A Blog a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

5 Jun

Week 7

B) Lovink argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”. Discuss this argument giving an example of a blog.

I would have to say that I disagree with many of Geert Lovink‘s assertions about blogging in Blogging, The Nihilistic Impulse. Whilst in many cases it is true that “blogging relates to diary keeping” (6) and that blogs are often used to fulfill “the need to structure one’s life, to clear up the mess, to master the immense flows of information” (Lovink, 2007:28), Lovink’s argument that blog content contains “high degrees of irrelevance” (4) is outdated.

It is clear that the description of blogs as a sort of “public diary” (6) is not unfounded. Blogs can certainly be a tool to manage the self, and there are many examples of blogs which serve precisely this function. Indeed, as Lovink points out “blogs are part of a wider culture that fabricates celebrity on every possible level” (28). A blog which I think demonstrates this is celebuzz.com, which is a blog about the latest celebrity gossip. The site has a ‘Celebrity Bloggers’ section, which is used by celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian, as a means of self-promotion. 

This role played by blogs is not, I would argue, necessarily a negative phenomenon. I like the idea of a “‘technology of the self'” (6); of having a space in which we can express ourselves and neatly collate our interests. For example, I have an account with the music blog The Hype Machine (I’ve just worked out how to display a Hype Machine widget on my blog, so have a look) which allows me to organise and write about my favourite music.

This comparison of blogging with diary writing can similarly be related to Twitter. Often, this social networking outlet is used in a constructive manner, not inane and narcissistic representation of our self-obsessed age, but a potential learning tool for those who wish to use it in such a way.

However, Lovink’s overly critical analysis of blogs neglects to mention their function as an intellectual device in his assertion that

“What is blogged is the relentless uncertainty of the everyday” (29)

Not all blogs have a “glossy personality-driven approach” (4) as Lovink suggests and it is untrue that “for most academics, blogs are irrelevant as they don’t count as publications” (4). For instance, recently my cousin Alex had an interview with Google for an interniship. Afterwards, he excitedly tweeted and posted on Facebook:

“Google interview went well (I think). He actually referenced several of my blog posts, I was impressed and flattered”

Now, being a self-professed Computer Science geek, my cousin does more programming than he does writing, so he uses his blog in one sense as a “‘technology of the self'” (6), but also as an academic mechanism; a learning tool for others (his blog is very technical ‘Computer-Sciencey’ material, probably completely irrelevant stuff for most of us, but nevertheless here is the link so you can see what I mean). This illustrates the potentially academtic nature of blogs, and way in which they may indeed be “count[ed] as publications” (4), or at the very least something tantamount to a publication.

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Fame and Fortune to Follow?

5 Jun

http://binnypark.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/week-9/

I have chosen to comment on this post by Binny Hendrix because I completely agree with her central argument about how ordinary people are offered the ability to seek celebrity status through outlets such as YouTube, but this does not give them equal status in and access to the “the system of celebrity [of] the mass media” [Burgess and Green, 2009: 23].

It is true that, as Burgess and Green argue, “more accessible new media technologies and platforms can open up possibilities for the commercialization of amateur content”, however it is clear that being a Youtube celebrity does not automatically make you a “mass media” [Burgess and Green, 2009:23] celebrity. This is due to the fact that

“success for these new forms, paradoxically, is measured not only by their online popularity but by their subsequent ability to pass through the gate-keeping mechanisms of old media- the recording contract, the film festival, the television pilot, the advertsing deal” [Burgess and Green, 2009:24].

An example of this is the well-known story of our friend Justin Bieber, who found his stardom through the DIY medium of YouTube. This, however, is a rare occurance, as “DIY celebrit[ies]” [Burgess and Green, 2009:22], such as Xuso Jones, are surely discovering. Jones is a young Spanish boy emulating Bieber’s entrance into the ‘true’ world of celebrity through his popular YouTube videos in which he sings covers of well-known pop songs. His DIY celebrity status has not yet, as Burgess and Green predict, automatically translated into mass media celebrity status.

Thus DIY media celebrities are not in the same as ‘ordinary’, traditional celebrities because their digital popularity does not “convert directly to legitimate success and media fame” [Burgess and Green, 2009: 21]. So, as Binny rightly points out, “Like one-hit-wonders, YouTube celebrities, after seven-digit/eight-digit number of views, will be forgotten so long as they stop producing videos that entertain fellow YouTube users”. This idea is illustrated in South Park’s hilarious parody, which I have included for your entertainment below.

