C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Happy New Year to everyone involved in the Convergence Culture Consortium! We've got plenty of projects going here with the C3 team. With YouTube coding ongoing and projects on viral media continuing, we are spending MIT's Independent Activities Period in January working on a variety of projects.

New Resources

We also have several resources recently made available on the back end of the C3 site.

First of all, there are a variety of resources now available under the "Podcasts" button on the C3 page. On the public side, we have put all our audio and video from Futures of Entertainment and Futures of Entertainment 2 on the site, as well as a variety of CMS Colloquia and Communications Forum audio podcasts that we thought would be of particular interest to those involved with the Consortium, including members of NBC's Heroes writing team, B. Joseph Pine II, Andrew Slack of The HP Alliance, World Wrestling Entertainment's Jim Ross, soap opera writer Kay Alden, Alan Moore of Communities Dominate Brands, Jesper Juul of the Centre for Computer Game Research Copenhagen, Scott Donaton of Ad Age, selected panels from CMS' Media in Transition 5, and a panel with C3 Principal Investigators Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio, along with Wealth of Networks author Yochai Benkler, on the future of newspapers.

The partners-only section includes the video from the Convergence 2006: There Is No Box partners retreat, featuring comments from a variety of speakers including Jenkins and Uricchio, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, and C3 Consulting Researchers and Alum Robert V. Kozinets, Shenja van der Graaf, Grant McCracken, David Edery, Ilya Vedrashko, and Chris Weaver. We hope to have the audio up from the 2007 C3 retreat, Collaboration 2.0, in the coming weeks.

We also have included on the backend of our site the "Social Networks in Advertising and Marketing" report from Ivan Askwith and Eleanor Baird. It is available from the "Resources" section on the back end of our site. We ran a preview of the piece, including some "Dos and Don'ts" for brands using social networks, in the Closing Note of the 30 November 2007 C3 Weekly Update.

We have updated the newsletter archive on the backend of the site, and remember that there are also copies of several other studies available there, including my pieces on World Wrestling Entertainment as a transmedia business model and my study of the modes of engagement among pro wrestling fans, MIT undergraduate Matthew Cohen's piece comparing girl gamers to political lobby groups, Shenja van der Graaf and David B. Nieborg's piece "The Mod Industries," from The European Journal of Cultural Studies, Ivan Askwith's "Deconstructing The Lost Experience," Geoffrey Long's piece on the Wii, and Ilya Vedrashko's "Creating the Future of Advertising," as well as copies of all four 2007 C3 graduate researchers' Master's theses.

Don't hesitate to let me know if you need login information to access these materials.

Upcoming Event

Note that, as mentioned on the blog, the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies Research Fair will be taking place on Feb. 28. For more information, look here. We'd love to have some of you there!

This Week's Newsletter

This week's C3 Weekly Update features an Opening Note from Grant McCracken's blog. Grant writes about the desire for an increasing amount of information online, and corresponding sleuthing behaviors. The piece serves as a preview for Grant's blog, where he writes regularly about culture and marketing.

The Closing Note from Geoffrey Long previews his own personal journal, Tip of the Quill, where he provides a wide variety of content. This piece looks at speculation about the newest technology rollouts from Apple.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Grant McCracken Writes on Orphan Objects

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Geoffrey Long on Macworld 2008

Opening Note

Orphan objects: New Markets, New Cultures

Here's what I got from my sister for Christmas. It's her best gift ever.

Prescription Bottle

I know it looks like an 25 year old prescription bottle. That's because it is. It was issued on December 20, 1979 by Dr. Allman through Folkestad's Pharmacy in Lincoln City, Oregon. It contained Tranxene, an anxiety medicine.

The gift is a puzzle. My sister is saying, "What happened here? Who was this guy?" And it's a good challenge because there are lots of particulars. The patient, the doctor, the pharmacy, the place and the time are all specified. My sister found something tagged with enough information to make historical detective work possible...but not easy. My sister sent me a message in a bottle, someone else's a prescription bottle.

