November 03, 2006


- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Debora Lui writes about Social Networking Research at C3 and the work of danah boyd
- Looking Forward: C3's The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT in Nov.
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Doris C. Rusch with a Female View on Perspectives in Games, Part I

--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.This week'supdate features an opening note from one of our new graduate student media analysts here at the consortium, Debora Lui, who looks at the work of researcher danah boyd and upcoming C3 work on social networking and how these online networking sites function in many users' lives.

The closing note is the first in a two-part series from Doris C. Rusch, one of our affiliated faculty researchers here at C3 and a postdoctorate fellow at the Institute for Design and Assessment of Technology at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, who writes about a female perspective on points-of-view in games in the first of a two-part series for the C3 Weekly Update.

As usual, the update also includes links to all the entries from the week from the Convergence Culture Consortium blog.Some of you all are already contributors to the blog or else regular followers and even commenters on the blog. We encourage everyone who is part of the C3 team, including faculty and corporate partners, to engage in this public part of C3's work. Again, we apologize for some old entries being sent out in RSS feeds while the blog was down for a couple of days over the weekend, but everything is straightened out now, and the blog should not have to be pulled down again. The site now includes a tab to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do that if you visit it on a regular basis.

And this week's newsletter also features a reminder about the upcoming Futures of Entertainment Conference here at MIT.

Also, we are in the process of switching the newsletter distribution style over to a centralized e-mail list for each partner company and a separate one for affiliated faculty. Several of you may have received invitations to accept membership to this e-mail list. If you have received an invitation, please accept it, as we work on transferring the newsletter's distribution to that format.

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 Weekly Update, at

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

Soc.Net Research

By: Debora Lui

Back when Friendster started in 2002, I was among the first wave of users on the site. As a recent college graduate, I had definitely considered myself one of the early adopters of the site, and, because of this, I was pleased to be asked to join the team of C3 this fall. Soc.Net is one of C3’s new research initiatives, a project dedicated to researching the numerous social networking sites that have become popular in recent years. I had witnessed the rise of Friendster first hand and thought that I would have a good grounding on which to found my research.

After starting my work with the group, however, I was surprised to see how far behind I was in understanding the social function of these sites. For me, Friendster and its descendents had been entertaining diversions online, but for many of the teens that use it today, these sites have become an essential part of their every day, peer-to-peer communication. danah boyd, a Ph.D. student in Information Management at UC Berkeley (and one of the experts in this field), argues that sites like MySpace allow for the “synchronous” communication that teens have become accustomed to through IM (Instant Messaging). boyd says: “Checking messages and getting comments is what brings people back to MySpace everyday.”

Additionally, the value of MySpace to teens extends beyond their messaging capacities; boyd explains that social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook provide a platform for teenage “identity production.” At a time when teens are often unsure of who they are, social networking sites can provide a powerful tool in developing an identity that can be carefully crafted and projected over the internet. While many parents are afraid of such widespread exposure of their children, boyd argues that teens are fully aware of how public their profiles are, and often use this as leverage to make themselves appear “cooler” in the eyes of other teens. In other words, the more popular your profile is (which is measured by the number of comments you have received), the more popular you are.

All of this might not matter to an adult, whose offline life is the basis for their social identity, but teens have a different conception of social space. For the most part (boyd argues), a teen’s physical space is controlled, and being online allows them to create their own private “youth spaces,” which are not mediated by an adult presence. In the past, teens’ private spaces were found primarily within the “interstices of controlled space,” such as bedrooms behind closed doors, hidden spaces with the school environment (in alleys, under school bleachers, etc.) or in the non-commercial spaces within malls.

This shift in the social networking sites’ use as an occasional on-line destination to the center of a teen’s social life has occurred at an astoundingly fast rate. Half of today’s undergraduates are already too old to have taken part in this new revolution. This is not to say that adults are not active members of the on-line social networking community, however.

Social networking sites with specific purposes, such as LinkedIn for business networking and Flickr for photo posting, have a large contingent of adult users. Additionally, adults are still using more traditional social networking sites like Tribe and Friendster (though arguably this use has been already declining for a few years), though their use of these sites is markedly different than teens’ use of Facebook and MySpace.

