Futures of Entertainment 6 Videos (Part Two)

Saturday, Nov. 10

Opening Remarks from FoE Fellows Xiaochang Li and Mike Monello

Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies
With the constant barrage of new technologies, platforms, and services vying for attention, media producers and marketers are frequently lost among the potential places–and ways–of engaging with their audiences. Before they have ever truly figured out one technology, they’ve already moved to another, because of an intense desire to be “first.” As such, companies and media properties have launched–and then abandoned–their virtual world presence, their mobile app, their social game, and their QR code and are now exploring “social TV,” “Twitter parties,” Pinterest pages, augmented reality, and location-based initiatives. This leaves the web littered with old blogs, microsites, and profiles and companies blaming technologies when, too often, it’s been the lack of strategy that led to no traction. How do storytellers and communicators build a framework to more intelligently choose technologies based on how a platform aids their story and their audience, rather than a “gee whiz…get me one of those” approach? How does–or should–listening to the audience factor into this process? And what role, or responsibility, do technology creators have to help with this integration process? Drawing on examples contemporary and historical, this panel looks at how and when to take risks with new platforms, the difference between “innovative failure” and “failure to innovate,” and the deeper patterns of engagement that help us make sense of how new platforms and behaviors connect to longstanding means of engagement.
Panelists:
Todd Cunningham, Futures of Entertainment fellow and television audience research leader
Jason Falls, CEO, Social Media Explorer
Eden Medina, Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University
David Polinchock, Director, AT&T AdWorks Lab
Mansi Poddar, co-founder, Brown Paper Bag
Moderator: Ben Malbon, Managing Director, Google Creative Lab

Rethinking Copyright: A discussion with musician, songwriter, and producer T Bone Burnett; Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California; and Jonathan Taplin, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.
As the recent legislative battles have demonstrated, it’s becoming painfully clear that our conception of copyright is ill-prepared for regulating and making sense of a world where media content is fluidly circulated by most of a society. However, in an effort make content free to spread in the ways audiences find them relevant, what is the appropriate balance to ensure that the rights of content creators are preserved and that the incentive to develop intellectual property remains? Rather than continue a debate in which audiences and critics attack copyright while media companies cling to them, how might we cut through current tensions to collaboratively imagine what a new sense of copyright, appropriate for an era of “spreadable media,” might look like?

The Futures of Video Gaming
Many innovations in the creative industries owe their roots and inspiration to the gaming world, from audience engagement and storytelling techniques to distribution methods and cross-platform integration. This session examines some of the critical questions facing those working in the gaming industry as large companies and indie developers grapple with the challenging evolution of the market brought on by new networked technologies, audience practices, and business models. How are game developers embracing or rejecting the unauthorized play of games online, and how has piracy evolved as a discourse in the gaming sector? How do creators strategize around the widespread circulation of games through automated propagation (using friend invitations for social and “free to play” games) — or grassroots spreading (for unexpectedly popular titles like Minecraft) — of information through social network sites? How badly are new architectures (Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, PSN Network) clashing with old traditions (game stores, $60 game discs)? And how are business models in the gaming industry shifting as we see massive success simultaneously from high-budget technology like Kinect and low-budget distribution like the Humble Bundle?
Panelists:
T.L. Taylor, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, MIT
Christopher Weaver, founder of Bethesda Softworks and industry liaison, MITGameLab
Ed Fries, architect of Microsoft’s video game business and co-founder of the Xbox project
Walter Somol, head of tech community outreach, Microsoft New England Research and Development Center
Moderator: Futures of Entertainment Fellow and games producer Alec Austin

The Futures of Storytelling and Sports
Throughout the history of mass media, sports programming has been an innovator. In today’s era of online circulation, transmedia storytelling, and 24/7 access to engaging with sports stars, teams, and fellow fans, sports franchises could be argued as the most immersive of storyworlds–with drama playing out in real-time, and the “narrative world” being our own. What is driving innovation in how sports tell their stories, and get their fans more engaged than ever, through multiple media platforms? How does operating as a media franchise in our everyday world set sports apart from entertainment properties? How are sports empowered by being “real,” and what constraints does that place on what they can do as well? How are talent engaged to be part of the storytelling? And what innovations are seen as sports are extended wholly into the fictional realm, whether through licensed extensions or various forms of “sports entertainment”?
Panelists:
Abe Stein, researcher at Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab; graduate student, Comparative Media Studies, MIT; columnist, Kill Screen
Peter Stringer, Senior Director of Interactive Media, Boston Celtics
Jena Janovy, Enterprise Editor, ESPN.com
Jamie Scheu, associate content director, Hill Holliday
Moderator: Alex Chisholm, transmedia producer and Co-Founder and Executive Director, Learning Games Network

Closing Remarks from FoE Fellow Sheila Seles and Dr. Heather Hendershot, Comparative Media Studies, MIT

Futures of Entertainment 6 Videos (Part One)

Over the next few installments, we are going to be sharing videos of the panels from this year’s Futures of Entertainment conference, now in its sixth year, and developing a really strong community of followers who come back again and again to participate in our ongoing conversations. For those who do not know, FoE is a conference designed to spark critical conversations between people in the creative industries, academics, and the general public, over issues of media change. The Futures of Entertainment consortium works hard to identify cutting edge topics and to bring together some of the smartest, most thoughtful people who are dealing with those issues. It is characterized by extended conversation among the panelists in a format designed to minimize “spin,” “pitch” and “pontification,” and in a context where everything they say will be questioned and challenged through Backchan.nl, Twitter, and (this year) Etherpad conversations.

As someone noted this year, one of the biggest contributions of the conference has been close interrogation of the language the industry uses to describe its relationship with its publics/audiences, and this year was no exception, with recurring concepts such as “curation” getting the full FoE treatment. And we came as close as we’ve ever come to a Twitter riot breaking out around the “Rethinking Copyright,” session on which I participated.

The conference, traditionally, opens on Thursday with a Communications Forum event. This year, the focus was on New Media in West Africa, part of our ongoing exploration of the global dimensions of entertainment. There was much discussion of what we could learn from Nollywood (even hints of the coming era of Zollywood) and a spontaneous live performance by Derrick “DNA” Ashong.

New Media in West Africa
Despite many infrastructural and economic hurdles, entertainment media industries are burgeoning in West Africa. Today, the Nigerian cinema market–”Nollywood”–is the second largest in the world in terms of the annual volume of films distributed, behind only the Indian film industry. And an era of digital distribution has empowered content created in Lagos, or Accra, to spread across geographic and cultural boundaries. New commercial models for distribution as well as international diasporic networks have driven the circulation of this material. But so has rampant piracy and the unofficial online circulation of this content. What innovations are emerging from West Africa? How has Nigerian cinema in particular influenced local television and film markets in other countries across West Africa, and across the continent? What does the increasing visibility of West African popular culture mean for this region–especially as content crosses various cultural contexts, within and outside the region? And what challenges does West Africa face in continuing to develop its entertainment industries?

Panelists:
Fadzi Makanda, Business Development Manager, iROKO Partners
Derrick “DNA” Ashong, leader, Soulflége
Colin Maclay, Managing Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University
Moderator: Ralph Simon, head of the Mobilium Advisory Group and a founder of the mobile entertainment industry

Opening Remarks from FoE Fellows Laurie Baird and Ana Domb

Listening and Empathy: Making Companies More Human
Media properties have long measured audiences with Nielsen ratings, circulation numbers, website traffic and a range of other methods that transform the people who engage with content into that aggregate mass: the audience. Meanwhile, marketing logic has long been governed by survey research, focus groups, and audience segmentation. And, today, executives are being urged to do all they can to make sense of the “big data” at their fingertips. However, all these methods of understanding audiences–while they can be helpful–too often distance companies from the actual human beings they are trying to understand. How do organizations make the best use of the myriad ways they now have to listen to, understand, and serve their audiences–beyond frameworks that aim to “monitor, “surveil,” and “quantify” those audiences as statistics rather than people? What new understandings are unearthed when companies listen to their audiences, and the culture around them, beyond just what people are saying about the organization itself? What advantages do companies find in embracing ethnographic research, in thinking about an organization’s content and communications from the audience’s perspective, and in thinking of “social media” not just as a new way to market content but a new and particularly useful channel for communicating, collaborating and conducting business?

Panelists:
Lara Lee, Chief Innovation and Operating Officer, Continuum
Grant McCracken, author, Culturematic, Chief Culture Officer
Carol Sanford, author, The Responsible Business
Emily Yellin, author, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us
Moderator: Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy, Peppercomm

The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World–A One-on-One Conversation with Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova and Undercurrent’s Joshua Green
We live in an environment where the power of circulation is no longer solely–arguably, even primarily–in the hands of media companies. However, if that means we all now play a role as curator and circulator of content, what responsibilities does that bring with it? How is curation becoming an important aspect of the online profile of professional curators? And, for all of us who participate in social networking sites or who forward content to family and friends via email, what are our obligations to both the creators of that content and to the audiences with whom we share it? If we possess the great power to spread content, what are the great responsibilities that come along with it?

The Futures of Public Media
Public media creators and distributors often face a wide variety of strains on resources which impact their ability to innovate how they tell their stories. Yet, in an era where existing corporate logics often restrain how many media companies and brands can interact with their audiences–or how audiences can participate in the circulation of media content–public media-makers are, at least in theory, freed from many of the constraints their commercial counterparts face. How have the various innovations in producing and circulating content that have been discussed at Futures of Entertainment impacting public media-makers? How do the freedoms and constraints of public media shape creators’ work in unique ways? How have innovations happening in independent media, civic media, and the commercial sector impacting those creators? And what can we all learn from their innovation and experiences?

Panelists:
Rekha Murthy, Director of Projects and Partnerships, Public Radio Exchange,
Annika Nyberg Frankenhaeuser, Media Director, European Broadcasting Union,
Andrew Golis, Director of Digital Media and Senior Editor, FRONTLINE
Nolan Bowie, Senior Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Moderator: Jessica Clark, media strategist, Association of Independents in Radio

From Participatory Culture to Political Participation
Around the world, activists, educators, and nonprofit organizations are discovering new power through their capacity to appropriate, remix, and recirculate elements of popular culture. In some cases, these groups are forging formal partnerships with media producers. In other cases, they are deploying what some have called “cultural acupuncture,” making unauthorized extensions which tap into the public’s interest in entertainment properties to direct their attention to other social problems. Some of these transmedia campaigns — Occupy, for example — are criticized for not having a unified message, yet it is their capacity to take many forms and to connect together diverse communities which have made these efforts so effective at provoking conversation and inspiring participation. And, as content spreads across cultural borders, these activists and producers are confronting new kinds of critiques —such as the heated debates surrounding the rapid spread of the KONY 2012 video. Are new means of creating and circulating content empowering citizens, creating new forms of engagement, or do they trivialize the political process, resulting in so-called “slactivism”? What are these producers and circulators learning from media companies and marketers, and vice versa? What new kinds of organizations and networks are deploying this tactics to gain the attention of young consumer-citizens? And, for all of us, what do we need to consider as we receive, engage with, and consider sharing content created by these individuals and groups?
Panelists:
Sasha Costanza-Chock, Assistant Professor of Civic Media, MIT
Dorian Electra, performing artist (“I’m in Love with Friedrich Hayek”; “Roll with the Flow”)
Lauren Bird, Creative Media Coordinator, Harry Potter Alliance
Bassam Tariq, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days
Moderator: Sangita Shresthova, Research Director of CivicPaths, University of Southern California

Closing Remarks from FoE Fellows Maurício Mota and Louisa Stein

And for your added entertainment pleasure, check out Dorian Electra’s new music video, “FA$T CA$H: Easy Credit & The Economic Crash” which premiered at this year’s conference.

