June 29, 2007

Weekend of June 29, 2007

*Editor's Note

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

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

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

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. This week's update wraps up the two series began last week. In the opening note, C3 graduate student researcher Debora Lui's concludes her look at produsers and YouTube. The closing note comes from the blog of Grant McCracken, looking 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 II of II

By: Debora Lui

Last week, Lui wrote about the concept of the "produser," developed by CMS visiting scholar Axel Bruns from the Creative Industries Faculty of Queensland University of Technology. The concept is of people who are simultaneously users and producers. Deb applies these concepts to YouTube content and the YouTube community.

Perhaps a more extreme example of this video-on-demand (whose content is literally shaped by the involvement of the collective) is ysabellabrave, the YouTube channel for MaryAnne, a 27-year old chanteuse from California. Starting in May 2006, MaryAnne started posting homemade videos of herself singing jazz standards set to karaoke.

At present, she has an astounding 26,110 subscribers and is the 29th most subscribed channel of all time. Her meteoric rise in YouTube has been covered by the mainstream press as well as dozens of bloggers on the web. However, what is interesting about her is not her singing ability or her engaging onscreen presence, but rather her total engagement with her subscribers. In the course of her short YouTube life, she has received thousands of text comments, which include questions, compliments and critiques.

She responds to many of these queries, either through more text comments, making vlogs where she answers subscriber questions, or parody videos where responds to her critics. Her channel has also inspired other people to participate creatively. While one subscriber has created a website for her, many others have created spin-off videos such as mash-ups (where they combine her videos with other footage) and tributes (usually screen shots of her set to music), and even their own channels (one subscriber started posting videos where he sings karaoke in the same style as ysabellabrave).

Recently, in response to some suggestions by her subscribers, MaryAnne has also created a new channel called ysabellabravetalk, where she posts vlogs answering questions about her life and dispensing advice about life.

Of course, YouTube is somewhat democratic medium where even a 'star' such as ysabellabrave can participate as a regular member. She can subscribe to other channels and browse through other people's videos. Oftentimes the relationships that arise through the subscription and response video process, especially in regards to well-known members such as MaryAnne, become public. Rivalries or camaraderies are played out through a series of videos that can continue for weeks.

One example of this includes the current flame war between the comedienne Lisanova and teenaged vlogger Daxflame, which began when the former parodied one of the 15-year old's videos. Consequently, many videos on YouTube are not objects that can be understood in isolation, but rather as part of a larger narrative that spans several channels. This certainly changes the ways in which users watch videos and provides as different model of participation than simply TV that has translated itself to the web.

Thus, in understanding YouTube and other video-sharing sites, it becomes important to understand the various ways in which "produsers" can participate and engage with the content on the site. The question of how YouTube and other videos sites can sustain themselves and create profits has obviously been under debate in the past year.

In answering this question, one should look beyond the idea that YouTube simply allows for uploading videos, and towards the ways in which the sharing of these videos promotes the creation of personal relationships, fan affiliations and new creative content.

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 -----------

Links for Monday, July 02. MySpaceTV launches; Lycos partners with blinkx; BBC/YouTube; Penny Arcade on Doritos; Jason Mittell on The Wire; MTVN and IAG; and Lifetime's use of commercial ratings are among the top stories of the week in relation to the continuing evolution of a "convergence culture."

The Apple iPhone and Brand Fandom. Sam Ford relates his recent trip to the mall, unwittingly getting caught up in the frenzy surrounding the iPhone's release last Friday.

Telephia Finds Mobile Video Subscribers Tripled; Company Purchased by Nielsen. The mobile consumer research group releases a study that finds significant growth in the first quarter of 2007 for mobile video subscriptions, while the company becomes the newest component in Nielsen's mobile research initiative.

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part Two): Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger. In the conclusion of this conversation, Henry Jenkins cross-posts the discussion C3 Alum Geoffrey Long recently had with Catherine Tosenberger regarding fan fiction, the "canon," and the concept of "Wiki-Fic."

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part One): Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger. Henry Jenkins cross-posts from his blog a discussion between two fan studies scholars, Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger, as part of his continuing summer series related to gender issues in the study of fans.

Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part IV of IV. In this final installment, Long writes about his Master's thesis research on transmedia narratives and the notion of negative capability, as well as his greatest accomplishments and future plans.

Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part III of IV. In this installment, Long discusses what he sees as the upcoming shifts for the media industries, the importance of niche content, and the rise of user-generated content and transmedia storytelling.

Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part II of IV. Long talks about his focus on digital storytelling and what he feels the strengths of the consortium are.

Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part I of IV. Long discusses his background and what originally brought him to MIT and to the Convergence Culture Consortium.

Benoit Family Tragedy. World Wrestling Entertainment performer Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son over the weekend and then hung himself, leading to a perplexed fan community, who first grieved for the death of one of the best performers of the current day, only to find out what Chris had done. For the wrestlers, and the fan community, the situation raises interesting questions about how to deal with their grief due to the nature of Benoit's death.

WWE Fans, Transmedia Storytelling, and The Death of Mr. McMahon. World Wrestling Entertainment's storyline in which the character of real-life owner Vince McMahon was murdered when his limo exploded led to flowers and tributes at WWE headquarters in Stamford and well-executed story development through the Web site, all cut short because of the tragedy of the Benoit family that has been featured so heavily in the news over the past week.

