June 22, 2007

Weekend of June 22, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Debora Lui on Produsers and YouTube, Part I of II

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Grant McCracken on Interesting2007, Part I of II

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. This week's update includes the first part of two two-part series, one from C3 graduate student research Debora Lui, and the other from the blog of C3 Affiliated Researcher Grant McCracken. Deb's writing focuses on user-produced content, while Grant looks at his recent trip to London for the Interesting2007 conference.

As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.

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 samford@mit.edu.

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

Produsers and the YouTube Phenomenon, Part I of II

By: Debora Lui

The popular press has heralded YouTube as the site where people are free to express themselves however they like on video and project it out into the world. Whether it be the teens following the footsteps of lonelygirl15, or middle-aged baby boomers voicing resentment of her, an astoundingly diverse set of people use YouTube to broadcast themselves.

But while attention has been focused on YouTube's capacity for uploading videos to the web, what has largely been ignored is its ability to engage its users in other more interactive ways. Axel Bruns, a visiting scholar at CMS this year from the Creative Industries Faculty of Queensland University of Technology in Australia, discusses a new paradigm for understanding how people use new "Web 2.0" media such as YouTube.

He states: "users are becoming active producers of content in a variety of open and collaborative environments. Whether it is as members of the distributed development and testing community for open source software projects, as authors, editors, and fact-checkers for one of the multi-lingual Wikipedia sites, as reporters, commentators, and pundits in open news publications ranging from South Korean citizen news site OhmyNews to tech-nerd haven Slashdot, or as global explorers and annotators for Google Earth, they are no longer producers or consumers, publishers or audiences, but both at the same time. They are not prosumers, but user-producers: produsers." (from http://distributedcreativity.typepad.com/idc_residencies/)

In terms of YouTube, this "produser" activity extends beyond people merely uploading their videos online, but includes the other ways in which people engage on the site, namely how they search for, subscribe to, and comment on uploaded videos. Social networking sites have gained recognition for their capacity to build online communities, but YouTube also accomplishes this through the subscription function on the site. By subscribing, YouTube users can continuously receive the new videos from their favorite members, whose sites are called their "channel".

The content of these channels range from personal videos (including "vlogs," karaoke videos, or comedy skits) to professionally produced content (either appropriated from existing TV or films, or created specifically for the web). The presence of YouTube subscriptions has created a group of well-known YouTube regulars including Daxflame (an awkward 15-year old boy with a quirky video diary) and lisanova (a comedienne who makes parodies of other YouTube channels), as well as groups of dedicated fans who regularly comment, post response videos and create buzz for their heroes. It might seem as if there is great divide between those posting the videos and those subscribing, but the line between the two groups is actually more blurred. While only one person (or group) might produce and upload the original video on the channel, the collective also participates heavily in the production of the entertainment they receive.

Craig Trachtenberg, a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, recently presented a paper on this idea at the 2007 Media in Transition conference at MIT. Using the infamous lonelygirl15 as his primary case study, Trachtenberg explored the ways in which the collective not only consumed but contributed to the evolving narrative of Bree, the titular lonelygirl of the videos. In this case, the questionable veracity of her story actually cultivated an environment in which user comments and responses could impact the narrative of the characters.

One example of this occurred when her subscribers began to question if lonelygirl15 was real or not. Some cited Bree's accent as proof that she was not authentically American as she claimed to be. In order to allay suspicion, the creators made a video where Bree explained that she had spent parts of her childhood in New Zealand (where the actress Jessica Rose, who plays Bree, is actually from) and consequently added to the overall narrative of the series.

The conclusion to this piece will appear in next week's C3 Weekly Update.

Debora Lui is a 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.

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

The Best Business School Is a Soap Company in Ohio? Is Procter & Gamble one of the best places to learn the ins and outs of marketing, and what might that mean for our business schools? Grant McCracken recently observed this trend in relation to the fact that many of his best clients originally worked in Cincinnati.

BBC's Sam Smith and the Notion of "Fragvergence." The BBC's head of future media research writes about technological convergence and the fragmentation of both services and audiences in terms of the future of media research in a thought-provoking piece worth analyzing.

Links for Sunday, June 25: Bringo, OPA Study, Third Screen Media, Gender and Fan Studies. Bringo presents a way to avoid automated telephone services; an Online Publisher's Association study finds official media sites are more likely to get viewers to act on advertisements; Discoery has struck a cross-platform distribution deal with Third Screen; and Ksenia Prasolova and Will Brooker are featured in the latest round of gender debate in the fan studies conversation on Henry Jenkins' blog.

Prom Queen and LonelyGirl15: Spinoffs and Product Integration. These two popular--and well-publicized--Web series have both been in the news lately, with Prom Queen launching a spinoff and LonelyGirl15 featuring its first substantial product integration with Neutrogena.

Name That Product: Doritos X-13D. The chips brand has presented a mystery flavor in stores that it is up to the consumer to name, leading some fans to cheer the promotional effort while others gag over the flavor.

Media and Entertainment a $2 Trillion Global Industry by 2011? A new study from PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that spending on "convergent platforms" will surpass 50 percent of total global entertainment and media spending by 2011 as well.

Children Vs. The First Amendment: Sugary Foods and Marketing to Kids. As the battle regarding the Kellogg's decision continues, the U.S. government gets involved via Rep. Ed Markey, who presents a dichotomy between our children and the First Amendment, emphasizing that we can't sacrifice our kids' health at the altar of free speech.

Autonomy and Authorship Versus Mainstream Distribution: Homestar Runner. The popular animated series has been getting a lot of focus lately after making choices not to jump onto a major television platform, raising the inevitable tension between independent creators and widespread distribution.