Spreadable Media IS Coming…Spreadable Media IS Coming…

 

Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, which I co-authored with Sam Ford and Joshua Green,  is scheduled to come out at the end of January 2013. The book represents the culmination of a strand of research which we started when all three of the authors were working together on the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT and it was the extension of a white paper which I co-authored with two of the Comparative Media Studies masters students, Xiaochang Li and Ana Domb.

We will be sharing more about the book as we get closer to its release, but as part of the plan for the book, we commissioned more than 30 essays from people who have at one time or another been linked to the consortium — ranging from former graduate students who have since entered academia or the media industry and a range of faculty who have been fellows in the consortium, along with some others whose work has been central to our understanding of this topic.

Over the next few months leading up to the book’s publication date, we are going to be releasing a few of these essays each week with mechanisms which make it easy to spread to the larger community. We want to put the book’s core message, “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead” to the test and encourage people to send links, to repost these through blogs, and otherwise, help to spark a larger conversation around issues of grassroots media circulation.

The time is certainly right for such a discussion following a year when Kony 2012 became the most widely spread and fastest spreading video in the history of YouTube and when “Binders of Women” emerged within minutes as part of the public’s response to the presidential debates. Our argument, though, is that describing these processes as “going viral” does not deal adequately with the complex social processes and cultural stakes in expanding the role of the public — as individuals and members of networks — in shaping the circulation of media content.

Today, we are releasing the first of the essays, which foreground people who participated at this year’s Futures of Entertainment conference. They are a good sample of the range of material which will be coming out through the Spreadable Media website (and I will be showcasing many more of these blog posts here, alongside the regular flow of interviews, announcements, and other materials, so stay tuned, and more than that, help us spread this content to people who might find it interesting.)

 

What follows are some highlights from the initial essays. To read the full entries, follow the links back to the Spreadable Media homepage.

 

Tecnobrega’s Productive Audiences

Ronaldo Lemos (2008) has coined the phrase “globoperipheral music” to describe the emergence of music scenes that put central focus on the peripheries. Wayne Marshall (2009) has alternatively dubbed the trend “Global Ghettotech,” a more sardonic reference to the somewhat romantic international interest in the music from the slums of former colonies. Whatever you want to call it, a few years back, this emerging and tightly networked global music circuit was buzzing particularly about the infectious beats of Tecnobrega, Brazil’s “Tacky Techno.” In Belém, the capital of the Amazon, a whole industry had emerged around this music, and apparently it was very happily reinventing the music business’s status quo. A team of Brazilian researchers led by Ronaldo Lemos and Oona Castro (2008) encountered a vibrant grassroots economic system, one where musicians had decided to bypass traditional music labels and were instead making successful partnerships with the local “pirates” who loyally feature Tecnobrega artists in the midst of their very own bootlegged bounty.

With this research in hand, I headed to Belém myself to study the audiences’ role in this booming music scene. With 1.5 million inhabitants, Belém was reported to have 140 Tecnobrega bands and 700 aparelhagems (literally, “apparatuses”), the Tecnobrega sound systems that, in their most ambitious instances, are formed by gigantic retrofuturistic machines that elevate the godlike DJs through hydraulics at the end of the shows. This infrastructure supports more than 4,000 Tecnobrega parties a month in Belém. What I found not only involved audiences but empowered participants who valued their role as industry agents (Domb 2009). When the Tecnobrega musicians decided to forgo copyright and deem all uses and circulation of their music as not only legitimate but positive, local audiences thrived….

 

Transnational Audiences and East Asian Television

Consider a clip from the Japanese variety show Arashi no Shukudai-kun that recently made its way onto YouTube in early 2009: a small group of Japanese pop singers are challenged to eat a “surprisingly large” hamburger named after a city in the Ibaraki prefecture and are joking about how “Super American” the situation is. They suggest that the burger inspires them to don overalls and grow “amazing” chest hair, while Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” blares in the background. The clip was then subtitled in English by two fans based in Australia and circulated based on its appeal to English-speaking audiences of the “J-pop” performers in the video as an embodied spectacle of Japanese popular culture. Various versions of the clip were distributed online through fan communities on LiveJournal, a Russian-owned social blogging platform with offices headquartered in San Francisco, and other forums, and fans shared the links through their blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, and other social media channels. In the process, the Arashi no Shukudai-kun clip was recontextualized, reformatted, resubtitled, and diverted to new (and sometimes unexpected) audiences at every step along the way. Far from exceptional, there are countless clips like this one on YouTube: in the global spreadable media environment, its crisscrossing path back and forth across multiple national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries is becoming perfectly common.

Not only is the transnational movement of media becoming increasingly pervasive; it has also become significantly more—and more visibly—multinodal. Thus, we must go beyond the use of Bruce Springsteen in the background of a Japanese variety show as part of a parody and indigenization of Western cultural materials to consider its subsequent movement as it is taken up, translated, and circulated by grassroots intermediaries, passing through divergent and overlapping circuits, often outside the purview of established media industries and markets. In short, we must look beyond sites of production and consumption to consider the practices of transmission and the routes of circulation—the means and manner by which people spread media to one another—which are increasingly shaping the flow of transnational content….

 

The Implicit Contract

Everyone wants something from their entertainment. Whatever this desire is, audiences’ satisfaction with a product is dependent on whether their expectations are fulfilled or exceeded. As such, viewing the relationship between the provider and the audience of an entertainment property as a contract helps explain why audiences enjoy and accept some content choices yet reject and are angered by others.

Creators and critics of fiction and film have been aware for quite some time of the need to entertain audiences without boring or distracting them. One quote that is regularly cited in online writing communities comes from science fiction author Larry Niven, who described the reader as “entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling that his time has been wasted, you’re in violation [of the implicit contract]” (quoted, for instance, in Salway 2006).

While Niven describes the implicit contract in terms of engaging and entertaining the audience, film theorists have taken the metaphor further. Thomas Schatz (1977) and Henry Jenkins (1992) use the lens of a contract to discuss relationships between media producers and audiences. Schatz describes a film genre as a tacit contract which governs a reciprocal studio-audience relationship, while Jenkins argues that Schatz undermines the reciprocal dimension of the contract by assuming that what Hollywood delivers is what the audience wants (1992, 123)……

YouTube and Archives in Educational Environments

Ted Hovet

Students in a film studies class settle back and watch a clip of the iconic scene from the ending of Casablanca when Rick and Ilsa part at the airport. The clip that follows shows Rick sitting in his darkened bar, bitterly reminiscing about his past . . . when a balloon suddenly floats into the frame. Rick appears to knock it away as he pounds his fist on the table. A third clip begins with the animated Warner Brothers logo, followed by the eight-minute cartoon “Carrotblanca,” which, as the student presenting these clips points out, provides an ending to the film (Rick/Bugs and Ilsa/Kitty uniting rather than parting) that many viewers would prefer.

The sort of modified “mash-up” of Casablanca created by this student is hardly something new to fan communities and others who take images from one context and reshape or repackage them in an entirely new way. But the media studies classroom creates a context that encourages both students and educators to productively analyze the nature of the vast (though limited) archives of media images and the active recirculation of them for particular purposes. The classroom setting provides a laboratory that allows us to isolate and study the means by which media is spread. In the classroom, trends will be not only identified or predicted but actively shaped as students/fans (as well as the aca/fans who mentor them) grapple with the practical, ethical, and intellectual parameters of taking media into their own hands and reshaping its content…..

 

“Consumers” or “Multipliers”?

The term “consumer” is a fixture of the marketing, media, and cultural worlds. It is hard to imagine certain conversations without it. Lucky little term. “Consumer” is coin of the realm.

On the other hand, as Marshall Sahlins says, every theory is a bargain with reality (1976, 45). It helps us think some things. It discourages us from thinking others.

On the whole, “consumer” was a better term than the alternatives, “customer” or “buyer.” It evoked the distinction between producer and consumer, reminding the corporation that capitalism is not about the art of the possible but the art of the desirable. It doesn’t matter what the corporation does. It will sell only what the consumer wants.

Charles Coolidge Parlin made this paradigmatic shift official when, in 1912, he offered the slogan “the consumer is king.” A. G. Lafley, the CEO of Procter & Gamble from 2000 to 2010, renewed the term’s centrality when he reminded his staff, as he often did, “the consumer is boss.” (See, for instance, Markels 2006.) The term “consumer” has helped capitalism take the larger view.

On the other hand, not everyone likes the term “consumer.” Some think it’s antiecological. “Consumers” sound like ravening beasts who must destroy what they buy instead of renting it from the recycler…..

 

Chuck vs. Leno

In April 2009, a sandwich saved a television show. The sandwich was fairly large—12 inches, to be exact—but the feat was extraordinary nonetheless. Here’s what happened. Fans heard that the NBC comedy Chuck might be canceled at the end of the 2008–2009 television season, and they took the usual action fans take in these situations: they wrote letters to the studio and television network responsible for producing Chuck and putting it on the air. Then, they did something different—Chuck fans pled their case directly to Subway, one of the show’s prominent sponsors. On April 27, 2009, the day of Chuck’s season finale, fans went to Subway and bought foot-long sandwiches—a lot of foot-long sandwiches. They filled out comment cards, telling Subway managers that they bought the sandwiches to support Chuck. It worked. On May 19, 2009, NBC released a statement saying that Chuck had been renewed “due to an innovative advertising partnership with Subway.”

The campaign to save Chuck from cancellation, appropriately called the “Finale and Footlong” campaign, relied almost entirely on organization from the Chuck Internet community. The popular press eventually picked up on these fan efforts, but word spread primarily on Twitter and Chuck fan sites. The campaign was launched by fan Wendy Farrington (2009) through her LiveJournal page centralized on the fan website zachary-levi.com, which is named for (but not run by) the actor who plays Chuck. A description of the campaign on zachary-levi.com explains why the fans decided to buy sandwiches: “Lots of people want to help Chuck, but may not have the time or inclination to write letters, but the network will listen closer if we’re talking dollars. [. . .] The intent is to let the network and their sponsor know that we’ve received their message. This is something a Nielson [sic] box can’t do . . . this is a translation of fan loyalty into real dollars that NBC & Subway can measure” (Michelle 2009)…..

 

Learning to Be a Responsible Circulator

In Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic operetta The Gondoliers, the song “There Lived a King” tells the story of a royal who desired equality and thought to promote everyone to high office within his kingdom in order to achieve a single class of well-to-do, content subjects (Gilbert 1889). But the inherent nature of an entropic universe resulted in unforeseen consequences that provided for a very different reality than intended. For, after the process of elevation in rank, “Lord Chancellors were cheap as sprats, and Bishops in their shovel hats were plentiful as tabby cats—in point of fact, too many.” The last line of the song highlights the ultimate realization of such a world: “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody.

A spreadable media environment by its very nature fosters a more participatory society. Yet, in a culture where a majority of the audience has access to a ubiquitous communication environment, each person should hold a greater level of personal responsibility for establishing credibility of both content and sources.

In a “broadcast world,” credibility was easier to establish. If we trust “name” news brands such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, or National Public Radio, we tend to treat those who work for the “brand” as trustworthy by association. As the number of published voices grows exponentially, however, it may become exceedingly difficult to make an informed judgment about how trustworthy sources are when they do not have a recognized brand behind them…..

 

Twitter Revolutions?

In summer 2009, public discontent around the outcome of the Iranian elections sparked a worldwide response, largely because of the visibility these protests gained through social networking sites. What happened in Tehran retrospectively can be seen as an early sign of larger unrest in the region, which gave rise to the so-called Arab Spring which started in late 2010 and reached its fullest scope in 2011. Journalists, bloggers, and other cyber-enthusiasts have celebrated the use of sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube by protesters in each of these countries and by their supporters from the West as a decisive sign that grassroots communicators might be able to route around government censors and that citizen journalists might be able to force international concerns onto the agenda of the professional news media. And this perceived value of social media platforms as potential tools for political change were further fueled in the U.S. by early 2011 protests against the Wisconsin governor, who was pushing to end collective bargaining for government employees in in the state, and by the emergence of the Occupy movement in fall 2011.

