November 16, 2007
FoE2: Fan Labor

Fan Labor was the topic for the third and final panel of the first day of FoE2.

The speakers were Mark Deuze, Jordan Greenhall, Catherine Tosenberger, Elizabeth Osder, Raph Koster.

Taking over live blogging duties were Lauren Silberman, Lan Le, and Lana Swartz.

Henry Jenkins: Henry opens by explaining the origins of fandom and giving a background of fan studies in the beginning and what has happened in the field in the past year.

Raph Koster: Raph Koster is interested in games, Star Wars, end user/fan content, LJ controversies, take-up and non-take of certain TV shows, which shows were adopted broadly and which weren't in fandom. He is also interested in the way fans and companies cooperate (or don't). 3-D modeling is a huge fan community that has not been addressed previously. Web 2.0 consumers figured out that companies profit on labor without compensation. There were no answers, no positions. There is a complicated social contract that goes on among many different participants. How do we differentiate between who is a fan creator and who is a professional creator? The determinant is usually luck rather than talent. The sense of "I deserve something for what I've done" is what causes problems. Historically, artists have starved to death until 1890. Creative content as a money earner is historically "bizarre, even for commercial producers." Could be that our perceptions of fan culture and cooperation really a be particular 20th century lens?

Elizabeth Osder: Elizabeth Osder's interests include social network in music with a focus in industry. She has worked in news for the New York Times and Yahoo. Elizabeth Osder values a close relation to the users of her products. What do they want? As a product developer, Elizabeth Osder is very focused on engaging consumers. She's not naive to fans creating value, and investigates how we can develop systems to incentive and reward fan creation. Elizabeth Osder would like to know the motivations of users, focusing on the individual who is between the major poles of the passive consumer and the super fan. How can we create an economy of creative productivity, one that really requires the viewer to really consume and absorb the media. Points of passion can be equated to interest as it intersects with time. Can levels of engagement be created to people with less time and less critique? How can the producer listen to what fans want? How can we build these tools to help them achieve this level of engagement with vertical topics and different levels of engagement in vertical model.

Catherine Tosenberger: Catherine Tosenberger has a Phd in children's literature from the University of Florida with a dissertation on fan fiction in Harry Potter. She's interested in how this fandom has changed so much and how Harry Potter has affected this. There is the stereotype of fans as adolescents and teenage girls (or 40 year old virgins). The previous literature of fan studies primarily studied adult behaviors, but the Harry Potter fandom is predominantly adolescent. Indeed, Harry Fandom grew up at the same time as the Internet, becoming mainstream together.

Star Wars recognized this from being just adolescent. Now young Harry Potter fans want to participate in the same way as these Star Wars fan writers. Harry Potter fandom is clearly adolescents writing.

We can't talk about the internet as this bizarre little community anymore. It is obviously very mainstream now. She is also interested in how the writers strike will effect these fans. FanLib was trying to capitalize on fan fiction, but went about this in a way that offended the fan fiction community.

How does fan lib apply to artistic issues? What fans do taps into very old artistic models, tapping into traditions that began with the Jane Austen societies of regency period. Fans prefer to circulate their stories unofficially. Fandom offers a freedom that commercial publishing doesn't. Nobody stops these writers from doing what they want.

Jordan Greenhall: Jordan Greenhall began in the MP3 moment and later founded DivX. He is interested in Stage 6 - what happens when you give software tools to consumers? He has talked to numerous congressman who have to make decisions around these issues. Their moral arguments are starting to change. Radiohead could have been predicted a long time ago, but was still a milestone. We can date things from that point. Jordan Greenhall is also very interested in remix culture, especially mixing audio and video together. This is an enormous piece of creative expression. This is a huge level of experience with culture which drives our current models for technology.

Mark Deuze: Mark Deuze started as a journalist, covering metal when it was not widely accepted in mainstream newspapers. Most creative people in media do the work they do primarily because they're fans. The way they talk about their work shows that they, like fans. They want to be free to do what they want to do, change the world. They use the same discourse as fans. What does he see happening with Web 2.0? "Professional fans" don't really like collaborating with their fans because they see it as an infringement on artistic freedom. The person running the message board is often the lowest on the totem pole.

That discourse is beginning to change. Convergence has lead certainly to organizations going for free labor. Journalists are being let go and then newspapers announce that they are aiming for citizen journalism. Certain game companies are watching community message boards. This is the direction this area is going.

He is excited about Convergence Culture and Web 2.0, but just as we might fault industry for misappropriation, harness the value of the user, etc., we should also value the professional. Journalists are trained to be journalists, not to stimulate citizen journalism. Go to companies that are implementing innovates that value users, then monitor the change, see what goes wrong.

