This is the third in a series of posts about my new book, Designing Media

Paul Saffo, July 2008

I put the interview with Paul Saffo at the beginning of the book because he gives such an erudite overview of the changes in media and the challenges faced by the people involved its creation and design.

Paul is a forecaster and essayist with more than twenty years of experience exploring long-term technological change and its practical impact on business and society. I know him well as a friend and because I helped him teach a class at Stanford about the future of engineering design. I enjoy and admire his intellectual prowess and curiosity, his deep knowledge of history, and his ability to tell stories that fascinate his audiences.

Paul Saffo’s Journal

Along with his deep understanding of new technology, I love the traditional quality of his leather-bound journal, filled with neat handwriting and elegant sketches.

Paul helps us understand the differences between traditional mass media and new personal media, contrasting characteristic differences. First is the nature of the experience. With mass media, we watch, but with personal media answering back is required, so we need to design the interactions for the participants, implying a tight feedback loop. Then there is the location. Mass media came into our living rooms, but we carry personal media with us everywhere we go, so we design for portability and mobile access. The nature of the dominant players has also changed. Mass media was the world of the few and the large, but the personal media world is dominated by the many and the small.

The secret design principle—what I’ll call Saffo’s law—that encourages participation in a personal media world is this: the smaller the quantum of creative act you ask of participants, the more they participate. Ask for a message of not over 140 characters, a search string, or just a click, and you are on the way towards creating successful personal media.


A message of 19 characters.

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