C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Hello everyone, and welcome to the C3 Weekly Update! As we round out February, the Consortium is moving ahead with its research projects. The YouTube project continues developing now that we are doing a thorough content analysis from across all of our coding samples, and we plan to start distributing some interesting bits through the C3 Weekly Update in the coming weeks, in preview of the white paper we are putting together and the C3 Partners Retreat in May. Meanwhile, the students are currently wrapping up a draft of work on understanding the nature of viral media, which we look forward to sharing through the newsletter and other venues in the coming months.

Speaking of viral, our colloquium event went well last Thursday night. In addition to having C3 Consulting Researcher Shenja van der Graaf participating in the event, we were glad to see some folks there representing C3 partners. I know many of you weren't here in Boston for the event, but the conversation was recorded for podcast by the team at the Program in Comparative Media Studies and will be made available through their site, and ours, in the coming weeks. As you will see in the blog section later in the newsletter, I included some notes on our Consortium weblog during the event, and we hope you all find the event of interest. It was certainly in line with many of the issues we've been researching of late in terms of viral media, the use and usefulness of that biological metaphor, and the C3 team's notion of spreadability. In particular, these student projects are focusing on viral marketing, viral distribution, and viral aesthetics, and they feed into a Consortium-wide focus on the digital spread of media content among audience members.

Otherwise, several members of the C3 community are planning on converging in Philadelphia in a couple of weeks for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, where a variety of Consortium academic members will be presenting research. Look at the "upcoming" calendar for more information on the focuses of those presentations. Since C3 Director Henry Jenkins, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, and myself are all presenting at the conference, we look forwarding to seeing several member of our community of consulting researchers there for the event. If any members of our corporate partner companies are interested in more information about what SCMS is and what the conference is about, feel free to get in touch.

Finally, we wanted to note that the Lev Manovich talk at MIT mentioned in last week's C3 Weekly Update has been postponed, so that event will not be taking place as part of our retreat event here in May. We will have more information forthcoming about our schedule of events for that Thursday and Friday.

CMS Research Fair

Illustration 2

This Thursday, we are participating in the Program in Comparative Media Studies' Research Fair, which will include not just the Consortium but all of the other research groups affiliated with our program here at CMS. Those groups include The Center for Future Civic Media, The Education Arcade, The HyperStudio Laboratory for Digital Humanities, Project New Media Literacies, and The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. We would love for several of you to join us, not just to get a chance to talk about what the Consortium does but also to see the wide variety of work that the CMS program is involved with and what our sister research projects are currently working on. For those of you who receive this newsletter without a clear understanding as to the research environment our work is accomplished in, or the overarching interest of the program we are situated in, we encourage you to come to this event and learn about some of these other projects. If you have any questions about Thursday's event, please don't hesitate to get in touch directly.

Otherwise, don't forget to mark your calendars for the Consortium Retreat on Thursday, May 08, and Friday, May 09. It will be a chance for the Consortium to come together for our team, some of our consulting researchers, and representatives from C3's partners to discuss current issues in studying, creating, and distributing content in the media industries. Our team will present some portions of the research that we've been working on to provoke a discussion across the Consortium, and we will further discuss the future direction of the Consortium's focus and work as this research project continues to evolve, thanks in part to the various contributions from many of our readers and contributors.

This Week's C3 Weekly Update

This week's newsletter concludes two series. We run the final piece of Henry Jenkins' update of his work in Convergence Culture in the Opening Note. We'd love to hear any feedback you might have about Henry's work as it waits for eventual publication in the paperback version of the Consortium's title book, as well as an upcoming anthology edited by Jonathan Gray.

The Closing Note this week is a conclusion to the piece that C3 Consulting Researcher Stefan Werning has been running for some time on programmable technologies in business contexts.

