MAIN POST: week 7 blog question

Week 7:
Lovink (Reader, page 222) also argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”.

Discuss this argument giving an example of a blog.

Blogs are a peculiar sort of medium in that they have links with the most private forms of writing, ie. diaries and journals, yet they are meant to be public pieces of writing. In fact, Lovink notes this history of diary keeping and its relation with blogging, highlighting Thomas Mallon’s arguments about how no one can write anything just for himself (6). This narcissistic, self-centered focus of diary keeping, and in relation, blog writing, contrasts with the model of high interactivity that new media is offering us. Blogs sit on a peculiar boundary between public and private, allowing accessibility and social interactions, based around very personal material.

Lovink’s arguments seem to be very narrow minded, considering the wide range of blogs available on the Internet. These blogs may be similar in its counter-chronological format, yet the writing styles, content and publishing purposes can vary greatly. I agree with Lovink, up to a certain point. There are certain characteristics that distinguish more self-centered blogs from other more content focus blogs, that may contradict Lovink’s claim for blogs as a tool for self management (28).

Most blogs on the Internet take the form of a confessional, personal journal, usually authored by teenage girls from their bedrooms (Solove: 24) (example). These blogs do indeed act as a form of structuring, by writing things down and noting it with pictures, these accounts of day-to-day lives records and reflects on the self accordingly. However there are blogs that are mainly focused on certain content (example), most often authored by more than one blogger, which have none of the personal touches that the confessional blogs have. These blogs usually push for interactivity and community more than personal blogs as they are often commercially backed, meaning that the viewer interest and popularity becomes an important part of the equation.

New York blogger, Gala Darling’s blog is an interesting one, because it sits somewhere neatly in the middle of the above two extremes. The content can be seen to be very community focused, with many entries providing links to interesting websites or inspiring videos, as well as competitions and opportunities for readers to participate in. Yet there seems to be no comment function, which is interesting in considering that comment functions are often provided but do not seem inherent or even necessary to the medium.  The entries often note what she is wearing and where the items are from, as well as the public appearances and job opportunities she has been to. These personal touches can serve a self-reflective function, archiving things that she has experiences by placing them on the web. The most obvious examples are blog entries where she puts together the outfits that she has enjoyed wearing the most during the year – whilst it can be seen to be interesting from a fashion standpoint, the basic impulse is inherently narcissistic.

woowoo

Screen Capture of Gala Darling

(word count: 468)

Daniel J. Solove, ‘How the Free Flow of Informaiton Liberates and Constrains Us’, in The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumour and Privacy on the Internet, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 17-49.

Geert Lovink, “Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse”, in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London: Routledge, pp. 1-38.

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MAIN POST: week 9 blog question

Week 9:
Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media”

Discuss this argument giving an example of a YouTube video.

Rebecca Black’s Friday music video has recently overtaken Justin Bieber’s Baby as the most disliked video on YouTube. At first glance, this turn of events seems trivial, another viral video, another meme, along the endless production of trending Internet goods that become quickly forgotten. Yet Rebecca Black’s shot to stardom – for all the wrong reasons – has reached a popularity that no other viral video has done so for a long time, and this may warrant closer scrutiny. Burgess and Green argue in the above quote that creative efforts of ordinary people are still trapped within the system of celebrity controlled by the mass media, and with Rebecca Black’s case it seems that it may prove to be a perfect example.

There is no doubt that the music video was created in some sense to showcase Rebecca Black and to attract attention. The video was not filmed as an amateur production, there is clear adherence to conventions of the music video. The song was well recorded and obviously modeled on the structures of current, mainstream popular songs. Even so, the video was made to attract attention as a showcase of talent, but instead became a sitting duck for insults and criticisms, arguing that the ridiculous lyrics and auto-tuned melody had set a new low for pop music. It seems important to note this distinction, in that the video itself was created initially within the parameters of commercial media and its supposed standards (whether it achieved those standards is another thing). Even to begin with, Black’s Friday is already playing within the rigid framework of mass media.