CBS Streaming Most of Its Soap Operas Online. Three of the network's four soap operas are now streamed online on a daily basis, with episodes staying archived for a week, as the newest form of cross-platform distribution for daytime serial dramas.

--------------- 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 II of II:

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. The first piece on Interesting2007 appeared as last week's closing note, focusing on sorting and social networking.

On my blog, I posted a picture of Russell and Arthur Davies, father and son, outside Conway hall, site of Interesting2007. The quietly charismatic servant of ceremonies and his son, the latter in this picture graciously standing in for the rest of us, our hand in a bag of crisps, playing shyly to the camera, pleased to be included, living this brief moment in the protected space of a congenial world. (Russell will so hate this metaphor, more on that later.)

I participated with trepidation. Russell was clear. No talking, he said, about anthropology, economics, branding, marketing, blogging, creativity, culture, or commerce, and so removed all my usual crutches, obsessions, and the very parachute I like to wear while public speaking. Kindly, he suggested I talk instead about my Oprah episode and it turned out pretty well. Clever Russell.

My first guess on why Interesting2007 was going to work (if it worked) was that everyone in the room was drawn from one of the creative industries (design, planning, art, advertising, film making, and so on). This means that everyone in the room at Conway Hall was good at metaphor capture and pattern recognition.

So you could talk, as Adrian Gunn Wilson did, about how to cut wood, and the audience was bound to help themselves to that and much more. The details themselves turned out to be flat out interesting and the room fell into a state of silent absorption. And the metaphors were everywhere, including the very big piece of wood on which Adrian cuts wood. I forget what he called it, but it's huge and well scored and serves as the platform for the undertaking. It stabilizes the piece of wood that's being chopped. It absorbs the blow of the ax. It catches the ax as it completes its arc and especially when it misses its mark. This is what we used to call an "agency," I think. It is strange and horrible to look at. Yes, quite like an agency.

My second guess was we were looking at the reinvention of the conference. Many cultural artifacts that have been dislodged by our new world. Our world has been decentered, flattened, destabilized, distributed, and made participative, anarchical, elite indifferent, cloudily networked, self organizing, and concatenating. So it's natural that we're having to rethink entertainment, information, elites, experts and especially speakers. Who now wants to sit in a room and hear someone hold forth? Certainly, there are a couple of people who we would like to hear speak in this way. But how often do they turn up to the conferences we go too? Mostly what we get is two things: 1) badly concealed self advertisement, and 2) a view of the world that means to be comprehensive but proves to be alarmingly (and unwittingly) partial.

Conferences used to create value by giving us the benefits of a sorting exercise. The organizers would choose experts and the experts would choose topics and treatments. We the audience would undergo edification mixed with a couple of moments of epiphany (with the opportunity to build networks over drinks). The trouble is we are now fantastically good at sorting for ourselves. What we want from a conference is not a surrogate intelligence of a big name speaker. What we want is a tide that delivers new and interesting things that present themselves in fresh and unexpectedly formed ways. (Interestingly, some presentations were overformed by their very effort to be underformed. This happened when you could see that the presenter was deliberately casting a topic or treatment against mainstream type, as it were, the better to claim a quirkier credibility.)

Put us on the Kauffman continuum, the one that arrays the world between fixity at one end and chaos at the other, and it turns out that we most of us have paddled our way away from fixity towards chaos, and now tread water here in rougher, whiter waters with no discernible effort or difficulty. Experts be damned. We can read the world quite nicely on our own, thank you very much. It doesn't have to be very fully formed for us to "get it." (It was fun listening to Johnnie Moore on this theme, and a pleasure to meet this fella in real space and time.)

Clever Russell. To forbid the recitation of what we think we know for things that are interesting, this is a good way to oxygenate an occasion with things that are less formed in just about the right measure. Less formed, and more charming. There is something "nice" about things that offer the world up all in the jumble and leave us to think what we will.

Now, someone is bound to say that this is merely the planning world, in the person of Russell Davies and conference attendees, discovered the well established truth of post modernism, that the world is now a thing of perfect incoherence, that the architectures of knowledge, the consistencies of culture, the thematicness of contemporary life, these have all collapsed, and that Interesting2007 was in fact merely an exploration and a demonstration of same.

Wrongo! What collapsed was mostly the intellectuals' favorite interpretative frames. Naturally, this made it look like the sky was falling. Naturally, because they are intellectuals, they worked very hard to make their problem our problem. But the rest of us, those of us who actually make and manage meanings in the world know the truth of our present condition, and this is that if you have the right powers of metaphor capture and pattern recognition the world is still a relatively intelligible place. The things to remember is that the coherences are multiple, the interpretive frames many and conflicting, and the world changeable and fluid. And when all of this is true, then not only is the sky not falling, but Red Lions Square and Conway Hall when filled with speakers by Russell, is a very interesting place to be.


Thanks to Bowbrick for the photo. (More photos by Bowbrick here.) Thanks too for his support of Interesting2007.

To Johnnie Moore for interesting thoughts. See Johnnie's website here.

Flickr Nugget keyword of the moment: London.

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 (

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