In each case, the capacity of everyday people to circulate information and opinion online—rather than going through professional journalists—was key in shaping and mobilizing public opinion. A full account of these efforts would require a book of its own. However, here, I want to explore some key lessons from the Iranian example and to point to some of the larger questions it raises about the value of social media for political activism.

 

Joss Whedon, the Browncoats, and Dr. Horrible

Experimentation among independent media creators is inspiring some mainstream media producers to create alternative systems of production and distribution. Few media producers have been as adept at courting and maintaining the engagement of dedicated fans as Joss Whedon—the showrunner responsible for such cult television series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003), Angel (1999–2004), Firefly (2002), and Dollhouse (2009–2010). Whedon has one of the most dedicated and concentrated cult audiences, yet he has often had difficulty building up a sufficient mass audience (as measured by Nielsen) to sustain a television series on broadcast or first-tier cable channels.

Whedon’s earliest series (Buffy, Angel) survived primarily because of deflated expectations about ratings numbers as new television networks were fragmenting the marketplace and as the television industry was adjusting to the erosion of younger viewers. His fan loyalty resulted in early successes in terms of DVD/video sales and rentals and, later, in terms of various legal download services.

Whedon’s more recent series have been short-lived, building desired and desiring audiences but getting canceled before the end of their first season (in the case of Firefly) or second season (in the case of Dollhouse). The Browncoats, Firefly’s most passionate fans, lobbied hard for a feature film, Serenity (2005), which would resolve some of the character and plot issues left open by Firefly’s cancellation. The Browncoats were out in force nationwide, drawing local interest in Serenity’s opening, camping out in front of theaters, developing online campaigns, and speaking to other science fiction fans who they hoped might embrace the series. By the end of their campaign, which was encouraged by the studio as “viral marketing,” the active Browncoats numbered more than 75,000 members, with more than 85 percent of them actively recruited by other fans. While the film had only modest box office revenue, its impressive DVD sales were attributed to the buzz created by the Browncoats (Affinitive 2006).

However, when the dust settled, the studio—Universal Pictures—sent cease-and-desist letters to some of the more enterprising amateur publicists, demanding retroactive licensing fees for the reproduction of series images on T-shirts and posters (11th Hour 2006). The fans regrouped, counting all of the time and labor (not to mention their own money) put into supporting the film’s release. They eventually sent Universal an “invoice” for more than $2 million as represented by their 28,000 “billable hours,” an attempt to translate their fan activities into the industry’s language (DMCA Wiki 2006). These Browncoats had understood their engagement in terms of their emotional connection with the property—measured within a nonmarket logic. However, if the studio wanted to read everything through a commercial lens, they pointed out that they had added much more value than they had taken….

 

Watch for more essays to be released each week through this blog and through the Spreadable Media website.

Textual Poachers Turns Twenty!

This past week, I received in the mail my author’s copy of my book, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. This book, my first, is now twenty years old (meaning that it is old enough to drink and vote) and that means that I am old enough to… (well, never mind that part!) When I wrote this book as a first year assistant professor, I would never have anticipated the impact it would have and I certainly would not have imagined that Routledge would be willing to reissue it to mark the twentieth anniversary of its publication.

One of the challenges of producing this edition was the struggle to come up with the right approach to the cover design. To be honest, it was very hard for me to let go of the original cover, which was constructed around a wonderful piece of Star Trek fan art by Jean Kluge, which my wife, Cynthia, had bought for me as a gift at MediaWest and which had been close at hand throughout the process of drafting the book.

 

 

But, in the end, we were able to produce a cover I am really very proud of — in collaboration with a contemporary fan artist who has chosen to go here by the name of GLM:

Here’s part of the explanation for the cover design I wrote for the book:

My hopes for the new cover were that it should represent, as the original did, the work of a fan artist and it should employ an aesthetic that grows out of the fan community’s own modes of cultural production; that it should represent a transformative use of existing source material; and that it should suggest the dynamic nature of fandom, which has absorbed new content and embraced new forms of production since the original book was published….

This cover embodies the new aesthetic of photo-manipulation, which remains controversial among some fans but which has also represented a clear demonstration of the way that fans turn borrowed materials into resource for their own collective expression. While the original cover was based on a pre-existing fan work, this new cover was commissioned from and developed in conceptual collaboration with the artist. As with the original, we wanted to suggest the play with alternative universes, which is a staple of fan fiction. We chose four characters — Spock, Darth Vader, Buffy and Xena — who represented four key fantoms that span the past two decades, and we positioned them in an alternative reality fantasy that allowed us the chance to imagine interactions between them. Keep in mind that Jean Kluge’s original was an alternative universe version of Star Trek: The Next Generation read through the lens of Arthurian romance. These characters are meant to stand in for the hundreds of fictional figures who have inspired fan devotion and creativity since Textual Poachers first appeared.

The selection of these figures was a challenge: we needed characters that were likely to be recognized by non-fan readers but which also had a rich role in the history of fan culture, and the press was a little nervous about certain rights holders who had a reputation for being a bit litigious in going after infringers (so no Disney, no Harry Potter…). So this is what we came up with.

It has occurred to me that there is probably more than one fan story to be written to explain the configuration of characters and settings presented here. So, let me throw out my own fan challenge: I will happily send along one autographed copy of the new edition of Textual Poachers to any fan author who wants to write the story to accompany this picture (especially if you will let us publish the story through my blog.) Send it to me at hjenkins@usc.edu.

The book also includes a detailed artist’s statement in which GLM explains the process of photographic manipulation through which she generated the core image. The finish image, she tells us, involved 200 layers and 242MB of data.

For the reissue of the book, Suzanne Scott, a rising young fan scholar, did an extensive interview with me, in which she posed challenging questions about what has happened to fandom and fan studies over the past twenty years. Here’s a small excerpt from that exchange:

Like many first wave fan studies, Textual Poachers spoke back to dominant representations of fans as “brainless consumers”(10).  Fans have moved from the margins to the mainstream within convergence culture, and echoing this shift we’ve seen a proliferation of fan and geek characters within popular culture.  Many of these representations still trade in stereotypes, suggesting that fans “get a life” (e.g. The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Big Bang Theory), and the etymological ties between “fandom” and “fanaticism” continue to be reinforced by the popular press (e.g. coverage of Twilight fangirls), but there are notable exceptions.  Do you think the trend towards recasting fanboys as superheroes (Heroes, Kick-Ass) or action heroes (Chuck, Ready Player One) has dulled the dominant representation of fans as feminized through their ties to mass culture?  Has hegemonic masculinity shifted to tentatively incorporate the fanboy, as a character archetype as well as a consumer identity?

 

Suzanne, you’ve spent more time looking at this question than I have, but I was struck rereading Chapter One by how much these contemporary representations continue to play around with the same themes as earlier fan stereotypes rather than offering us an alternative conception of what it might mean to be a fan. So, in 40 Year Old Virgin, a key step into heterosexual normality comes when the protagonist sells his action figure collection; we can see Virgin as a prototype for a whole cycle of comedies which celebrate “arrested development” as a masculine virtue/priviledge, but the more manly the characters are, the more likely their interests are in sports or rock, rather than in science fiction and comics. Fan boys have been, by and large, better served by literary representations by authors such as Nick Hornby (1996), Michael Chabon (2000), Jonathem Letham (2004), or Junot Diaz (2008), than in media depictions.


The Big Bang Theory is a much more complex text than the “Get a Life” sketch for a number of reasons, but it starts with the same core cliches: Leonard has been given a love life, but despite a sort of romantic entanglement with Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon is still depicted as asexual; Howard still lives in his mother’s basement, even as he is engaged to be married; there are running jokes which queer the relations between Howard and Rajesh (not that there’s anything wrong with it); we have had episodes which hinged on the value of Leonard Nimoy’s autograph and the boy’s collecting impulses are sometimes depicted as bordering on the irrational. At the same time, though, we are encouraged to see the world from the fan characters’ perspectives, we value their friendship and intellectual mastery, and over multiple seasons, they have become more complex than the stereotypes upon which they were based. Most significantly, the show insures that it gets its geek references right, anticipated that the show is being watched by people who will know what “frak” and “grok” mean, who have opinions about the comics or video games the characters are buying, who might actually play “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock,” and who will appreciate cameo appearances by Wil Wheaton, Brent Spiner, Katee Sackoff, and Summer Glau.


What’s striking, though, is that even though Big Bang has added female characters in recent seasons, the women remain largely outside the fannish circle: it’s almost a crisis anytime women venture into the comic shop; Bernadette and Amy are both female scientists, but they do not show much interest in science fiction. Big Bang shows some sympathy to fan boys, but doesn’t share the love with fan girls.


I have spent less time looking at Chuck, so I can’t really comment there,  but it seems to me that Kick-Ass and Super, among the new action films, still pathologize their fan characters (seeing them as acting out unfulfilled fantasies or turning personal frustrations into violent rage), even if they have become the protagonists rather than the antagonists (as in, say, King of Comedy or Unbreakable). I tend to like these newer representations better because they often address us as “fans” but we still lack alternative forms of fan identities in popular culture that might reflect several decades of academic research on fans and fandom.


The exception may be in nonfiction. More and more journalists are themselves fans and thus openly display fan expertise and engagement. Commercial blogs, such as io9, Blastr, and the Los Angeles Time’s Hero Complex, take fans seriously as a demographic, and San Diego Comic-Con gets cover stories in Entertainment Weekly, which often assume a fan rather than “mundane” reader. Documentaries like The People vs. George Lucas have taken the side of the fan over the producer (though here, again, with a strong gender bias; the history of female fan complaints about Star Wars get little to no attention). And, as you’ve suggested, more and more show runners and filmmakers have used their blogs, podcasts, and director’s commentary, to construct a “fan boy auteur” identity, to help authenticate their relationship with a more participatory audience (an option which has so far not been open to female showrunners) (Scott, 2012). This is where the mainstreaming of fan culture has taken place (and in turn, this process may make some of the more sympathetic elements in Big Bang, say, more accessible to a general audience.)


Big Bang Theory’s dual address seems to perfectly encapsulate the industry’s conflicted desire to acknowledge fans’ growing cultural influence, while still containing them through sitcom conventions.  I agree that the recent influx of fanboy characters reinforce old stereotypes more frequently than they challenge or complicate them, but as you note above the comparative scarcity of fangirl representations – Liz Lemon on 30 Rock aside – suggests that while the industry is beginning to take fanboys seriously as a demographic, fangirls (or women, generally) are still considered a surplus audience.  While I’m an avid reader of  the Los Angeles Time’s Hero Complex, it’s difficult not to notice the gendered language of their tagline, “for your inner fanboy.”

 

Some of this, I think, has to do with the particular role of San Diego Comic-Con as the primary point of intersection between Hollywood and the fan community (Jenkins, 2012a). Coming out of comics and science fiction fandom, rather than out of media fandom, Comic-Con has very much been shaped by male-centric fan traditions, norms, and assumptions, and until very recently, the attendees were overwhelmingly male. So, when Hollywood went to talk to the fans, or when the news media did its annual fandom story, they mostly encountered men, and this served a particular push right now within the media industry to try to hold onto the young male demographic, which is the “lost audience segment,” because they have been abandoning television for games and other digital media. So, even as fan studies has suggested the centrality of women to fan culture, the media industry clings to somewhat outmoded understandings of what kind of people are fans. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase of women coming to Comic-Con (partially in response to Twilight and True Blood, but really, across the board), so there may be some hope that the industry might develop a more diverse understanding of the fan audience.  Witness a largely sympathetic account of female “shippers” in Entertainment Weekly (Jensen, 2012) which included acknowledgement by industry insiders of their increasing significance in shaping the reception of especially procedural programs like Castle and Bones. Because of its location in San Diego, Comic-Con is more racially and ethnically diverse than most other fan gatherings. As a consequence, it is becoming a key site for minority fans to organize and call out the industry for its often stereotyped representations of people of color.