She is responding to my new hobby. A couple of summers ago, I had found a passport for a German beautician called Erna Schonwald. Using the internet as my new historical decoder ring I was able to access the Ellis Island website, a publication of the East Point Oysters Company in Washington, the Seattle phone book for 1923, historical details on the Cobb Medical Building built in Seattle in 1910, and the 1930 census.

As a result, I was able to determine that Erma arrived in the US in 1923, sponsored by her brother Phillippe, a physician, who had arrived the year before with wife, children and servant in tow. Erna went to live in Seattle where she worked for her brother as a book keeper, and lived with a woman called Ariston Schwertner. I posted these results and actually made contact with one of Erna's descendants. (I am still waiting for her to take receipt of Erna's passport.)

I think I know what happened. My sister was at a garage sale or a yard sale. She found the prescription bottle in a pile of junk, and thought, "this will drive him crazy." So far so good.

What's changed? The internet makes each of us an amateur sleuth. There are lots of resources out there. The fact that I could find a Seattle phone book from the 1920s on line struck me as absolutely miraculous. But there is no reason why every phone book for every year for every city shouldn't be available eventually. The resources are going to get steadily better. And this means small efforts at sleuthing will bring ever greater results. And that means that the internet will begin to satisfy the satisfaction threshhold of more and more people. And that means that many more people will participate. And that will incent even more people to digitize phone books, and perhaps even create a sleuthing market of the kind that has sprung up around genealogy.

That change makes for another change. A whole set of objects should suddenly return to scrutability, as it were. Erna's passport that is something any good historian should have been able to make speak. But with internet research instruments at our disposal, a vast set of objects will be capable of speech. Passports, prescription bottles, books with plates in them, school scribblers, wallets, purses (assuming some identifiers), cell phones with data still inside, computers (assuming the same), clothing with names sewn in, automobiles, houses. There's a lot out there.

And what happens then? People would begin to restore historical details to objects, and in some cases restore the objects to owners or the ancestors of owners. They could give them to museums. Or they could build magnificent personal collections that attract interest from other collectors, the historical community, and the museum world.

Or, we can imagine a "catch and release" program, that encourages me to document my prescription bottle, tag it with the information I discover about it, and then return it to the year sale circuit. There is something like this already in the form of Geocaching, where objects are being tagged with GPS coordinates. I like the idea of a garage sale in which some of the objects come with data attached.

A market will surely form, both a market for information that makes tagging orphan easier and a market for objects themselves. Surely the better tagged an object is, the more valuable it becomes. We can imagine a big piece of the eBay market raising on this tide. And a culture, too. We are on the verge of many more objects and many more people entering the curatorial world. (Or perhaps I have that the wrong way round.)

Naturally, this raises questions of privacy. The prescription bottle I got from my sister was once filled with an anxiety medication. Which tells us volumes about the person to whom it was prescribed. I have blocked out his name, because, well, maybe he doesn't want all the world to know he was suffering anxiety in the late 1970s. (Though, I think it's fair to say we all were. I carried a brown paper bag with me everywhere I went.) Are we entitled to retrospective privacy? Tough one.


McCracken, Grant. 2006. "What I did on my summer vacation (or, "May I have your passport, please?")" This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. August 22, 2006. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2003. "Tag, We're it." This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. January 05, 2003. here.

Grant McCracken is a consulting researcher for C3 and the author of various books on brand management and cultural consumption. He holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago and has been a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, in addition to director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. He is also currently an adjunct professor at McGill University and a corporate consultant on brand management. His blog is located at

Glancing at the C3 Blog

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part II: The Current State of Soaps. Sam Ford writes about the changes the soap opera industry has made and the declining ratings since the pinnacle of soaps' popularity decades ago.

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part I: Immersive Story Worlds. In the first part of this 8-part summary of Sam Ford's thesis work on soaps in preparation for his course this spring, Ford provides a review of his concept of immersive story worlds.

