Innovation Hub: Twitter’s Deb Roy Sees More Change Ahead for TV

It’s fair to say that Deb Roy is obsessed with Twitter. In 2008, he started Bluefin Labs to understand the power and influence of social media.

He looked at how the public viewed political candidates, brands, and TV shows. And the data he gathered was so valuable that last year, Twitter gobbled up Bluefin, making the startup a key part of its advertising operation.

Now, Roy is Twitter’s chief media scientist—and he believes we’re in for lots more upheaval in the media world. I talked to him about how Twitter is changing us and what’s ahead.

(This is an edited and condensed version of Kara’s interview with Deb Roy. For audio of the full conversation, head to the Innovation Hub homepage.)

Kara Miller: You mostly see the tweets of people that you follow on Twitter. So isn’t Twitter contributing to a polarized world, where we are reinforced in believing the things we already think?

Deb Roy: I think there’s definitely a danger of that. There’s no doubt that this is true on just about every communication network we’ve created, where you can build your own network, decide who to follow, decide which websites to go to. On the other hand, when you have a big, public network where opinions can traverse easily, sometimes an idea or an opinion can spread across polarized lines.

KM: How do you see social media changing us as people?

DR: I don’t think as a species or as a society, we’ve really come to terms with that this means. If you look historically, when a new medium—the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television—hit the scene, it would take decades for the impact to be felt. Post-Internet, all you have to do is write some code and you can dream up a new communication medium.

You might want to think of it like switching from a solid phase—where we had new mediums coming along every so often—to a medium liquidity, where two people in a garage start-up can conjure up a new medium.

KM: Where do you see communication technology going? What do people not see coming?

DR: I think just the fact that there is this new live, public, conversational medium that has reached global scale is going to have deep implications for how you produce a piece of TV programming in the future. Whether it’s entertainment or politics or news, I imagine there’s going to be completely new jobs and job descriptions and tools that will allow what I see as a natural and exciting transformation of the media experience.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio

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