VeohTV Creating a Centralized Program to Watch Internet Video Through. With what has been touted as an Internet DVR, the online video company is seeking to attract online video viewers--and advertisers--to a centralized place for viewing.

What Do Commercial Ratings Mean, with Nothing to Compare Them To? What does the first year of commercial ratings really tell us without a benchmark to measure them against, and how are both sides trying to leverage what those numbers mean?

Links for Monday, June 18: YouTube, Bravo, Advertising, Jericho, Comcast, The Election...Too Much to Cover! A lot of interesting moves have been made in the past few weeks, including user-generated questions for presidential candidates, a Comcast island on Second Life, a single-sponsor season premiere for Heroes, the renewal of Jericho, and various other stories.

Are Trix for Kids? Will Other Cereal Brands Follow the Kellogg's Lead? Kellogg's has opted to impose tougher restrictions on which products the company markets to children, leading to increased pressure on other foods companies to follow suit.

--------------- FOLLOW THE BLOG ---------------

Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.

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

Interesting2007, Part I of II: The World Is Sorting

By: Grant McCracken

C3 Affiliated Faculty Grant McCracken shares some recent insight from his blog with us, reporting on a recent conference he attended in London from brand manager Russell Davies. His observations will be concluded in the closing note of next week's Weekly Update.

The world is sorting.

That's the phrase that lept to mind last night, as I sat in a South bank cafe. I was sitting with a small group people gathered in the National Film Theatre cafe, one of those end-of-week drinking places that London does so well, people spilling out of doors (the liquor license, what liquor license?) into the street, in this case, a concrete plaza, drinking, talking, flirting, exclaiming, declaiming, carrying on, leaping from one story to the next, in breathtaking acts of barely managed continuity. The balance! The dexterity! The English, they sure can talk.

The world is sorting because this particular group of drinkers (Russell Davies, Mark McGuinness, Jennifer Lyon Bell, Tim Plester, Marcus Brown and Lauren Brown would not exist were it not for Interesting2007, and this would not exist were it not for the bloggable world.

I sat there at one moment thinking what it would cost me in time and effort to meet any of these people. Tons. Tons of time and effort. But these people have found one another, thanks to the internet, blogging and of course, the present master of ceremony, Russell Davies.

If we are not "on the same page" we found that page with a conversational short hand. And when compressed speech and nimble orientation failed us, we fashioned "same pages" in no time at all. It was wonderful to see how few questions any one of us had to ask to "place" the other.

We come from disparate parts of the world (planner, film maker, anthropologist, poet) and there are great pieces of each world were inscrutable or opaque. But a little scrambling about on a shared but unsuspected catwalk and people began to work out what the other meant, may have meant, or under the circumstances and given what the listener knew about proximate or equivalent parts of the world, almost certainly did mean (give or take).

The world is going in two directions. These differences are expanding. What counts in the world of poetry and film-making may not be so very different, but keeping in touch with the trends, inclinations and cultures that produce the people that produce the poetry or the films, that's a different matter, and if once London nurtured a shared creative culture, now it encourages many hundreds of them. (Was there a big bang at some point in recent memory, our life times, that produced this expanding universe? No, this is one of those cultural things we (we, the West, we the species) have been working up to over thousands of years. It's just the we can now see changes happening in real time.)

Good thing that cat walk is expanding. Good thing we all are pretty good at mobilizing our way out of our present world and transplanting, if only for a moment, into the world of someone else. Our cultural literacy has so expanded, it turns out that most of these differences are negotiable.

But what about traversing this expanding world not intellectually, but actually? What about actually finding somehow in these expanding galaxies. And this is where blogging comes in, as my table at the NFT cafe last night demonstrated so convincingly. What one needs to get a seat at this table is not any of the other gate negotiated affiliations: the right family, the right college, the right club. What one needs is a blog, a readable blog. By this means, we identify ourselves, and one another, as interesting and engaged, and eventually we find one another.

The world is sorting and the implications are, er, interesting. We can imagine a perfect world in which an invisible hand sorts the world so that each of us is put in contant all but only the people we find most interesting. What would happen to what we do, think, accomplish, create? Tons. But what about the collective effects? What happens to the social and cultural worlds are integrated, cross referenced, interpenetrating in this way. This is the $64,000 question, isn't it, and the great challenge for the social sciences and especially anthropology. After all, anthropology was about two things: culture and kinship. Both of these are changed beyond recognition, but not beyond the possibility of anthropological investigation.

Which brings me to Lance Ulanoff and the column he posted in PC magazine on Wednesday. Lance thinks that the social networks are goners. MySpace, Second Life and Twitter are, he says, "doomed," symptoms of the hype that now surrounds Web 2.0. Lance, Lance, Lance. The social networking has only just began. None of these sites (or the others, Facebook, Dopplr, Jaidu, LinkedIn) has got it exactly right, but that can't be for of. Most of us are still making connections by hand, using the bloggable world has our source and our quide. Once someone finds a way to industrialize this process, and harness the power of a machine to replace handcrafting, things will really get going. It may turn out that the ability to watch change happen in real time will be a brief episode that will end as it begins to happen so quickly it evades overwhelms our optic abilities.


Ulanoff, Lance. 2007. MySpace, Second Life, and Twitter Are Doomed: these overyped social networks will soon crumble under the weight of overhyped expectations. PC Magazine. June 13, 2007. here.

The concluding portion of Grant's look at Interesting2007 to this piece will appear in the closing note of next week's C3 Weekly Update.

Grant McCracken is a faculty adviser for C3 and the author of various books on brand management and cultural consumption. He holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago and has been a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, in addition to director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. He is also currently an adjunct professor at McGill University and a corporate consultant on brand management. His blog is located at http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/.

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (samford@mit.edu)

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