The Ron Paul Candidacy and Facebook Controversy. Sam Ford writes about the interesting following for presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul and the recent controversy over ABC's and Facebook's (non)-treatment of reaction to Paul on the social networking site during a live televised debate.

The Place of Social Reaction in Media Measurement. Sam Ford writes about how "buzz" and social engagement and reaction around media properties could/should be discussed in conjunction with other research methods.

Soaps Continue Through Writers Strike. Sam Ford provides links about the unique plight of daytime serial dramas during the writer's strike, as the soap operas continue to go forward with stories from fi-core and interim writers.

Tying Live Events into a Transmedia Narrative. Sam Ford writes about the WWE's attempt to create meaningful narrative extensions through its regular non-televised touring shows and problems with continuity in the process.


Around the Consortium: FoE2, Ad Ubiquity, Tech News, Politics, and Social Issues. Ilya Vedrashko questions the figure of 5,000 ad impressions daily, while Geoffrey Long provides some tech news wrap-up and Robert V. Kozinets writes about a political ad spoof questioning the theories of Immanuel Kant.

Updates on Stories: Soulja Boy, Radiohead, LinkedIn, Christianity, and Quarterlife. Sam Ford provides some updates on stories that have been featured on the Consortium's blog recently, linking to some interested related content from Andy Hunter, Linda Ong, Bill Carter, Mary Anne Simpson, and The McLean Bible Church.

Live Action Anime? Only at MIT!. C3 Research Manager Henry Jenkins cross-posts a piece from his blog on an MIT live action anime performance.

CMS Research Fair Feb. 28. The Convergence Culture Consortium will be participating in a research fair for the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT at the end of February.

Tracking the US Election. C3 Research Manager Joshua Green writes about the Election '08 Political Dashboard from Yahoo! and the ECOresearch Network's US Election 2008 Web Monitor, both of which monitor the presidential election.

Around the Consortium: The Digital Race, FoE2, Soaps, and IAP. Sam Ford co-authors a piece on Web 2.0 in 2007 for The Christian Science Monitor and is teaching a class on soap operas in the spring, while Joshua Green and Grant McCracken prepare a course on qualitative research for MIT's Independent Activities Period.

Follow the Blog

Don't forget – you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

Divergences--Macworld 2008: Something in the Air?

The Apple Intarwebs are all aflutter over a handful of photos posted over at Ars Technica depicting the first Macworld banners up at Moscone Center. Written across them in Myriad Light is the phrase, "2008. There's something in the air."

Oooooooh. What could it be? What could it be? So far the smart money's been on the following:

  • New wireless networking tools. At CES, wireless was all the rage. This has been going on for a while now, actually, what with the widespread proliferation of high-speed wireless networking equipment in a range of tasty flavors. 802.11g! 802.11n! Yummy. However, Apple's AirPort line hasn't been refreshed in a little while, and their tiny AirPort Express stations are reportedly out of stock across the country. A safe bet would be a new type of AirPort Express station with either higher speeds or additional content – perhaps an AppleTV Express that is only a dumb streaming terminal from your primary computer?

  • New Apple subnotebook. This has been a rumormonger's favorite for months – the existence of a superslim MacBook with no optical drive and a hard drive consisting of only Flash memory, possibly called the MacBook Thin, the MacBook Touch, or (now) the MacBook Air has been bouncing around the rumor mills since 2006. Most definitely, c'est possible.

  • Extended partnership with AT&T. Last year's partnering with AT&T for the iPhone connectivity might have only been the tip of the iceberg, and the same might be said for the Starbucks iTunes special stores (which, I might add, are taking way too dang long to roll out if we still don't have it around MI freaking T). A 3G iPhone is pretty much a sure bet as well, as AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson pretty much confirmed it back in November, but what if that hardware chipset was extended to all MacBook portables? What if every MacBook came with the same unlimited data plan for AT&T subscribers? Even if it's only the subnotebook with that plan, that would be one pretty spiffy machine if the bandwidth is high enough.

