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Web2.0 Critiques

(I'm afraid I accidentally deleted a couple of comments here last night - please repost them if you can!)

It's the last day of MiT5, and we're in the first session of the day. Mary Madden from the Pew Center is the first speaker, on Socially-Driven Music Sharing and the Adoption of Participatory Media Applications. She notes that the term Web2.0 is imperfect but convenient for summarising many of the current developments in the online world. Tom O'Reilly defines Web2.0 as harnessing social effects; it may not be a revolution, but there have been important changes. We now need to think critically about how and why it emerged as a major force in the first place.

Pivotal in this cultural change, Mary suggests, was music sharing and its associated ethos. P2P enabled millions to realise the benefits of distributed computing and coordinate effects. P2P even survived and flourished during the crash - a clear sign of its uptake. P2P marks a dramatic cultural and technological shift, enabling users to exploit the access capacity of massively distributed, networked systems and outdoing anything the music industry could have provided through central means. Leveraging such benefits is a key aspect of Web2.0. At the same time, at the time only a minority of Net users were able to use the p2p networks - yet even so, p2p was, as Lessig has put it, the crack cocaine of the Internet's growth.

As broadband became more widely available, more users also began to post content (not just share it); this has come out quite clearly in recent Pew studies.Today, some music sharing - also conducted by artists themselves - has partially moved on to MySpace, which has played a pivotal role in teaching an entire generation to communicate fluently across a variety of media platforms. It encourages creativity through chaos, visually harkening back to music zine culture, and enabling a form of participation and commentary that is very similar to zine culture. This signals a refusal to sit back and be passively entertained by mass media. This demonstrates the changing relationship between producer and consumer, or what I would call the shift from production/consumption to produsage.

This, then, also demands the development of better music discovery tools - a kind of music 2.0 which is exemplified in Pandora,, Haystack, and others. Even though some of these have been shut down through legal action, no doubt many more will emerge.

Chuck Tryon is up next, speaking on Hollywood Remixed: Movie Trailer Mashups, Five Second Movies, and Cinematic Knowledge. How does Web2.0 intersect with online film culture? Participatory cultures have led to a reconsideration of film audiences, especially as the computer screen has become a more important place of film watching (a gradual shift from the television screen) - not only for the core text, but also for trailers, mashups, and other related content. This mode of fan cinematic production provides a new mode for thinking about cinematic exhibition practices. While the threat of Internet movie piracy has been overstated, changes in the practice of moviegoing have certainly taken place; there is a sense that some of the moviegoing magic has been lost in the transformation from film to digital production. This identity crisis was recently exemplified in the Tarantino/Rodriguez movie Grindhouse, for example.

At the same time, we have seen the rise of movie trailer mashups and other fan productions - some of this has been described as snack culture by Wired. Examples for this include Shining and Ten Things I Have about Commandments, for example - both available on YouTube, I expect. This also builds on the formulaity of movie trailers, of course, and parodies Hollywood's role as a dream machine, but at the same time also have a strong affinity with and affection for the source film; they depend on the fan's kowledge of the source text.

Mashups gained popular attention through mainstream media coverage, and often framed them through their viral status, the mashup maker's relationship with Hollywood, and the questions around copyright which persist in relation to these mashup trailers. Trailer mashups exist in a tenuous space within the media environment, and copyright has been a key issue for them; at the same time, they may well fall squarely under 'fair use' rules. This fan activity is also gradually being appropriated by the mainstream production houses, though - this gives young filmmakers an opportunity to present their work and gain a new audience, and some production houses are now directly providing the tools and material to be used by mashups as a means of promoting upcoming movies (this is particularly successful in the case of movie sequels, where fans are already familiar with some of the narrative settings of the movie).

Such mashups also reintroduce and reconsolidate a core canon of movies, however - movie mashups often focus on some of the best-known movies and directors, and particularly also on strongly male-biased movie content (mashups of Brokeback Mountain are particularly fascinating in this context...)

David Silver is the next presented, speaking on and Web 2.0. He highlights the two themes of capitalism and militarisation which he feels have not yet been addressed strongly in this conference, and he begins with a nod towards David Weinberger's blog as an example of a conversational mode of engaging with current issues, building on collective intelligence, and exploiting long tail effects. At the same time, however, such Web2.0 tendencies do not obscure the fact that Web2.0 can still be used for highly commercial activities - and of course Weinberger himself has also made a career out of paid seaking engagements.

Another example for the use of Web2.0 in pursuit of very traditional goals is the America's Army game, which is part of the continuing militarisation of popular culture (or indeed, the Facebook page of the CIA!). America's Army in fact conducted advertising events on university campuses, bringing in Hummers to campuses where free games were handed out and people could play the games. The air force's Do Something Amazing site is yet another example - providing information, but not allowing any Web2.0-style feedback or criticism. However, the pattern was different on MySpace - the Do Something Amazing site there was linked to from a number of very undesirable MySpace profiles and taken down again within a couple of weeks. This, David suggests, may be a first sign that Web2.0 is not particularly well suited to the top-down lecture-style advertising attempted here.

D. Travers Scott is the last presenter; his focus is on Online Organized Critiques of Web 2.0. He has come out a marketing career, and begins by noting that naming is a key tool in advertising - names confer status and signal branding. Web2.0 is not merely a marketing gimmick, however; it combines both marketing buzzword and social movement aspects, and this constant tension is evident in its history. The social implications of the term may now well overshadow the marketing aspects, and even ikts critics, like Andrew Keen, are indeed using the very tools of Web2.0 to critique it. Other critics, like Jodi Dean, suggest that communicativity is replacing communication, or point out that participation itself is not a new concept, in spite of the new focus on participatory culture, and that the question of power in such participatory environments remains undertheorised. Participation and the potential of proliferation of messages does not equate to actual activity and engagement, of course.

Travers now examines the 'Web2.0' entry in the Wikipedia, which is relatively critical in spite of Wikipedia's own role as a key Web2.0 space. This entry, too, highlights the tension between Web2.0 as buzzword and as social movement. An even more critical group is the Bubble 2.0 Snark Group (B2SG), which brings together a number of more or less insightful sceptics. The irony of Web2.0 critics using Web2.0 technologies is interesting, of course. This offers a way out of dualistic thinking; it enables particiants to traverse both ends of the spectrum and to refuse an either/or stance, instead arriving at more insightful understandings of what is going on (not that all critics do actually arrive at such a stance...). Who gets to participate, to what degree, to what ends, to whose benefits, cannot be asked often enough, though.

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Thanks for the great write-up on our panel. David did a great job of assembling an interesting and well-organized panel.