March 30, 2008

SCMS: Amanda Lotz, Max Dawson, and Laurie Ouelette

One of the most enjoyable full panels I attended at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia earlier this month looked at the construction of television from a variety of angles. I was fortunate enough to know the work of each of the panelists, several of whom I met at the Unboxing Television event at MIT last November.

The panel began with Laurie Ouelette, who looked at ABC's public service initiative encouraging volunteerism amongst its viewers and establishing the network as a site of extended community serving the public good through bringing citizens together outside the constraints of government to be pro-active consumer/citizens. She looked in particular at how these public service initiatives not only existed as a campaign through the Web site and during commercial breaks on the network but also how these initiatives showed up on a variety of shows, including a storyline on ABC Daytime's All My Children, in which the characters on the show volunteered for Pine Valley's Habitat for Humanity and the projects on Extreme Makeover Home Edition.

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Around the Consortium: Dr. Pepper, The Tolchuks, PSFK, Etc.

Amidst a flurry of updates on the blog this weekend, I wanted to point toward a variety of interesting posts from around the Consortium, in addition to the podcasts and other events mentioned in Henry and my posts earlier today. First off, I will be finishing up my notes from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia earlier this month and beginning to post some of my notes from the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference I attended last weekend in San Francisco. I look forward to any thoughts readers might have who were at either of those events or who weren't able to make it but are interested in the presentations I refer to here.

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Spring MIT Communications Forum Events

As Henry Jenkins posted in his list of links earlier today, there have been a lot of events happening around the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT that have been keeping us busy lately. Among those are two MIT Communications Forum we featured here on the Consortium blog that are now available for podcast.

The first of those events was a conversation with John Romano, a longtime television writer and producer who has worked on shows such as Hill Street Blues, Party of Five, and Monk, as well as a variety of films.

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"Viral Media: Hows and Whys" Podcast Available

As Henry Jenkins mentioned briefly in his post earlier today, the podcast from the colloquium event hosted by the Convergence Culture Consortium back in February is now available online. That event, entitled "Viral Media--Hows and Whys," featured C3 Consulting Researcher Shenja van der Graaf hosting Mike Rubenstein from The Barbarian Group, who was one of our guest speakers at Futures of Entertainment 2, and Fanista's Natalie Lent, a Harvard alum who I first met at FoE2.

The podcast is available here.

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Links, Links, and More Links

I have been pulled in so many directions lately that I've been having trouble finding time to blog about everything that has been happening. So consider this post as a chance to catch up on some materials which may be of interest to my regular readers.

A few weeks ago, I joined my CMS colleague Beth Coleman for a conversation about virtual worlds, hosted by the MIT Club of Boston and webcast to alumni around the country. You may recall that Coleman and I were two participants in a three way conversation with Clay Shirky about virtual worlds a while back. Coleman is in the process of writing Hello Avatar!, which is intended as a primer about virtual worlds. She regularly writes about such topics over at her Project Good Luck Blog.

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March 27, 2008

New Consulting Researchers and Postdoctoral Researcher

The Consortium is proud to welcome six new consulting researchers and a postdoctoral researcher to the team. Find out more about them inside, or on our "People" page.

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March 26, 2008

More on LiveJournal Activism Through Strike/Boycott

Last time, I wrote about LiveJournal's recent fiasco over not informing their users of large-scale policy changes on the site. After much debate back and forth between users and administrators, and the (fairly brief, due to protest) temporary reinstatement of an interest search filter, a call spread on LiveJournal for users not to post any content on Friday, March 21st, in protest. The discussion around the move, intended to show that LiveJournal's value was content-driven, and therefore user-generated, raises some fairly interesting issues regarding the growing pains of large, for-profit user-generated content sites.

What was immediately notable was that there was a lack of consensus over what a large-scale, one-day disruption to posting constitutes: content strike or content boycott? The terms seemed to be used interchangeably, varying from announcement to announcement (the woman cited as the originator of the idea uses the term "strike"). At the most basic level, a "boycott" would suggest action by consumers, which strike implies action taken by a labor force against the corporations or institutions that profit from their production. There appears here a certain ambiguity over the role of LiveJournal users, wherein they feel responsible for the creation of content and networks that makes LiveJournal a viable business, but also recognize the role of LiveJournal as a service provider.