And, as usual, we include links to the latest blog posts from the Consortium's site. This week's blog posts include pieces from myself and our team of graduate student researchers, as well as C3 Director Henry Jenkins.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, editor of the C3 Weekly Update, at


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Henry Jenkins on the CNN/YouTube Debates, Part VI

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Stefan Werning on Programmable Technologies in Business Contexts, Part III


Thursday, Feb. 28, 5-7 p.m.
CMS Research Fair 2008
Featuring CMS Research Groups, including the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium: TSMC Lobby and Bldg. 32, Rm. 155, Stata Center

Thursday, March 06-Sunday, March 09
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Philadelphia
Featuring the following presentations:
Understanding Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds by C3 Project Manager Sam Ford
Bond in Bondage: Ratings Creep, Violence, and Casino Royale by C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler
The Public Sphere in a "Hybrid Media Ecology": YouTube, Network Television, and Presidential Politics by C3 Director Henry Jenkins
Architectures of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of LostPedia by C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All "Users"? by C3 Research Manager Joshua Green
Framing Motion: Early Cinema's Conservative Method's of Display by C3 Consulting Researcher Ted Hovet
Scholarly Writing in the Digital Age workshop featuring C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The Future of Television Studies workshop chaired by C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio
Location Matters: Spatial Logics of Bollywood-Dotcom Convergence by C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar

Thursday, March 06, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition
Featuring Howard Gordon, Barbara Hall, and John Romano: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Saturday, March 08, 2-3 p.m.
South by Southwest Interactive Opening Remarks
Featuring C3 Director Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson, Austin, TX

Thursday, March 13, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Global TV
Featuring Eggo Müller, Roberta Pearson, and William Uricchio: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Friday, March 21, 10-11:30 a.m.
Valuing Fans Outside the Target Demographic: Soap Opera Fans and Proselytizing
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford's presentation as part of the soap opera area of the National Popular Culture Association Conference, San Francisco

Thursday, April 10, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Featuring Yochai Benkler and Cass Sunstein: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Thursday, April 24, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Youth and Civic Engagement
Featuring Lance Bennett, Ian V. Rowe: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Friday, April 25
Console-ing Passions 2008 Conference
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford presents "Outside the Target Demographic" as part of the Gendered Fan Labor in New Media and Old panel.

Thursday, May 08, and Friday, May 09
C3's Spring Retreat

Thursday, May 22, to Monday, May 26
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will make two presentations at this Montreal event. Details forthcoming.

Opening Note

Why Mitt Romney Won't Debate a Snowman, Part VI: The Downsides of Digital Democracy

This concluding portion of a series from C3 Director Henry Jenkins is the culmination of a six-part look at politics and democracy in a digital age. The previous five pieces ran in the past few C3 Opening Notes. This series has given C3 Weekly Update readers an advance version of Jenkins' latest essay, which will be featured as an additional chapter for the paperback edition of Convergence Culture and as part of a forthcoming book from Jonathan Gray, who was one of the speakers at the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference. The previous four pieces in this series have ran in prior Opening Notes.

If this essay can be read as a defense of the Snowman as a meaningful and valid participant in a debate about the future of American democracy, it is at best a qualified defense. I have tried to move us from an understanding of the CNN/YouTube debates through a lens of digital revolution in favor of a model based on the ever more complicated interplay of old and new media and on the hybrid media ecology that has emerged as groups with different motives and goals interact through shared media portals.

I have tried to move beyond thinking of the snowman as trivializing public policy debates towards seeing parody as a strategy which a range of different stakeholders (official and unofficial, commercial and grassroots, entertainers and activists) are deploying towards their own ends, each seeking to use Youtube as a distribution hub and tapping social networks to insure the broader circulation of their content.

While I believe very firmly in the potential for participatory culture to serve as a catalyst for revitalizing civic life, we still fall short of the full realization of those ideals. As John McMuria has noted, the democratic promise of YouTube as a site open to everyone's participation is tempered by the reality that participation is unevenly distributed across the culture. An open platform does not necessarily insure diversity. The mechanisms of user-moderation work well when they help us to evaluate collectively the merits of individual contributions and thus push to the top the best content; they work badly when they pre-empt the expression of minority perspectives and hide unpopular and alternative content from view.

