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Produsers and Produsage

User-Led Innovation beyond the Application Layer

London.
Jo Pierson and An Jacobs are up next at Transforming Audiences; their focus is on user innovation in creating new sociotechnical systems. Technology is layered, ranging from the application layer through presentation, session, transport, network, and data link layers to the physical layer; user innovation takes place to date mainly at the top of this layering, not in the lower levels. How can this be changed, and what tools are required to achieve it? How can the user be placed in control of the creative destruction which innovation can bring about - and indeed, what kind of innovation are we talking about?

The Impact of Participatory Spaces on Audience Participation

London.
The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is Eggo Müller, whose interests is in spaces for participation by active audiences. He notes the long history of work on the changing nature of the audience, and the wealth of recent material on Web 2.0 spaces. There's also been a growing amount of critical work highlighting the corporate embrace of user-generated content as cheap labour, however, and examining the in-built assumptions in the design of spaces for collaborative content creation.

Participation as a concept became popular in the 1960s in the context of critical studies of the limitations to citizen participation in the democratic process. Television as a centralised broadcast medium, expecially also in its public broadcasting form, became seen as symptomatic for a division into elite cultural producers and largely uninvolved audiences. More recently, of course, television has also been a significant vehicle for new forms of audience participation through formats from Big Brother to the various [insert country here]'s Most Wanted shows. Such shows position the viewer in specific roles - e.g. as watchful citizen/police snitch - and thus similarly create spaces of participation.

The Reconstruction of the Beatles' Identity through YouTube

London.
The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is Richard Mills, whose interest is in the presence of the Beatles on YouTube. The Beatles' image was carefully guided and constructed by their manager Brian Epstein, of course, and the nascent music press of the early to mid-1960 bought strongly into that, creating Beatlemania and connecting it to the wider Swinging Sixties rhetoric. The Beatles themselves eventually reacted against this commercialisation and commodification, and gradually changed their image to embrace countercultural ideas. The evolution of Beatles iconography on their record covers over time also points powerfully to this shift, of course - from the identical suits and haircuts of the first albums to the blankness of The White Album.

The Homemade Crossover Genre of Fan Videos

London.
The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is Sebastien Francois, whose interest is in the fan videos deliberately combining material from various movies and television shows which are posted to spaces like YouTube; Sebastien describes this as 'homemade crossover'. Such videos are created only by a relatively small number of fans, of course, but may provide useful insights into active audiences.

Sebastien has studied such videos on YouTube using the ContextMiner analysis tool to examine the titles, descriptions, and other identifying characteristics of such videos. Such videos are often relatively short, with creators coming from a wide variety of countries; they exist at the intersection of vidding (adding popular music to edits of TV shows) and trailer mash-ups (parodies adding the soundtrack of movie trailers to collages of other movie or television material). Homemade crossover videos as Sebastien defines them do not necessarily use popular music, and are not necessarily parodic in intent - but instead often touch on the narratives within the original material.

From Prosumer to Produser

London.
My paper at Transforming Audiences starts off the first of the paper sessions this morning. Here's the Powerpoint, and I'll try to add the audio as soon as possible the audio is online now, too...

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Researching Today's Transforming Audiences

London.
I've arrived in occasionally sunny London for the Transforming Audiences conference, which kicks off with a keynote by Liz Bird. She notes that conversations about the death of the media audience go back some decades now; the idea of an 'audience' no longer fully captures the reality of media usage and participation, and Web 2.0 and similar phenomena have only provided an even more pointed reminder. There is rhetoric about 'the people formerly known as the audience', but of course these people - audience or not - still matter to us. What is the nature of the dynamic between media and their users, and how may this dynamic be researched further in the current context?

Off to Europe

On Tuesday I'm heading off to Europe again, for a whirlwind tour of three conference in three countries within ten days. In combination, they provide a pretty good overview of my current research interests - I'll be presenting what is more or less an English-language version of my paper on prosumption and produsage from the Prosumer Revisited conference in March at a conference called Transforming Audiences in London; from there I'm heading to Vienna for the 2009 Conference on Electronic Democracy to present a paper co-authored with Gatewatching.org's Jason Wilson which discusses various developments in e-government and e-democracy in Australia (including the DBCDE government consultation blog trial and GetUp!'s Project Democracy); and finally I'm off to Cardiff for the Future of Journalism conference where I'm presenting the outcomes of my interviews with some of the principals behind Germany's successful community news platform myHeimat.de. (This Future of Journalism conference is not to be confused with the MEAA's somewhat lacklustre series of 'Future of Journalism' talkfests in Australia last year, incidentally...) Along the way, I guess I'll also take a little time off to celebrate my recent promotion to Associate Professor...

Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany’s myHeimat.de (Future of Journalism 2009)

Future of Journalism 2009

Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany's myHeimat.de

Axel Bruns

  • 9-10 Sep. 2009 - Future of Journalism, Cardiff

Much recent research into citizen journalism has focussed on its role in political debate and deliberation, especially in the context of recent general elections in the United States and elsewhere. Such research examines important questions about citizen participation in democratic processes - however, it perhaps places undue focus on only one area of journalistic coverage, and presents a challenge which only a small number of citizen journalism projects can realistically hope to meet.

A greater opportunity for broad-based citizen involvement in journalistic activities may lie outside of politics, in the coverage of everyday community life. A leading exponent of this approach is the German-based citizen journalism Website myHeimat.de, which provides a nationwide platform for participants to contribute reports about events in their community. myHeimat takes a hyperlocal approach but also allows for content aggregation on specific topics across multiple local communities; Hannover-based newspaper publishing house Madsack has recently acquired a stake in the project.

myHeimat has been particularly successful in a number of rural and regional areas where strong offline community ties already exist; in several of its most active regions, myHeimat and its commercial partners now also produce monthly print magazines republishing the best of the user-generated content by local contributors, which are distributed to households free of charge or included as inserts in local newspapers. Additionally, the myHeimat publishing platform has also been utilised as the basis for a new 'participatory newspaper' project, independently of the myHeimat Website: since mid-September 2008, the Gießener Zeitung has been published as both a twice-weekly newspaper and a continuously updated news site which draws on both staff and citizen journalist contributors.

Drawing on extensive interviews with myHeimat CEO Martin Huber and Madsack newspaper editors Peter Taubald and Clemens Wlokas during October 2008, this paper analyses the myHeimat project and examines its applicability beyond rural and regional areas in Germany; it investigates the question of what role citizen journalism may play beyond the political realm.

Citizen Consultation from Above and Below: The Australian Perspective (EDEM 2009)

EDEM 2009

Citizen Consultation from Above and Below: The Australian Perspective

Axel Bruns and Jason Wilson

  • 7-8 Sep. 2009 - 2009 Conference on Electronic Democracy, Vienna

In Australia, a range of Federal Government services have been provided online for some time, but direct, online citizen consultation and involvement in processes of governance is relatively new. Moves towards more extensive citizen involvement in legislative processes are now being driven in a "top-down" fashion by government agencies, or in a "bottom-up" manner by individuals and third-sector organisations. This chapter focusses on one example from each of these categories, as well as discussing the presence of individual politicians in online social networking spaces. It argues that only a combination of these approaches can achieve effective consultation between citizens and policymakers. Existing at a remove from government sites and the frameworks for public communication which govern them, bottom-up consultation tools may provide a better chance for functioning, self-organising user communities to emerge, but they are also more easily ignored by governments not directly involved in their running. Top-down consultation tools, on the other hand, may seem to provide a more direct line of communication to relevant government officials, but for that reason are also more likely to be swamped by users who wish simply to register their dissent rather than engage in discussion. The challenge for governments, politicians, and user communities alike is to develop spaces in which productive and undisrupted exchanges between citizens and policymakers can take place.

From Prosumer to Produser: Understanding User-Led Content Creation (Transforming Audiences 2009)

Transforming Audiences 2009

From Prosumer to Produser: Understanding User-Led Content Creation

Axel Bruns

  • 3-4 Sep. 2009 - Transforming Audiences 2009, London

Alvin Toffler's image of the prosumer (1970, 1980, 1990) continues to influence in a significant way our understanding of the user-led, collaborative processes of content creation which are today labelled "social media" or "Web 2.0". A closer look at Toffler's own description of his prosumer model reveals, however, that it remains firmly grounded in the mass media age: the prosumer is clearly not the self-motivated creative originator and developer of new content which can today be observed in projects ranging from open source software through Wikipedia to Second Life, but simply a particularly well-informed, and therefore both particularly critical and particularly active, consumer. The highly specialised, high end consumers which exist in areas such as hi-fi or car culture are far more representative of the ideal prosumer than the participants in non-commercial (or as yet non-commercial) collaborative projects. And to expect Toffler's 1970s model of the prosumer to describe these 21st-century phenomena was always an unrealistic expectation, of course.

To describe the creative and collaborative participation which today characterises user-led projects such as Wikipedia, terms such as 'production' and 'consumption' are no longer particularly useful - even in laboured constructions such as 'commons-based peer-production' (Benkler 2006) or 'p2p production' (Bauwens 2005). In the user communities participating in such forms of content creation, roles as consumers and users have long begun to be inextricably interwoven with those as producer and creator: users are always already also able to be producers of the shared information collection, regardless of whether they are aware of that fact - they have taken on a new, hybrid role which may be best described as that of a produser (Bruns 2008). Projects which build on such produsage can be found in areas from open source software development through citizen journalism to Wikipedia, and beyond this also in multi-user online computer games, filesharing, and even in communities collaborating on the design of material goods. While addressing a range of different challenges, they nonetheless build on a small number of universal key principles. This paper documents these principles and indicates the possible implications of this transition from production and prosumption to produsage.

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