May 31, 2010
Research Memo Abstract
You and OurSpace
By: Shenja van der Graaf
With a growing number of users that participate in copying, cutting, pasting, and adding to existing media materials the firm production boundaries are said to become increasingly porous. While this blurring of production and consumption practices is not a new phenomenon, it has become more salient in the context of digital technologies facilitating those diverse practices on a wider scale, engaging firms to look at the consequences for commercial interests. In many cases, participatory Web sites represent successful illustrations of a rapidly evolving (yet often subtle) relationship of collaboration with users across firm boundaries at a time where it has become “increasingly clear that the Internet is not only embedded in people’s lives but that with the rise of a more “participative web” its impacts on all aspects of economic and social organization are expanding” (OECD, 2007: 15) coinciding with a strong interest and awareness of the importance of firm-engagement with those active users.
Especially since the 1990s media researchers have shown an increasing interest in this linkage between new technologies and users, looking in particular at the formation of new social collectivities and ‘bottom-up’ redefinitions of cultural practices. These studies have aimed to examine online sites of user participation (and dissatisfaction) that relate firm-produced/provided media content to (often unexpected kinds of) official and unofficial ‘grassroots’ user practices such as fansubbing, machinima, and mash-ups. More specifically, these studies have tended to yield insight into aesthetic status and social power by casting the work of participating users as ‘transgressive’ (against the perceived economic interests of the producing/providing media firm, such as file-sharing networks) or as at least, ‘unintended’ (not considered by the producing/providing media firm but also not perceived as harmful, such as fan fiction). Such actions were thus seen as users taking basic materials provided by commercial media firms and actively re-appropriating and redistributing those materials as cultural practices.
Little is known, however, about the way a firm invite consumers (or, so-called 'amateurs', 'hobbyists', and 'fans') to partner with it in product development, indicating how aspects of user participation associated with non-market dynamics are embedded in commercial activity (Benkler, 2006). Rather research has been eager to focus on (or, ‘hype’) the creative capacities of users and their contributions to product development, while aspects of (such as variations in) the design and use of technologies (e.g. software routines, toolkits) tend to be under-exposed, or even absent from many discussions. Moreover, scholars have been quick to relate this kind of social progress through user participation to the organization of the media industry, where some kind of shift in the power relations between media firms and users seems to be implied rather than systematically investigated. Also, insufficient attention has been given to the ways users may participate on the firm-hosted platform (in contrast to not-for-profit platforms), what they may contribute, and how and with what frequency they may interact with others. On a similar note, a blind spot seems to have developed concerning the role of the firm, directing our attention from ‘firms as producers’ to ‘firms as platform (or, service) providers’ coinciding with a shift in legal contracts, and which, arguably, underpins the extent of user participation.
Against this backdrop, this research memo aims to highlight the unfolding dynamics between the various participants on a Web-based firm-hosted platform by looking at what a firm can do purposely to design their organization in order to establish and maintain fruitful relations with user communities and how they can adjust their business models to deal effectively with different users as different sources of innovation (von Hippel, 2005). Core questions that this essay seeks to tackle include how organizations gain access to distributed sources of innovation (i.e. the brand community) and why and when it may make sense for them to do so. By drawing on several examples, this memo gives particular attention to the organizing principles of production across firm boundaries underpinning the enterprise logic in relation to the creative capacities of users and their contributions to product development on a Web-based firm-hosted platform in terms of transferability, integration, and compensation. As a result, this memo highlights specific ways in which firms may benefit or learn from consumers through motivating, integrating, and coordinating particular tasks of employees and users which are shown to foster a particular firm-user dynamic in the labour market.
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.
OECD. (2007). Participative Web and User-Generated Content: Web 2.0, Wikis and Social Networking. Paris: OECD Publishing.
von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Shenja van der Graaf is Program Director of the Department of Imagineering and Lecturer in Business Innovation at Breda University of Applied Sciences, where she specializes in the management of innovation with a special interest in Internet-based innovation activities at the intersection of organizations and communities. As a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, she contributes to a socio-economic impact assessment for research projects (funded by European Commission FP7-ICT: Internet of Services, Software and Virtualisation). With an extensive background in and passion for the media industry (esp. film, music and 3D software), consumer cultures, and organizational transformation, especially in North American and Asian markets, she brings the perspectives of both management and economics, and the sociology of the developments and uses in these areas to her work. She was a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society (Harvard) and the Research Center for Information Law (University of St. Gallen), and an alumna of the Oxford Internet Institute. Her recent publications can be found at shenja.org.
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White Paper Abstract
How to Ride a Lion: Towards a Better Transmedia Criticism
By: Geoff Long
I've been thinking a lot lately about this one weird word. Good. It's a horrible word, really, because "good" is not only wholly subjective, but it's also fleeting, and hyperlocalized. What I think is good might be crap to you, what was good yesterday isn't good today but might be good again tomorrow, and what's good here may be garbage in Tokyo or even in the next building over. Yet 'good' is also an insanely powerful word. Anyone who's ever tried to make a living in the creative industries will tell you that 'good' carries a lot of weight. Almost half a decade ago I wrote a white paper for C3 in which I half-jokingly declared that Rule One is "Don't Suck." The awkward truth at the heart of the joke is that in order for your work to succeed it must first be good. Which brings us back to the subjective, fleeting, hyperlocalized nature of 'good', and round and round we go.