Henry Jenkins: What are the implicit social agreements that shape these communities? Even our own backchannel reflects this call for user input. What do you think producers legitimately expect from consumers in these spaces? What do consumers expect from producers?

Jordan Greenhall: Working backwards from the audience, he redefines brand and culture and community as the same thing, essentially. The audience expects authenticity and sincerity from its canon and those who put that content into the community. The values of the brand and the community must align, otherwise, the disconnect results in a feeling of alienation. There is an unconscious expectation now that we have the ability to participate. There is a moral obligation from both the content creator and the participant to be authentic.

Catherine Tosenberger: There are social contracts between consumers and producers, but neither is a monolithic mass. Even among the most ardent fans, there are still a lot of different groups. Some people really do not believe we need the producers to cater to our needs, and others feel the opposite. There are specific cultures within the group of participatory fans. Some people do not want to give feedback. Fanon is our space. Canon is yours. Our reaction is ours and ours only. Slash fans especially do not want producers cater to their desires. You must consider the community and niche demographic when one approaching for feedback and considering the social contract? Who do you want to incorporate into the discussion of the social contract?

Elizabeth Osder: Old producer had access to fans or to information. Access to information is now changing the relationship between producers and audience. Now producers have access to the questions of the audience, whereas they previously relied on gut instinct. Desire to know backstory, access to specific types of information. What is the information they want? Every time I interview a fan (from Heroes to Fallout Boy), I elicit these questions. We try to get the fans right, we try to get the fans to connect to each other. Our job as intermediaries to create that bond. The social contract is about being credible, transparent, and authentic.

You threw out the term "social contract". A key to understand Web 2.0 functions of user generated content is meta data. Web 2.0 doesn't give a crap about what you're creating but about where you go so they can measure where you go. The fundamental product of Web 2.0 is meta-data. The premise of the Web 2.0 business models is that the web is a database, consumers add to the database. The content is there so that we can track the consumers moving across it. Most web companies have no interest in content until it impacts their meta-data. When it does, they find a way to profit from that content, but they are not built to sell content.

Web 2.0 companies target user-content brazenly. Contact applications are created to steal facebook users data. When we think of fan labor and who owns the data we're asking the wrong question. The real question is who owns the profile of who wrote the live fiction. There is an interesting tension there. This is why FanLib went spectacularly wrong. Being smart about managing the clueless creators as they let them passively into their pens.

Databases is where the business model is going. There are a lot of business models out there that wish they had the savvy to capture the kind of metadata that they're seeing out there. Verticalized social networks - it is okay to have niche markets and specific, personalized community spaces. There's a real revival of this kind of macro mass marketing. Something to be said about creating good spaces for people, so that they can care about something. Anybody can take a platform and roll out the wallpaper to get people there.

Raph Koster: Many of these communities are created by superfans. They hit scale and then the business needs become really important. You can build the perfect home to get the people that you love, but then you have this enormous bandwidth built and then you want it and fan is shoved aside.

Elizabeth Osder: When something is scaled, it's no longer authentic

Raph Koster: Look at Club Penguin in gamespace. It was made because they think Disney wasn't "clean" enough. It was then sold it to Disney with the expectation that 10% would still be donated to charity and that they could retain a certain authenticity. Authenticity is what connects you to the end-user.

Mark Deuze: This need for authenticity and this process has nothing to do with the Internet. People have always been creatively producing about the things they do, whether it is a painting or creating a video for YouTube. Going back to the work that is required to do anything. The basic social contract has two values: 1. Leave me alone but 2. Acknowledge what I'm doing. This drives a lot of creative work. Media workers of all kinds want professional autonomy. They want to tell the story they need to change the world. Media workers are fans too, maybe the super fans.

Henry Jenkins: What are the expectations of remuneration for fan produced content? Many fans don't want money or commodification of their work. What counts as value and incentive? What rewards are being developed for fans who create content?

Catherine Tosenberger: The idea of companies rewarding fans is beside the point. The fans are not doing it for that reason. Within fannish culture, those same values-- autonomy, freedom, and recognition are at play, but the second you bring money into it, it starts being commercial. This brings in the idea of control. Who is allowed in this clubhouse? If you get paid, now you've entered a commercial transaction here. What are you expected to do in return. A lot of writers-- even professional writers-- publish online because you don't have to deal with a publishing company. You can write whatever you want. There are certainly hierarchies of value, but it springs organically from what fans want. There's an idea that free labor is not just exploited labor. No dichotomy between fans versus the powers that be. The fannish feedback process is incredibly powerful and fast. Support and spaces to play and created for themselves. When commercial enterprises entering into that space are seen to exert control over that play.

