Transforming Audiences Keynote

[crossposted at the Mapping Online Publics blog.]

On the 1st and 2nd of September I was in London at the third Transforming Audiences conference, hosted by CAMRI at the University of Westminster. I was one of four keynote presenters – alongside Nancy Baym, Patricia Lange, and Adriana de Souza e Silva. I had a great time, and I’m very grateful to David Gauntlett and the other conference organisers for inviting me. The keynotes were all video-recorded, and I’ll post the video of mine here once it becomes available. In the meantime, here are my abstract and a copy of the slides (mostly pictures, as is my practice when giving these kinds of talks).

From ‘Broadcast Yourself’ to ‘Follow Your Interests': Social media five years on

When YouTube started to become popular in 2006, it had little functionality beyond the uploading and sharing of videos, and the invocation to ‘broadcast yourself’. Around the same time, Twitter first invited users to share everyday updates with friends and colleagues in response to the simple question ‘What are you doing?’. In 2011, YouTube is a central player in the contemporary media ecology, extending well beyond amateur videosharing; and Twitter plays an increasingly central role in the origination and dissemination of real-time news, largely as a result of social, cultural and technological innovations originally introduced by the user community. At the same time, the ongoing commercial evolution of these and other ‘social media’ platforms has gradually repositioned us – as ‘users’ – in new ways. In this presentation I trace some common trajectories across several social media platforms, and discuss their consequences for the future of participatory culture.

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PhD scholarship in Digital Storytelling and Co-Creative Media

I’m one of the Chief Investigators on a project called Community Uses of Co-Creative Media (for short), and we’re offering a scholarship to support a PhD student commencing in 2011. Please pass this information on to anyone who may be interested and eligible!

The project

Applications are invited for a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Faculty-based scholarship to support a PhD project (3 years) that investigates the links between community arts, media, storytelling, and creative participation. This Research Higher Degree (RHD) project will be undertaken in conjunction with an Australian Research Council-funded Linkage with industry. The successful applicant will work with Creative Industries Faculty Chief Investigators – Drs Christina Spurgeon, Helen Klaebe, Jean Burgess, John Hartley and Brad Haseman – to devise and undertake a research project that will contribute to establishing and improving ‘best practice’ knowledge of co-creative media in Australian community media and arts networks. The candidate will participate in project activities including fieldwork, experiments, and symposia, contribute to scholarly outputs of the project, and will have access to a team of nationally and internationally recognised researchers, as well as national and international academic and industry networks.

Availability

The scholarship will be awarded in the QUT 2012 scholarship round which closes on 14th October 2011. Potential applicants should contact Dr Christina Spurgeon (c.spurgeon@qut.edu.au ) well before this date, and allow sufficient time to complete the application form. The successful applicant would be expected to commence between January and March 2012.

Value

The Scholarship will be equivalent to a QUT Postgraduate Research AWARD (QUTPRA) and is valued at $22,860 pa (2011 rates, tax exempt and indexed annually) for 3 years. QUTPRA rules will be apply. Further information about QUTPRAs can be accessed from here: http://www.qut.edu.au/research/rhd/scholarships/qut/info/qutpra.jsp

Research Information

The ARC Linkage Project focuses on digital storytelling as a means for propagating creative productivity across the broad population. It investigates the extent to which existing agencies and networks in community arts and community media use co-creative techniques such as digital storytelling to achieve their own aims. The research explores the tensions between new media and existing infrastructure, amateur and professional creativity, and the role of community-based agencies in extending digital literacy, especially among at-risk, remote, and under-served populations. In cooperation with the project’s Industry Partners, we will devise a model for evaluating best practice in the production, adaptation and use of non-professional innovation in creative content. Industry partner organisations are the Australia Council for the Arts, The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Goolarri Media Enterprises, Queensland Community Television and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. Additional information about the project and participants can be accessed from here: http://digitalstorytelling.ci.qut.edu.au/linkage

Eligibility

The scholarship is open to domestic students and tuition fees will be covered by the Government’s Research Training Scheme (RTS). The successful applicant is expected to hold a First Class Honours Degree (or its Australian equivalent) in a relevant area. International applicants may be also be eligible if their tertiary education is deemed equivalent to an Australian First Class Honours Degree. The proposed research project must align with the ARC-funded project. Applicants must qualify for entry to a PhD program with the Creative Industries Faculty.

How to Apply

If you are interested in this opportunity please contact Dr Christina Spurgeon in the first instance (email: c.spurgeon@qut.edu.au) by 23 September, 2011. The scholarship application form and instructions can be obtained from here: http://www.qut.edu.au/research/rhd/apply/

Other information

The successful applicant will be based at the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus, Brisbane, Australia.

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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.com. 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

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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!

