YouTube book: now out in Polish

The Polish edition of our YouTube book landed on my desk this morning, and has now joined the English, Italian and Portuguese versions on my bookshelves. That’s 3 languages down…

polish youtube cover image

The publisher didn’t supply an English translation of the new preface by Edwin Bendyk (time to call in a few favours from my Polish-speaking friends, I guess!), but here’s a link to the Google Translate version of Edwin’s blog post where he discusses the book.


a (very) short history of social media taglines

Lawson Fletcher has written a very insightful post about a funny little Twitter exchange I had with various people last night, prompted by some observations I made about the way social media taglines have changed over the past 5 years or so. Go over there to see how it all started.

While it was mostly a lot of fun (largely thanks to Kate’s lightning-fast wit and #soylentgreen references) it seems it was also interesting to people, so here’s some thoughts on what is behind my interest in the evolution of social media, via the taglines.

As I said at the time, I think taglines (think YouTube’s ‘broadcast yourself’) are interesting and important: they’re the ‘slogans’ that tell us what the platform owners want us to think platforms are ‘for’; and decisions to change them prompt us to notice what else has changed – the layout of homepages, the weight and usability given to various affordances, and indeed the business models themselves. I’ve been paying attention to these things for a while, beginning with Flickr (in my own PhD), more recently Twitter, and of course YouTube (even more so now that Josh and I are working on a second edition of our book).

My summing-up tweet was:

social media taglines over the past 5 years: from infantile self expression, to narcissistic cosmopolitanism, to networked consumption.

I’ve written about these shifts in the representation of the ‘ideal’ user in relation to the self, to the social network and to ‘the world’ in an as-yet incomplete and unpublished paper, and I’ve pasted an excerpt at the bottom of this post so you can get a sense of my most pointy-headed angle on it.

This afternoon I’ve dug up a few more snapshots of the Twitter homepage using the wayback machine, and here they are. (And by the way, the Wayback Machine is a godsend and an essential resource for tracking the history of the web platforms we use daily and that tend to change incrementally but unnoticed right in front of us.)

September 2006
The tagline (in the page header) was “A Whole World in Your Hands”; and then

“Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you’re doing.”

September 2007
Tagline: “What are you Doing”; and then

“A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Answer on your phone, IM, or right here on the web!”

I haven’t been 100% thorough, but it seems that “What are you doing?” persisted until sometime in 2009, when the landing page looked like this [click to enlarge]:

And now, suddenly:

For those interested, here’s the promised chunk from the unpublished paper that will now have to be completely revised because I think the latest shifts make what I’ve said pretty anachronistic:

In early 2006, co-founder and then-CEO of the Flickr photosharing service Stewart Butterfield outlined the new corporate vision of the website in an official blog entry. He introduces the post with some self-deprecating asides about what it’s like to work in “big companies”, referring to Yahoo! as Flickr’s “ever-loving parent”, gently mocking the burdens corporate culture places on creatives. He evokes the “powerpoint ‘decks’, spreadsheets, long meetings” and other “crazy processes” – like being asked to come up with mission statements – that infest it. Butterfield writes that the process of coming up with a mission statement was something he initially saw as an imposition on time that could be better spent “fixing stuff” or adding “needed features”, but then quickly shifts into manifesto mode, declaring that “after thinking about it for a while, the vision was obvious”: “The Eyes of the World.” The elaboration that Butterfield goes on to provide is as neat an encapsulation as any of the ways in which ordinary or everyday life, creativity and the cosmopolitan come together in the discourses around social media:

That can manifest itself as art, or using photos as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family, “personal publishing” or intimate, small group sharing. It includes “memory preservation” (the de facto understanding of what drives the photo industry), but it also includes the ephemera that keeps people related to each other: do you like my new haircut? should I buy these shoes? holy smokes – look what I saw on the way to work! It let’s you know who’s gone where with whom, what the vacation was like, how much the baby grew today, all as it’s happening.

And most dramatically, Flickr gives you a window into things that you might otherwise never see, from the perspective of people that you might otherwise never encounter.