Elizabeth Osder: But to go back to what I said before about anyone wallpapering the clubhouse. You can live in a mediated world, but the economic sense is ad sense. I would love to see studies is the people who do it for the passion and see what happens when you put adsense on that and how that product begins to change. The ones who are doing it unmediated.

Catherine Tosenberger: There is a tradition in fandom of selling fanzines in order to recoup the cost. One of the big rules of fandom is "Don't make money. Don't profit." It's considered incredibly wanky.

Elizabeth Osder: A lot of rewards and incentive systems are crap. How do you create good ones? The wrong idea is to pay people to create what you want. Then there is the example of, which had a culture where people review and recap television. The members receive badges that are markers of their passion. People get excited about this kind of thing. Another example is fantasy sports leagues, which are an economy of people working together, being creative.

Catherine Tosenberger: A lot of communities don't have the organic qualities that fantasy sports have. If fanfiction is picked up by industry for an ad. for the show, it's as if the media companies are picking prom kings.

Elizabeth Osder: But the community picks the prom king. That's what the big media companies are realizing.

Catherine Tosenberger: The social stratification of fans is really impenetrable if you're not involved. How do you know who's most popular, most respected? And by whom? There are interconnected webs of fans, different ships and niches.

Elizabeth Osder: How do you optimize all of these various pieces of content?

Catherine Tosenberger: The number of comments a story gets. The context? Thirty of that may be an exchange between the author and her friend.

Raph Koster: But there is the meta data now to do semantic parsing to see which comments are significant. They aren't seen as being in the community because they are in a position of authority. In the earlier days, the gap that existed between writers for zines, writers who ended up as editors . . . the genre imprints carry over to Baen and Daw books. They were fans who worked their way up. Did we answer Henry's question? Hey come and earn money where those examples haven't gone South. Take There is a very clear split between those who were there to sell records and those who were there to listen to music. Second life is a good example of the number of people who come to make money. There is a very distorting effect on what should be a grassroots affair.

Jordan Greenhall: It's a questions of professionals versus amateurs. The degree to which they're authentically engaged in some subject, expressed what's important to them and not care what anyone else thinks. Interesting thinking about what different kinds of structures impact the things you set your variables on. Second Life makes it all gray. In music, the debate was about quality. With an investment of time and capital, it will be better-- that's the idea. There is the notion that investment equals quality. What is the economic value of fan-based fiction -- does investment lead to quality? Or, does it degrade fandom, make them mass producers with less passion? Then again, as long as chicks go for guys who play guitar, there will always be different ways of assigning value.

Mark Deuze: An example of when you talk about mainstream brands or how media companies can reward producing customs is when companies like Scoot ask people to send them news pics. 20% goes to organizations rest goes to photographers. This model works in the Netherlands. It's a portal for citizen journalism.

Amazon has all these user book reviews, but most are buddy writers who want to get in with publishers and get free review copies of books. In the game industry, a good shot at getting a job is to mod (modify existing games). Get yourself known, Game Developers Conference (GDC) awards for best mods at games for professional game designers.

Raph Koster: It's about the the larger ecology providing a reward to users, not the company. With game mods, every once and in awhile a prize is given, but it's not an established process. It comes out of the ecology. People who are contributors to Amazon are getting rewards from publishers, not Amazon. The news site that takes citizen photographers is like American Idol. It's a different thing.

Mark Deuze: I want to deconstruct idea of fans as this utopian community. There are different niches with different solutions in terms of rewards and engagement.

Elizabeth Osder: One of the things about all this producer stuff, we contrast to ugly MBA world, prefer to think a craft guild, where you come to it because you love it, then you become skilled by working with others, and maybe you can make it your profession.

Catherine Tosenberger: That still puts professionalism at the top of the hierarchy.

Elizabeth Osder: But people still do it for the authenticity. For who you are.

Jordan Greenhall: Right now we see a cultural value versus an economic production model. We're saying economic should be a secondary model. Should value cultural production over economic production. By reversing it, we loose authenticity. These ideas are social statements. These arguments are not being spoken by the fans.

Henry Jenkins: Hate to cut it off, but we've got to go to back channel questions! Here are three -- 1. Will creative work of fans ever surpass the work of the mass media? 2. Can we have meaning in fandom without mass media? 3. Fans in UK recently bought a minor league football club. How is the visibility of fandom in the moment reshape the relations of mass culture?

Catherine Tosenberger: Mass influence? What is mass influence? You can do things with fan fiction you can't do otherwise. You must be embedded in the community and discourses that shape these stories. Some of the great joys of fandom is that it's unpublishable. Only has meaning for a particular group of people. The exclusivity and locality of meaning is a joy in and of itself. Writing for a small group of people who get it - share meaning.

