February 20, 2006


In this issue:

- Grant McCracken on Internet 2.0
- Sam Ford on actor fan communities
- our music purchases are influenced by others
- VOD networks try to create own up-front

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Reminder, to mark your calendars for the annual C3 conference to be held at MIT April 27-28. More details to follow in subsequent updates.

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

Internet 2.0: The Economic, Social and Cultural Consequences of the New Internet
by Grant McCracken

Our enthusiasm for the Internet is returning.  The nuclear winter that followed April 2000 has lifted.  The startups are back, baby.  Microsoft is once more playing catch up.

If you are a civilian like me (an anthropologist, that is, without much technical savvy), it's a little mystifying.  Will Internet 2.0 change everything or just some things?  Is this a revolutionary moment or an evolutionary one?  Is everything I know wrong, or just this, that and the other thing?  Is this 2.0h! or merely 2.0.

I was listening to a podcast  in which Jenny Attiyeh interviews David Weinberger, Chris Nolan, and Stowe Boyd.  And it filled me with that sense of panic that always happens when I listen to people talk about the future.  Intellectually, I begin to hyperventilate.  What if everything I know is wrong!  Maybe the world is once more taking leave of my senses.

Here are three models that sort out the possibilities for me.  Consider them a kind of telescope.  Those who buy model 3, probably also buy models 2 and 1.  Those who buy 2, probably also buy 1 (but not 3).  Those who buy model 1 only buy model 1.  I make no claims for the veracity or the utility of these models.  But writing them out helped return my pulse almost to normal.

Model one: disintermediation

The Internet is an efficiency machine.  It removes the friction that stands between buyers and sellers.  Now Dell can sell directly, from factories to consumers.  Now Amazon can disintermediate the bookstore and someday the publisher.  We are on the verge of being able to tell how much of the marketplace was about the accidents, not the essentials, of supply and demand.  Markets will verge on maximal efficiency.

In this model, the revolution runs deep but its structural effects are limited.  Really, we live in the same old world.  It's just that certain pieces have been taken out.  Hey, we didn't need them anyhow.  The world is merely more compact, more elegant.  And that's a good thing.

Model two: long tail

The Internet is a profusion machine.  It allows small cultural producers to find small cultural consumers, and as a result, all hell is breaking lose.  Chris Anderson's long tail model (and my own plenitude model) says that the tiny acts of innovation, rebellion and refusal that used to die in obscurity can now, some of them, find just enough fellow travellers to sustain themselves.  As a result, the gravitational power of the center is being made to creak like the mast of an 18th century man of war in a perfect storm.  It might hold...or maybe this is the moment to throw ourselves overboard.

I recently had dinner with a journalist who belongs to the upper reaches of the newspaper elite.  Casually, ever so casually, she let slip that the great newspapers may not exist five years from now.  This is a very good way to get an anthropologist's attention and make his head spin.  I had to leave the table.  My paper bag was in the cloak room.

In effect, the long tail model is an efficiency model too.  It says that now that people can reach one another, they will reach one another.  The costs of access, the friction created by the media, has dropped to almost nothing.  But this model goes vastly beyond the efficiency model.  It says that the structural effects of the Internet 2.0 will not be merely a matter of making the economy more efficient.  There will also be social consequences large and small.  The world will ramify.  Elites will fall.  Diversity will flourish.  The fundamentals of association and government will transform.  In short, the very nature of the social beast will change.

This is not a disintermediated world with "bits taken out."  This is the world less hierarchical and more heterogeneous, a whole with more, and more various, parts now wired and networked in new ways.

Model three: reformation

The Internet is a reformation machine.  It will create new fundamentals of and for our world.  It change the units of analysis and the relationships between them.  This reformation model says, in other words, that the coming changes will deeply cultural...and not merely social (model 2) and economic (model 1).

I noticed this doing research in Korea.  Teens and college students were creating new networks with webpages (the local equivalent of MySpace) and the clouds of photos and messages they were sending one another.  I assumed that this was Model 2 stuff, a change in fundamentals of interaction, until they began to talk about themselves in new ways.

It became clear eventually that these people were reforming personhood and the self.  The self was not merely better connected, but now more porous, more distributed, more cloud like.  This cultural fundamental, the definition of what and who a person is, was changing.  (In the Attiyeh interview, Weinberger talks about buddy lists in the West and what he calls the "continuous presence" of friends.)

When I listen to Clay Shirkey talk about categories of knowledge and the tags by which it is organized, I begin to wonder, as he does more brilliantly than I could hope to, whether we are looking at new ideas of the idea.  This too is a good way to get the anthropologist's attention.  If there is something my tribe cares about, it is culture and the way in which culture defines knowledge of and in the world.  To think that this is now "under construction" is quite enough to make me reach for a paper bag and my best hyperventilation cessation technique.  Just give me a minute.  No, really, I'll be fine.

The reformation model says fundamental categories of our culture (particularly the self and the group and the terms with which we think about them) are changing.  We are now down to what is sometimes called the DNA level of things.  This isn't actually a great metaphor for anthropological purposes, but the phrase is a tag, so you know what I mean.  Model 3 is not about faster markets or new networks.  This is a change in the basic terms of reference, the very  internal blue print with which we understand and construct the world.

Model four:  continuous presense (everything and everyone all the time)

One way to assess innovations is to make a guess about where we are headed.  I think our economic, social and cultural destination might be this: we will be continuously connected to all knowledge and all people with a minimum of friction, and privilege will be measured, in part, by how good are the filters with which we make contact with all but only the people and knowledge we care about.  One of these filters will, I hope, be a "pattern recognition" system that detects the fundamental changes set in train by models 1, 2 and 3 so that we can have a little early warning.  Because, frankly, you know, I've just about had it.