In what has since become a recognisable pattern of curatorship on the official Flickr weblog, Butterfield goes on to provide a number of carefully selected examples of Flickr images that bear out this vision: images of the 2006 Paris riots snapped and uploaded in real time (as an example of ‘citizen journalism’); photographs of vernacular architecture, mundane details of the urban environment; and of course some visually appealing photographs featuring the dominant subjects of contemporary vernacular photography: babies, kittens, flowers and sunsets.

The metaphor ‘the eyes of the world’ works in two distinct ways. First, the publication of personal photographs on the Flickr website preserves and publicly remediates those aspects of ordinary life that a large number of citizens see and choose to capture (the eyes of the self, as it were). Second, and as a consequence of this, the Flickr website also functions as a window on the worlds of others. There is a complicated notion of the ‘global’ underlying this idea of the ‘eyes of the world’; one which connects with various points along what Ong (2009) has called the ‘cosmopolitan continuum’: the ideal user of Flickr is invited to connect with both intimates and strangers on the basis of the mundane; and is further invited to engage with the world of the global ‘other’ on the basis of spectacular events, visual aesthetics, and the cultural distinctiveness of everyday life.

This moment in the development and growth of Flickr also marks a distinct moment in the evolution of digital culture and the discourse around it more broadly, precisely because it brought together within one media platform both of these modes of making and experiencing media. On the one hand, participation in Flickr is constructed as involving self-expression and the documentation of one’s own experience (the eyes of the self) and, on the other, participants are invited to experience social connection and global awareness (a window on the world).

This moment foreshadowed a much more extensive trend, now also represented by the near-ubiquity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. At the time of the ‘eyes of the world’ statement, Flickr was at the height of its early fame in the technology media as one of the darlings of the ‘Web 2.0’ moment. Much of the industry rhetoric around Web 2.0 was focused on the new development of web-based platforms that not only allowed individual users to upload their own content, but also provided the means for the user community to organise and evaluate that content collectively, via the now quaint-sounding principle of the “folksonomy” (O’Reilly 2005). But with the exception of blogging, even in the most enthusiastic accounts of these developments in the technology press, there was little indication that social media might come to play as significant a role in media culture more broadly – that is, beyond ‘web culture’ – as is now increasingly the case. In the years since, it has become clear that social media are not only enabling individuals to more conveniently access publishing technologies, but that they are also playing a significant role in global public communication; in some cases at a scale that far exceeds the original intentions of the founders of the platforms concerned.

As a demonstration of this shift, Flickr’s slogan in 2004 was rather modest and primarily focused around its technical affordances for individual web users: potential participants were invited simply to “Share pictures in real time!”. Now the tagline on the home page much more ambitiously reads: “Share your photos. Watch the world.” This shift in social media from personal technology to public communication is also borne out by the similar evolution and widespread popularity of the short-message sharing social network site Twitter recently changed its tagline (the short slogan which acts both as invitation to users and an evocation of the platform’s overall purpose) from the ‘me-centred’ “Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you’re doing” – which users could do by answering the question “What are you doing right now?” in 140 characters or less – to something more akin to a global mission statement built around real-time events: “Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.”

These examples demonstrate that there is a shift occurring in the way that the role of everyday communication and personal media use are thought to figure in public discourse; and this shift has accompanied the widespread (but by no means universal) uptake and usage of social media platforms, alongside the increasingly global ambitions of the businesses that provide these services. Via user-created content networks and social network sites, the everyday lives of individuals are being remediated into new contexts of social visibility and connection – through Facebook and Twitter status updates, videos uploaded to YouTube, and photos contributed to Flickr. [etc]

Oh, and something else I tweeted later in the evening:

SCORE! on Flickr’s current homepage (without logging in): “Community. Flickr is made of people.” #soylentmedia

Travel Gazette 1: Ankara & Istanbul

I’m still near to the beginning of a five-week research trip through Europe – I get home at just about the end of October. I’m going to do a series of gazettey blog posts, both as an aide-memoire and a way of sharing my trip given the patchiness of internet connectivity that goes hand in hand with travel (and hence the inability to tweet incessantly!).

