Bec’s Blog


Scratching the Itch
May 26, 2009, 12:43 am
Filed under: DIY media | Tags: , ,

This week has introduced an entirely new produsage concept; DIY culture and design. As discussed in previous weeks, and looked at through portals such as Wikipedia, the concept of produsage (fuelled by Web 2.0) has eliminated many aspects of passive consumerism. As well as user generated content, this field has expanded into aspects of everyday life, seen through sights that have taken advantage of, and marketed, the growing DIY trend such as Etsy, eBay and Instructables. Put more succinctly by Rushkoff in Bruns, “the rise of interactive media does provide us with the beginnings of new metaphors for co-operation, new faith in the power of networked activity and new evidence of our ability to participate actively in the authorship of our collective destiny”.

As Bruns discusses, the increasingly easy access to goods has led to the emergence of what online trend firm Trendwatching describes as “trysumers”, a breed of consumer propelled by sites such as eBay that allow a communal evaluation of goods. It is a site that is based on the open, communal participation and, not unlike Wikipedia, is able to be fit into Bruns’ produsage mold. The company, which referrs to itself as “the world’s online marketplace”, last year had a net revenue of approximately $8.46 billion, thus effectively commercialising produsage culture.

Also found in Bruns is the idea that, unlike ever before, “Pro-Ams are creating new, distributed organizational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low cost”. The DIY website Instructables have taken eBay’s idea one step further and have actually provided an outlet where knowledge blueprints themselves are the product. However the interactivity of the site allows for other users to expand on the blue prints, and further develop the idea into something else. To use an example, a user has published step-by-step instructions on how to make a laptop stand. However in the comments section, other users have adapted the idea to make an entirely different product such as a stereo cover. This is a complete deviation from the traditional 20th century model of consumption, with industries no longer shaped by “large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top”.

Active participation in a DIY community can also enhance the practices of the individual. As acknowledged by Pesce in Bruns “the individual can do much; the individual in an organisation or institution can do even more, but the individuals in a hyperconnected community…can change the world”. After the birth of her first child, my best friend’s sister Erin opted not to return to work, however through the use of a host site, Etsy, was able to market her own collection of designer baby clothes. In a matter of months, her Wattle Tots collection expanded so much so that she was able to launch her own website.

These sites, in conjunction with knowledge portals such as Wikipedia, are propelling the consumer community into what has been termed again by Pesce as hyperpeople. He predicts that “when you multiply hyperintelligence with the understanding gathered in a hyperconnected community, you have the real force of the 21st century; not bombs, not ideology, but hyperpeople”. Gone are the days of the passive consumer, and the limitations placed on them by hierarchical organisations that pump out goods for purchase. We are moving towards becoming like Erin and joining the collective intelligence community.

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I’m an expert! Folksonomically speaking of course…
May 20, 2009, 10:04 pm
Filed under: Pro-Am | Tags: , , ,

Pro-Am – the professional amateur is a term that can be applied to almost any professional area that is experiencing increased participation by those who aren’t “qualified”. It has been seen in my past blog on citizen journalism, but this week Bruns chooses to examine it through Wikipedia, again. Although it is getting increasingly tiresome to see this word pop up page after page, I will admit this chapter did offer interesting discussion. Although, in conjunction with this, I’m also going to go back and examine the pro-am divide in journalism.

 Initially, it is Sanger who raises the question of expertise: who has it? What constitutes it and why? More importantly, how can we distinguish experts from ordinary people? I discussed last week the comparison of Wikipedia and Nupedia, and how the former was able to take advantage of the “everyday genius”. It calls to the self-professed experts in fields of midwifery, Star Trek and Mahayana Buddhism and asks them to contribute. It’s noted “regardless of whether Wikipedia actually is more or less reliable than the average encyclopedia, it is not perceived as adequately reliable by many librarians, teachers and academics”. But why is this so?

Bruns suggests that it may be those academics whose expertise is directly “under threat from produsage models”. Knowledge, as it is today, is in a state of flux, and furthermore many fields such as climate change and human evolution are under constant debate. As it is argued by Kelly, knowledge was never more stable than it is today, however perhaps it is that we are just beginning to treat it differently. It could be as simple as the passive v active approach, with one side taking the view that knowledge is self organising and concrete, whereas the more active approach recognises that certain aspects of knowledge are merely representative, and are worth arguing over. This suggests that there is no definite point of expertise, and if that definition were to broaden, professional amateurism may come under its umbrella.

