Yesterday may have been historic in the annals of communications. Under court order, the city of New York opened part of its archive of records from Sept. 11, 2001. The New York Times today released a huge cache of of oral histories, dispatchers' tapes and phone logs in PDF and MP3 formats..."so vast that they took up 23 compact discs.", according to the Times.
We don't know to what extent this particular release will be accessed by the public, but clearly, it transcends the volume and complexity of what is even possible in a real-time stream of broadcast radio and TV. How will people use this stuff?
Like the whole podcasting phenomenon, this kind of publishing promises to further break down the singularity of the broadcast model. It points away from the realm of fleeting events toward something enduring and the searchable. More and more, our role as communicators may shift from preparing a single strand of narrative to presenting content as database.
If it re-defines the author, it may redefine "audience" to something like a "quirience" (to coin a word); the active set of users who build personal meaning out of a rich medium of information. In this new realm, both the content preparers and the quirience will need to live by the same set of rules; a mutually understood grammar of presentation, access and re-construction. The closest approximation I can think of right now is the set of rules that underlie the online gaming experience.
Unlike a movie one sits and watches for two hours flat, a contemporary online or multimedia game can deliver dozens of hours of "play time". Gaming has radically altered our notions of media use, presentation time and attention span. What game designers and their users have come to share is a whole set of uber-rules about game use.
Maybe the would-be datacasters, like today's Times', and their quirience, will need to arrive at the same set of rules. Maybe we already have them. What somebody needs to do is figure out what they are and explicate them.