So, John Hartley and I spent most of last week in Turkey at the very kind invitation of our colleague and PhD student Burcu Simsek, who is both a member of staff at Hacettepe University in Ankara, and a CCI doctoral candidate. Thanks to Burcu we had an excellent tour of both of Hacettepe’s campuses, as well as all the must-see tourist stuff: museums, the older bazaar streets, and plenty of excellent food.

The main purpose of the trip for John and me was to do one keynote presentation each, as well as a joint panel on Digital Storytelling, at Bilism 2010, a big national IT conference. My presentation on YouTube discussed the ways we might use YouTube’s 5 year history and its competing futures to think about current controversies concerning the future of the Internet more broadly – tensions between various nationally-specific ideologies of ‘openness’, in tension with equally different norms of ‘control’ was what I tried to boil it down to. Of course giving a paper on the popular uses of YouTube in a country where it is currently blocked by official legislation was slightly surreal, but given the number of people who were already familiar with Charlie Bit my Finger and Susan Boyle, (and how easy it is to bypass the block), I think it went OK.

John, Burcu and I also presented a joint panel on Digital Storytelling, which Burcu has introduced to Turkey via a very productive partnership between Hacettepe University and the womens’ organisation Amargi. The digital storytelling workshops she has run so far are also the primary fieldwork component of Burcu’s PhD on digital storytelling and womens’ participation in the Turkish public sphere. In fact the panel was kind of the first public launch of digital storytelling in the Turkish context, so it was pretty exciting to be part of that.

At the end of the conference all three of us flew to Istanbul for the most intensive day of touristing I have ever experienced, including among many other things 2 hours of awe and wonderment at the Hagia Sofia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (video below), and the Sultan’s Palace.

After all that (and of course more food), we survived what has to be the world’s best example of Extreme Shopping: the Grand Bazaar; and finally, a brief dip into Istanbul’s extremely lively nightlife, finishing up with a gig (part of the Akbank Jazz Festival) at Babylon, a pretty important insitution in the local music industry, with its own magazine, record label, and so on.

Next up: Urbino, where I’m writing this!

Talkings (updated)

Following the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Copenhagen later this week (which I’m very excited about!), I’ll be spending a few days in the UK and I’m giving a couple of talks there.

The first is at City University, where the CCI has established a ‘node’. QUT colleague John Banks and I will be kicking off their Creative Industries Policy and Research seminar series with a two-handed presentation based on our recent work on YouTube and the games industry respectively:

Navigating Expertise

Across the new media landscape, both the pessimists and the optimists recognise a blurring of the professional-amateur divide, and the increasingly interdependent relationships between ‘producers’ – whether of media ‘content’, experiences, or new technologies – and users. Among the most frequently discussed examples of online co-creation are the Wikipedia (a significant site of collective knowledge production), YouTube (where the production and consumption of broadcast, user-created and remixed video content converge within a more or less ‘flat’ common architecture), and Massively Multiplayer Online Games (where gamers are collectively undertaking work that was formerly undertaken only by professional designers and developers). Beyond the specificities of these examples, the shifts that they represent have broader implications for the way we understand knowledge, innovation and agency.

This seminar explores the ways that knowledge and value is produced, contested and mobilised in new media contexts, working through two case studies (the games industry and the YouTube community). Banks and Burgess consider how the ‘problem’ of expertise is playing out in each case.

Date: Wednesday 22 October
Time: 15.00-16.00
Room: AG03

Following that I’m heading back up to the Oxford Internet Institute not only to indulge in some nostalgia for the Summer Doctoral Program, but also to give a talk about the study of YouTube Joshua Green and I completed earlier this year:

Making Sense of YouTube

Monday 20 October 2008 16:30 – 17:30 Tuesday 21 October 2008 16:30 – 17:30

Location: Oxford Internet Institute, 1 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3JS. This event is open to the public. If you would like to attend please email your name and affiliation, if any, to:

This presentation reports on a recent study of YouTube that relied principally on a survey of 4300 of the most ‘popular’ videos, which were categorised according to criteria derived from media and cultural studies approaches to the analysis of media genres and practices.