Chuck Tyron has argued that the speed with which such videos are produced and circulated can undercut the desired pedagogical and activist goals, sparking short-lived and superficial conversations among consumers who are always looking over their shoulders for the next new thing. To put it mildly, the user comments posted on YouTube fall far short of Habermassian ideals of the public sphere, as was suggested by one blogger's parody of the CNN/YouTube debates. Here, the candidates interact in ways more commonly associated with the online responses to the posted videos:

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: omg that video was totaly gay

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Shut up Dodd thats offensive when u say gay like that.

FORMER SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: Check out my vids at

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: to answre your question bush is a facist who only wants more power. hes not even the president you knopw, cheny is. i would b different because i would have a vice presidant that doesnt just try and control everything from behind the seens/


See more here.

Here, YouTube is associated more with mangled syntax, poor spelling, misinformation, and fractured logic than with any degree of political self-consciousness or citizenly discourse. Yet, Youtube can not be understood in isolation from a range of other blogging and social network sites where the videos often get discussed in greater depth and substance.

The insulting tone of this depicted interaction captures something of the no-holds-barred nature of political dialogue on Youtube. In an election whose candidates include women, African-Americans and Hispanics, Catholics and Mormons, groups which have historically been under-represented in American political life, online parody often embraces racist, sexist, and xenophobic humor, which further discourages minority participation or conversations across ideological differences.

One popular genre of internet parodies depict insult matches between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or their supporters (typically represented as women and minorities). One prototype of this style of humor was a MADtv sketch, which drew more than half a million viewers when it was posted online. The sketch ends with a Guiliani supporter clapping as the two Democratic campaigns rip each other apart, suggesting an interpretation focused on the dangers of party infighting. But, this frame figures little in the public response to the video, whether in the form of comments posted on the site (such as one person who complained about being forced "to pick between a Nigger and a woman") or videos generated by amateur media producers (which often push the original's already over-the-line humor to even nastier extremes).

Here, "politically incorrect" comedy provides a opportunity for the public to laugh at the the unseemly spectacle of a struggle between women and African-Americans or may offers a justification for trotting out ancient but still hurtful slurs and allegations -- women are inappropriate for public office because of, haw, "that time of the month"; African-American men are irresponsible because they are, haha, likely to desert their families, to go to jail, or experiment with drugs.

Another website posted a range of Photoshop collages about the campaign submitted by readers, including ones showing Hillary in a yellow jump suit waving a samurai sword on a mocked-up poster for Kill Bill, Obama is depicted as Borat in a parody which plays upon his foreign sounding name, and Obama is depicted as a chauffer driving around Mrs. Clinton in an ad for a remake of Driving Miss Daisy. (See here).

Such parodies use humor to put minority candidates and voters back in "their place," suggesting that women and blacks are inappropriate candidates for the nation's highest office. This problem may originate from the interplay between old and new media: the racist and sexist assumptions structured the original MadTV segment and may account for why internet fans were drawn to it in the first place; the subsequent reactions amplify its problematic aspects, though the amateur responses stoop lower than network standards and practices would allow.

In doing so, Internet parody producers fall far short of the "ethical spectacles." In Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, Stephen Duncombe advocates: "A progressive ethical spectacle will be one that is directly democratic, breaks down hierarchies, fosters community, allows for diversity, and engages with reality while asking what new realities might be possible" (126).