As mentioned above, pro-am does not just refer to knowledge in academic fields, it branches in to professions such as sport, and journalism. Citizen journalism, as discussed in previous weeks, is becoming increasingly more credible and influential. However Duffield argues in his text I, Journalist, that the pro-am line is not as blurred a division as everyone claims. He argues that journalistic method is something that an amateur can never master. It is acknowledged that the increasing use of the World Wide Web as a platform for anyone to distribute information, however disagrees that this should be termed journalism. He offers the viewpoint, like Zelizer, that journalism should be thought of as a way of thinking and doing, not just pumping out stories before a deadline. Is this the line that professionals everywhere are clinging to? That training and experience will always be paramount? In this respect there will always be a pro-am divide, with amateurs approaching a profession such as journalism believing it requires no skill or quality, and the professionals admiring the practice it takes to deliver a quality piece.



From the average Joh to the average genius
May 13, 2009, 9:06 pm
Filed under: Wikipedia | Tags: , ,

It’s been discussed in previous blogs how different concepts are taking advantage of web 2.0, and how it’s kickstarted the evolution of online communities. This week, Axel Bruns has presented a chapter on the ins and outs of Wikipedia, including its adherence to the principles of produsage. It would seem that, if Wikipedia were hiring, Axel Bruns would be its perfect “poster boy”, with every criticism contained in the chapter seemingly able to be refuted with ease. An examination will be made in terms of its key aspects; open participation, ad hocracy and infinite content.  

Any person is able to contribute to Wikipedia, from your average joe, to your average genius. The pros and cons of this ability have long been in contention, with many academics putting in their two cents worth. The positives are highlighted by Bruns by his contrast with Wikipedia’s predecessor Nupedia, which was comprised of heavily reviewed academic articles. Sanger notes at the end of 18 months, there were only 12 published articles. This was arguably because it failed to recognise the fact that the community itself had the ability to contribute useful content. I recall the day my grade 12 physics teacher had walked in to the classroom and proudly announced to everyone that he had contributed to the article on supernovas. The girl next to me said, jokingly, “so did I”. Although the comment was made humorously, it is still somewhat a concern that a 17-year-old girl is capable of asserting as much authority on the subject as an expert in the field.

 At the time of Bruns’ publication, Wikipedia had 2 million articles in the English language. According to the site itself, it now has almost 3 million.  It is in this way that it capitalized on one of the major failings of traditional encyclopedias; seeking not to capture knowledge in a freeze frame, but to recognise that it, along with society, is in a state of constant flux. That which we know today may change tomorrow. It was reported at the time of Steve Irwin’s death that it took a person two and a half hours to edit his Wikipedia site. This self-correcting process has been labeled by Sanger as incredibly robust, as there are many online communities that are ready and waiting to edit their own topical field.

 Wikipedia is an example of what is known as an “ad hocracy” – despite being a structured system it has little or no regulation. One regulation it does adhere to however is NPOV – the neutral point of view system, which co-founder Jimmy Wales states is “absolute and non-negotiable”. It is arguable that this concept allowes, as Sanger observes “widely divergent opinions to work together”, however Wikipedia does have its fair share of malicious users. Whether defending their contribution with “watch bots” or even as QUT Digital Journalism lecturer Alan Knight does every Sunday; sit at his computer and wage war against a fellow contributor on Sir Joh Bejelke Peterson’s wiki. It is here that we see how Wikipedia is created by people, and therefore “pettiness, idiocy and vulgarity are regular features of the site”. 

Overall, although it offers a very well informed academic insight into Wikipedia, I did not enjoy this reading. Bruns takes it upon himself to forcefully educate users on the ins and outs of the site, vehemently defending it against its critics. I begin to wonder if this is because Wikipedia is not, in fact, the perfect example of ‘produsage’, but the reason for the term’s conception.



If I have something to say, why not just go on YouTube?
May 6, 2009, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Citizen Journalism, user generated content | Tags:

The effects of digital technology and new media on journalistic practice have been explosive. Society’s demand for constant change and minute-to-minute access to information has forced journalists to redefine the way in which they deliver news. When I began at QUT, I was doing a Journalism degree. However at the end of last year, I opted to change courses. This wasn’t because I was unhappy with journalism as a potential career, purely that I believed there would be no career for me after I graduated.