The analysis produced new knowledge about the extent of particular uses of the platform (such as vlogging, political commentary, or the ‘distribution’ of broadcast content); and the relationship between different modes of ‘audience’ engagement (commenting, responding, rating) and particular content genres.

The presentation builds on the findings of the study to discuss the co-existing and competing uses that are actually being made of YouTube – by the media industries, by audiences and amateur producers, and by particular communities of interest; as well as to consider the way that these practices challenge existing understandings of cultural ‘production’ and ‘consumption’, and their implications for the uncertain and competing futures of participatory culture online.

Also, the book out of that study, YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture, is now finally going into production at Polity Press (woo!), and should be out early next year. More very soon (including groovy cover art)…

Out now: The Video Vortex Reader

The Video Vortex Reader is a new collection of critical essays on online video, edited by Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer published by the Institute of Network Cultures. It has just been launched, and it’s available for free download as a pdf!

The Video Vortex Reader is the first collection of critical texts to deal with the rapidly emerging world of online video – from its explosive rise in 2005 with YouTube, to its future as a significant form of personal media.

After years of talk about digital convergence and crossmedia platforms we now witness the merger of the Internet and television at a pace no-one predicted. These contributions from scholars, artists and curators evolved from the first two Video Vortex conferences in Brussels and Amsterdam in 2007 which focused on responses to YouTube, and address key issues around independent production and distribution of online video content. What does this new distribution platform mean for artists and activists? What are the alternatives?

Contributors: Tilman Baumgärtel, Jean Burgess, Dominick Chen, Sarah Cook, Sean Cubitt, Stefaan Decostere, Thomas Elsaesser, David Garcia, Alexandra Juhasz, Nelli Kambouri and Pavlos Hatzopoulos, Minke Kampman, Seth Keen, Sarah Késenne, Marsha Kinder, Patricia Lange, Elizabeth Losh, Geert Lovink, Andrew Lowenthal, Lev Manovich, Adrian Miles, Matthew Mitchem, Sabine Niederer, Ana Peraica, Birgit Richard, Keith Sanborn, Florian Schneider, Tom Sherman, Jan Simons, Thomas Thiel, Vera Tollmann, Andreas Treske, Peter Westenberg.

That’s a very good line-up of scholars and practitioners coming from a range of disciplinary perspectives, so check it out.

I have a chapter in it called ‘All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us? Viral Video, YouTube and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture.’ I used the creative activity that occurred around two of the most popular videos of 2007 – Chocolate Rain and Guitar – to reconsider the dynamics of popular culture in YouTube, according to a distributed and participatory framework rather than a ‘producerly’ one.

Creating Value Conference: Keynote addresses now available online

From 25th – 27th June 2008, our research centre, the CCi, held its International Conference – Creating Value: Between Commerce and Commons. You can now watch video footage from two of the keynote addresses made over the course of the conference, from Baroness Susan Greenfield (‘Creating Creative Brains’) and Professor Henry Jenkins (‘What Happened Before YouTube?’).

Go here to view the videos.

ICA Montreal: Quick Wrap-Up

A couple of days ago I got back from the International Communication Association conference in Montreal. I loved the city instantly, and the week I spent there was very productive — although similarly to Jon Gray’s experience, the most productive and inspiring moments occurred in between everything else — chats in the foyers in between sessions, and even more so over lunches, dinners, and drinks with colleagues. It was the first ‘mega’ conference I’d ever been to — normally I tend to go to smaller, interdisciplinary ones, rather than huge multidisciplinary ones. I think I now understand the world of academia described so cynically by David Lodge, but my experience left me far from cynical.

I was there primarily to present with Josh on our empirical YouTube research — the content survey that forms the middle chapter of our book YouTube: Online Video and the Politics of Participatory Culture, which is forthcoming from Polity later in the year (bonus moment of excitement: seeing it in the Polity 2008 catalogue!). It was the first time we had presented our findings together in a really comprehensive way, and although we had ‘seen’ each other on video chat almost daily while writing the book, it was actually the first time we had been in the same country since we started the project. We’ll be presenting on the study again at the CCI Conference at the end of June, by the way.