By contrast, too many of the parody videos currently circulating on YouTube do the opposite -- promoting traditional authority, preserving gender and racial hierarchies, fragmenting communities, discouraging diversity, and refusing to imagine any kind of social order other than the one which has long dominated American government. Speaking to a Mother Jones reporter, Lawrence Lessig explained, "If you look at the top 100 things on YouTube or Google it's not like it's compelling art. There's going to be a lot of questions about whether it's compelling politics either. We can still play ugly in lots of ways, but the traditional ways of playing ugly are sort of over." All of this is to suggest that Romney would have faced things far more frightening than snowmen if he had ventured into the uncharted and untamed space of YouTube rather than the filtered and protected space provided him by CNN.

The advent of new production tools and distribution channels have lowered barriers of entry into the marketplace of ideas. These shifts place resources for activism and social commentary into the hands of everyday citizens, resources which were once the exclusive domain of the candidates, the parties, and the mass media. These citizens have increasingly turned towards parody as a rhetorical practice which allows them to express their skepticism towards 'politics as usual,' to break out of the exclusionary language through which many discussions of public policy are conducted, to find a shared language of borrowed images that mobilize what they know as consumers to reflect on the political process.

Such practices blur the lines between producer and consumer, between consumers and citizens, between the commercial and the amateur and between education, activism, and entertainment, as groups with competing and contradictory motives deploy parody to serve their own ends. These tactics are drawing many into the debates who would once have paid little or no attention to the campaign process. As they have done so, they have brought to the surface both inequalities in participation and deep rooted hostilities between groups within American society. Democracy has always been a messy business: the politics of parody offer us no easy way out yet it does offer us a chance to rewrite the rules and transform the language through which our civic life is conducted.


Ask a Ninja Special Delivery 4 "Net Neutrality"
Billiam the Snowman -- CNN/YouTube Debate: Global Warming
Billiam the Snowman -- The Original
Billiam the Snowman -- Billiam the Snowman Responds to Mitt Romney
CNN, Snowman Vs. Romney
Donald Trump Fires Bush
"Keep America Beautiful"
Lyndon Johnson -- "Daisy"
Bill Holt, Mitt Romney Meets Jaguar
Hillary Clinton -- Sopranos Spoof
Jackie and Dunlap on the CNN YouTube Democratic Debate
John Edwards, "Hair"
MadTV, Hillary vs. Obama
Mike Huckabee, "Chuck Norris Approved"
Mckathomas, "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran"
Obama Girl, "I Got a Crush…On Obama"
ParkRidge47, "Vote Different"
RCFriedman Snowman Challenges Mitt Romney to Debate
RogerRmJet "John Edwards Feeling Pretty"
SmallMediaXL, "I'm a Democrat, I'm a Republican"
This Spartan Life, "Net Neutrality"
Toutsmith, "Al Gore's Penquin Army"
TPMtv I'm Rudy Guiliani and I Approve This Message
"YouTubers & Snowmen Unite AGAINST Romney!"

Henry Jenkins is the chief faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is Director of the Comparative Media Studies program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities at MIT. His blog is available here.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

FCC Hearing on the Future of the Internet. Sam Ford writes about Monday's hearing in Boston from the Federal Communications Commission on Internet policy, held at Harvard Law School, and about some of the biggest issues being discussed around the hearing, particularly net neutrality.

GL Makes Major Shift in Soap Opera Production This Week. Sam Ford writes about major technological changes in the world of soap operas, based on innovations from Procter & Gamble's Guiding Light that will debut later this week.

Board Game Franchises Come to Film. Sam Ford writes about a new deal announced between Hasbro and Universal Pictures to make feature films of their most popular board games and the challenges of creating a feature film based on a game like Monopoly.

Transparency and Viral Media--Notes from the CMS/C3 Colloquium. Sam Ford writes about comments made by C3 Consulting Researcher Shenja van der Graaf, Mike Rubenstein, and Natalie Lent, as well as audience members, during last Thursday night's C3-sponsored event, which will be forthcoming in podcast form.

Viral Media--Hows and Whys. Sam Ford writes about this Consortium-sponsored colloquium for the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT last Thursday night, dealing with viral media development and viral marketing.

