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iDC Residency

Later this year I'll head over to the U.S. for a couple of conferences and a brief research residency with the Institute for Distributed Creativity - I'll be in Buffalo on 26-29 September and New York City on 10-15 October. My host Trebor Scholz has now posted some information about the residency on the iDC site.

This residency marks the first steps in the next stage of my current research agenda, which started with the work on Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production and currently continues with the Uses of Blogs book and other research on blogs and wikis (also in a teaching environment). As part of this work I've introduced the concept of the produser - marking the move from a production/consumption dichotomy to user-led (or at least user-involved) production. This also goes well beyond the 'prosumer' idea - which (seeing as it retains the '(con)sumer' bit) doesn't transcend that dichotomy.

In my previous work, I've never had enough time and space to really explore produsage, though, other than in specific contexts (such as collaborative online news production). So, I'll be using the residency to make a start in this direction - mapping out the research territory, as it were, and beginning to consider some key case studies. Trebor has posted a shortened version of my abstract for this work on the iDC site, but here it is in full - as a kind of mission statement for this research:

‘Anyone Can Edit’: Understanding the Produser

Recent decades have seen the dual trend of growing digitization of content, and of increasing availability of sophisticated tools for creating, manipulating, publishing, and disseminating that content. Advertising campaigns openly encourage users to ‘Rip. Mix. Burn.’ and to share the fruits of their individual or collaborative efforts with the rest of the world. The Internet has smashed the distribution bottleneck of older media, and the dominance of the traditional producer > publisher > distributor value chain has weakened. Marshall McLuhan’s dictum ‘everyone’s a publisher’ is on the verge of becoming a reality – and more to the point, as the Wikipedia proudly proclaims, ‘anyone can edit.’

The effect of these changes is not simply more (and more informed) consumption, however – we are not turning into Alvin Toffler’s ‘prosumers’: consumers with an almost professional level of knowledge about what they consume, but consumers nonetheless. Instead, the networked and hypermediated persona that emerges is a very different beast: users are becoming active producers of content in a variety of open and collaborative environments. Whether it is as members of the distributed development and testing community for open source software projects, as authors, editors, and fact-checkers for one of the multi-lingual Wikipedia sites, as reporters, commentators, and pundits in open news publications ranging from South Korean citizen news site OhmyNews to tech-nerd haven Slashdot, or as global explorers and annotators for Google Earth, they are no longer producers or consumers, publishers or audiences, but both at the same time. They are not prosumers, but user-producers: produsers.

While born perhaps out of a collaborative, open source ideology, produsing is now increasingly recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity by business and governments alike. For example, the Sims range of games relies overwhelmingly on its users as content produsers – 90% of content in The Sims itself is contributed by user-produsers. Similarly, Brisbane-based games company Auran has established a community of produsers around its popular train simulator Trainz, with some 200,000 ‘assets’ (locomotives, carriages, scenery and other elements) prodused so far. BBC News Online and other agencies now regularly call for their users to send in camera phone footage of unfolding events. And even sees a whole ‘Generation C’ of produsers emerging before our very eyes.

More broadly, the Chinese government is in the process of initiating a shift in its economic focus from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’, aiming to turn the country from the world’s factory to the world’s ideas generator. This shift, with its strong links to the recognition by European and Australian governments of the creative industries as a key economic driver, also builds on the move from users to produsers – it seeks to harness collaborative, grassroots creativity as a means of generating new ideas and new content (while at the same time attempting to maintain state control of the process).

So who are these produsers – and how will they fare in the light of increasing business and government involvement? As economic interests begin to explore ways to generate revenue from produsage, will they undermine its collaborative foundations, and will they reintroduce a regime of stricter intellectual property licensing? Or can the grassroots movement of produsers effect lasting change in our engagement with content, establishing a solid foothold for creative commons and other alternative IP licensing systems, and developing an equitable approach to relationships between the produser community and commercial partners?