Our panel was called Engaging With YouTube: Methodologies, Practices, Publics, and it was designed to bring together a group of people doing empirical work that deals with the problem of how to approach YouTube as a research object (or research problem), rather than as a convenient source of examples.

Our fellow presenters included Greg Elmer, Fenwick McKelvey and Brady Curlew, the dynamic team from the Infoscape Research Lab at Ryerson University, who were discussing their work on the uses of YouTube in relation to Canadian electoral politics, making use of a range of methodological approaches and tools, including hyperlink analysis and content analysis. Also, Ashlee Humphreys demonstrated some unconventional ways of thinking through the relations between ‘consumers’ and ‘celebrities’ in the YouTube attention economy, drawing on ethnographic (‘netnographic’, actually) data, and using the innovative models that she and Rob Kozinets have developed.

Finally, we were especially privileged to be presenting alongside Patricia Lange, whose 2 year ethnography with the YouTube community has produced a number of important insights into the ways in which YouTube operates as a social networking site for certain participants; and the rich mundanity of the communicative practices that take place there. Most importantly, her work insistently reminds us of the need to fully consider the lived experience and materiality of everyday cultural practice–which is very important, because discussions of the media in everyday life still tend to the weightless. I’m really looking forward to the book that will eventually come out of this work. In the meantime, check out the AnthroVlog!

Overall, the panel turned out to be a well-balanced and highly energetic event, despite the fact that few of us knew each other beforehand. And most pleasingly, the discussion flowed on seamlessly into a number of simultaneous and highly animated conversations among the panellists as well as with fellow YouTube researchers from the audience, continuing on all the way down the street to the pub for celebratory drinks. I take that as a good sign of things to come, and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations into some collaboration. Based on the number of projects we heard about that are underway, it’s clear that there is going to be a proliferation of research-based articles on YouTube coming out in print in the next 12 months.

My conference highlight would have to be the excellent party generously thrown by Jonathan Sterne. I have no idea how that many people fit into one apartment, but it was a fantastic night and the site of some really stimulating arguments and discussions [and Jonathan, I didn’t break anything!]. I’m looking forward to Jonathan’s visit to Australia next month, where we will attempt to return his hospitality, as well as getting down to doing some much-needed work on the importance and materiality of sound and listening practices in contemporary culture as part of the Technologies of Listening Workshop.

At Jonathan’s party, I finally managed to connect up with Will Straw, but not until after putting a number of very accommodating Canadians to work on a Straw-hunting mission. It was a very crowded party! Will was one of the external examiners for my Masters thesis, but we had never met before, so I was excited that we got to have a bit of a chat.

Oh, and there was some pretty spectacular dancing done. Not by me, obviously.

What is Flickr Video For?

So Flickr finally ended the years of rumour-mongering and actually rolled out video. I was interested to see the way the official announcement carefully positioned the purposes of video on Flickr within the company’s (tasteful, cosmopolitan, playfully grown-up) brand identity, and its focus on self-created content:

we thought long and hard about how video would complement the flickrverse. If you’ve memorized the Community Guidelines, you know that Flickr is all about sharing photos that you yourself have taken. Video will be no different and so what quickly bubbled up was the idea of “long photos,” of capturing slices of life to share. [emphasis added, which possibly comes across as me being a bit pedantic]

They even give a carefully diverse range of quotidian examples–covering cats, places, events and people, of course.

There’s some really interesting protest going on within the sections of the Flickr community who are really invested in capital-P Photography, including this well-populated anti-video group, with some surprisingly hostile comments about the company. A lot of people seem to be worried that somehow the introduction of video will directly cause a ‘flood’ of banal, crass, and unlovely content, and will turn a photography-oriented community into ‘just another YouTube’. The controversy is tremendously interesting to me in its own right, of course–there’s technological determinism combined with symbolic boundary work and a fair amount of amnesia about Flickr’s mundane origins–at least as far as I remember there was a lot more emphasis on lifelogging using the (then) newly available camera phone than there was on digital camera arms races, fine art techniques, and so on.