From Bleak House to Random House. C3 Graduate Student Researcher Ana Domb writes about news that Random House will begin selling individual chapters of some books online and what this model might mean for distribution in other media.


Blu-Ray Declared HD Winner, Ending Format War. Sam Ford writes about some press reaction and thoughts about the conclusion of the high-definition DVD format war and that, while the war might end technological innovation, investment in a central technology might lead to increasing content development and innovation.

Convergence Culture and Behavioral Targeting. C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird writes about some of her own thesis work on online advertising and behavioral targeting in the Sloan School of Management here at MIT.

Fandom, Dialogue, and Independence. Sam Ford writs about community management and the relationship between fans and media properties, based on recent posts from C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets and Nancy Baym.

Around the Consortium: In Media Res, Massless Communication, and User-Generated Branding. Several researchers affiliated with C3 have run pieces recently for the In Media Res project, while C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird has launched a blog based on her thesis research called Massless Communication and C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets writes about "user-generated branding."

UK ISPs and Piracy Monitoring. Sam Ford writes about pressure from the British government for service providers to monitor potential pirates' activities and the ISPs' resistance.

Online Buzz as a Catalyst and a Symptom of Popularity. Sam Ford writes about a recent study looking at potential relationships between blogosphere and social networking discussions about albums and album sales, based on a recent study from the NYU Stern Business School.

Follow the Blog

Don't forget – you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

Economic Codes: Some Thoughts on the Impact of Programmable Technologies in Business Contexts, Part III:
Concluding Thoughts

The first two sections of this series ran in the previous two Closing Notes.

While the brief case study presented last week in the C3 Closing Note focused on one paradigmatic theory of business administration, other popular notions in that field exhibit similar rhetoric and arguments infused with the logic of program code; for instance, Geert Hofstede prominently theorized culture in business contexts as "software that runs on minds" in his 1991 book Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Accordingly, game designers and consultants formulate or at least illustrate their concepts along the lines of algorithmic expressbility. For instance, Michael Bhatty (Ascaron/ phenomedia) designed his model of project management in game development using a quasi-UML model which suggest applicability. in his 2007 /GameStar/dev essay "Der 'Game Director' als Regisseur." More importantly, Bhatty presents a very basal model of quality, time and budget as three vertices of a triangle which is supposed to be rotated to determine the mutual dependency of the 'variables' determined by the respective priority as e.g. a focus on budget lowers quality and raises development time.

Illustration 1

This fairly straightforward idea, thus, appears inspired by or even developed from the tentative visualization of data and relations and the playful permutation of the main parameters in a process which both is reminiscent of Lev Manovich's notion of 'transcoding' as a property of "new" (i.e. digital) media and exemplifies the assumed 'inherent' ludicity of programmable media systems I have posited in an earlier C3 piece and explore further in the context of my dissertation.

The more common-place technique of mood boards and mood paintings to guide the early development process can similarly be read as a quasi-algorithmic piece of 'code' which structures the development team as programmable entity. (cf. e.g. a mood board for the game Killzone in GEE 9, 2004: 38)

Illustration 2

In their 2000 Design Studies essay "Sources of Inspiration," Claudia Eckert and Martin Stacey describe mood boards in the fashion industry as defining a common "language" or at least vocabulary of design, a process which can be extrapolated to describe others aspects of media creation as well. (Eckert/Stacey, 2000) Rather than language in a linguistic sense, I would argue that mood boards 'install' a common set of functions or 'scripts' (largely congruent with the early notion of scripts in AI research after Schank/Abelson) as a decentralized strategy principally in line with the OOP paradigm sketched above. Similar to a database, they represent a structured container of information (separated e.g. by type, color or other formal properties) which produces contingent views of a given topic; in this sense, mood boards, even as 'static' media artefacts, can be considered as a cognitive 'simulation' of possible scenarios just as a piece of program code is a static 'text' describing a dynamic rule system.