Adults typically see social networking sites as an extension of their real-world relationships and are not yet clear on how to move through the sites in ways that do not conflict with what is happening to them in real life. There have been countless stories about people who have misunderstood the functionality of social networking sites and found themselves in awkward real-life situations because of this.

Teens, however, fully understand how on-line social networks can be intricately tied to their real-world relationships. Because of this, teens easily navigate themselves through the world of MySpace and Facebook without running into any of the problems that their adult counterparts faced in the past. This ability to understand how to move through these social spaces will certainly give teens better professional and social skills for the future. boyd writes: “Although adults often perceive hanging out [on-line] to be wasted time, it is how youth get socialized into peer groups. Hanging out amongst friends allows teens to build relationship and stay connected. Much of what is shared between youth is culture -- fashion, music, media. The rest is simply presence. This is important in the development of a social worldview.”

Research concerning social networking sites has to take into account the users of the site. A recent (middle-aged) CMS colloquium speaker perhaps put it best when he admitted: “I don’t understand social networking sites like MySpace and I probably never will.” Although there is an age divide to overcome, we should consider seriously at the ways in which social networking sites have infiltrated young people’s lives. In our research this year, we are consciously looking beyond the basic functionality of these sites to the social function of these sites as they play out in the real world. How can our overall understanding of these sites as businesses and marketing tools be informed by our understanding of these sites as a social force?

The work of danah boyd's referenced in this piece is primarily from "Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace," a piece of research presented at the 2006 American Association for the Advancement of Science Conference in February in St. Louis which is available at boyd's Web site at

Debora Lui is a new graduate media analyst with the Convergence Culture Consortium and a Master's candidate in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. Lui is a 2003 alumna of MIT with a double major in architecture and management science. She is interested in studying the history of spectatorship and the sensory interfaces that audiences use to engage with media, particularly in how they can relate to our connection to architecture and our physical environment, as well as film and television studies.

---------- ANNOUNCEMENTS ----------

C3 Presents The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT Nov. 17 and Nov. 18

The conference, presented in conjunction with the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, will feature leading scholars and critics in the media industry, as well as industry executives. Speakers includeFlickr's Caterina Fake, DC Comics' Paul Levitz, Warner Brothers' Diane Nelson, Big Spaceship's Michael Lebowitz, social networking researcher danah boyd, television scholar Jason Mittell and others, including representatives from MTV Networks, The Cartoon Network, Bioware and other companies that are currently being finalized.

Panels will include: Television Futures, User-Generated Content, Transmedia Properties, Fan Cultures, and Not the Real World Anymore, a look at virtual spaces.

Registration is now closed for the free conference, but we look forward to seeing representatives from each of our partners present in two weeks here at MIT!

For more information on the Futures of Entertainment, go tothis website.

---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------

After All the Debate, Commercial Ratings Once Again Delayed. The commercial ratings that have been discussed, debated, and argued over since June are now delayed indefinitely among continued debate among Nielsen, the advertisers, and the television industry.

Number of DVR Viewers Up, Amidst Continued Industry Debate. Shows are garnering more DVR views than ever, sometimes not being watched for more than a day later, and the television industry continues to argue how to shift measurements in a way that most accurately represents this change in viewer behavior.

Tape It Off the Internet: The Future of Navigating Internet TV Options? The new social networking site for indexing television shows available through the Internet provides what could become a valuable tool for those wishing to manage the increasing number of avenues through which to find online television content.

Announcement of Updated C3 Site. A revised version of C3's site, with updated information on C3's focus and dedicated spaces that are password-protected for each corporate partner, is now up and running.

Legacy Characters and Rich History: How Soap Operas Must Capitalize on Their History (and Pay Attention to the Lessons of the WWE). With the return of the heralded Luke and Laura toGeneral Hospital, the daytime drama television industry should start thinking about how fans outside the targeted age group are attractive as recruiters for fans within the desired demographic.

After the Hype...A NY TimesPerspective on Google/YouTube. TheTimesDealBook looks at the recent controversies surrounding YouTube and the Google purchase, now that a little time has passed, claiming that harsh realities are setting in now that the "giddiness" of the purchase is over.

The Fans Aren't Laughing: YouTube and Comedy Central. The blogosphere is debating how far Comedy Central plans to go with pulling content from YouTube, what the distinctions are between what gets pulled and what stays, and what it means for negotiations between the company and YouTube.