Another factor that may change this pattern has to do with the growing number of cult television shows produced by women — in many cases, they are produced by husband and wife teams, but there are also a number of female show runners who inherit series from male mentors (such as the relationship between Joss Whedon/Ron Moore and Jane Espensen). It says something positive about the so-called “fan boy auteurs” that so many of them have invested in helping women break into the industry. You can argue that the industry’s address to male fans reflect the male producer’s intuitive understanding of what fans want to see and thus diversifying who produces media can help diversify the kinds of media produced. Of course, it remains to be seen if these women will have the same freedom to proclaim their fan investments their male counterparts now take for granted or whether they are still under a lot of pressure to demonstrate their professionalism and are not “simply fan girls.”

And the book closes with a study guide by Louisa Ellen Stein, exploring what Textual Poachers might contribute in the contemporary classroom, providing questions for discussion, readings for further consideration, and other resources which might help educators in using this work more effectively with their students.

If I was delighted to be working with a next generation fan artist for the cover, I was also very proud to be working with two next generation Aca-fen to help me reflect on the book’s legacy. We all hope that the book’s re-release encourages you to revisit Textual Poachers or perhaps read it for the first time.

The whole process has left me nostalgic about the experience of creating Textual Poachers. At the time, I sent out copies of the manuscript to everyone quoted, and I still have a bulging file of letters I received in response from countless fan women. I know some of you are still reading this blog twenty years later, and I’d love to encourage you to post comments here, sharing your own reflections about what has happened to fandom over the past two decades since this book first appeared. I think our blog response software is working much better than it has sometimes done in the past, but if you have any problems posting your comments, send them to me at hjenkins@usc.edu

Rethinking the Industrial Mindset: An Interview with No Straight Lines’ Alan Moore (Part Three)

You describe mobile communications as both a disruptive and transformative technology. Why? What do you see as the long term impact of the growth of mobile communications in our lives?


I describe mobile as our remote control for life.
If we think that the fixed internet has been a disruptive force, mobile devices of which there are more on this planet now than people will have an impact of a higher order of magnitude. From east side LA to the Masai in Africa and onwards to the rain forests of Peru, we are all connected up to and across each other, enabling flows of data / information that can be described in the same way as when Eleanor Roosevelt first saw Iguassu Falls where the Amazon meets Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and exclaim “poor Niagara”.

Mobile is transformative we see this in Africa, a continent that is vast that could never benefit from the fixed internet in the same way the US or Europe has for example. By the constraint of design mobile communications has become the platform by which Africa is dealing with banking, education, healthcare, and trade. MPesa a mobile banking system allows people to pay for goods and services, to have salaries paid, and is used as a payment system for people working via their mobile devices (translations / fact checking) so that they have the potential to increase their income from $2 per day by making $2 for every hour worked. Four years after introducing mobile banking and mobile payment into Kenya, 25% of the total Kenyan economy is transmitted through mobile phones and 70% of the population uses MPesa. There are 74 mobile phones for every 100 Kenyans, well above the African average of 65. And nearly 99% of internet subscriptions in Kenya are on mobile phones. And, Kenya’s biggest bank, Equity Bank is opening an innovation centre in Nairobi focusing on mobile technology.

M-Farm is a service that gives farmers access to market prices for the cost of a text message and allows them to group together to buy and sell products. Something similar is happening in India.

Worldreader.org is providing African children with mobile enabled kindles giving them the first time the opportunity to access information, books, knowledge and learning at a price they can afford.

The crisis management platform Ushahidi could never have worked without mobile technology and its unique characteristics; the ability to harness time critical information using GPS and time stamped location data. Ushahidi is now used in many ways to help gather data – mapping information into a cartography around human crisis issues from natural disasters (Japan and Haiti) to the harassment of women in Egypt by predatory men, to citizen journalism and civic engagement.

In Japan data from vehicles’ windscreen wipers and embedded GPS receivers track the movement of weather systems through towns and cities with a precision never before possible. It’s the evolution of what we would call a smart city.

The rainforest tribe the Achuar are using mobile GPS devices to map their land using that data by transferring it onto mining maps augmenting them so that companies buying land from the Peruvian government for mineral extraction can now see for the first time that their activities have a devastating effect on people that wish to live a way of life that has been continuous for many thousands of years.

Museums can become platforms and start to provide services that create additional assets and additional revenue streams. Their audience is global from day one.

These are but a few glimpses of the transformative power of mobile, Africa upgrading itself in part through mobile connectivity to itself and the rest of the world. It can now plug into the world economy.

So mobile is the Iguassu rather than the Niagra – an enabler of all aspects of our lives – an empowering us, providing us with greater autonomy, freedom, efficiency and effectiveness. Even more beautiful with the arrival of smart phone technology that enables us to interface with the world around us with ever decreasing interference in new and exciting ways, contributing to the step change in humanities progress.

You write about the relationship between “data” and “democracy.” I would want to draw a distinction between “data” which can be collected and aggregated without the knowledge of participants (as is increasingly the case in Web 2.0 services) and “discourse” which emerges from the active and conscious deliberation of communities who are working towards a shared goal. Are these two models equally democratic?

Democracy as data the black gold of the 21st Century

I made this observation in 2004, and like all resources of great value, conflict is never far behind.

And I completely agree with your observation and distinction. Data is integral to what comes next, thinking from a perspective of openness and aesthetics of design in that only ugly thoughts bring to bear ugly realities. It may not at first seem a clear connection between data, individual sovereignty and democracy. However once we understand that at high level the commercial world seeks to influence and in some cases coerce political institutions then we have to see them as linked. Or indeed that political ideology seeks to direct the course of political outcomes as is the case in Pennsylvania at the moment and elsewhere where Republicans seeks to make it much harder for various sections of the African-American community to vote in the hope they weaken Obama’s chances of re-election.

In Britain there are attempts by the Government of the day to legislate so that they can access and extract comprehensive, fine-grained covert surveillance of entire populations. All our digital activity: voice, text, Google searches, a level of surveillance that is unprecedented and as John Naughton describes as pernicious.

The recent phone hacking debacle in the UK in which it was found The News of the World hacked into the voice mail of thousands of people including murdered school girl Milly Dowler to sell tabloid newspapers demonstrating a rubicon has been crossed.

Data whichever way you look at it is about power and everyone is at it.

These examples are not democratic, they are harvesting data for personal or state gain. Which is why so many organizations work so hard to fight for the democratic rights of individual sovereignty around the world. It is a battle we must all be part of as 1984 just might be here already.

The opportunity of the open society

Whereas if we see shared data as a life enhancing resource that amplifies cooperative capability built upon mutuality rather than extraction of information for individual gain – then there are reasons to be optimistic.

The Ordnance Survey, the owner of all the topographical data of the UK, has opened up its data-base under a creative commons license to enable other to build upon the work of others, Ushahidi, the crisis management platform, could not work without data. Open source platforms allow diversity to flourish a default setting of nature, and they are extremely resilient and adaptive.

Like all things it is about asking the right question – is what we create for the collective good – where mutualism and trusted networks of relationships can flourish? The increase in the use of Creative Commons and open innovation demonstrates this can work in commercial and non-commercial contexts – there must rules of engagement but these rules are built upon what I describe as the economics of sharing.

We could go one further with the idea of the open commons region. What data could be released into the public domain to aid local communities be better communities to become, as the Shareable Magazine in San Francisco describes as, ‘shareable cities’. Where a multitude of neighbourhood resources can be shared; car rides, urban farming, skills, culture, civic innovation. Like an initiative called Brickstarter, this open approach enables citizens to submit ideas which then get registered on a website. Then based on ideas submitted to the platform, the service then connects visitors, and invites them into project groups. Project groups have their own project page with more information, upcoming events, feedback, etc. Projects can also form connections to existing city resources and community organizations. In July 2011 the City of New York invited volunteer-led community groups to apply for a Change by Us NYC grant to fund ongoing projects.

These initiatives are citizen led, grassroots, networked and flat in hierarchy. As C. Otto Scharmer, author of Theory U describes, “as an evolved geometry that devolves power from hierarchies to evolving trusted networks of relationships”. The aesthetics of such design processes lead to exemplary outcomes.

You introduced me to Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman and Sennett’s arguments play a key role in this book in defining what you see as the ideal form of labor for the future. What do you see as the core insights we might take from Sennett’s book, which deals with much earlier moments in the history of work, to think about how people might relate to their “jobs” in a networked culture?


Insights to Craftsmanship

Richard Sennett in The Craftsman reminds us of a number of things to reflect upon. First the craftsman represents the special human condition of being ‘engaged’.

Secondly, Hephaestus was the Greek god presiding over the craftsman, the bringer of peace and the maker of civilization. ‘More than a technician, the civilizing craftsman has used his tools for a collective good’, he writes. And it was through the spirit of the Enlightenment that the craftsman brought forward a huge surge of social and creative innovation that made the lot of ordinary humans better. So the craftsman questions why he makes things; he must evaluate the energy, effort and time that will consume him in his craft and the final act of creation – is he doing good, is he solving a real problem and offering up something better, is he using all his skills as a civilizing force? These questions must weigh constantly in his mind.

The craftsman is always in beta

His mind must be open to new ideas, techniques, tools and processes; to close his mind to the new, or new ways of doing things, is the greatest risk he will take. The ability to bring two unlikes together in close adjacency and recognise a pattern or a new possibility is the true act of creation; Lennon and McCartney or the fusion of medical knowledge and computing are but two real life examples of what I mean. The craftsman must combine technique and expression so that he is also able to act intuitively.

This can only happen when he possesses deep or what is called implicit knowledge. Rather than acting only upon empirical information, the craftsman’s ultimate act is one of unique expression which can only be delivered through the mastery of these skills.

The engaged craftsman is a committed craftsman, ergo the engaged organization is a committed organization and will work far more effectively.

Does this description describe work for the majority in the early 21st Century? I was asked by a senior leader of a large organization, when I was running a Transformation LAB, whether craftsmanship as a culture could truly be inculcated into a large organization – my answer was yes but it does require a change of culture. The ability to create a dynamic where space is created for a constant process of creating, critiquing, collaborating and communicating.

We are all designed to be risk averse, yet there are ways to mitigate risk, and that is through pattern recognition. Where people see no connection, no pattern, no new pathways, only chaos, the craftsman see patterns, which he can then deconstruct into steps that will lead him successfully to achieving his goal. ‘What do you see?’ and ‘What do I see?’ are questions we need to ask as we seek. For example, if I use Creative Commons legal frameworks in the design and manufacture of cars, what might that mean to accelerate innovation? If I use a highly motivated community open source software connected up to Google APIs and mobile GPS technology, what might that mean? If I use revenue sharing, how will that make my business more attractive yet more disruptive at the same time? Pattern recognition comes from insight – it doesn’t come from an inflexible linear process.

This is also a form of systems thinking – the craftsman thinks about the whole system.

The craftsman also knows how to deliver quality without it necessarily costing the earth.

This then leads on to the idea of whether creativity is a resource or a competence. Organizations from a linear world are designed to function at 100% efficiency, which largely means there is no way in which they can also be creative organizations, as this requires room for reflection, deliberation, conversation, trying stuff out; that’s the practical stuff, but also industrial organisations ideologically fear creativity – anything deemed ‘creative’ is outsourced – but for the craftsman, and the crafted organization, creativity, to be creative, to think and act creatively is something that is a fundamental part of what makes them who they are.