  • Wireless movie rentals. The movie rentals thing is said to be a done deal as well, so if we take that as a given and add that to the new Apple TV, renting movies wirelessly from your living room is nifty, although Pay-Per-View has been doing this for years, so it's not that nifty. Sure be a dang nice thing to have, though.

  • Apple's own wireless network. Another rumor has been that Apple will turn its back on AT&T altogether and introduce its own cellular network service, something that they'd been talking about doing before but I don't see happening, or even being announced, until after the upcoming FCC auction. Further modding this idea down is the fact that as of the latest release Apple wasn't even on the list of 266 applicants.

  • Wireless monitor connections. Wireless monitor connections would be cool, although it would probably require the addition of some new wireless tech (802.11x?) with much hgher bandwidth. More likely is the introduction of a wireless Apple tablet that controls your primary Mac, or – again with the obvious – the addition of some type of Apple Remote Desktop that allows you to remote-control your Mac from your iPhone using some type of screen sharing. I'd be hosed in this setup, since my iPhone screen real estate is a far cry from the three screens I have wired up to my G5 at home, but still – definitely another nice-to-have.

  • Wireless iPod headphones. Better wireless headphones would be sweet, and fairly doable – it's so easy to imagine white wireless iPod headphones that Logitech did it back in 2005, but a set straight from the mothership itself would be pretty sweet. Added coolness would be a set of headphones that used proximity sensors to determine which room they were in, and fade in and out the volume of the source media depending on what it's nearest. That way you could have the radio playing silently in one room and the TV playing silently in another and have your smart headphones determine the source as you're walking around. Hmmm. Even if they don't introduce something like that, that sounds like it would be a neat project...

All that said, the one thing, the absolute least likely thing, that I would love to see Apple announce that I've been kicking around my own head for a while...

  • Apple Cloud Computing.

I'm going to jump out of my bullet-point format here because my thoughts on this last one get lengthy, complete with quoted references – but bear with me, as this possibility is really very cool.

Different geeks define the Cloud in different ways, but the main notion of cloud computing, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Cloud computing is a computing paradigm shift where computing is moved away from personal computers or an individual application server to a "cloud" of computers. Users of the cloud only need to be concerned with the computing service being asked for, as the underlying details of how it is achieved are hidden. This method of distributed computing is done through pooling all computer resources together and being managed by software rather than a human.

The services being requested of a cloud are not limited to using web applications, but can also be IT management tasks such as requesting of systems, a software stack or a specific web appliance.

This simplifies IT management as well as increases efficiencies of system resources. IT administrators no longer need to install software and manually setup all the systems, but instead they have management software do this. Resources are used more efficiently as computers can be consolidated to be used for more tasks. This ensures underutilized systems do not sit idle.

The New York Times' John Markoff discussed cloud computing in the Bits section back in August 2007 in a piece called "Why Can't We Compute in the Cloud?" In it, he writes:

What's holding back computing-in-the-cloud?

The arrival of increasing powerful and standardized Web browsers has made it possible to think about moving computing and data away from the desktop and the portable PC and simply displaying the results of computing that takes place in a centralized location and is then transmitted via the Internet on the user's screen...

...For all the activity, however, one thing seems to be inexplicably missing.

There have been almost no credible efforts to design stripped down mobile computer hardware to match the wealth of Web software. There are a number of efforts to design full-featured palm-sized computers complete with small disk drives. And there are a smattering of efforts, such as Zonbu, a maker of a subscription-based desktop computer, or the odd smartphone "peripheral" that will shortly be available from Palm, designed as a sleek ultra-portable Linux-based laptop, but shackled it as an accessory for a Treo handheld.

That said, nobody seems to be ready to really gamble on computing on the Web.