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New blog: Mapping Online Publics

Just a quick note to say that I’ve started blogging elsewhere as part of the 3-year ARC Discovery project I’m working on with Axel Bruns.

The project’s official title is “New Media and Public Communication: Mapping Australian User-Created Content in Online Social Networks”, and the blog is called Mapping Online Publics. We’ve been posting mainly about ways of working with public Twitter data around the rapidly-approaching Australian election (and Masterchef!) since setting it up last month, but we’ll be covering a much wider range of topics once that’s all over.

So far I’ve posted a few bits of analysis of the most tweeted election-related YouTube videos, the most tweeted URLs, and an experiment using Gephi to visualise @reply networks in the Twitter conversation around Masterchef.

I might stick my head up here from time to time if something gets me sufficiently excited or riled up, but no promises…

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Obligatory Google Buzz post

Cross-posted to the Air-l list.

In a discussion about Google Buzz, surveillance and privacy, Christian Fuchs said:

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently remarked about Internet privacy: “If
you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you should
not be doing it in the first place”, which points towards a lack of
understanding of the online surveillance threat and privacy issues.

[He really did: see here]

Absolutely, and there is something more to this jaw-droppingly blasé statement as well. I don’t think it’s only a result of Google’s desire to facilitate and track and cross-aggregate everything everyone does on the internet ever (which is clearly the manifest destiny of Google, and several others).

We also had this today in the WSJ:

After taking steps to stem the public backlash against its social-networking service Buzz, Google Inc. is planning further updates and considering changing how it tests new Buzz features.
 
Google product manager Todd Jackson said in an interview Monday that the number of people initially uncomfortable with the service underscored that the company’s approach of testing Buzz among its employees hasn’t been sufficient.”

“Getting feedback from 20,000 Googlers isn’t quite the same as letting Gmail users play with Buzz in the wild,” Mr. Jackson said. “We needed to launch to the public and get feedback from users.”

Um…

(Thanks to Michael Zimmer for tweeting the link)

As various commenters have pointed out elsewhere, Google’s apparent “lack of understanding” of the threats to privacy has an identity politics as well. At least in my head (and tell me if I’m crazy), the ideal, undifferentiated internet user says: “I mean, I live my life online and it’s fine. I don’t care who knows which Starbucks I’m using my Blackberry at or which of my business contacts I compare Geek 2.0 conferences with or what Business 2.0 book I’m buying.” All very obvious – the assumed, unrecognised privilege that goes with a certain class position, geographically myopic worldview despite the desire for global colonisation, and so on.

But this assumption of a universal ‘we'; the complete carelessness about the idea that public exposure can do harm; the shrugging off of the social complexity of social media, and so on, also have a gender politics.  In some of the *critique* of Googlebookspacetube, so does a similar shrugging off of the messy mix of pleasure, affinity, and risk of social media participation; and indeed the insistent bracketing off of concrete lived experiences, so we can get at the main game: Economics. The World. History. Everything.

But back to Buzz. Most obviously, as the widely circulated (but now password-protected) “Fuck You, Google” blog post on the Fugitivus blog so clearly demonstrated, even in the affluent West, if you have ever had a stalker, an abusive ex- or current partner, or live in a community/family where it might not be safe to be outed as gay, there are plenty of things you might not want people to know you’re saying or doing. It doesn’t mean you “should stop doing them” – or saying them – on the Internet.

What would a social media platform look like if it listened carefully from the beginning to what users are actually doing with the platform –  collectively constructing a wide and often overlapping range of uses, communities, etc., including a nuanced set of publicity/privacy settings. What if the provider provided the tools to do that, and didn’t come crashing in in the middle of the night to redesign everything and randomly release ‘features’ that have no obvious relationship to the practices of users? 

To finish by returning to the subject of business if not capital-E Economics:

I understand that there is actually no business case for blanket privacy in the free-to-use, advertising-supported business model that drives Google, Facebook, and Twitter (indirectly), but I’m not sure there isn’t a business model (where “business model” might or might not include a profit motive) that could work quite well and treat user communities with more respect – including respect for the knowledge and expertise they have developed through their work as users. I still think Flickr had it more or less right in some ways (especially in the areas of privacy settings and community governance) – but theirs is a Freemium business model (where you have a choice of a fairly full-featured free account, or a paid ‘power’ account).

I genuinely mean this as a devil’s advocate question: given the helplessness of users in a free-to-use model, are we better off as customers than we are as users? How might we ask to be addressed as citizens as well, or instead?

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Short courses in digital storytelling at QUT

The Creative Industries Faculty at QUT is now offering short continuing professional education courses in digital storytelling and co-creative media, with an option to gain academic credit for the course. The course includes hands-on training in a workshop environment. There will be three courses run this year – there is likely to be strong demand so if you’re interested, get in quick!