The resultant outcome of her ill-fated Internet notoriety is still to be seen. The Internet backlash was harsh, but its explosive popularity gave it cultural capital. Other forms of mainstream media were quick to capitalize on Black’s popularity, with the song appearing in an episode of Glee and Black starring in Katy Perry’s latest Last Friday Night music video. Black may have gone further than most celebrity YouTubers and made it into mainstream media, yet it was done so under the influence and conditions of already successful artists. It is still to be seen whether her Internet fame becomes something forgotten, like most of the other viral videos and YouTube celebrities who have also fallen under the system of mass media.

However, it can be seen that there are success stories, and Black’s ability to bounce back from the negative comments and star in mainstream productions is already a sign of things to come, perhaps. Justin Bieber and The Lonely Island are perfect examples of ordinary people who have come into the mainstream media and became successful without falling under the limitations of short lived attention that media systems seem to give Internet stars.

(word count: 459)

Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media,” in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009, pp.15-37.


MAIN POST: week 3 blog question

Week 3:
While discussing YouTube, Jose van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favorites. How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?

YouTube, like many sites that feature archivable web content, operates under an interface that ranks videos according to popularity. Jose van Dijck (2009: 41-58) argues that sites that are primarily based on user generated content, like YouTube, give the false impression of being user controlled whilst being subject to influences such as the ranking system. For van Dijck, the notion of an online ‘community’ relies less on the parallels of participation and citizenship that occur in real life – instead, these communities are formed under common interest groups (2009: 45). Jeremiah Owyang further defines online communities as “a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools”. Given that these communities are formed under the idea that the generation of content and resulting social interaction is user controlled, the notion of a ranking system may seem to upset this democratic ideal.

Yet, upon closer inspection, it seems that van Dijck ignores the fact that the initial popularity of a video still requires a starting investment from users to bump it into prominence. The popularity of a video is rated by the number of views it gets, and the more popular your video is, the likelier it will be seen. Without a ranking system that features videos that have gained the approval from peers, YouTube would be an endless swamp of unfiltered clips, making it hard for a newcomer to locate where to even begin. By promoting certain clips to be seen more regularly, this allows YouTubers and viewers to have similar experiences and thus have more to share and discuss.

However, this simple formula can be easily sidestepped and maneuvered with cunning tactics to promote views. For instance, this recently trending video called Cereal Killer features links to two alternate endings at the end of the clip. For a user that wants to find out what other ending was, they would have to return to the original video. In reality, both endings are more or less the same, but by adding this bonus it fools more users to view the video twice. This would seemingly promote its number of views.

Perhaps a clearer example of a YouTube ‘community’ within the wider YouTube network is the notion of YouTube celebrities. These users of YouTube become popular by regularly posting vlogs or similar web content. Once they become well known on YouTube, they will often collaborate in videos, or create response videos that feature each others work. This community of YouTube celebrities would not be possible if YouTube did not feature a ranking system to categorize the website.

For a newcomer, the sheer volume of videos on YouTube can become daunting. For users who want to get involved in the YouTube community, viewing videos that are popular and well received – therefore highly ranked, can be an easy way of figuring out what YouTube is about.

mmmmya

Screen Capture of Community Channel on YouTube

 

(Word Count: 478)

Van Dijck, Jose. “Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content””, Media, Culture and Society 31. 2009: pp. 41-58.


MAIN POST: week 8 blog question

Week 8:
Alan Lui discusses the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design and argues that such metaphors “naturalize the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (Reader, page 228).

Discuss while giving an example of a website.

 —

The above quote is taken from a wider argument in which Alan Lui (2004: 195-230)discusses the properties and problems of achieving ‘cool’ web design. The subjective factor of ‘cool’ aside, one of the problems he highlights with designing for the Internet is that designers are not used to accommodating the highly fluid nature of web pages. One cannot design within a fixed frame of measurements, in the result is dependant on factors such as screen resolution/width, or wherever the user lands in scrolling up and down the page. Metaphors of older media are employed by designers to ‘naturalize’ these limitations by placing them within the explainable physical frameworks in a virtual form.

black and white, black and gold dumdumdumdeedum

Image sourced from Flickr, by Daniel R. Blume

An example I would like to highlight is similarities between print publications and their online counterparts. If we compare The Age in print and the online version, we see certain overlapping design features. The newspaper logo is printed at the top and center of the page, headlines are ordered in size and importance, pictures and text are balanced for maximum readability. In some senses, the difficulties of arranging the somewhat space consuming information (which is done away with the folding sprawl of the printed broadsheet) is indeed naturalized within the uniformity and geometric arrangements that are common with newspapers. However, it may be argued that these design features are also kept because they are practical, and provides the same purpose in both print and digital formats. Newspapers will arrange headlines in order of importance, and size accordingly because it is trying to convey information efficiently.