Works Cited

Anthony Burgess and Joshua Green, ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’, in Youtube: Online and Participatory Culture, [Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009]

Sharing is Caring

4 Jun

In our Week 10 tutorial, we looked at some Youtube clips of various anti-piracy advertisements. We then considered which was most effective in convincing people our age not to pirate music and films, it became clear that the advertisements we responsed most to were the amusing ones.

Moreover, we considered the distinction between different forms of piracy, that is, not just the pirating of music and film, and came across another effective mode of advertising.

This clip similarly appeals to those who may be ‘game pirates’ by positioning themselves on the same ‘side’ as the pirates and joking with them about the lacking quality of pirated games, whilst including a humourous representation of this.

Piracy is certainly able to flourish in the context of the digital networked culture. This new ‘sharing is caring’ online mentality engendered many new controversies about copyright and control. Remix music, which has “revolutionized [the music industry]” (Russell, 2008: 50), is another example of a thriving field in the sphere of public networked culture. In Adrienne Russell’s Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Culture it is suggested that

“…lines between amateur and professional blur, remix becomes embedded into culture – even beyond music – and technological changes continue to occur” (55). 

An example of music remix cultures is the remixing of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album in 2008 by music producer and DJ AmpLive. It was reported that Radiohead, who released the original In Rainbows album as a free download gave AmpLive permission to release his remixes, but only if he followed their example and did not charge the public for the songs. Below is the remix of 15 Steps

Facebook: The One Ring?

4 Jun

In 2006, Facebook introduced a new element to the social networking site, which was, at the time, extremely controversial and caused many complaints pertaining to a perceived invasion of users’ privacy. In response to these outcries about the News Feed, Mark Zuckerberg posted the following blog in order to alleviate some of the concerns about the News Feed and its apparently inherent privacy breaches:

http://www.facebook.com/blog.php?post=2208197130

Now I can’t speak for the rest of my generation, but I’m fairly sure that many of us could not imagine Facebook without the News Feed. It’s the first page we’re directed to when we log in to Facebook, so are automatically positioned to view updates posted from all our digital friends. This means, as Danah Boyd suggests in Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion and Social Convergence:

“With Facebook, participants have to consider how others might interpret their actions, knowing that any action will be broadcast to everyone with whom they consented to digital friendship” (16).

Furthermore, Boyd suggests that the News Feed may provide individuals with too much information, and because “human cognition has a limitation to how much social information it can handle” (16), this seemingly endless stream of live updates from all ‘online friends’ may become an obsession for some, and has the potential to have damaging consequences for any individual who gets sucked in to this chasm of infitite social data.

“My hunch is that the stream of social information gives people a fake sense of intimacy with others that they do not really know that well…it could be emotionally devastating” (17).

Thus, in relation to the Facebook News Feed, Boyd posits (aptly, if slightly hysterically) that

“Facebook gives the ‘gift’ of infinite social information, but this can feel too much like the One Ring – precious upfront but destructive long-term” (18).

Arrrre Pirates Cultural Anti-Heroes?

31 May

Week 11:

A) Medosch argues that: “CC does not pay any attention at all to the issue of an economic model for supporting cultural production” (Reader, page 315).

B) Medosch argues that: “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Reader, page 318).

Discuss ONE of these arguments while giving an example online.

B)

This blog question implores us to examine Armin Medosch’s Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency and to perform a close reading of one of the text’s central ideas; the notion that “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (81).

“Since the inception of Linux, Open Source and the Internet” (Medosch, 2008: 73), the piracy debate has been causing much controversy and polarising experts in the field into two camps. The copy-left/copy-right divide has sparked much conflict within the industry, particularly for the producers. In essence, the debate separates those who are ‘for’ copyright and those who are ‘for’ piracy. That is, those who are pro-copyright see all creative production as property (and thus an economic commodity) that needs to be protected. On the contrary, the camp who are pro-piracy, see the former as linking creativity inextricably to the economy, and push instead for a move away from culture as a commodity.

As mentioned above, Medosch, whilst acknowledging piracy as a profit-driven practice, argues that “acts of piracy can be very necessary sometimes, in combination with a variety of methods of cultural resistance” (95). In this way, he refuses to confine himself to either of the polarised categories of the debate, but instead urges us “to find ways of being radical “without denying the complexity of the issues involved” (95). Thus piracy must be recognised as a valid cultural site in some contexts. As Medosch suggests, piracy can indeed be a powerful form of cultural rebellion, particularly “in regions that still suffer from the legacies of colonalism and imperialism as well as those of the neo-colonised world” (81).