-- Jenny Attiyeh interviews David Weinberger, Chris Nolan, and Stowe Boyd.  Thoughtcast. 

-- Shirky, Clay.  2005.  Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags.  Clay Shirky's Writings About the Internet.


Video-on-demand networks Anime Network, RipeTV and Music Choice are trying to develop a separate upfront for the VOD marketplace this spring.

NBC is creating a web-only talent contest show called Star Tomorrow. The winner gets a record deal with Tommy Motola.

Warren Buffett's image and voice will be used to bring financial mentor to life in animated DVD series for children by a British brand management company DIC Entertainment.

Chris Anderson in his "Long Tail" blog writes about the death of blockbuster films: "Hollywood hits are losing their power. It's not nearly as dire as in music, but it's trending in the same direction. Does this mean the end of movies? Not at all--there have never been more films made, just as there has never been more music available than today, despite the fact that the bestsellers sell less. It's not that people aren't watching films and listening to music, it's that they're watching different films and different music--we're just not following the herd to the same hits the way we used to."

Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue goes transmedia. The video content for the new edition was made available for downloads on iTunes for $1.99 each.
-- SI Swimsuit site: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/features/2006_swimsuit/
-- News: http://money.cnn.com/2006/02/14/news/funny/swimsuit/index.htm?section=money_latest

The social networking site MySpace plans to launch of a cellular service that will let users read and post to the site for free.

RealNetworks has signed a deal with Gorillaz to create a game based on the band.
-- Game's site (only a trailer available): http://www.mrgoodliving.com/Gorillaz/.
-- Press release:  http://www.perssupport.nl/Home/Persberichten/Actueel?itemId=75607


A new study reveals that we make our music purchases based partly on our perceived preferences of others.

Nielsen Media Research says it will include college students in its national TV ratings early next year. The company will measure viewing for students living in dorms, sorority and fraternity houses and off-campus apartments. Nielsen considers this to be ìextended homeî viewing, since participants are members of Nielsen households that have moved away for college.


Coke's profits fell from $1.2bn to $864m in the fourth quarter of last year, mainly due to double-digit increases in marketing and innovation spending.

Google has opened up bidding for print ads via AdWords, and advertisers can now, during a test phase, bid for ads in various lifestyle and technology magazines.

McDonald's has launched a campaign that aim to transform Ronald McDonald into a hip character that appeals to the 20-something market.


Sling Media, the remote-access company which allows people to watch their home-stored digital media remotely, has raised a $46 million round, led by Goldman, Sachs & Co., Liberty Media Corporation and Echostar Communications.

Nintendo plans upgrade its Nintendo DS handheld game console with a digital TV tuner and Internet browser later this year.

Konami will market a new portable game Otoizm  in which the player "raises" virtual characters by giving them a "steady diet" of music, in an iPod-meets-Tamagotchi fashion.


With the Oscar nominees named recently, the race for all of the categories seem to be heating up.  Several of the categories seem to have runaway favorites, with most people expecting "Brokeback Mountain" and Philip Seymour Hoffman to get their respective nods.  However, it is interesting to look at the five nominees for best actor and look at the openly visible fan communities that surround the star image and the work of these five.  As you might suspect, the fan activity isn't always predictable and also isn't always completely in line with what the Oscars will probably decide.

For instance, even though PSH seems to be the odds-on favorite to take home the statue, most of the online sites I could find for him--through Google, anyway--were abandoned.  Hoffman was one of those longshots, up-and-coming actors with a lot of talent but chiefly only in supporting roles.  Fan communities like to rally behind cases like that.  So, it may or may not be that surprising, that many of the Web sites for Hoffman quit updating regularly once he moved from under the radar to above it.

On the other hand, Terrence Howard hasn't really even registered on the radar yet.  I found a fan community page dedicated to him through Yahoo groups that seems to be often updated, but Google provided very few other sites dedicated to the actor's work, as Howard has really just burst on the acting scene in a major way in 2005.

No surprise that Heath Ledger was the driving force of a lot of fan dedication sites, as he has a sizable female fan base and also has garnered a lot of attention for the gay community after "Brokeback Mountain."  Similarly, Joaquin Phoenix has quite a bit of fan support and a lot of sites dedicated to him, many of which have been updated regularly in the days since his stellar performance as Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line."

The big surprise, perhaps, is the number of sites found dedicated to David Straithairn, the veteran actor nominated for an award for his portrayal of Edward Murrow in "Good Night and Good Luck."  Straithairn has a very active fan community.  Although some of the sites have not been updated recently, the links provided are just a few of the sites dedicated to Straithairn.

What does this mean for the Oscars?  Perhaps it means nothing at all. 
But this has been a particularly interesting year, when very few of the traditional favorites are up for nominations and the field is full of longtime actors who have never gotten such mainstream attention or else relatively fresh faces to Hollywood getting one of their first serious roles.  And seeing what fan communities surround some of these unlikely candidates may help demonstrate what brought these men to the roles they were lucky enough to get to and the fans who have supported them through the years or through their rise to prominence.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Joaquin Phoenix

Heath Ledger

David Strathairn

Terrence Howard

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Compiled by Ilya, Sam, Alec, Geoff, Ivan and Parmesh.
Special contributions: Grant McCracken, William Uricchio
Edited and signed off by Ilya (ivv@mit.edu)

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