 The optimist in me wants more than anything to agree with Zelizer, who argues that journalism should be considered a culture, one that connects like-minded people who understand how the world works and are in tune with the constant goings on. In Flew however, citizen journalism is said to be “the act of a citizen playing an active role in collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information”. If that is all it takes to be a journalist, then no wonder they’re going out of business.

 It is becoming apparent that traditional journalism is slightly out of touch with society. Sitting and watching Bruce Paige and his motionless forehead is something I can tolerate in only 10-minute intervals. This is perhaps why many people have made the shift online, demonstrated in 2005, with NetRatings reporting that over 25% of Internet using Americans now accessed their news online.

 For the past two years, blog search engine Technorati has listed former governor candidate Ariana Huffington’s blog, The Huffington Post, as the most visited. According to a 2008 article in Minneapolis newspaper The Star Tribune, Huffington’s blog attracts over 4 million hits a month. It’s popularity is attributed to what she says is “news…with our own attitude”.

 

Another topic discussed by Flew is the concept of journalists as heroes. It is reminiscent of the days where Walter Cronkite was considered America’s most trusted man and journalists were renown for being able to bring down presidents and challenge the social order. Today, it is people like journalist Matt Drudge who is considered by The Daily Telegraph to be the “world’s most powerful journalist”. If there are any who are not familiar with him, he is the operator of news aggregation website the Drudge Report, who famously broke stories such as the Lewinsky Scandal and most recently Prince Harry’s deployment to Afghanistan. Although at the time there was a media blackout on the story, women’s magazine New Idea published an article on it over a month prior to Drudge, however people took no notice of it.

People’s willingness to accredit a stand-alone citizen journalist over an established magazine is perhaps indicative of a consumer shift from mainstream to informal. More astounding still is that the Telegraph stand to recognise him as a journalist in his own right, confirming in my opinion the definition expressed in Flew. Perhaps a knack for news is all that’s needed to start your own DIY journalism degree. If that’s the case, if I ever have anything to say, I should probably just go on YouTube.



“You can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black”
April 23, 2009, 2:52 am
Filed under: media | Tags: , , ,

“We are all producers now,” proclaimed media expert Clay Shirky in 1999. With the introduction of the Internet as a mass medium there was an observed deconstruction of the producer – distributor – consumer relationship. As well as Shirkey, a host of other media communications intellectuals have offered insights into the issue, however I’m going to concentrate on Axel Bruns, and his coining of the term “produsage” to better define the continuing shift to user generated, collaborative content. Henry Ford’s bold assertion that “any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”, despite being said in 1909, defined the extent of a consumer’s power up until very recently; having to participate on the basis of necessity rather than choice. As discussed by Bruns, the elimination of the traditional relationship can be observed in two key moves; consumption to usage, and then from usage to produsage.

 Consumption to Usage

 This shift can be readily seen using the changing trends in news media. With the World Wide Web came the challenge to traditional forms of media production and distribution. Suddenly, the traditional mass media outlets had less control of information distribution, with users being able to access multiple sources with the click of a mouse. In a way, it could be argued that traditional media effectively monopolised information, with Shirkey highlighting that consumers “have no way to respond to the things they see on television or hear on the radio…media is something that is done to them”.

Roy Greenslade, a former editor for the British Daily Mirror, commented that newspapers are a “dead duck”, predicting that they will eventually lose out to the Internet’s user-focused format. This more active role has earned the consumer world a promotion to the title of “user”, as audiences are no longer “passive recipients”, but are allowed to contribute to what they receive.

 Usage to Produsage

 The next phase concentrates on Jenkin’s notion that former consumer are now active users and participants in the creation of, as well as in the usage of, media and culture. With the shift from usage to produsage, the production chain is eliminated, with many individual users acting as content producers, as demonstrated by online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The process of each user contributing to the community of knowledge is the very essence of produsage – the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement.

Convention is thrown out the window, with produsage offering no specific delegation of tasks, a non-hierarchical contributory system, modular tasks within the overall project, and shared content. The object of produsage in a shared project is not the creation of information, but an information commons. There we can observe the shift, from singular, individual usage to singular, individual produsage for the joint benefit of a group project.