The New Media Consortium: its sudden death and what comes next

Yesterday many of us learned to our shock that the New Media Consortium (NMC) was going to be liquidated.

We learned via an email announcement, as follows:

Black background in the original. This is a screen capture.

Shortly after receiving this Campus Technology asked for my reaction. Here’s what I told them:

I am heartbroken and gobsmacked. The news comes as a terrible shock. My heart goes out to the fine NMC staff, who don’t deserve this. Instead they deserve being snapped up by smart employers, stat. I also rue the blow to the community of splendid innovators that gathered around NMC since the 1990s. Can we use our imagination and technology to build something new in the NMC’s ruins?

I stand by those words.

Right after the announcement broke Twitter lit right up with questions, pleas, mourning, and brainstorming. I had just finished a long day of consulting work, and was also wracked by back spasms, so I fired off a furious and perhaps not completely coherent tweetstorm. I introduced a grim yet accurate hashtag: #NMCliquidation.

Meanwhile, I reached out to dozens of people through email, Facebook, LinkedIn, various IM clients, and text, trying to figure out more about what happened. So many people chimed and pitched in, offering their interpretations, their information, their perspectives, their hearts.

The first and most important thing to bear in mind here is the human tragedy suffered by the NMC staff (Archive.org link; the official site’s page has been down for a few days). Every one I’ve spoken to has been utterly surprised by the news, and shocked by a Christmas season termination. They are good people, and if you’re an employer reading this, check them out.

The second thing is the community that’s grown up around NMC since the 1990s. NMC has attracted an unusual group, different from what you might see around other educational technology venues. These folks tend to be more future oriented, more experimental, more focused on creativity. This is the audience that loves to make stuff, that feeds the Horizon Report. Now that the NMC home has been bulldozed and the ruins about to be plowed under and perhaps salted, this population is homeless.

On a personal note, this breaks my heart. I’ve known and worked with the NMC people since around 2003. Many current and former staffers are friends. We’ve done tons of projects together, from multiple Horizon reports to digital literacy briefings to webinars to presentations. I was their senior researcher for a couple of years. I did lots of Second Life work back in the day, relying on NMC projects and support. We did two live Future Trends Forum sessions from NMC summer conferences.

It was a career honor to be invited to offer the closing keynote for their annual conference.

…but I’m going to stop the trip down memory lane right there. The point here, today, is what just happened, not the past. And in this post I want to look ahead to the future.

To begin with, I’m concerned about the NMC staff, and want to make sure they’ll recover from this blow swiftly and well. That’s the most important human aspect that we need to consider.

Also, as noted above, I’m worried about the NMC community, which is now homeless. Can it self-organize into a new form, a tribe or network, using while exploring technologies?

On a time sensitive point, I’m concerned in particular with the current Horizon Report for higher education (here’s the February 2017 edition). We (the current report’s board) did the research phase over October and November. I know NMC staff started researching examples for our findings, and drafting parts of the report itself. This was scheduled to be released around February 1. I and others have professional obligations based on the document. Is there a way we can organize its completion?

There is also the question of NMC web content. The announcement’s language suggests the site will go away, at least in its current, accessible form. That’s a lot of material. As Kim Pearson quickly realized,

Joe Murphy suggested reaching out to the Internet Archive:

That’s four immediate challenges: the fates of the former staff, the community, and Horizon report. How can we address them?

I am keenly interested in helping, in rebuilding from this disaster, and am willing to contribute what resources I can.

For the staff, I’m going to keep an eye out for positions and gigs for these people. As they launch web content for themselves, I’ll share ‘em.

Re: community, we’re furiously talking now. I’m going to reprogram next week’s Future Trends Forum (Thursday, December 28, 2–3 pm EST) to focus on NMC and its fate. I’m reaching out to NMC staff, board members, and people in the community to participate. Should we set up a temporary website for NMC Community in Exile? Should we look into starting a new nonprofit? Can another organization host?

Horizon: how about a Kickstarter to fund some NMC staff to finish writing? Are there other organizations that would like to contribute money, time, or publication resources to assist?

NMC.org content: on Joe Murphy’s advice I’ve reached out to the Internet Archive to see if they can host it. Would anyone else like to attempt an archival copying?

…I outlined most of the preceding last night. This morning I fleshed it out. I reflected on the problem after some sleep (good advice, Sam). So I’d like to add one more thought.

There’s a crisis here, one requiring immediate, practical responses. We can also look ahead a bit and get creative. One tweet really resonated with me, coming just two days after my call to rethink professional associations:

“everywhere, in us all.” D’Arcy calls us to be bold and to make a new future. How can we change things up? What should we invent?

I think that’s a splendid way — maybe the best way — to honor the legacy of the New Media Consortium: to build upon the smoldering ruins something new, creative and amazing.

Who’s with us?

Futurist, speaker, writer, consultant, educator. Author of the FTTE report and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.