≡ Menu

Media Terms for Everyday Use

Increasingly, my group of early adopters and the public at large are finding the need to further define and categorize the general term ‘media’ in order to communicate effectively.  For example, many of us are familiar with the term “traditional media” and know what that means.  We’ve heard the term “citizen journalism” and somehow know that this is traditional media made by a non-professional person.  But these two terms aren’t enough to describe the different types of media that are emerging.  We need more detailed terminology.

Here are some of my ‘in-progress’ definitions of different types of media to help define our growing world.

Basic Terms:

Media: any form of communication: speech, video, audio, pictures, art, written words, animation, webcast, etc.

Content: any piece of consumable media posted on the internet.  Used in reference to one instance or the whole of a person’s or group’s work.  E.g. “I read her blog.  I really like her content.”

Content generation: the act of making consumable communication for the web.  Eventually this term will be generalized to mean the act of making any media.

Content generator: Any person who makes media, but currently it refers almost exclusively to blogging and videoblogging people.

Consumer: Any person who reads or watches media on the internet or off-line.

Media snacker: colloquial term (sometimes derrogative) for people who visit many media sites to read or watch small amounts of media quickly.  E.g., clicking on a website and reading only headlines or post titles, then moving on to another site to do the same.

Various Types of Media:
Traditional media: (also known as Mainstream Media, initialed as MSM): the content that comes from recognized news sources like newspapers, TV news channels, etc.  Traditional media is generated by large or small organizations that hire professional journalists and video crew staff to generate content.  That content is then mass-distributed on a regularly timed schedule.

Citizen media: media that serves a political or journalistic purpose.  Citizen media may be the product of citizen journalism.  Usually produced and distributed on the internet on no particular timed schedule. [Citizen journalism: when “regular” people (i.e. unpaid or untrained journalists) report on current events.  The citizen journalism is the investigative action, the citizen media is the content generated when the investigative action is finished.]

Public media: this is media that the general population generates.  Public media doesn’t serve a specific purpose like citizen media.  Public media can be consumed and/or interacted with by masses of people.  This can also be called “Common Media.”  E.g., YouTube.

Private Media: public media that has been hidden from public view.  E.g., private sets on Flickr.

Corporate media: any media that is made for or used solely by a business.  E.g., training videos.

Ad media: any advertising media, including viral media.

Viral media: media that appears public (that may be public or corporate media) that gathers the attention of many consumers.  Media usually isn’t considered ‘viral’ unless it has garnered attention internationally and has been seen by hundreds of thousands of consumers.


Social media: This is a confusing term.  Social media isn’t media as defined above and should not be listed under the category of “Various Types of Media.”   Social media isn’t media, it is technology.  Social media refers to an ever-growing set of communication tools and website and mobile applications on that focus on sharing public media and connecting people who share a common interest in that public media.

Social site: a website that concentrates on forging connections between people.  A place where people can share media.  E.g. Myspace, Facebook.

Live stream: a technology that allows a person to generate content and post it practically simultaneously on the internet.

As I said, this is a list in progress.  Let me know what you think.  If you know of a phenomenon that has yet to be defined, please comment and we will think up something together.  If you take issue with my definitions or want to tweak them, please comment.  This is a collaborative effort from this point forward.  Thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • tojosan 9 November 2008, 9:44 pm

    Awesome and well thought out list. Great share. I should point folks here!

  • lfamous 9 November 2008, 10:58 pm

    What about MSM? Mainstream Media-meaning the lg. traditional networks & channels and newspapers that were the key players 15 years ago.

    • PurpleCar 10 November 2008, 7:58 am

      Thanks, tojosan and lfamous. I think MSM is another term for Traditional Media. I’ll edit the doc and put it under that definition.

  • Forrest 12 November 2008, 11:46 am

    1. Since the currency of the future is attention, not dollars, per se, I wonder what else gets or controls attention that isn’t already on your list? What terms define drudge, digg, and other aggregators/concentrators? They are not technologies, but media in themselves.

    2. The taxonomy of media based on “producer/publisher” is one way of classifying media, and is the most traditional, but it isn’t clear to me that it is the most useful. The traditional media are being forced to abandon their traditional methods of production, packaging, and delivery. So they who had the most to gain by keeping up the appearance of superiority are blurring the lines ON PURPOSE. As time goes on, I wonder if the producer/publisher taxonomy gets less and less useful because of this blurring.

    I am not sure what could replace it though. Maybe source or content-based (Editorial/Reporting/Instruction/Diary/Advertisement/Entertainment) taxonomy or attention-based (duration/frequency/popularity/sense/medium) e.g. 5sec, 10sec, 2 minutes; once/daily/weekly; 10/1000/10000 consumers; text/sound/image/video; print/online/cell/pod. That’s too many classifiers for a good taxonomy, but I’d guess if you took 10 examples you would find clusters. E.g. daily with 10 consumers are personal diary blogs, daily > 10000 consumers is aggregator or a large-market newspaper that has reporting, not just op-ed.

    3. I’d quibble with viral being a subset of ad. Some of what I call viral has no commercial beneficiary or source.

    • PurpleCar 12 November 2008, 12:51 pm


      thanks for writing.

      1. A ‘digg’ and other such news sharing sites (a ‘google read’ just doesn’t sound right… yet) are ‘ratings.’ The definition of a rating has expanded to include the creative use of technology applications. By sharing something, someone is rating it. These ratings can be on many different scales, e.g., “this SUCKS so much you just have to read it.”