Medosch uses the example of Brazil’s “favelas” and their LAN house industry centres and computer hard- and software shops, 81″- which are breeding grounds for piracy. Medosch does not see this as a negative practice, but instead encourages us to realise the cultural benefits of such an industry –

“In this way the slum-dwellers of Brazil get access to modern communication technologies. [This includes] … advantages such as access to services and information which alow a long-marginalised population to realise their civil rights and get better chances on the labour market” (82).

Finding inexpensive substitutes for branded products can indeed benefit impoverished communities, or those whose societies dictate that they cannot have access to such products.

Therefore whilst the debate rages on and I see valid points on both sides, when relating it to my own views and findings, I find myself drawn to Medosch’s assertion that –

“It [piracy] gives people access to information and cultural goods they had otherwise no chance of obtaining. In a grossly distorted world of global ‘free trade’ those who capitalism treats merely as cheap labour can use piracy as a counter-hegemonic force by giving them a chance to empower themselves through obtaining information, knowledge and sophisticated cultural productions” (81).

A Blog About Blogging

31 May

Week 4:

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.

In this post, I will use Adrienne Russell’s Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation in order to focus on three ways in which the burgeoning blogosphere compares with traditional journalists. I will assess these aspects and establish which outlet is ultimately more successful in “inform[ing] the public” (Russell: 2008, 67).

  • Bloggers’ popularity is merit-based

Blogging culture has a hierarchy just as traditional journalism does. Certain bloggers build up credibility, gain more attention to their site and are given the label of ‘A-list’ bloggers. But is it harder to achieve this credibility in the blogging world than it is in the world of traditional journalism? And when a blogger gains this credibility, do they necessarily deserve it? I think the latter can be answered simply with one name: Perez Hilton. This well-known blogger, who has dubbed himself ‘the Queen of all Media’, has indeed made a name for himself and acquired a band of loyal followers who read his blog religiously to keep up with the latest in celebrity gossip. 

Thus whether warranted or not, the ‘people’ – as opposed to an editor – push bloggers into recognition and this, I believe, is an advantage of ‘DIY’ media –

“The merit-based process by which bloggers achieve star status is still an improvement over the previous status quo in which big media dominates” (Russell: 2008, 67).

  • Blogs are collaborative in their structure

 As many media experts have suggested, blogging can be tantamount to a continuous online conversation amongst citizens. The public can usually comment at any time on a particular blog, ‘rate’ aspects of the blog, and share the blog’s link.

An example which I believe fits well with this debate is The Punch, with the site’s slogan claiming the site as “Australia’s Best Conversation”. The About Us page claims:

“The Punch is for every Australian with a passion for debate… The conversation is open to all…We’re looking forward to having a long, entertaining and spirited conversation with you”.

Information from a wide variety of sources may be linked to a particular blog post, thereby potentially enhancing its credibility, provided these sources are credible themselves and used adequately by the blogger(s), which brings me to my final point…

  • Bloggers have editorial independence

While for some this aspect of blogging means both deficiency in guidance and a distinct lack of effective investigation, editorial independence facilitates one positive thing: egalitarianism. Elite media institutions are bound to “abide by professional codes” (Russell: 2008, 68) whereas the unfiltered nature of blogs ensures more freedom and a wider scope of topics that can be explored, where they may not be published in mainstream media. In media theory, the political economy theory states that the content of a media outlet is filtered to serve the interests and ideological persuasions of the owner, suggesting that the private influence on the media is so great, that the output, and thus our scope of information, is narrowed.

An example which seems to encompass this, and illustrates its potential to be a better news forum than ‘traditional’ media is Indymedia Australia, which was briefly touched on in the Week 4 lecture. According to the site’s About Us section,

“Indymedia is a collective providing a platform for grassroots media-makers to create radical, accurate, and passionate coverage of struggles and movements working for social, environmental and economic justice…Everyone is a journalist.”

After closely focussing on Russell’s article, and exploring both ‘DIY’ and ‘traditional’ media forms, I think that a good blog has the potential to be a more effective source of information for the pubic.

Privacy in the Social Networking World

18 May
Week 5: Analyse critically the following statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices
 “Privacy is a sense of control over information, the context where sharing takes place, and the audience who can gain access.