Mark Deuze: Extend fandom to include METAL! Fans are insanely powerful. Everyone is asking what are we going to do with the co-creating consumer? An advertising agency might have a great idea, but what about Facebook? Wiki? SMS? But, what if it doesn't make sense with the target? In that sense, fans are powerful, even if it isn't translated directly into content. About the fans buying their own football club, well, media workers are already fans. It's fans buying back their own company. Agencies run by creatives out of frustration . . . reputation of fan-type reputations.

Raph Koster: Fans collaborating to build institutions. We've seen this pattern numerous times. The cool new shit doesn't come from big companies. It comes from the fans. If the companies are smart enough, they buy or hire these guys.

Elizabeth Osder: Greatest thing about Web 2.0 is the farming it enables. Firms are able to scout for talent. Innovation and clear voices (talents) creates source content Is talented commentary enough for people to be paid off of? Source, commentary, meta production. When we get a mass of meta we get a scale of production.

Jordan Greenhall: Shorten the cycle and get the cultural material to audience as fast as possible. Culture is a medium. As a consequence, being the best skater down the street only can happen because of the culture in which the skater emerges. The culture is the collected experience of everyone? Moral valences? Meaningful experiences only occur if they resonate with a group of people?

The whole point of mass media is to enable a subset of this culture.

Questions: Storytelling is oral and transient. Until recently, we didn't have culture as an object of commodification. Now that we can buy culture, why can fans be paid?

Raph Koster: They are paid! Mass media broadcasting mechanism that alter that. Before it was troubadours who had to know the people in the town in order to get paid, but most creators had a much more personal kind of relationship. The Internet is a return to that. Not the scale it's the connection. Small scale creators are better suited to monetize passion versus monetizing scale.

Elizabeth Osder: The money is made on the periphery. It's the dirty little secret of the industry.

Raph Koster: Monetizing the relationship of the fan to the product. It's the sock puppet - media company pays for the blog. In the games industry, it's how fairly big companies started (IGN for example). They just grew. These fan sites can be monetized.

Question: Bring gender and class into the discussion. If there would be any movement toward monetizing it would have to be from the bottom-up. This is already happening in the male dominated remix genres. Fan fiction is just a large non-paid industry, and has been the foundation for everything else (the television peripherals). Take the issue with women and girls who write fanfiction who don't want to be monetized. That is a choice women have made to protect their safe space for production -- like craft culture, female decision runs counter to masculine culture. But it has come at a cost. Women do have time demands. Open up a space to monetize fan production over the other time demands like jobs and family. Equal pay for equal work is a big part of the women's movement.

Catherine Tosenberger: Women do have this long history of not monetizing their work. But others see this as devaluing women's work. But it's a safe space, we can write what we want. While I feel like I'm critiquing fandom for playing into these tendencies, I still take fandom for what it is

Raph Koster: Regency Romance is a place where women have build an amazing community that is also viable. It's still a safe space. Things aren't totally bleak.

Catherine Tosenberger: Writing is something we all do. It doesn't have the same high barriers like vidding, though we acknowledge that it does have certain privilege. How much money being made is enough?

Question: Are we getting to the point where a lot of applications exist for fans to create new content that can be repurposed by, say, YouTube as an America's Funniest Home Videos type of deal?

Elizabeth Osder: There is power of distribution, without which, things don't have the same impact.

Raph Koster: I don't know where the original source comes from, but the "I own what you upload" TOS is going the way of the dodo because the original content, though uploaded, was owned by a third party.

Question: It seems deeply rooted in American culture, this tension between profession and amateurs. Is it a global phenomenon?

Mark Deuze: Its happening in subtle ways. The number of freelance journalists is going down. Young journalists get jobs that are only 50% of normal income. The rest of their income comes from other things, and they therefore don't register as journalists. You can cooperate with fans and be a fan and still make a living. It's not an either or.

Question: Can advertisers benefit from fan communities? Or are fans too resistant to advertising?

Jordan Greenhall: Fans can be open to advertising, but targeted and personalized advertising.

Elizabeth Osder: Advertising is content. When you read a newspaper, you do read the ads, too. To target fans and users, you have to give them something interesting.

Jordan Greenhall: Fans can be very receptive to advertising, but only to the things they want and need. You have to provide them content that they would want to have anyway.

Elizabeth Osder: Advertisers can inform, entertain, surprise and delight, too

Raph Koster: Hire a fan as a consultant! Make sure you do it right or else you'll miss the mark.