See the website for more details and to register.

Blurb:

Digital Storytelling is a powerful means for enabling communication and social participation. Ordinary people work with expert creative practitioners to create first person narratives for a wide and growing range of purposes, including community building, cultural engagement, brand identification, education, and public communication. This form of co-creative media takes advantage of newly accessible technologies but is based in the ancient and universal tradition of storytelling.

A digital story usually combines 15-30 still images and a recorded script of 100-250 words to create an original personal digital story in the form of a 2-3 minute digital video. Creative Industries Faculty researchers at QUT have an internationally recognized track record in adapting Digital Storytelling to a variety of contexts and purposes including poverty reduction, public history, and youth engagement. From 2009 this expertise is made available to the wider community through Continuing Professional Education courses.

The workshop is aimed at arts managers, media and communication professionals and professionals in other service industries (for example, health and education) who wish to develop and update their applied knowledge of how digital media can be used to engage clients and end-users. Prior knowledge of digital media applications is not necessary. The program is suited to people who would like to:

  • develop their skills in creating short, story-based, digital multimedia presentations
  • use co-creative media techniques to facilitate the creative participation of ordinary people in digital media projects
  • apply digital storytelling techniques in community development and engagement activities, in government, non-government, community and commercial contexts
  • become a digital storytelling workshop facilitator
  • learn more about digital storytelling and co-creative media practices

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Public Space and Its Discontents

In addition to a lot of predictable Banksy spottings, there are some interesting images in this Flickr group, including this one:

Group description:

This group is interested in how people use, abuse and subvert ‘public’ spaces. Now that we lead sedentary indoor lives, public spaces are often neglected or strictly controlled and regulated.
We are interested in how public spaces can be used for ‘unexpected’ purposes other than their design or how that are ‘supposed’ to.

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OII Summer Doctoral Programme to be held in Brisbane in 2009

Back in 2004, along with my good friend and colleague Marcus Foth, I was a participant in the second annual Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Program. It was one of the most intellectually stimulating experiences of my PhD candidature, and the friendships established there have remained both socially and academically rewarding ever since. It was also really fun, so I felt quite nostalgic when I went back for a visit back in October.

Given I know how valuable the SDP Programme is to those who are fortunate enough to participate in it, I’m very pleased to be able to announce that the next one will be held in Brisbane at QUT next year.

From the official website:

We are delighted to announce that the seventh OII Summer Doctoral Programme (SDP) will be conducted and organised by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in partnership with the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia from 6-17 July, 2009.

The thematic focus this year will be on ‘Creativity, Innovation and the Internet’.

The aim of the programme is to bring together advanced doctoral students engaged in dissertation research on diverse aspects of creativity and innovation relating to the Internet and other ICTs. By sharing their work and learning from leading academics in the field, students can enhance the quality and significance of their thesis research and create a peer network of excellent early-stage researchers.

We welcome applications from advanced doctoral students in any discipline whose work in the field of Internet research engages with the overall themes of creativity and innovation.

Specific topics will include, but are not limited to:

  • Methodological innovation and multidisciplinarity
  • Innovative uses of ICTs in developing contexts
  • Practice-led and performance-based Internet research
  • The economics of creativity and innovation
  • Community and industry partnerships
  • User-led innovation and user-generated content
  • Citizen journalism and community media
  • Mobile, locative and urban media
  • Digital literacy and pedagogical innovation
  • Regulatory barriers to creativity and innovation
  • Copyright and its alternatives
  • Innovation policy

As well as drawing on the OII’s faculty and research interests, the 2009 SDP will reflect the research interests of the nationally-funded ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation (which is where I work) and the QUT Institute for Creative Industries & Innovation (iCi).

This collaboration has been in the works for some time, and I’m really looking forward to it.

And yes, technically it will be winter here, but let’s not give anyone the impression that the weather will be anything other than gloriously sunny. I should also mention that the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association conference, themed ‘Communication, Creativity and Global Citizenship’ will also be taking place in Brisbane at almost the same time, so it’s going to be a good place to be.

More information and the application form at the OII website.

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Responses to the Apology: Digital Stories Now Online

I was recently involved in a collaboration between the State Library of Queensland, a large and diverse team of participants and facilitators, and QUT. The project aimed to capture responses to the 2008 Apology using participatory methods, and the digital stories produced out of the project are now online. Links to all of the stories can be found here.

Along with several other digital stories from the Queensland Stories collection, they’re also on YouTube. Here’s one from broadcasting legend Tiga Bayles:

I’d like to personally thank everyone who shared their stories or helped out with making them, as well as the State Library of Queensland for running with the idea.

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