Information is not private because no one kn0ws it; it is private because the knowing is limited and controlled.” (Boyd: 2008, 18)

For those of you who missed the lecture, or didn’t choose to blog on this question, here is Mark Zuckerberg’s statement about the new Facebook privacy tools:

And the corresponding blog post:

http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?q=mark+zuckerberg

Zuckerberg’s response to the public outcry about privacy issues related to Facebook was to update the site’s privacy settings, which are, incidentally, still being updated. Today when I logged into Facebook, before being directed to the Newsfeed, I was given the option to “Help Protect Your Account”, and was instructed to “Add an additional email address to your account to help your friends find you in search. It will also be helpful if you ever have trouble accessing your account”.

In the online social networking world, often our personal information is out of our control. This idea of control is, I believe, a central concept within the notion of privacy, one which Zuckerberg draws upon in his rhetoric. During my reading, I came across some interesting ideas relation to the concept of control. In How the Free Flow of Information Liberates and Constrains Us, Daniel Solove argues that

“Leaks and miscues are bound to happen. Sometimes information winds up online because we put it there intentionally; sometimes it is accidental; and other times, it is put there without our knowledge and consent” (30)

So, if “a social network is a web of connections” (25), then material and information are available to all those in this web, and our control may be lost. Zuckerberg points out that loss of control means more sharing, which makes the world more open, thereby helping to absolve the world of its problems.

My Interpretation of Zuckerberg’s Equation

 

But do we want our own information to “escape from our control” (29)? This brings me to my next point, an idea raised by Solove in his exploration of ‘freedom’. Solove argues that on social netoworking sites, information or material may be published that can have a negative effect on our reputations, thereby inhibiting our freedom. This is due to the fact that, to borrow Solove’s wording, “our reputation is an essential component to our freedom, for without the good opinion of our community, our freedom can become empty” (30).

This is by no means a new concept, but one that can be traced throughout history, long before the development of the Internet and social netoworking sites. Solove aptly uses the fictional example of John Proctor from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; a man who is so determined to keep his name that he willingly sought death and ultimately upheld his reputation. Today, in online social networking culture, if humiliating, discrediting or defamatory material is released, it can have the potential to ruin our lives.

So, contrary to Zuckerberg’s argument, Solove posits, and I would generally agree, that

“Ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet might impede our freedom” (17)

And Now For Something [Slightly] Completely Different

16 May
Not strictly a response to any of the assigned questions, but interesting nonetheless, this is something I came across in the fantastic procrastination tool that is the Twitter feed.
 
 
Sorry, couldn’t resist inserting that logo and promoting Twitter for all those who haven’t yet discovered its wonders.
 
Propelled by my complete lack of understanding of some of the more dense, technical aspects of this course, I decided to follow some social media experts on my newly-discovered favourite social networking site. Axel Bruns is a name we have come across a couple of times throughout Net Communications, particularly in Week 3’s material (Debating Web 2.0). On Monday, Bruns tweeted the following:
 “I’m speaking about Using Social Media for Effective Communication at the CRC Association conference in Brisbane tomorrow. Prepping PPT now.”
In his subsequent tweet, Bruns proceeded to post a link for the Twitter world to view his slideshow for this presentation –
 
 

Although some of the slides are out of context, I think this gives a general overview of some of the material we’ve looked at, including some helpful definitions.

 
Now, I may have deemed Bruns’s slideshow relevant enough to post about, but have a look and let me know what you think.
 

Online Communities

16 May

Week 3:

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?

“Join the largest worldwide video-sharing community”

-Youtube homepage

In this blog post, I will look at the way in which certain ‘online communities’ are determined more by the site than by the users themselves. I’ll focus on an argument put forth by Jose van Dijck in Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content (2009)* with an emphasis on the Youtube community.

Inherently humans seems to have a preference “to share knowledge and culture in communities” (45a) and in the arena of digital networked media, this concept remains true. Habermas explored this notion through his concept of the public sphere, which he theorised as a free space in which individuals could come together and be united in discussion and open communication.

Van Dijck defines media communities as

“groups with a communal preference in music, movies or books (a so-called ‘taste community’); building taste is an activity that necessarily ties in individuals with social groups” (45b).

This idea can be illustrated using the example of cult TV fandom. Fans group together in online forums and social networking sites to discuss characters, previous and potential plotlines, and popular quotations from their particular cult series of choice. A recent example which I believe illustrates this is the HBO cult series True Blood and the programme’s Twitter profile. So far, the profile has gathered 192,227 followers and posts daily quotes, links to previous episodes and trailors for up-coming ones, and responses and ideas posted by fans of the show. This is an example of an online community – in Van Dijck’s sense of the term – as it provides a forum for fans to gather and have a free discussion about True Blood and express their expectations for Season 4, as well as engage with material posted on the profile.