This is the pathway I argue to how we make work more meaningful and life-enhancing which is also a part of our new Human Operating System.

Many are arguing that our current notions of intellectual property emerged and reflected a world where a limited number of people had access to the capacities of cultural production and circulation, and they are reaching a crisis point as we expand the number of participants in the communication systems. How central is copy-right reform to the emergence of the kind of alternative social and culture structures you propose? What would a better model look like?

This is an extremely important question, as law is the hidden framework that underpins and shapes all our lives – in so many ways. The framing by large media conglomerates that all file sharing, and modding of content is ‘piracy on the high seas’, demonstrates an unwillingness by those that believe only they have the right to manufacture culture to adapt to the shape of a more participatory world.

Copy-right reform is central to creating a more diverse and rich cultural and economic landscape. A better model is created out of a commons approach that provides different types of permissions for usage as expressed through the creative commons licenses.

I also think that this parallel universe to law should be taught at law and business schools so our next generation leaders and practitioners of law can learn to assess the granular benefits of an economy built upon sharing and open frameworks as separate to an ideology of strict one-way controls.

Lets face it if copy-right had existed when Dvorak was writing some of his great works based on folk tunes, folk myths and folk culture we would not have that work, nor the great work of many others. They built upon the work of others.

It is of course a difficult area to negotiate; if I had invested $160m in making a movie I might feel very unhappy if I saw no return on that investment based upon piracy. However one could build a model where elements of the movie could be made available for modding, reinterpretation and for sharing and this engaged fan fiction approach could be of great value to creators of expensive content – through marketing, development of innovative ideas and even new content.

And of course we see and extraordinary surge in innovation through the open source movement – the ability to innovate at a much lower cost at greater speed.

So this redistribution of wealth and value, wealth of knowledge, the value of creating better, the ability to build multiple services shows that openness encourages diversity the default setting for life to flourish. As Weber writes in the Success of Open Source the conventional wisdom that innovation is driven by the promise of individual and corporate wealth, ensuring the free distribution of code among computer programmers can empower a more effective process for building intellectual products. But it does challenges the dominant logic of an industrial society.

For myself I published No Straight Lines in an open access epub format which is globally accessible to anyone with a browser and I ask people to tweet to pay, which I think is fair compensation for seven years hard work – but the work also exists in paperback and kindle formats and we ask payment for these. Some people are happy to pay, some people are happy to pay with a tweet, some people are happy to make a donation.

The point is I seek more than short-term monetary value by giving permission for my story to flow and to be part of a global consciousness which would not have been possible otherwise. To emphasize I have used combinations of legal frameworks as an author I am seeking various values and not all are financial.
Standing on the shoulders of giants

If we look back to the 60’s it was the Grateful Dead that perfected the idea of sharing as an economic and cultural means to spread their music, hence more people came to the concerts, more people bought the T-shirts and a tribe of Deadheads were born.

So this new model is adaptive, flexible in allowing value to be created in a variety of ways. The economy and aesthetics of sharing creates cultural value, intellectual value and a richer and more diverse pool from which our wider humanity can profit from in a multiplicity of ways. It is a model created from the ethos of mutualism rather than cultural and economic monoculture and strangulation.

You end the book with a series of core principles, one of which is adaptiveness. Why do you see this trait as central to your “nonlinear” culture? What roles can education play in preparing future citizens to be more “adaptive” to a changing environment?

I see this as a core principle because if Humanity is demanding an upgrade from all our industrial institutions which are now proven to be inappropriate for our time – seeking to unleash the full creative potential of every human being and in so doing enhances their wellbeing and that of the wider society – from healthcare to education to the workplace, allowing humanity to surge forward united by a common purpose. We have to ask what do organizations look like in a human-centric world – and how do traditional organizations innovate to upgrade themselves to be able to belong to the extraordinary story of human evolution that now points towards a more participatory, cooperative, and regenerative model of our society?

So learning to be adaptive is central to the story. From an education perspective – we need to prepare our citizens and our organizations to be able to upgrade themselves constantly. Many of the skills I learnt as a typographer whilst at college were obsolete within three years of leaving. And so for me it is an important and key lesson – that we need to teach people to be curious about the world they live in, to want to play in it, and that life long learning – the requirement to be in constant beta (a skill the craftsman possesses) is a necessary condition of thriving in a non-linear world. Adaptiveness is upgrading personal capability, organizational capability, our economies and by default the means by which we do business.

More specifically the ability to individually and collectively: create, critique, collaborate and communicate are the necessary conditions to learning to be adaptive. Your work for the MacArthur Foundation also inspired me to think about adaptiveness as a core principle. You cite the need for play, to appropriate, to simulate – by which you express the need to be able to be a good builder of patterns that can bring new insight – and I would also suggest a new language to describe new and novel ways to create, to ‘scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details’. There is an emphasis on collective intelligence which for me connects to participatory leadership – which ascribes to the view that a best possible future lies in the minds of the many. Teaching our children the power of participatory leadership would bring great value to our general society and therefore great rewards to individuals.

I worry these skills are not being taught, and I worry that there is a growing disconnect between the world we are creating and how education prepares the next cohort to inhabit that world meaningfully. We have to teach our children to be creative actors, and creators in our non-linear world – not to be passive consumers. As Proust observed “the real voyage of discovery is not to seek new landscapes but to look upon the world with fresh eyes”, and in that way we too can learn to adapt well to a changing world.

 

Alan  Moore sits on the “board of inspiration” at the Dutch Think Tank Freedom Lab. He acts as “Head of Vision” for the Grow Venture Community, is a board director of the crisis management NGO Ushahidi and is as a special advisor to a number of innovative companies and organizations including publishing, mobile, the theatre and finance.

Rethinking the Industrial Mindset: An Interview with No Straight Lines’ Alan Moore (Part Two)

In your chapter, “Me We,” you confront a core debate about the relationship of the individual and the community. This question is certainly invited by the notion of “participation” which runs across the book. This term, as some critics of my own work note, begs the question, Participation in what? If you are moving from an industrial model of conformity to mass expectations, you are not embracing a notion of total individualism. So, how do we resolve the relationship of the individual to the community? What models of community life are you embracing?

I agree a most challenging question and the answer(s) are multi-layered. I think it also requires a compassion and understanding human nature. The great Mohammad Ali was once asked what what his shortest poem was, without hesitation he said, ‘Me We’.
Of course ‘Me We’ relates to Carl Jung’s insight that, “I” needs “we” to truly be “I” which points to how we construct meaningful identities – through meaningful networked relations to the world around us. It additionally leads us to the insight humanities greatest asset is its ability to work in aggregates – cooperatively. Which has multiple benefits for we and me.

Lets take one example. A systems level organizational change of the healthcare system is currently underway in Nova Scotia, through a process described as ‘Participatory Leadership’, whereby it is the participation of the people that are the true actors (nurses, clinicians, patients, etc.) within that healthcare system that are co-designing, and co-creating how they are going to find the answers to their difficult and challenging issues. This process allows all participants to contribute and in that they embrace systems change – or in other words, people embrace what they create.

As the Director Janet Braunstein Moody told me, ‘we are doing things today not possible without participatory leadership becoming the core operating process of the organization’. She points out that in her experience after working in healthcare for many years that you can do almost anything with a shared vision – when there is awareness and comprehension of that shared vision and so the needs of the whole outweigh the needs of the individual. This translates for example into the Nova Scotia healthcare system co-budgeting together, deciding as a group how to spend the budget, something that could never have been achieved before.

It has created the ability to move with great speed and flexibility and that leadership is now recognized as stewardship of an eco-system that must be nurtured not fought over like a battlefield.

People’s deep motivation is not monetary but more importantly it is based upon meaningful connection – how we make context and meaning, through the webs of relationships and how we derive value from those relationships and connections are central to human beings. This is an inversion of traditional top down coercive management culture, media culture (thinking about your work on fan fiction) or how we think about learning, or how we deliver healthcare services, or budget the finances of a village, town or region.

Further examples are the extraordinary work achieved by Michel Bauwens at the p2p foundation charting the multifaceted rise of the p2p society, new manufacturing capability such as wikispeed, 100k garages, the city of San Francisco working on the idea of shareable cities, which one could argue is built upon the amazing work of Mayor Jamie Lerner in the Brazillian city Curitiba in the 1960’s, the rise of crowdfunding and the changing of legislation to accommodate its potential in the US, regions like Mondragon in Spain that have run on participatory principles for many years, the entire open software movement, the work of Creative Commons that is built on how creative and intellectual content is shared rather than restricted, and Ushahidi the crisis management platform a prototype NGO of the future; flat, networked open source, adaptive that was built entirely by a volunteer workforce. We see participatory cultures in innovation, such as innocentive, your encore or topcoder. Or social movements such as SOCAP.

Participatory culture is about human identity, and about a different type of capital – human capital, social capital, cultural capital, intellectual and knowledge capital, as well as financial capital. Each of which is able to create value and release value. Each of these capitals relate to why the above examples work. But we have to understand humanity only gives it creative best, its highest sacrifice not for 50 pieces of silver but something else. The thing that enriches us, the thing that says we are more than just ourselves.

My views on this are also inspired by the work of Lewis Hyde, who writes about the gift economy and how and why the gifts we give to each other are deep cultural bonding agents between individuals, groups and communities. The universal nature of humanity is why in Japan it is seen as extremely rude to pour your own sake, your guest pours for you and so gives you the gift and the bond is co-created, a ritual also observed in the South of France at the beginning of a collective meal. To dig deeper we see this is the foundations of any regenerative society, the principle of reciprocity, re and pro – back and forth.

Academic Jay Rosen describes the mass media / industrial world where we were atomized into individuals and only connected up to each other across mass media. Today he says that power has eroded. It has eroded because in part a greater power has spoken a desire for a substantial change in the human condition. Having deconstructed humanity almost to the point of deconstruction, participatory cultures, part of the Human-OS say we are all rich and can be richer by how we cooperate and participate together.

There is no one size fits all, it requires us to evolve and develop a literacy that enables us to speak authoritatively, to discuss and design in great detail how participatory cultures could work in a multitude of situations.

A question you try to address in the book is “what happens when the right information gets to the right people at the right time” and you provide some examples of the transformative consequences of our shifting access to information here. What do these examples teach us? How do you address your own question? What factors prevent this productive allocation of information much of the time?

They teach us that sharing information is power, is powerful and enriching.

I address my own question by believing that openness is resilience, which allows greater diversity, and that if we do not have access to the right information at the right time we cannot be meaningful actors and authors of our own lives and destinies. It also is a redistributive model, which enables to deal with a more complex world but also changes and challenges power relationships in commercial and civic society.

So if we take the story of Patients Know Best, a healthcare service for people with chronic healthcare conditions, the ability for patients and clinicians to share and participate together in the diagnosis and treatment of common problems in unique circumstances, we see a dramatic improvement in the right clinical decisions being taken which means the reduction in wrong diagnosis, over prescription of drugs and the clogging up of waiting rooms in hospitals to see specialists. So sharing information improves safety, reduces costs, and saves time.

Ushahidi – the crisis management platform (Kenya – post election crisis, Haiti, Japan earthquake) and NGO, enables people and organizations to work more effectively in chaotic conditions, with limited resources to respond at internet speeds. Or enables the ability to create a cartography of information that enables more meaningful actions to be taken.

These also point to the idea of the learning organization that is able to iteratively learn and so evolve, adapt and develop naturally.

A story about power

What stops these things happening? A dominant theory that says control of knowledge and information is power – Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikispeed vs. Ford, Threadless vs. Gap. If you have been taught to see and act in the world in a particular way – linear and the organization as a hierarchical box, conceptualizing a new geometric organizational shape that is seemingly chaotic, complex and flat is very hard to do – it is a paradigm shift something that Thomas Kuhn identified.

