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…

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.”


(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?

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.


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Flussgeist & ambient intimacy

I’ve been playing around with various twitter mashups, tools and toys lately, and I just had to give this one a quick mention.

Unusually for me, I am about to talk about some art…

Gregory Chatonsky’s work L’attente/The Waiting (warning, Flash-heavy), part of a series called “Flußgeist”, the “spirit of the flow”, mashes up twitter posts with Flickr photos whose tags match keywords in the tweets, along with an ambient soundtrack (pulling in data from Odeo) and video footage of urban pedestrians waiting at the lights, lost in thought, walking, or just standing around.

The overall effect is quiet and beautiful, of course, and it’s a nice comment on the ambient intimacy we are learning to associate with twitter. I think it is also doing something in the way of reflecting on the very different ways of being together-but-apart that the experience of sharing space in cities brings with it – the intimacy of strangers, maybe; it invites us to consider the slight frisson associated with observing the ‘private’ moments of others in a ‘public’ place. The ‘private’ (or personal) and the ‘public’ are of course precisely what is being reconfigured through social media. More importantly, as Melissa points out, the uses and meanings of particular social media platforms, and the social practices that are associated with them, are emerging via the mass popularisation – the large-scale takeup – of social media, and not as a simple consequence of the invention of new things – platforms, widgets and gizmos. That’s why we won’t simply see ‘migrations’ from one platform to another; facebook is not myspace is not twitter.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that we can’t know what Twitter, as a relatively open and underdetermined platform, but one that is at this stage used by a relatively ‘niche’ population, will turn out to be ‘for’ in the end.

And a note to self more than anything: the mashing up of video footage from the street with twitter posts also reminds me to be very careful about how I interpret things. I will try with renewed vigour to remember how cheap and unproductive it is to simply import categories and metaphors derived from existing cultural and social theories developed to understand social life in modernity (the ‘flaneur’, the ‘voyeur’, the ‘narcissist’) to think about the relationships and practices that emerge via the collective use of each new social media platform. We have to look as hard as we can at what really seems to be going on, as ‘new’ practices emerge and ‘old’ ones are remediated.

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.