Is anyone else wondering why Palm got a mention here but not the iPhone?

Me, what I'd like to see is a further extension of the cloud computing idea to incorporate the legions of iPhones, cell phones and other devices using a SETI@home model of distributed computing – although it'd be a hell of a battery drain and would, I think, require a much-improved bandwidth scenario, imagine being able to do video editing on your iPhone by distributing the processor load to the swarm of unused mobile devices around you at any given time?

Or, similarly, imagine what would happen if Apple unleashed this distributed processing model by slapping high-powered processors into their AirPort Express wi-fi stations so that the speed of your computing experience was determined not by the number of processors in your computer, but inside of your network? This isn't a far-fetched notion at all – in fact, Apple has already been using distributed computing technology in its own QMaster Services in Compressor, one of the software packages included in the Final Cut Suite since 2005. From Apple's own support documentation:

Compressor 2 can accelerate processing by distributing the work to multiple computers. All you need is access to more than one computer and Compressor 2 installed with either DVD Studio Pro 4 or Final Cut Studio. In addition, Apple Qmaster Services needs to be installed. Apple Qmaster Services can be installed via the Apple QMaster Installer (go to the Custom Install window to install only Services), which is provided with Final Cut Studio 1.0, DVD Studio Pro 4.0.

Compressor 2 and its Apple Qmaster 2 distributed processing system handle all the work distribution and processing for you behind the scenes. They subdivide the work for speed, route the work to the computers with the most available computing power, and direct the processing. For more information on distributed processing, open Compressor and choose Help > Distributed Processing Setup.

The inclusion of these QMaster services at the system level would enable distributed computing power to other applications as well – and other companies might be just waiting to jump on this bandwagon. Adobe CS3 Extended already plays well with MATLAB 7.0+, which includes among its features support for the MATLAB distributed computing engine. While the current model requires full installs of the software on multiple computers, it's likely only a matter of time before we elect to install new software not on our computer, but on our entire computing environment – and with the advent of data standards and systems like XML, system-level integration might not require the installation of 'client' apps onto multiple nodes at all. (Kind of a scary notion, actually – it's extremely easy to imagine malware implementations at this level.)

But, oh, wait, it's already happening: ever since Mac OS 10.3 Panther, Apple's been working on a distributed processing system called Xgrid:

Apple's Xgrid technology makes it easy to turn an ad hoc group of Mac systems into a low-cost supercomputer. Leveraging the power of Mac OS X Server, Xgrid is an ideal distributed computing platform for individual researchers, specialized collaborators, and application developers.

Plus, Xgrid is already built to support Bonjour, Apple's zero-configuration technology:

Since Xgrid is built into Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server, configuration is easy. Using Xgrid Admin (or the command line, if you prefer), just designate one system as controller, then enable additional systems to act as Xgrid agents. All agents use the zero-configuration Bonjour technology to find the controller and bind to it automatically -- no need to manually enter a slew of IP addresses.

So it looks like, software-wise, the pieces are all pretty much in place. This direction would only be accelerated by the transformations of wi-fi extenders like the AirPort Express into small headless computing cluster nodes – and while the iPhone's current 620MHz ARM processor is pretty weak, in a generation or three, it's entirely possible to imagine the scenario I describe above: all of us walking around in a persistent, ever-operational, ever-present ad hoc cloud of data-crunching, art-making and future-building processing activity.

We're very rapidly entering the age of ubiquitous computing, what my SXSW friend Adam Greenfield describes in his book Everyware (which, by the way, is a steal at less than twenty bucks, one-click now, operators are standing by). Some might argue that we're already there – I count myself among them. If Steve Jobs happened to agree, Tuesday's speech could be a very jaw-dropping experience indeed.

DIVERGENCES is an irregularly published column by writer, filmmaker, C3 alum and Comparative Media Studies Communications Director Geoffrey Long, a member of the 2007 Master's class at CMS. For more of his work, please visit

The Fine Print

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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