buildings.

Solution A

Assemble a film crew and visit abandoned homes, factories, and other buildings. Bring lights to illuminate these spaces dramatically, and record ambient sounds like dripping water. Edit the footage onto a DVD to create a compelling account that documents these relics for posterity, and distribute copies to historical societies across the state for their collections.

Solution B

Build a Web site that allows adventurers to print stickers they can leave behind in abandoned buildings they explore. Create the stickers so they can be scanned by a mobile phone to reveal a Web site built to feature photographs taken by those explorers.

Problem: Misunderstanding computer animation

Ryan Schaller and Jason Walker wanted to help people understand the many layers required to create a computer-animated film, including wireframe, textures, and light effects. As a case study, they created an animation depicting a cartoon archeologist digging for ancient artifacts.

Solution A

Design and build a touch-screen interface that allows viewers to “rub” away layers of the film with their hands to reveal previous stages of the animation as it plays.

Solution B

Create an iPad application that documents each stage of the animation process, using stills from the archeologist film as illustrations. Explain techniques such as ray tracing, motion capture, and morphing. Include links to companies that create animation software such as Autodesk.

Problem: A broken fountain

Danielle Gagner wanted to renovate the waterfall fountain under the skylight in the middle of the University Union, which had fallen into disrepair.

Solution A

Repurpose the existing plumbing to irrigate a garden planted in the former fountain. Research the types of plants that would grow well together at different levels of the fountain, and meet with dining hall staff to find out what herbs or vegetables they might add to salads and other offerings. Then plant these in collaboration with the sustainable agriculture club on campus, and invite students to pick the resulting parsley, strawberries, and other fare from the garden for their lunch.

Solution B

Use Google Image Search to download photographs of natural bodies of water such as streams, rivers, and the ocean. Combine these with nature footage from sources like National Geographic and the Discovery Channel to create a multichannel video installation that projects images of flowing water and rippling waves onto the fountain, which has been covered with theatrical screening. Supplement the moving images with the sound of a babbling brook emanating from surround-sound speakers mounted on the ceiling.

Exercise 2: Invent your own many-to-many solutions

Pick one of the following problems and brainstorm a solution that embodies a many-to-many approach. Describe your solution in two or more paragraphs and be prepared to read it aloud in the next class.

Newspapers are losing subscribers and ads

How can you help the Bangor Daily News attract more eyeballs?

Example: Pattie Barry and Adrianne Hess, MeCampus.

The oceans are dying

How can you stimulate students to learn more about the oceans?

Example: Alex Lessard and Greg Jones, ROV Labs.

Religions are divisive

How can you promote dialogue among Jews, Muslims, Christians, and other faiths?

Example: Joe Raymond, AddFaith

Visual art is too static

How can you create a mural that responds to individual viewers?

Example: Michelle Sabine, titleTK.

Student films are always set in dorms

How can you help filmmakers find better locations for their videos?

Example: Christopher Violette, Location Scout

Stock photographs cost too much

How can you help designers discover and download high-resolution images for their layouts?

Example: Corey Butler, Photorrent.

Educational books are boring

How can you help educational writers make use of appealing formats like comic books?

Example: Chloe Lapointe, Tales Studio Press

You never have a camera when you need it

How can you make photography more accessible for everyday moments like hiking or driving a car?

Example: Sam Lynch, iGlasses

The spatial dimensions of sound are underappreciated

How can you make an audio installation that makes listeners more aware of their 3D sonic environment?

Example: Ryan Page, Etude for 9 Kinetic Sound Objects

Centralized economies are unstable

How can you create an alternative currency that is less vulnerable to the viscissitudes of global markets?

Example: Max Terry, AUX