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Prosumer Revisited 2009

Conference in Frankfurt, 26/27 March 2009

Two New Book Chapters on Produtzung

I haven't yet had a chance to note my latest two book chapters on produsage here - both in German, and following on from conferences in Germany which I spoke at in 2008 and 2009:

Prosumer Revisited

The reader Prosumer Revisited, from the Prosumer Revisited conference which I attended earlier this year, contains my chapter "Vom Prosumenten zum Produtzer", which argues that the 'prosumer' is no longer a useful term to describe the changes in participation and content creation which are occurring today, and provides a concise overview of produsage, or Produtzung, as an alternative. Probably a little more clearly than I did in my conference presentation itself!

Beyond Toffler, beyond the Prosumer

(Crossposted from

I'm briefly back in Brisbane before heading back to Europe for the next round of conferences and a good month as a visiting scholar and Alcatel-Lucent Fellow at the Hans-Bredow-Institut in Hamburg. My time here at home has given me an opportunity to reflect on the conferences I attended on the last trip: WebSci '09 in Athens and Prosumer Revisited in Frankfurt.

Prosumer Revisited in particular, which I blogged about here, was an interesting experience - probably my first opportunity to reconnect in detail with the work being done in the overall area of produsage (and some way beyond it) in German academic research. A number of the keynotes at the conference were excellent, and it'll be interesting to follow some of the trajectories they explored.

Creating New Forms of Cultural Participation

The final speaker here at the Prosumer Revisited conference is Gerhard Panzer, whose interest is in the consumption of cultural goods. Such cultural consumption can be defined as the purchase and/or use of cultural works and services; these are objects that have specific embedded meanings, whose quality is realised through the process of reception. Their value is determined through attention and recognition; consumers of such objects are therefore co-producers of (the value of) cultural works.

Cultural producers, in turn, are also consumers of other cultural producers' works, and are influenced by their wider environment (competitors, financiers, publishers, audiences, etc.). This influence may have taken place against the wishes of cultural producers (where patrons or publishers altered works) or may have been specifically sought out by cultural producers (for example through live performance). Indeed, markets for cultural products are themselves also complex networks of institutions.

(Environmental) User Motivations on eBay Germany

And we're in the last paper session at Prosumer Revisited, which is kicked off by conference chair Birgit Blättel-Mink whose interest here is in the sustainability potential of online trading using eBay. This work is part of a larger research project which examines the online used car trade in Germany. For the purposes of this project, prosuming using eBay is defined as usage of the site to buy and sell products - a more active form of usage which also leads to the more frequent trading on and trading in of products.

Towards the Working Customer

We're in the last keynote of the Prosumer Revisited conference, by Kerstin Rieder. She begins by giving an overview of existing research on active consumption - on the societal, organisational, and interactive level. There is currently a fundamental change in producer/consumer relationships, towards consumer labour (or towards 'the working customer', the English translation of the title of her book with Günter Voß, Der arbeitende Kunde). Kerstin notes for example that customers do work for McDonald's by collecting their rubbish and separating it into different waste categories; the value of this labour in Germany adds up to several billion Euro per year.

Prosumption as an Improvement in Market Intelligence

The next speaker at Prosumer Revisited is Patrick Linnebach, whose interest is in trust in prosumption activities. In the first place, however, it is necessary to define markets: they can be described as a group of producers closely observing each other (though not the consumers directly) - this is a form of interaction-free sociality (as competitors do not directly interact, even though they're keenly aware of each other. This is distinguished from direct interactions, for example in cooperation or in financial transactions.

Whither Prosumption - and Why?

From this very interesting keynote at Prosumer Revisited we move on to a presentation by Kai-Uwe Hellmann, who returns us to the bigger picture of trying to understand what this 'prosumer', what this active, productive, consumer figure actually is. He begins by considering Toffler's own work on the prosumer - he noted that the distinction between producer and consumer was a phenomenon of the industrial age, but that this distinction did not exist during preindustrial times and is disappearing again in the postindustrial age. But what does prosumer mean - getting the consumer to do the job, becoming part of the production process, producing goods and services for one's own use?

From Brand Communities to Community Brands

We start this second day of Prosumer Revisited with a keynote by Johann Füller (his co-author Eric von Hippel couldn't make it here, unfortunately). He asks whether consumers are able to create strong brands - and points to Wikipedia and Apache as successful examples. Such user-generated brands have as yet not been recognised in world indices of the strongest brands, though.

What's happening here is a move from company brands not simply to brand communities (communities based around existing brands, like Apple or Nike), but indeed the creation of community brands: brands which are created from scratch by interest communities. Such brands can become strong competition to conventional brands, not least because these interest communities also drive brand adoption. Apache, for example, has a 70% market share, and is able to be a leading brand in a market which also includes competitors such as Microsoft.

Beyond the Historical Division of Production and Consumption

We finish this first of the two Prosumer Revisited conference days with another keynote, by George Ritzer. He notes that social theory has for its entire history focussed on either production or consumption - but that this is a historical error brought about by the (temporary) distinction between the two sides at the height of the industrial age.

The consumer as active worker, as active creator of value, is the much more common model, and indeed sits at the centre of a continuum from production to consumption which also sees any number of different combinations between these two elements. Additionally, of course, it is also important to note the difference between such processes in material and immaterial settings - user involvement in productive processes is much more easily possible in the non-material realm.

Conspicuous Participation in User-Led Content Creation

We move on to the next presentation at Prosumer Revisited, which is by Frank Kleemann and Christian Papsdorf, whose focus is especially on peer recognition in collaborative online content creation initiatives. Web 2.0 is based on technological innovation, but provides mainly a different approach to online collaboration; users invest a substantial amount of labour into their participation processes, but without expecting major monetary rewards from doing so. (However, some DIY auction and sales sites have also emerged, of course.)


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