And yet, as maddening as the pursuit of good can inherently be, this is where I think both transmedia production and transmedia studies absolutely must go next. If you go back and read the majority of the papers written so far on transmedia, if you go back and listen to the talks being given about transmedia at most of these conferences, you'll find that the majority of our efforts so far have focused on defining the terminology. I'm not saying this is bad, nor am I saying that there isn't still a ton of valid, important work yet to be done at that level - a great deal of my own work these days revolves around introducing people to the core concepts of transmedia and explaining what sets it apart from what's come before. But at a lot of these conferences, I feel like most of the presentations keep coming back to the same thing - this is what we think transmedia is, and this is how we're experimenting with it. A lot of these are Transmedia 101 talks, or, when we're lucky, Transmedia 201 talks. I want the Transmedia 701, 801 and 901 talks. I want transmedia criticism.
I'm not saying this isn't a tricky proposition. I've been in academia long enough to know that the obvious counterargument is "we can't know what's good until we know what the defining criteria are" - but even though the edges of transmedia are still really fuzzy, even though some folks will happily bicker for years over whether a truly transmedia experience has to have community involvement, whether all ARGs are transmedia experiences, if it's really transmedia if it's just a jump from a digital version of a comic to a print version of a comic, ad infinitum and ad nauseum, I still feel like there are enough of us playing in this particular sandbox now that we can stop pointing to examples of transmedia storytelling and start creating some in-depth, insightful criticism of those examples to explain why we judge them to be good or bad. We may differ on our criteria for what makes something good, but that's brilliant - down that road lies educated, passionate, wonderful discourse, which is fuel for making better transmedia experiences. Further, down that road also lies some possible answers to a very real concern to the corporate universe - not just "What is transmedia" or "Why should I invest in a transmedia project", but "What does success for a transmedia project look like? What's a win?" The suits in the really big corner offices don't want to know about these interesting emerging trends - they want to know about which of them worked, why, how much money they made, and how that can be replicated at scale. Critics may not have all the numbers – God knows we all need better systems for transmedia metrics - but they can certainly provide a jumping-off point for the qualitative analyses while we're waiting for the quantitative ones to catch up.
We also need a vibrant community of transmedia criticism because long-running soap operas and comic books frequently get a bad rap because they're huge, intimidating monsters. Try picking up a random issue of X-Men or turning on a random episode of As The World Turns and figure out what's going on. It's important not to ignore the 'complex' in 'complex narratives' or 'complex entertainment', and even more important to remember that transmedia entertainment serves as a multiplier to that complexity. Yes, a transmedia franchise that spans comics, television, films and games can have each of its components serve as a gateway into the entire franchise for "native" fans of those particular media, but an Everest like Star Wars or Halo is a massive undertaking looming on a newcomer's horizon. Such franchises aren't just increasingly complex, they're also increasingly time-consuming and increasingly expensive. You think it's difficult deciding which movie is worth your twenty bucks and two hours on Friday night? Buying the canonical Buffyverse on Amazon right now will set you back over $400, and take weeks to consume. One can only imagine what it would cost in both time and money to experience all of Star Wars.
That's where a transmedia critic can play sherpa: a really good (there's that word again) transmedia critic can give an interested fan-in-the-making maps to these daunting territories, even suggesting which paths they should take depending on their personal interests. Are they fans of Luke Skywalker? Watch the original movies, read these books, play those games. Fans of space battles? Watch these TV episodes, read these different books, play these other games. A single transmedia critic can't create personalized recommendations for everybody, but that's why we need an entire thriving community of transmedia critics sharing their opinions and providing maps like these. The people who currently play these roles are the die-hard fans on fan websites, the people who live and breathe these franchises. Unfortunately, they're frequently not the best ambassadors to the series. We need the John Clutes, the Pauline Kaels, the Siskels and Eberts, the people who can analyze and report back on multiple franchises to convince hesistant audiences that these heights really are navigable, that the best experiences really are worth the labor, and that, alas, some of the peaks are actually best avoided. I believe that having multiple transmedia critics, and having those critics establish themselves as experts with distinct tastes across franchises instead of fanboys for particular franchises, will help make such massive, complex entertainments less intimidating - and thus more enticing to mass audiences. And if we're serious about moving transmedia entertainment more and more towards the mainstream, this has got to happen.
For the past few months, this is where my brain has been living. When you start critiquing and contrasting complex franchises like these, many of Henry's defining characteristics suddenly become touchpoints for criticism. Even more exciting, new ones begin to emerge: for example, Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 2 uses what I call transmedia mechanics to actually change the experience of each component of a transmedia franchise once they've been connected together. If a player owns both the portable PSP game Assassin's Creed: Lineage and the console PS3 game Assassin's Creed II and connects the PSP to the PS3 via a cable, new weapons and resources are unlocked in both games. Ubisoft also deployed a similar transmedia mechanic through their service UPlay, which lets gamers register the games they own on multiple systems, then earn and spend achievement-like points in any of those registered games, even if they're on different systems. As we continue to move towards an all-digital entertainment landscape, there's no reason why such transmedia mechanics can't be used to connect, extend and enrich experiences across videos, games, e-books, digital comics and so on - and as this becomes more popular, how well a franchise utilizes such mechanics can be used as a criterion for evaluation by transmedia critics, much like cinematography or sound design in films.
At the end of the day, "This is what transmedia is, and this is how we're experimenting with it" feels an awful lot like "there's this thing called a lion, and this is how we poked it with a stick." I challenge you - I challenge all of us - to go further: not just "this is how to tame a lion" further, not just "this is how to ride a lion" further, but "this is how to ride your lion well". We have proven the existence of lions. Now let's ride them through fire - and tell the world exactly why that's so awesome.