These shifts however challenge cultural worldviews and they represent a fundamental reordering of the set of arrangements in how we work to get things done. As this shift becomes ever more present in the older paradigm organizations in incumbent positions of power increasingly resist as although this shift brings better things into the world it also signifies a change in values and power relationships – no one has ever given up all their power willingly and until they exhaust themselves morally and financially.

You seem to hold open the idea that the right commercial practices could work to enable and support the creative capacities of the general population. Yet, this sounds very much the promise made by early advocates of “web 2.0.” What lessons have we learned from the successes or more often, the failures of Web 2.0 companies to live up to these ideals?


There is no doubt that web 2.0 was seen as a utopian new beginning, and perhaps that was the problem – it was too utopian, the idea that everything was happening ‘online’ was a false one.

But you have to start somewhere and there is no doubt that if one studies the development of our online world many people over a considerable number of years worked extremely hard to create the foundational capabilities of a networked world.

What we are seeing is a greater sophistication in the design of organizations, and the blending of a variety of processes and capabilities for that to happen. For example, taking the keywords that describe Local Motors for example.

This represents the prototype of the networked organization, the company as a platform that runs lean, uses Creative Commons as a legal frameworks that uses co-creation as a core capability within the company whilst also using flex manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing. One can see the DNA of 2.0 here in this chart and for that we can be grateful. We can also see a greater sophistication; a blending of tools and process that takes us beyond 2.0 thinking and doing as the previous example of Patients Know Best demonstrates.

Was 2.0 a failure? I would argue that it was a journey we needed to go on – from all that work and effort a better way of organizing has evolved.

 

Alan  Moore sits on the “board of inspiration” at the Dutch Think Tank Freedom Lab. He acts as “Head of Vision” for the Grow Venture Community, is a board director of the crisis management NGO Ushahidi and is as a special advisor to a number of innovative companies and organizations including publishing, mobile, the theatre and finance.

Rethinking the Industrial Mindset: An Interview with No Straight Lines’ Alan Moore (Part One)

In early 2007, I featured an interview on my blog with Alan Moore, then the CEO of SMLXL, the Cambridge based “engagement marketing” firm, and the co-author ofCommunities Dominate Brands: Business and Marketing Challenges for the 21st Century. At the time he explained, “Engagement marketing is a very broad term, and purposefully so. At its heart, is the insight that human beings are highly social animals, and have an innate need to communicate and interact. Therefore, any engagement marketing initiative must allow for two-way flows of information and communication. We believe, people embrace what they create.”

Through the years, we have remained in touch. Moore remains one of the most thoughtful people I have met in the contemporary marketing world — someone who reads broadly, who asks challenging questions, who is willing to explore alternative perspectives, and who is trying to construct his own theoretical model for the changes that are impacting our contemporary society.

All of that probing and reading comes together in his new book, No Straight Lines: Making Sense of Our Nonlinear World. No Straight Lines offers a fascinating perspective who roams far and wide across the worlds of business, media and entertainment, politics, education, even healthcare, suggesting a new framework for understanding the way the world is changing in the 21st century. And Moore has been putting his money where his mouth is experimenting with new kinds of relationship with his readers. The above video tells you how you can access a copy of the book at the price of a tweet, and below, he describes some of the ways that readers can participate within what he calls a “read/write” version of the book.

In the conversation which follows, Moore explores a few of the many dimensions of the book, talking about how he can function as both a cultural critic and an industry leader, his critiques of Web 2.0, and his thoughts on core concepts such as participation, information, networks, and democracy.

You begin No Straight Lines with a provocative statement, “the purpose of this book is to highlight the corrosive effect that an industrial mindset and free market economy has ultimately inflicted upon humanity. My hypothesis is that we have got to the point where our industrial economy, projected onto society, can no longer support humanity.” These are strong and somewhat unexpected words coming from someone who has worked as the CEO of an branding company. How do you reconcile your positions as a cultural critic and as an industry leader? Does advertising have a constructive role to play in dismantling the industrial mindset which you claim has robbed us of aspects of our basic humanity? Or is advertising a key force promoting the old industrial model?

Craft

My early career originates in design, and design thinking. Deep is the connection between designers and their work as socially relevant to the world, so there is DNA in there.

I have often speculated that this is umbilically connected to craft – the craftsman works for the collective good. The creative marks yielded by my tools must have some form of satisfaction. Good work, good craft – yes, but also good for who else other than myself?

The shoemaker, the baker, the master craftsman used their skills and expertise to give something to society. And even the early industrial revolution through wrenching was geared towards giving light, heat mobility, communication, education etc., to a wider humanity.

Journey

My journey has been profound – I have worked for some of the biggest businesses in the world, but in my professional experience, and in the work I have undertaken initially for Communities Dominate Brands and now No Straight Lines I could see there was a systems problem.

I witnessed many organizations had lost their role and purpose for the wider society that a world defined purely by a commercial material culture had no value. Either through the products and services they were trying to sell, and or indeed the internal culture of these organizations.

The role of commerce in a networked world

These organizations were not asking – is what we create for the collective good?

I could see marketing had become harvesting cash flow for the quarterly numbers and shareholder returns. In many ways your book Convergence Culture demonstrated, to me anyway, humanities extraordinary need to create meaningful connection, to create culture and identity. Whereas you point to the cultural industries resisting any notion the idea that consumers had any right to participate in cultural production. Their job was to be good consumers.

So I asked myself do I need to help these organizations sell more or can I try to find a better use of my intent, my craft, creativity and skills? And that question led me to write No Straight Lines. Today my work is about helping large organizations see and create a better future.

Is advertising bad?

To your specific point advertising per se is not inherently bad – but its context on the whole is geared towards “I” and not “we”. With these jeans “I” will look cooler, more attractive, with this car “I” will feel more free, more important, with this black credit card it says “I” am important. Advertising represents the sharp end of the commercial intent of the organizations that define our world, its dominant logic is consumer culture is our salvation and I am afraid I have to disagree.

To demonstrate that lets briefly survey our commercial landscape – the bank HSBC has been laundering billions of drug cartel money in effect supporting murder, rape and torture; Barclays bank with others was fixing the interbank lending rate and undertaking massive tax fraud as we went into financial meltdown;  the subprime mortgage scandal in the US unleashed the global banking crisis which is still having significant implications for sovereign states today. Whilst they all advertise a better life through consumerism and debt.

Or in the UK the newspaper The News of the World that thought it was OK to hack into the voicemail of murdered school girls to sell tabloid newspapers and generate revenue through advertising. I would argue in pursuit of financial gain we have crossed a moral rubicon.

I was very happy to be in service of an industry which I believed to be inherently good – where commerce and society lived in mutual co-existence – but this is sadly no longer the case.

Part of your critique of the industrial era is that it forced humans to think and act in a very linear fashion, where-as you advocate a world where there are few if any “straight lines.” What do you see as some of the defining characteristics of the world you are advocating? What signs do you see that a post-industrial society is already moving us in that direction?

Firstly the defining characteristics I see are encapsulated in what I term the Human-OS (operating system).

This OS wants greater opportunity, greater freedom, greater empowerment, a revitalized sense of justice, a world where mutualism and participatory cultures are the default setting, where openness is seen as resilience and diversity is understood as a good thing, where we have greater autonomy and that seeks a greater aesthetic in everything we do: beautiful buildings, civic spaces, organizational design, it is as easy to make something beautiful as it is to make it ugly. So why choose the latter over the former? That question has always baffled me other than knowing ugly thoughts realize ugly realities.

This OS is the key driver to the systems change we are witnessing. I see this Human-OS in the transformational change of all the examples cited in No Straight Lines: from agriculture, hospital design, and healthcare service design, educational programmes, the response to complex civic challenges, manufacturing, NGO’s, the nature of finance, innovation and commerce itself. This OS is the story of why our networked world with its new Human OS is directing the shape of our post industrial future, which is why on the floors of our factories, in the waiting rooms of our hospitals, the classrooms of our schools, people are asking not what if – but how. How can we create a world designed around the wider needs of humanity, and that serves that humanity in ways in which our industrial society no longer can.
As others have observed, when you get institutional failure you lose the right to lead and people learn to get what they need from each other – that is essentially what is happening.

There is also the well-documented insight that technology only succeeds when it meets fundamental human needs – if we are currently wrapping an interactive socially orientated communications membrane around the world we have to understand this is what the Human OS wants.

It demands we rethink a few things; how we educate our young, how we teach business, our sense of ourselves in relation to our communities and civic spaces the nature of the organisation and political institutions, legal frameworks, the nature of work, happiness and play.

And in fact there is not a single industry on this planet where people are not investigating ways in which these things can be achieved. And of course the old industrial order politically, socially, organizationally is resisting.

Alan  Moore sits on the “board of inspiration” at the Dutch Think Tank Freedom Lab. He acts as “Head of Vision” for the Grow Venture Community, is a board director of the crisis management NGO Ushahidi and is as a special advisor to a number of innovative companies and organizations including publishing, mobile, the theatre and finance.

“We Do Not Have a Hollywood on the Outskirts of Warsaw:” What Poland Can Teach Us About Copyright and Circulation (Part Two)

I was able to share some core insights from this research as part of an very engaged panel at this past week’s Futures of Entertainment conference (with musician T-Bone Burnett and Annenberg Innovation Lab head Jon Taplin.) Expect to see the video of this panel (and others from the conference) on my blog before much longer. For those of you who live in Los Angeles, you might be interested in attending a one-on-one conversation I am having with T Bone Burnett this Weds. Nov. 14, 7:30, Hammer Museum. Check here for more information.

Now back to your regularly scheduled interview…

 

You situate your study in a much larger tradition of media and cultural scholars in Poland writing about “circuits” or circulation. Can you share with us some of the core insights from that tradition? 

 

ALEK TARKOWSKI: Polish sociologists in the Communist era were very focused on the issues surrounding the so-called “second circulation”, grassroots political and cultural activism as protest against the hypocrisy of the system and a sort of safety valve that enabled the society to externalize its frustrations. But in Polish history, informal circulations also included diverse economic activities and a vigorous youth culture movement. For us, that tradition served only as background – we haven’t used the tools that Polish sociologists developed to study alternative circulations. Yet we took them into account, since as concepts they have the power to disrupt the current logic and point out existing mechanisms that can be eerily similar to the ones observed in the Communist period. For example, there were social exchange networks used by our parents to distribute independent media and barely available products of Western popular culture. The irony of the situation lies in the fact that people who were active users of informal circulations in the Communist era are mostly quick to condemn informal usage of such circulations among their kids and grandkids.

Of course it’s difficult to make a direct comparison between both situations, but it turns out that as far as moral economy, or what people consider right and wrong, is concerned, there are a lot of similarities between the two. A qualitative study that Mirek is currently conducting involves a closer look at these similarities.

 

How might we situate the study of grassroots circulation of media in relation to the larger examination of what I call participatory culture or what Yochai Benkler discusses as “peer production”? 

 

JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Research shows that in Poland the creative output uploaded by people to the Internet is still marginal and the percentage of active creators does not grow. Of course, I do not mean all the marks we leave on the Web, like Facebook comments – just more substantial forms of creativity. There are some differences in the results depending on the indicator we chose, but no more than few percent of Internet users engage in regular cultural production. That’s why we decided to look for a Poland-specific point of reference for your and Benkler’s ideas, which would enable us to expand cultural participation categories to include more elements than just “production.” We considered things beyond “peer production,” like peer reproduction, redistribution, and recommendation, as we decided that even though they’re more controversial than grassroots production, they have just as strong an influence on the media and culture, which are known for wielding distribution control as a powerful weapon.