As a concluding side note, business models behind the actual games (or, by inference, other media genres) created in such an environment increasingly reflect the OOP rationales that arguably informed their production. One notable recent example is Kwari (Kwari Ltd., 2007), a competitive MMO first-person shooter which imposes no fixed retail costs but requires players to create an account and buy virtual ammunition for real money; moreover, players agree on a 'stake' beforehand and, upon hitting others or being hit, win and lose money respectively. This type of business model ties in closely with concurrent notions like advocacy marketing and the 'collective intelligence' of user groups; it arguably pursues a decentralized, quasi-OOP strategy of providing a loose framework (the accounts) and a few basic algorithms (the emergent playing styles), creating 'instances' of players as semi-autonomous 'objects' which form part of a consistent rule ecology that, in this particular case, simultaneously creates a self-regulating 'financial market.' While those concepts are still a novelty, they become increasingly relevant, promoted by developments like the adoption of micro-payment systems from South-East Asian digital game economies. A final, brief case study shal demonstrate how, sensibly applied, the translation of programmable infrastructures into business models can also open up new opportunities.

Top Secret

Dave Perry's Top Secret project is an attempt at utilizing the potential of community-driven development to create an MMOG with a semi-moderated 'team' of ten-thousands of volunteers tied together through programmable applications like a web environment and asset management tools. (cf. Often discounted as a quirky experiment or publicity stunt, the project should rather be read as a business and development model which is intrinsically designed after the logic of the programmable tools it employs, using participatory culture and specifically fan communities as 'hardware' to run on. (cf. /GameStar/dev 2, 2007) The uniqueness of the project thereby provided for enough applicants to provide the same virtually limitless 'computing' resources that characterize OOP programs which often dynamically utilize a large number of 'objects' for specific purposes. For instance, this constellation implicitly lead to unconventional design processes like having numerous contributors provide hundreds of variations of a required artwork and using online polls or occasionally simply a managerial decision by Dave Perry to select. This mode of development conceptually mimics 'brute force' search algorithms, even using comparably few heuristics by providing only the most basic specifications; at the same time, it allows for the Top Secret project to retain a similar level of flexibility like OOP code.

The development process is segmented as much as possible, following the general programming strategy of using modular, evolving building blocks of code and constant prototyping, epitomized e.g. in fairly recent development styles like Extreme Programming (cf. e.g. Beck, 2000); thus, the project consists of separate but interlocking development 'loops' much like a well-written program. As a side note, Extreme Programming itself exhibits several instances of program code rhetoric like TOC/CCPM, for instance referencing costs, quality, time and scope as "four variables" that need to be adjusted and related to each other successfully; ironically, though, the authors refer to these variables as "levers on some big Victorian steam machine", thus immediately semanticizing their implied program code understanding of handling teams and projects. (27)

Finally, even the very extensively utilized programming practice of code re-use (exemplified e.g. by the numerous derivatives of popular game engines) can be tapped into with the Top Secret project since internal user groupings formed during development, the web environment and even high-quality assets created using the 'brute force' method which did not fit the style of this particular project can be re-used in upcoming business ventures. While this article only allows for a cursory glance, I investigate the topic of economic models derived from program code properties more closely in my dissertation. Perry's Top Secret project will undoubtedly exhibit several initial problems in the final product as would be expected from such a radical rethinking of production techniques but it already clearly demonstrates the potential of synchronizing one's business model with the enabling set of technologies.

Stefan Werning works in the product analysis department of Nintendo of Europe, where he started in March 2007. He joined the Convergence Culture Consortium as a consulting researcher during his semester as a visitor of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT when he was a doctoral candidate and associate lecturer at the Asian Studies Center in Bonn, Germany. He writes on topics including e-learning solutions based on digital games and modeling terrorism in recent military policies to interactive media analysis.

The Fine Print

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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