It is the general perception that networked UGC technologies lead to greater audience participation and that users, when interacting with these technologies, gain “active cultural citizenship” (45e).

In her article, Van Dijck discusses how Youtube’s ranking system promotes ‘favourites’, thereby guiding the popularity of certain videos. She argues that this system of ranking means that, in general, online communities are driven by the site’s, as opposed to the users’, agenda. Thus Van Dijck posits, and I would agree, that Youtube’s interface manipulates “individual users and communities” (45c). In other words, Youtube effectively tells users what videos to view, using algorithms to determine ‘Most viewed’ and ‘Top rated’ categories, which dominate Youtube’s homepage –

“…users are steered towards a particular video by means of coded mechanisms” (45d).

Youtube Homepage

For example, we all remember the cheeky, chubby baby Charlie who ferociously bit his brother’s finger. But how did this clip find its way around the world in a matter of days? Had it not been promoted, almost advertised, as a ‘Top Rated’ video on Youtube, I would argue that it wouldn’t have.

This proves, to borrow a phrase from Van Dijck, the “site’s coded abilities to steer and direct users” (46) and how it can have serious implications on the realm of so-called ‘user-generated’ content, as many sites such as Youtube may indeed be forming these communities.

*All quotes in this blog are taken from this source.

Interactivity: Myth or Reality?

11 May

Week 2: Define “produsage”. Find three examples of “produsage” and explain how they are ‘exploited’.

In this post I will attempt to detail the debate about media interactivity in relation to Web 2.0, looking closely at Gane and Beer’s analysis and drawing on Axel Bruns‘s argument about ‘produsage’.

The notion of media interactivity is by no means a simple one. During my reading, I have found that it is a term which is often used as a way of idealising digital, or ‘new’ media. In this way, as Gane and Beer suggest, the term has become somewhat of a marketing tool –

 “In advertisements for new technologies it is commonplace to see and hear slogans telling us of the new-found functionality of digital media, and of how their ‘interactvity’ can enhance our working lives or leisure time” (Gane and Beer: 2008, 88)

But more on this later…

On to the main focus of this blog post, which will hopefully outline the development of so-termed ‘interactive’ media, that is, “those applications that encourage user-generated content” (Gane and Beer: 2008, 88b). The development of Web 2.0 has brought with it a culture of online interactivity, whereby consumers of Internet-based media become at once users and producers, This phenomenon has, aptly in my opinion, been labelled with the ‘produser‘ hybrid, which defines the shift “from user-as-consumer to user-as-contributer” (Bruns: 2008).

This concept of produsage, while indeed a positive one, does however pose a problem. It has become all too easy for advertisers to exploit the term ‘interactivity’ for commercial and financial gain. This rhetoric is evident in the following example:

So, in an advertising culture in which all media are heaped under the umbrella term ‘interactve’, how can we distinguish between those  media outlets which do indeed facilitate ‘produsage’ and those which fall short of their claims of interactivity? I myself am guilty of getting swept up in this hype and used to think that all digital media are wonderfully coaxing audiences into becoming an active, participatory culture. I now imagine these media as a page of words written in pencil, and would posit that interactivity depends both on the media outlet and form and on the nature and willingness of the consumer to contribute to the culture; to erase and correct the existing content and pencil in new words.

How do we know what constitutes ‘produsage’? And how do we know when we ourselves are ‘produsing’ material of our own and contributing to this sphere of interactivity? Bruns, in The Future is User-Led: The Path Towards Widespread Produsage uses the example of Wikipedia, comparing it with traditional encyclopedias (i.e. ‘Web 1.0’ applications) in order to differentiate between “the process of content production…[and] the collaborative processes…” (Bruns: 2008)

Other examples of ‘produsage’ include the iTunes Store and IMDB, both of which allow consumers to create informational content, such as film reviews, and have a part in the development process.  For instance, my friend created this after making a film in high school:

Don’t Think of Me as a Villain

You may call it narcissistic; but self-indulgent or not, it can’t be denied that this is a perfect example of a site where users ourselves can extend existing online content, thereby ‘produsing’ material and meaning that the creation is no longer wholly run by the actual producer/s.

Works Cited:

Nicholas Gane & David Beer, ‘Interactivity’, in New Media: The Key Concepts, [Oxford: Berg, 2008]