We were also very inspired by Mirko Tobias Schafer’s “extended culture industry” concept, which dissolves the top-down/bottom-up distinctions. Even in the discourse of exploitation identical situations can be interpreted in completely different ways: Internet users redistribute content to which they have no rights, but simultaneously they are doing the dirty work for the corporations as they promote their work. In a way, both content authors and consumers are participating in culture – maybe both groups don’t share the same rights, but they surely share similar possibilities for action. The role of software in all this is also really significant – it’s often the case that participation based on redistribution requires very little activity. Many users of file-sharing networks exchange content almost incidentally, the software does it for them. The significance of technological architecture behind cultural participation is an avenue well worth exploring.

We still want to broaden our knowledge of the grey area between authorship and consumption because we feel that a lot of interesting things happen there. We just commenced a qualitative study of people who still aren’t authors but are something more than just consumers – the category includes people who function as grassroots content archivists, who prepare and release Polish subtitles for TV series and movies. In informal circulations these people are institutions, and preliminary interviews show that they often feel that their actions “serve a higher purpose.” At the same time, they’re still using content to which they have no rights.

 

As you note in your report, much of the work in “informal economies” has centered on the developing world. What new insights do we get if we apply this model to talk about how media travels through more developed countries? How, for example, might that operate in relationship to post-Communist Eastern Europe? 

 

ALEK TARKOWSKI: The claim that informal economies and circulations function worldwide should be a truism. This is well demonstrated by Robert Neuwirth, for example. We find it very interesting that the informal economy category, at first devised to describe the economies of developing countries now applies so well to modern creative economies. We also like Ravi Sundaram’s idea of “pirate modernity”, which claims that modernity is neither regulated nor sterile, but haphazard, informal or even illegal.

And Poland, today a developed country, has been very different only twenty years ago. Although we moved from a shortage economy to a surplus economy, some mechanisms are still working just fine. And digital technologies only invigorate the informal circulations. Many Poles still remember the times when public radio played entire music albums on the air, while people at home mass-recorded them on tapes. Nobody really knows whether it was legal, but we all suspect that we might have had pirate public media back then. In the 1990s, we had legally operating stores that copied for customers albums from CDs to tapes. But simultaneously we assumed that this informality was typical of the Communist era when it functioned as the prohibited, glorified second circulation, as well as the crazy transition period of the early 1990s. We’re trying to demonstrate that the informal processes are still heavily influencing our culture.

The application of concepts developed for third world countries in Poland might hurt the national pride of many people. Yet we believe that Poland should draw on the experiences of for example the BRIC countries instead of comparing its culture industries with the United States. Look at the official copyright policy one feels as if Poland’s strategy was to copy the American intellectual property model directly. Yet we do not have Hollywood on the outskirts of Warsaw. While IP policy is imposed by international trade agreements, there is still room for taking into account local specificity and the national interest. This is rightly emphasized by Joe Karaginis in his commentary on our report. Joe writes that in the 19th century, the United States tolerated copyright infringement when it benefited American citizens. Meanwhile the policymakers in Poland, as well as we as a society, are not collectively asking whether another model might suit the Polish national interest better than the one currently implemented.

What are the primary motives for seeking content through informal circulation? 

 

JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Asking about motivations that drive people towards using informal circulations is very important, but it would be wise to remember that for the user, the delineation between a formal and informal circulation is blurry at best. The average user doesn’t have sufficient knowledge to easily discern whether a given online source represents the formal or informal circulation. Even payment doesn’t help to distinguish between the two, as the grey area in Poland includes websites that charge the users not for content, as they claim, but for data transfer. But for users, that distinction is often unclear. For the purposes of our project, we classified online sources such as streaming as part of the informal circulation. But to answer your question, it appears that price is the key factor when it comes to picking the informal circulation; about two-thirds of the respondents point to this motivation. Availability of content and ease of acquisition turn out to be equally important. This criterion is especially important for people living in smaller cities. Many respondents also pointed out that it’s important to them how up-to-date the content offer on the Web is. With no comparable offer from the official distribution channels, the Internet becomes a much more attractive source of content. In Poland, the offer of video-on-demand services, online music stores and paid streaming websites is still very limited and aimed at a mainstream audience.

In our study, we also analyzed attitudes towards downloading. The results basically paint Poles as pragmatists: for many people downloading is simply easier than visiting a store.

 

Near the end of the report, you describe what you are calling “Next Generation Internet Users.” Who are these people and what distinguishes them from the general population in your country? Are they more or less likely to buy content online? 

 

JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Faced with rising Internet penetration rates, we decided to make the “Internet user” category a little more nuanced. That’s why we applied the concept of “Next Generation Internet Users,” a term proposed by the World Internet Project’s William Dutton. The term describes heavy Internet users, also accessing the Web through various mobile devices, people who are constantly online, more or less. They’re also distinguished by their relatively high creative output – they take photographs, create digital content, build their own websites. They are heavily involved in content sharing but frequently purchase content as well. In Great Britain, these users make up over 40% of all Internet users. The people we polled in our study, however, demonstrated higher than average Internet usage: they spend multiple hours on the Internet, often accessing it via different devices. They turned out to be a very cultured group: e.g. 89% of them declared that they read at least one book in the past year. Using informal circulations is common in the group. About 88% of them use the informal circulation of music, 73% use the informal circulation of books; 78% use the informal circulation of movies. A high percentage of the people we studied declare buying cultural content online – a little over a third of the respondents (37%) claim to have paid for access to content online in the past year.

Our study has demonstrated that the division of the Polish population into Internet users and people who don’t use the Internet is consistent with the division into people who actively consume cultural content and those who don’t engage with any type of content circulation (except broadcast media – TV and radio – which weren’t the subject of the study). At the same time, the people displaying heaviest Internet usage and cultural consumption are also the most active users of informal circulations.

 

What do you think are the biggest mistakes made by policy and industry folks when they look at the relationship between formal and informal circulation of content? 

 

MIREK FILICIAK: Policy and industry folks have to stop perceiving informal circulations as excommunicated havens of the illegal and the anti-cultural. They need to treat these circulations as an alternative or as competition – it might be amoral and dishonest, but it is a part of the general circulation of culture. If a different approach is the desired result, changing the language might be a good place to start.

Policymakers make the mistake of considering only the legal implications of using informal circulations – we need to place a few positive aspects of these circulations on the other scale, like increased access to content and increased cultural activity. On the other hand, the industry in Poland offers few legal alternative to downloading – there’s not enough content, it’s expensive, and there’s no easy way to access it. We believe that people who engage with informal circulations might switch to legal purchasing of content online if given an honest alternative offer.

Presenting our findings to a group of industry representatives was an interesting experience. Many of the people from the creative industries, who publicly decried our report claiming that it legitimizes stealing, changed their tone and agreed with us in private conversations. They were aware of the fact that they will need to adapt to the users, and that the status quo is untenable and cannot be artificially supported by making the laws more severe. It was obvious especially to people working in the Internet industry. When asked about the main obstacles that hinder business development they didn’t mention piracy, they spoke about lack of flexibility on the part of collective rights management organizations and copyright holders, especially in the film industry.

We hope that the public debate currently underway in Poland, in which our report voiced a few very important issues, will head in the right direction. That we’ll witness the foundation of new services based on new business models and that the authorities, after learning from the experiences surrounding the ACTA fiasco, will introduce balanced regulations that will care for the interests of authors and producers as well as the society in general.

Mirek Filiciak is a cultural studies scholar, works at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities. He is interested in the influence of digital media on cultural participation practices and research methodologies. Co-editor of Polish cultural studies quarterly Kultura popular (Popular Culture), co-author of book Youth and Media.

Justyna Hofmokl is a sociologist and vice-director of Centrum Cyfrowe – think-and-do-thank building digital society in Poland. She is the author of Internet as a New Commons and published in International Journal of Commons.
Alek Tarkowski is a sociologist and works as director of Centrum Cyfrowe. He is Public Lead of Creative Commons Poland and former member of the Board of Strategic Advisors to the Prime Minister of Poland. His research interests focus around the intersection of intellectual property, society and digital technologies, with a special interest in open models of collaboration and sharing.

“We Do Not Have Hollywood on the Outskirts of Warsaw”: What Poland Can Teach Us About Circulation (Part One)

The Centrum Cyfrowe Projekt: Polska recently posted an English language translation of their report, The Circulations of Culture, which deals with the informal, sometimes illegal exchange of media content which is occurring in contemporary Poland. This report is a model of the kinds of thoughtful research which should be done in other countries around the world, including the United States, on this highly contentious topic. They start with a recognition that the pervasive language of “piracy” closes off issues which we need to be exploring. As they write:

“Wanting to become familar with and understand new practices one may not assess them in advance, let alone condemn them as illegal or wrong. Only knowing their scale, character and consequences may we assess the influence of new circulations of content on the sphere of culture. The domain remaining out of control of the state and the market is very varied. We lend and borrow books and records. We watch films uploaded to YouTube, but also we download them from websites and p2p networks. Usually we do not think whether we do it legally or not. And the facts of the case may be varied – there is content made available on the web illegally, but we may also use many materials in accordance with the law. Only 13% of Poles buy books, music or films. As many as 33% get hold of them in digital form, in a non-formal manner and for free. This number increases to 39% if we include also the „physical” forms of exchange into informal circulations, such as lending CDs. That is three times more than the market circulation, based on purchases of content.”

So far, the report’s findings might seem to support those who feel that informal circulation undercuts the development of a commercial market. Yet, the picture they develop turns out to be more complicated. They found that the rate of cultural consumption in contemporary Poland remains very low — only 44% of Poles had contact with a book over the past twelve months and only 20.80% of Poles went to the cinema over the past year. Among those who are most active online, though, the numbers are significantly higher. 89% of “Internauts” or “heavy Internet users” have read at least one book over the past year, and 82 percent have gone to a movie in the past 12 months. So, while less than 5 percent of Poles have bought a book and less than .1% have bought cps in the past year, those numbers are much higher for those who are most active online — 68% bought a book, 29 percent bought music.

Most of the heavy internet users acknowledged downloading some form of media content without paying for it — the number can be as high as 95 percent depending on how we define our terms, but they also represent the core of the existing media market. As the report concludes, illegal downloads do not preclude legal purchases. So much for the argument that it is going to be impossible to get people to pay for content they can download for free. Instead, we need to enter into a much more complex exploration of when and why people who could and do download content illegally choose to pay for media content. So, when the media industry declares war on pirates, it may also be declaring war on its best customers, and this may explain why their tactics so far have been so unsuccessful at slowing the rate of “media piracy,” because they are directed at the wrong people, because they do not understand the root causes of the issue, because they are not addressing the key motives for why people choose to pay for media.

 

Mirek Filiciak,  Justyna Hofmokl, and Alek Tarkowskithe primary authors of the report, were kind enough to participate in the following interview, which helps situate their findings within the context of a broader range of research in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe concerning “sharing cultures” and “informal media economies.” In what follows, they share further insights from their research which might guide policy-makers in other parts of the world as they seek to develop a more nuanced understanding of the ways such unauthorized circulations may impact the creative industries and the culture more generally.

For a creative presentation of the report’s core findings, visit this site.

 

Can you provide some context abort the current state of the debates around intellectual property and file sparing in Poland? What motivated your study? 

 

MIREK FILICIAK: The subject has been moving from the fringes towards the mainstream of the debate on culture for several years now. The shift has motivated the Polish government to work at increasing access to the public domain and to create initiatives such as the Digital School project, which directed a significant amount of funding towards the creation of open educational resources. The protests of Polish youth against ratification of the ACTA treaty in January and February of 2012 were a breakthrough moment for public discussion surrounding the subject. Incidentally, that’s when we unveiled our report, the end result of more than a year’s work.

For our team, taking on the subject was a continuation of our previous initiatives and research projects. Take, for example, the series of “Culture 2.0” conferences we co-organized, one of which featured you as a keynote speaker. Justyna and Alek founded the Polish chapter of Creative Commons and now they’re heading Centrum Cyfrowe (Digital Center), which is a leading Polish organization working towards greater cultural and civic engagement through digital technologies. IP issues are one of the Center’s main areas of interest and thus the organization hosted our research project. I myself have extensive research experience in this field and my previous research projects concerned for example fans of American TV series in Poland, or the “Youth and Media” project (the full report will soon be available in English) which was an ethnographic study of the use of media by Polish youth. We demonstrated in that study that thanks to networked digital media content often flows outside of official markets and without the involvement of institutional intermediaries. Our previous work and experiences with research, policy and activism suggested that the available indicators of cultural participation, often focused on official distribution channels, illustrate only a subset of the cultural practices of Poles.

That’s why we decided to provide empirical data that can be useful both for researchers and for policymakers. In Poland, previously data was limited and skewed: based on outdated research schemes of official statistics or biased studies set to prove that piracy is wrong and harmful for culture. There are some commercial studies, but usually the methodology is kept secret, which makes it hard to debate the results. From the very start, our project was designed to be a scientific study as well as an additional voice in the public debate. We also wanted to propose a set of standards for transparency of methodologies and data presentation (not only did we make the report and raw data sets available to the public, we also prepared a very approachable mashup).

 

You make a clear point in the opening paragraphs of the report that you are not studying “pirates,” but rather you are researching “informal content sharing practices.” Can you explain the distinction you want to make between the two and why it is such an important one for framing your findings? 

 

JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Above all, we wanted to draw public attention to somewhat deeper aspects of cultural activities of Internet users. And to retire the “pirate” label, as it basically leaves no space for debate and substantial arguments. In Poland, content sharing via the Internet has been presented for the last few years strictly as a struggle between “thieves” and “pirates” on one side and “evil corporations” on the other, without making any attempts at trying to understand the phenomenon.

The “piracy” tag draws attention solely to the financial consequences suffered by authors and intermediaries, while omitting issues that are absolutely fundamental for the state’s cultural policy, such as building social and cultural capital through accessing and sharing content. Only by framing the issue in a neutral way can we look for regulatory solutions that will balance the interests of the authors and intermediaries with societal benefits.

That’s why we were determined to take a closer look at the circulation of content outside of the market and reinvigorate the public debate, which doesn’t seem to have developed in Poland in any sensible way in the years that passed since the fall of Napster. Instead of talking about “piracy,” we’d rather discuss the flow of cultural content in the society. It often slips outside of the control and regulation of both governments and markets – and forms informal circulation.

We didn’t want to evaluate the legality of the behaviors we studied – and by the way, that’s not an easy task. In Poland, even the lawyers themselves can’t agree on what classifies as “fair use.” We assume the point of view of the users themselves and take a closer look at the way they access and use cultural content. We want the debate on regulating certain cultural practices on the Internet to be based on facts and reliable data.

 

Many have argued that the informal sharing of media content online comes at the expense of purchasing media. We hear the argument that people are unlikely to pay for media when they can get so much of it for free. What did you discover around this question through your research? 

 

ALEK TARKOWSKI: Our results demonstrate that the people who access informal circulations can be roughly divided into two groups. About a quarter of them are people who at the same time download informally and purchase content. Surprisingly enough, they are among the culture industries’ best customers. They make up the largest group among said customers and their expenditures are similar to the expenditures of consumers who don’t engage in illegal downloading. Formal and informal distribution channels are not competing in their case. However, 75% of people who participate in the informal circulation – this amounts to about 25% of all adults in Poland – don’t purchase any media from the formal circulation. They use radio, the TV, and the Internet. The question is whether they’re people that have “quit” the market or ones that never participated in it to begin with. We think (although that’s strictly a hypothesis) that they’re potential future customers or people that don’t participate in formal distribution due to economic reasons. Informal circulations increase the cultural activity of people who, until now, were only passive consumers of mass media.

In our next research projects we are trying to better understand the exact relationship between the two types of circulations, studied through the practices of individual persons. We don’t know for example whether an Internet user that engages with both circulations does it with equal frequency or how downloading influences purchasing behavior over time. We are also pressuring the government to organize a research consortium that would explain the economics of the two circulations.

 

Mirek Filiciak is a cultural studies scholar, works at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities. He is interested in the influence of digital media on cultural participation practices and research methodologies. Co-editor of Polish cultural studies quarterly Kultura popular (Popular Culture), co-author of book Youth and Media.

Justyna Hofmokl is a sociologist and vice-director of Centrum Cyfrowe – think-and-do-thank building digital society in Poland. She is the author of Internet as a New Commons and published in International Journal of Commons.
Alek Tarkowski is a sociologist and works as director of Centrum Cyfrowe. He is Public Lead of Creative Commons Poland and former member of the Board of Strategic Advisors to the Prime Minister of Poland. His research interests focus around the intersection of intellectual property, society and digital technologies, with a special interest in open models of collaboration and sharing.

Creating Transmedia: An Interview with Andrea Phillips (Part Three)

Game designers have long debated how they might create a game that makes people cry or indeed, whether people cry about games all the time (and not just from frustration.) I am often asked a similar question about transmedia.  Is our experience of transmedia a necessarily cold and analytic one — putting together pieces of a puzzle, searching for clues which provide insights — or does it produce its own range of emotional impacts on the audience? 

The idea that weeping is the sole arbiter of emotional response is absurd. The fact is that not only can games and interactive narrative produce a range of emotions — the same tears and laughter and boredom you can get from flat media — but also a whole new palette of emotions that require the audience to have agency. Frustration, as you say, but also fiero. Guilt over one’s actions. Pride over an accomplishment. Relief at escaping from danger.

Many transmedia narratives share that element of interaction, and hence can open up that broader range of human emotions to provoke. Indeed, this is one of the things I find the most exciting, as a writer — if the goal if a story is to provide an emotional experience, then surely the forms that allow you to access a wider scope of emotions is the clear winner.

The idea that a transmedia experience must be cold and analytic is equally misdirected. It’s mistaking form and structure for content. The emotional payload is carried by the context and meaning each piece has, not by how you consume it. You wouldn’t call a business letter anything but a cold and emotionless format, but the memo that hires you or fires you is going to have tremendous emotional weight because of the meaning you bring to it as a reader.

It also bears noting that insight based on fragmented evidence is our natural experience of life. Not to go down that “the whole world is a transmedia experience” path, but there is definitely a seed of truth there — attaching meaning and therefore emotional weight to what amount to breadcrumbs is a very common and very human activity, whether the stories we’re engaging with are authored fiction or not.

Writers have often described film and theater in terms of the willful suspension of disbelief, yet it can be hard to sustain disbelief across a story which is dispersed across so many different media. Indeed, transmedia often calls attention to the processes of its own production and circulation in ways which can impact its emotional reality. This may be why early ARGS claimed “this is not a game” and thus incorporated the reality of the web into the story. I’ve suggested we might think about the active production of belief as part of the expectation the transmedia storyteller places on their audience. What insights do you have about the problem of maintaining the credibility of a transmedia story?

This is an issue I’ve wrestled with quite a lot, because there are tremendous ethical and legal questions around pervasive fiction. How do you account for bystanders misinterpreting your content — and maybe reporting you to the authorities? And yet how do you create an immersive experience if you’re lamp shading the fact that your story isn’t really real?

The solution, I think, is to separate the idea of realism and verisimilitude from the idea of emotional and narrative authenticity. It’s easy to mistake the two, because they’re both interpretations of truth. This isn’t a new problem, either. In the 18th century, many novels claimed to be papers found in an attic, journals arrived in a mysterious parcel, and the like. They, too, were striving for realism in an effort to stake out credibility and authenticity, as the novel was considered a low form at the time. But now we’ve grown comfortable with the idea that a novel is outright fabricated by a writer, and that novels have cultural value, too.

Transmedia narrative will get there as well, and I suspect a lot faster, because audiences now have much more sophisticated media habits than audiences three hundred years ago. The audience will happily forgive you for gaps in realism. The hero rarely has to take a bathroom break, after all, and the bad guys are nearly always terrible marksmen. But if you have a character react to a situation in a way that doesn’t feel true to the audience, you’ll simply lose them.

Once you recognize this key distinction, it liberates you from striving to make things all look perfectly and completely realistic. The audience wants to buy into your story, so using intro and outro bumpers on video clips and corporate footers on websites don’t damage the heart of the experience.

Classic Hollywood developed principles of redundancy so that every detail that mattered was repeated multiple times — they sometimes talked about the Law of Threes. Does redundancy become more or less important in a transmedia text? What are some strategies that are effective for building redundancy into the text without boring your most dedicated fans? Are there other principles which should be used to insure the accessibility of a transmedia story?

As with many parts of transmedia creation, there’s no one right answer. It depends on what works best for the project you’re trying to make. Outright repetition could be necessary in some works and not others.

The one hard rule I’d put is this: if you’re providing multiple entry points to your story, then you need to provide enough context for the audience to understand what’s going on at exactly that point. If that means you have to repeat important details, then so be it, but a more elegant solution might be to provide easy access to that information in an out-of-story reference source. It might also be possible to include certain key information in entry pieces of content and then never repeat them. If you’re making a sprawling Star Wars-style venture, you probably don’t need to explain what a Jedi is in every new book or film; you can assume a certain amount of canon knowledge in your audience.

There is one more consideration, though, and that’s the effect of fandom on a work. In an emergent and adaptive narrative, you may not even know what details will be important ahead of time. You simply choose the things your audience has focused on and reward that focus to the best of your ability.

Some communities thrive on explaining the story to one another, as well. Homestuck comes to mind — it’s recently been described as the Ulysses of the internet by the Idea Channel. It’s nominally a web comic, but there are strong game influences and even outright games, music, and heavy audience influence over the events of the story. At this point, there are dozens of characters and an incredibly convoluted universe that operates under some very specific rules. The story can be nearly inscrutable in places if you aren’t active in the fan community one way or another.

But if the creator, Andrew Hussie, were to repeat important details in the way that Hollywood might suggest, it would disrupt the flow of the story, limit its scope to what could be planned ahead of time, and it would remove the need for a sort of social grooming that happens in the fan community, of sharing common knowledge about the story and world. I don’t think that fandom would be as robust if Homestuck itself wasn’t as opaque.

 

Some argue that elements built into a transmedia story in order to intensify fan engagement can seem overwhelming to a more casual consumer who wants to just sit back and be entertained. Is this tension inevitable around a transmedia work or can we, as Christy Dena has argued, created different forms and levels of participation for different segments of a transmedia audience?

We can design for different levels of participation, and in fact for the most part we do. But there is a point of diminishing returns. If only ten people in the world will ever see a piece of content, perhaps you’re better spending your budget on something else. You do in general have to choose between providing a very rich and deep experience for very few people, or providing a somewhat shallower experience to a much broader audience.

The fashionable solution right now is to make each platform a self-encapsulated narrative, completely accessible to casual audiences. Star Wars works just as one movie. Lizzie Bennett Diaries works just as a web series. Lance Weiler’s Pandemic works just as a short film, and so on and so forth. But there are varying degrees of immersion available if you’re motivated for all three of these. For Star Wars, you get entire other stories. For Lizzie Bennett, you get just a little characterization and depth.

And again, the issue of fandom rears its head. In a classic alternate reality game, most people will never actually solve a serious puzzle or pick up documents in a secret meeting at midnight. But the players who do jump through those hoops actually become a part of the entertainment for more passive audience members. The experience becomes something akin to a spectator sport.

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. Her book A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is published by McGraw-Hill. Her work includes educational and commercial projects such as The Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones with Campfire Media, America 2049 with human rights nonprofit Breakthrough, Routes for Channel 4 Education, the independent commercial ARG Perplex City, and The 2012 Experience for Sony Pictures. These projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a BIMA, an IVCA Grand Prix award, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others.