Taking the You Out of YouTube. Henry Jenkins writes about the recent YouTube related controversies and includes the comments that appeared recently here in the C3 Weekly Update from Media Analyst Geoffrey Long.

Fan Fiction: Historical Misconceptions and Paratextual Arguments. A new article from theUK Observerand comments on earlier blog posts from K. Faith Lawrence spark continued debates about the organized world of fan fiction, who the average fan is, and how fan fiction should be archived.

HotSoup/MSNBC a Powerful Combination or Hype and Bluster? The new political discussion site has been heralded as a new hotspot for political debate amidst its new deal with the cable news network, but a recent piece by William Beutler debates whether the site has proven to be worth its hype thus far.

Our Country, Our Truck? Or Our Desperation? General Motors' new patriotic ad campaign has been causing a lot of discussion...and disgust...within the advertising industry among people who feel the ads are heavy-handed in their use of harrowing images from the nation's history. The company and the fans of its brand, however, voice their support.

Is Cancellation of Complex Shows Inevitable? Drop-Happy Networks Run Off Would-Be Fans. Bill Carter's recent piece in theNew York Timeshighlights the problems in the industry with complex shows not performing well. The question is why.

The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness. Newsweek's Steven Levy has a new book looking at the iPod's impact on American culture and the entertainment industries that it has revolutionized.

PassionsTabloid Providing Great Transmedia Storytelling Opportunities. The NBC soap features a site for the tabloid written by one of its characters that is generating great controversy on the show.

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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------

“So, you’re probably asking yourself how a handsome devil like me ended up in a place like this with you, right?” – Part 1

By: Doris C. Rusch

As part of my research project about “involvement and meaning-making mechanisms of dramatic computer games”, I’m sketching a game to illustrate my concept of dynamic meaning generation (I’ve written about this for this newsletter before).And inevitably, one question occurred right at the beginning: Should it be a first person or a third person game?I caught myself answering this question intuitively. Third person, I decided, since I don’t like first person games. But is it really the perspective that bothers me or the games that use it? That got me thinking about the relationship between implied player and his or her avatar. After discussing this with students and colleagues, especially Nikolaus König, I would like to offer a personal and deliberately female view on the question of placeholder design in computer games.

After thinking about third and first person games for a while and the different ways they influence the playing experience, I noticed that the two terms had become synonymous in my mind for two distinct strategies of placeholder design. Every embodiment of the player on screen consists of two components: a role that is more or less clearly defined by the game and the way this role is interpreted and played by the player.The strategy I associate with first person games (but which is sometimes also employed in third person games), is to minimize the gap between the player and the role she takes on screen. The strategy I associate with third person games is to make the player a clearly defined identification offer, including a visible avatar with a personal history and strong personality traits.

The “first person strategy” (fps) tries to lure the player into the world by blurring the boundaries between reality and virtuality. Much emphasis is put on agency, on the illusion of reaching through a portal (rather than sitting in front of a computer screen) and manipulating the game world with your virtual arms. The less you are distracted from this processof becoming part of the game, the better - or so goes the argument for fps. Thus, only parts of the body are visible (except for cut-scenes and when passing mirrors etc.), and sometimes you are told that you have lost your memory, making it plausible that at first the player is disoriented and a little lost. The effect should be (almost) total immersion.

But the chance to transform into a game character can quite easily become an insurmountable challenge. If it is met or not strongly depends on the player’s affinity to the role the game offers to play, and the things it allows the player to do. For me, this makes the fps used by current games quite unattractive, because I find it hard to adopt the roles these games offer at the moment. I have no affinity to shooting a gun just for shooting’s sake. Give me a story, a strong character to identify with, and maybe it will make sense to me. Also, the roles suggested by fps games are mostly male, the hands you see belong to a man. I can role-play a man. No problem. I have done it many times before. But I cannot cope with too much freedom. I need the constraints of a story and a clearly-defined role to give in to the illusion of being someone else. I need some input to get my imagination going, to know who I am and how I am supposed to feel.

The second part of Rusch's piece will be the opening note for next week's Weekly Update.

Doris C. Rusch is an affiliated researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and is currently a postdoctorate fellow at the Institute for Design and Assessment of Technology at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria.


Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (

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