      We do need a general term for this phenomenon, and we can’t just use the term “sharing.” Everybody is sharing everything online, it’s like the very offline marijuana of the 70’s. I suppose a “share” would do, or a “read.” Right now people are using “a digg” for something shared online like people in the South call tissues “Kleenex” and any soda-pop “Coke.” Using product names as general labels is insufficient for open communication. “A read” pronounced in the present tense, ‘reed’ would be sufficient for “someone recommended that I look at this info and absorb it” e.g. “I sent her some reads via Greader.” People also say they email “a link” to bring their addressee’s attention to an article. Not enough people, including early adopters, use RSS or Google Reader for the posts-via-subscription concept to have a label in the general lexicon yet. “I read a post” is usually how RSS users to describe what they do with the links they see in their

      (A ‘drudge report’ is still just that, similar to any output of media.)

      2. Well, producing and publishing have to happen. With independent media outlets or public or citizen media, that usually means that the producer and publisher are jobs held by one person, as those outfits tend to be one-person shops. I don’t really care much about methodology. It’s producing and publishing. It’s compressing for publishing. It’s live streaming for production. The tech changes and makes the processes different but it is still just producing and publishing. Delivery and distribution change with the technology too, and now many times these are just included in ‘publishing’ because all it takes is to upload your video to YouTube or similar video sharing site.

      So, going forward, I predict less terms for this process than more. Millions will be doing it, and when millions are engaged in common pursuits, big umbrella terms come and stay. This makes necessary communication between disparate languages and cultures smoother. We could probably consult some historical linguists for some expertise on how the lexicon went from a horse and carriage culture to an automobile culture. It kept terms like ‘drive’ and ‘horsepower’ while learning new ones like ‘motor’ and ‘gear shift.’ My suspicion is the same is happening here.

      3. Viral videos are very rarely the purely organically contageous bits of media their name suggests. There are teams of PR people behind most videos, even ones that don’t seem like they are really selling anything at all. Viral entertainment can happen, but it really just doesn’t anymore without professional help. This is why I gave it its own category. Viral videos are surreptitious ads, but oftentimes it is unclear what the direct ad is, if any at all. It is such a strange and unique phenomenon (that needs calling out, too) that I gave it its own category. I suppose I could move it under the commercial media category, but that would be too cynical for most, as organic videos like Numa Numa have existed in the past.


      • Forrest 13 November 2008, 11:36 am

        You are right that organic viral videos are too rare to note in a lexicon. My bad.

        Yes, Digg (or even slashdot, now that they have community based content selection) are rating sites, more like Arbitron.

        DrudgeReport.com is different. He is hand-selecting the links, and because of his conservative bias, it is more like an op-ed. (Then again the MSM is biased in their presentation too.) One of the depressing things that I see is this read-in-the-bubble, bordering on ghetto isolation. Two recent examples: Day after debate polls on drudge showed 70% for McCain. On the opposite side, a poll of Slate editors/contributors showed 70 Obama, 1 McCain. (Similar MSM staff polls show the same pro-dem bias.)

        Is “LJ” or “bubbler” good descriptive terms? Drudge doesn’t have original content, (except the shameless self promotion when he gets more weekly hits than NYT) but he DJ’s links to other people’s content. Digg or news.google do not make editorial decisions based on content, instead things get noticed by bubbling up to higher prominence. But with both types of aggregators, there is an “in-the-bubble” effect that happens, either based on the bias of the editor, or the shared bias of the raters from the natural self-segregation that happens as communities build themselves.

        Community Ratings Bubbler? Link Jockey Bubbler?

        These bubblers are so important for attracting and filtering attention, that I think they are what are driving the “less terms for this process, not more.” I think that statement supports the point I am trying to make. A lexicon and taxonomy of media based on the production staff/delivery methods (which I think yours is) is less and less useful. Everything converges into an indistinguishable lump. Reporters have to blog to get by-line in print, and have to get by-lines in print in order to blog.

        Does it make more sense to have a taxonomy based on consumers (who is PAYING attention for what reason), not producers (who is trying to ATTRACT attention for what reason?)

        I think a reason MSM is in crisis because they got their self-definition wrong, concentrating on production, not consumption. And in that confusion they compromised in wrong ways, affecting the brand loyalty of both their readers/viewers AND their advertisers. It was slow suicide. But 10 years into this crisis, it looks like the best of them might figure out the balance. (MSM dead, film at 11, deserves another thread if it is worth discussing at all.)

  • Joey Yen 28 November 2008, 9:40 am

    Thank you for posting the definition of each! Now I know…and knowing is half the battle.

  • Cheryl 7 December 2008, 4:06 pm

    “Content Generator” – Laurie Anderson was talking about artists as “content providers” over 15 years ago. From my point of view, it’s not a new term, and doesn’t refer mainly to bloggers & vloggers. Nice list. People forget that grunts and smoke signals are media too. But they are. Any message is media.

    • PurpleCar 7 December 2008, 10:15 pm


      thanks! “content generator” definitely needs to be added to the list of social media terms. Maybe we can just use “Content” and describe that as any media? then whatever you can add on to the word becomes more clear. What do you think? -PC


Next post:

Previous post: