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Defining Web2.0

The next session I'm attending has nothing less than the task of defining what exactly we mean by 'Web2.0'. Fred Benenson and Peter B. Kaufman are making a start with their Five Theses about Creative Production in the Digital Age, and Fred also notes the importance of free software as an enabler of the Web2.0 development. He sees YouTube as the key mediator of Web2.0 styles and ideas at present, and as a site which opens up further questions of copyright, creators' rights, and other related issues.

To begin with, then, Fred suggests that culture and society itself is itself a peer-produced environment; communication and creativity in Web2.0 is only one slice of this - in other words, everyone is a peer. What, however, does it mean to be a peer in this new environment - and is there anything which cannot be peer-produced? (Fred suggests the oil painting as one example - but is that really the case?)

Fred's second thesis is that the permanent digitisation of cultural works is inevitable; this is driven to some extent by the instincts of collectors and completists, and Fred suggests that this content creation and digitisation may in fact end up outstripping the continuing multiplication of storage space along the lines of Moore's Law. This is even the case if some prominent storage sites (like YouTube) are shut down through legal action.

Models which rely on charging users for access are doomed to failure, Fred further suggests. Monetising strategies are the wrong starting-point - the current explosion in content creation and distribution is driven by access of people to one another (and to one another's content), and any move which turns back from this is counterproductive.

As a corollary, Web2.0-based media can be understood as a public service; in this, it mirrors Richard Stallman's depiction of free software as contributing a public service, too. Indeed, Web2.0 is increasingly used in public service contexts.

(I seem to be missing the final thesis?)

Christine "xtine" Hanson is next, focussing on Web 2.0: Response to a Social Crisis. She begins by connecting back to Habermas's work on the public sphere as emerging from the coffee houses, and its subsequent transformation into a mass-mediated public sphere which is increasingly burdened and affected by the corporatisation of the media and its reliance on advertising income. Such changes have led to a crisis in the system - consumers live in a state of perpetual marketing, and authentic culture has turned into manufactured cool, which has led to the emergence of anti-corporate movements such as Adbusters and the culture-jamming movement.

So, the socio-cultural system formerly known as America has failed; the emergent alternatives are organised through collaborative efforts on electronic networks, but also use the Internet to get off the Internet (that is, transform online to offline action). Christine herself has created; other similar sites include (which allows people to offer their sofas to transient travellers as an alternative to the hotel circuit) and a LA-based site which maps the location of fruit-bearing trees in public spaces; these use the tools of Web2.0 to avoid mass entertainment and mass consumption.

Brian Jacobson is presenting on Modernity, Postmodernity, Convergence: What's New? He begins with a look at convergence - certainly a major buzzword in recent years, but it remains somewhat unclear what exactly has changed from previous times (described no less ambiguously through terms such as postmodernity and modernity). The history of convergence is in parallel with the history of media itself; as soon as two separate media forms coexist, there is a potential for convergence between them. Convergence as a term has gained currency only much more recently, however, and has referred traditionally mainly to technological convergence in the media (or to a convergence of technological systems more generally).

To this, Henry Jenkins added the idea of convergence culture, of course, which adds elements beyond the technological - especially, perhaps, the cultural element. This has led to the emergence of a new participatory folk culture, but also takes place against the backdrop of increasingly centralised media industries. To what extent, however, is this different from postmodernity, and here especially to postmodern mixed media work, in which individual art works lose their meaning and exist only in relation to the context of their production, possibly across a variety of media forms?

And perhaps this move can be traced back even further, to modernity, a time during which the distribution of content across media was already prevalent. The specificity of the current moment may therefore have more to do with access to the means of media production than with any sudden quantum leap in convergent tendencies; with the effects of digitisation rather than the development of genuinely new forms of expression.

Finally, to Astrid Vicas, speaking on Web 2.0 Characteristics and the Situationist Legacy. She argues that Web2.0 is a new phenomenon at least to some extent, in spite of attempts to connect it to a longer trajectory of developments; some of its elements were anticipated by groups such as the situationist movement, but it is important also to identify and examine those which were not. Amongst those elements which were foreshadowed were aspects such as reuse, which induces qualitative changes in culture as the level of reuse increases massively, and which confers plausibility to its original sources in proportion to the level of reuse which occurs. But beyond this, what's new is the combination of an epistemology of the probable (rather than the determinate), an ethics of developing capabilities by following examples (rather than appealing to principles or concepts), and an aesthetics of the expression of preferences through rating and other forms of user evaluation.

For the situationists, then, reuse in the first place is no longer a form of reflection, but becomes a form of action; it has a pointing function (much like hyperlinks today), and confers plausibility and authority to the materials being reused (Google is perhaps the most prominent example for this process at present).

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