So, controversy aside, how is it turning out? What do you really get when you start with a mature online social network with social and cultural norms increasingly organised around ‘quality’ content, introduce the ability to upload very short video clips (but only to Pro members), presented within the often carefully cultivated ‘photo streams’ of individual users, combined with a way of accounting for value that takes into account far more than the number of people who been tempted (or tricked) into viewing a particular piece of content?

I’m sure there will be some silliness, and unlike the Fotografrs who are protesting the move, I also really hope there will be some very cute cat videos.

But there will also be lovely slideshows designed to curate and exhibit small sets of photographic images, like this beautiful video–which is much more than a slideshow–by Timo Arnall [thanks anne, again]

And, I will bet, increasingly elegant innovations on observational and personal photography like what Photojojo is calling the ‘long portrait’:

The thing about the best portraits is how they capture the essence of a person.

Maybe the wrinkles on their hands, or the expression in their eyes, tell you about the life they’ve had.

So what if you had 30 seconds to capture that person, instead of a nanosecond shutter-click? And what if the person could talk? Whoa. Crazy, we know. We call it a long portrait.

Which sounds a lot like a micro digital story: a focus on the personal and first-person, within elegant aesthetic constraints, done with attention to detail and respect for the co-creator. Photojojo even links to the interviewing guide on the StoryCorps website to assist newbie micro-documentarists in learning the art of capturing these snapshots of individual human lives.

I really think the idea of the ‘long portrait’ is quite brilliant.

Aside from that, the collective shaping of the meanings and uses of video within Flickr’s existing community of practice is going to be extremely interesting to watch.

awesome animations, the history of the world, science and religion and everything

Via YouTube’s new recommended for you feature and also via Twitter, I found this really excellent re-imagining of the Star Wars title sequence as if created by the great designer and filmmaker Saul Bass:

Via the ‘related videos’ feature, I came across Bass’s wonderful short film Why Man Creates, which won an Academy Award in 1968. Only the first 5 minutes is available online–long enough to deliver the grand narrative of creativity and innovation in Western civilization in animated form.

Watch it for the amazing drawings and the (gently barbed) jokes if nothing else.

Since for some of us it’s Easter today and many of my readers will be muttering ‘there is no God’ through chocolate-covered gritted teeth and grumbling about the failure of the Englightenment project, I highly recommended reading The Atheist Delusion afterward. As I prepare to encounter the pointy end of science as a fly on the wall next week, I found this to be the kicker:

In pre-Christian Europe, human life was understood as a series of cycles; history was seen as tragic or comic rather than redemptive. With the arrival of Christianity, it came to be believed that history had a predetermined goal, which was human salvation. Though they suppress their religious content, secular humanists continue to cling to similar beliefs. One does not want to deny anyone the consolations of a faith, but it is obvious that the idea of progress in history is a myth created by the need for meaning.

The problem with the secular narrative is not that it assumes progress is inevitable (in many versions, it does not). It is the belief that the sort of advance that has been achieved in science can be reproduced in ethics and politics. In fact, while scientific knowledge increases cumulatively, nothing of the kind happens in society. Slavery was abolished in much of the world during the 19th century, but it returned on a vast scale in nazism and communism, and still exists today. Torture was prohibited in international conventions after the second world war, only to be adopted as an instrument of policy by the world’s pre-eminent liberal regime at the beginning of the 21st century. Wealth has increased, but it has been repeatedly destroyed in wars and revolutions. People live longer and kill one another in larger numbers. Knowledge grows, but human beings remain much the same.

Belief in progress is a relic of the Christian view of history as a universal narrative, and an intellectually rigorous atheism would start by questioning it.

[thanks, anne]

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valentine’s day, postsecret style

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the PostSecret thing, now ported to YouTube for Valentine’s day as a video montage complete with hipster ‘home-made’ animation:

[the video is an advertisement for the books, btw, which is entirely appropriate for this made-up ‘holiday’]

Happy Hallmark Card Day.

Update: I didn’t realise how many Postsecret fanvids there were until just now. Such a nice change for me from the Jonas Brothers. Some of them are masterful examples of the ubiquitous Ken Burns effect, some of them have entirely too much pink cursive writing and Tori Amos. But I liked this one:

And after watching about another 20 of those, I am at least a little bit sick of the postsecret thing now.