What Lui neglects to address is perhaps the functions that these metaphors may serve in translating old media to new. The similarities between print and online media help the transition from print to digital – from old media to new media. The layout helps users recognize familiar features and identify that it is the same thing, only in a digital format. Moreover, the manner in which Lui discusses old media as a disguise or limitation falsely points towards the features of new media being hidden or ill utilized in these layouts. For instance, The Age website maintains its new media characteristics of modularity and variability (Manovich 2001: 30-31, 36-39). The articles displayed will be ordered by date and relevance, like the old media version, but there are links to older articles. Access to these articles does not break up the coherence of the text, whereas the print version could only contain articles within each issue as a whole. The constant updating of the website means that it is always unfinished and changing, producing constantly ephemeral versions of itself.

The arguments that Lui make highlight the difficulties in web architecture – form must follow function, combining the ease of navigation with aesthetic appearance.

(Word Count: 452)

Lui, Alan. “Information is Style”, in Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, pp. 195-230.

Manovich, Lev. “What is New Media?” in The Language of New Media, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001, pp. 19-48.


MAIN POST: week 11 blog main blog question

Week 11:
Medosch argues that: “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Reader, page 318).

Discuss this argument whilst giving an example online.

In his paper, Paid in Full, Medosch (2008: 73-97) argues for a more nuanced standpoint that combines the seemingly extreme perspectives of both the copyleft and copyright movements. The above quote is interesting in that it acknowledges the inevitability of piracy and the sureness of its effects. The full cultural consequences of piracy are beyond the scope of this discussion to cover, but Medosch offers that piracy allows “access to cultural goods which otherwise would be completely unavailable to the vast majority of the people” (2008: 81).  This wider reaching access means that previous limitations such as financial status and geographical location are no longer as relevant. However, Medosch assumes that piracy is “an entirely commercially motivated activity” (2008: 81), whereas in most online cases such as peer-to-peer file sharing and bit torrent, acts of piracy are actually committed without gain or profit.  The dependence offline piracy has on commercial gain means that whilst it does offer a wider access to previously limited or inaccessible goods, it is subject to more restrictions than the relative freedom of online piracy.

bit torrent site!

Photo sourced from Flickr, by Emanuel Hallklint

Torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay offer a large variety of texts to be downloaded free of charge, provided that there are other users willing to ‘seed’ the file. The sheer abundance of information means that users now engage with cultural texts more freely. The financially disadvantaged are offered the same access as the privileged, and national borders no longer pose as a restriction. Someone who would have been previously hesitant to buy an album would have no problem downloading it for nothing and trying it out.

This accessibility undermines the previously established economic structures surrounding cultural goods. Medosch points out the Marxist distinction between use value and monetary value, and that “the link between cultural production and money is fractious” (2008: 86, 92). By taking money out of the equation, audiences, artists and producers are forced to reconsider the actual worth of cultural goods, and the framework of relationships that connect each party. Various artists react to the impact of piracy in their own ways, demonstrating the manner in which they have evaluated the meaning of their work and its connection with its audience.

midnight sun
Screen Capture of statement regarding Midnight Sun

Exemplary of this is how Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, decided to abandon the book Midnight Sun when its unfinished manuscript was leaked online. The statement Meyer released on her website states how her decision was made based on how this breach of copyright affected her position as an artist, and how betrayed she felt by her fans. In stark contrast, when the debut solo album of singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer was leaked, she decided to use the early disclosure of the album to the purposes of publicity. Now that the songs were available already, she took the opportunity to create a music video for each track to promote the album, relying on fan loyalty for revenue. This shows how piracy and leaks are becoming inevitable, and that it is becoming an important part of cultural production.

(Word Count: 473)

Armin Medosch, ‘Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production’, in Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies. London: Deptforth TV, 2008, pp. 73-97.