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SCMS: Jason Mittell, Jonathan Gray, and Paratexts

One of the more intriguing panels at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies dealt with paratextual material--that material outside the "main text" or "primary text" of the show--from a variety of perspectives. The idea of paratext is that it is anything surrounding the text that isn't considered the text itself, and it is most often used to give us better understanding of the primary text.

This panel featured two of the Consortium's consulting researchers--Jonathan Gray and Jason Mittell--as well as two academics I've had the pleasure of increasingly collaborating with--Louisa Stein and Kristina Busse. Kristina was responsible for helping spearhead the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussions that took place in LiveJournal and on Henry Jenkins' blog last year, and Louisa and I are participating in a workshop with others at Console-ing Passions next month to discuss that series of discussions in greater detail.

This panel was directly informed by the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussion as well. All four participants were part of that discussion, and all four are involved with the new journal Transformative Works and Culture, whose first issue is coming out this fall. Here, the way the panel was laid out was in response to many of the issues raised as part of that Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussion and the ongoing dialogue that came out of that series. In particular, the four presentations at SCMS in this session were organized based on their relativity to the source text itself.

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SCMS: Kevin Sandler on Production Studies and Censorship

At the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia earlier this month, C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler presented the latest in his continuing work on censorship and managing concerns with regulatory powers, through a compelling project in which Kevin spent time looking at the negotiation between the creators and standards and practices.

From this presentation, my understanding is that Kevin is using this study of standards and practices to build on the work of others like Elana Levine to create a more robust body of work on what is being called "production studies," better understanding the ways in which these shows are being put together and the many creative and regulatory forces that are involved with the creative product.

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March 25, 2008

The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part Four)

The first three parts of this series are available here, here, and here. I have been running this series over at my blog as well. This series, which concludes with this piece, is co-authored by myself and Dr. Joshua Green, the Consortium's Research Manager.

Prohibitionists and The Moral Economy

"The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls "we, the media," a world in which "the former audience", not a few people in a back room, decides what's important." - Tim O'Reilly (2005)

"Our entire cultural economy is in dire straights....We will live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising." -- Andrew Keen (2007)

Continue reading "The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part Four)" »

March 21, 2008

The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part Three)

See the first two parts of this series here and here. I have been running this over on my blog. This series is co-authored between myself and Dr. Joshua Green, C3's Research Manager.

The Value of Engagement and Participation

"Corporations will allow the public to participate in the construction and representation of their creations or they will, eventually, compromise the commercial value of their properties. The new consumer will help to create value or they will refuse it... Corporations have a right to keep copyright but they have an interest in releasing it." --Grant McCracken (1997)

At the most basic level, the distribution and publicity mechanisms of networked computing renders visible the often "invisible" labor fans perform in supporting their favorite properties.

Continue reading "The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part Three)" »

SCMS: Gail Derecho and License to Remix

The Society for cinema and Media Studies conference earlier this month gave the Consortium its first change to officially welcome a few new consulting researchers to our project. One of those scholars is Abigail Derecho, who is currently teaching at Columbia College Chicago and who will be moving to the University of California-Berkeley in the fall. Gail and I met through the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussion that happened throughout last summer and fall over on C3 Director Henry Jenkins' blog and on LiveJournal, after she made various comments referring to her work on soap operas in her round of the conversation.

She and I began to share thoughts and research possibilities surrounding our common interest in soaps, leading to our planned collaboration with another C3 Consulting Researcher, C. Lee Harrington, to co-edit an anthology on the current state of the U.S. soap opera industry, entitled Search for Soaps' Tomorrow. SCMS provided me my first chance to see Gail "in action," so to speak, presenting her work, and I was especially excited to hear her present something off the path of the work we've been doing together, dealing not with soap operas but rather copyright issues surrounding the development of remix culture in hip-hop music and how legal precedents set in the early 1990s impact discussions of reappropriation of media content and video mash-ups today.

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SCMS: Joshua Green on Audiences and Users

As a variety of people who read our blog know, the Consortium has been engaged since its launch in researching the ways in which the audience is constructed. While the media industries, and business parlance in general, often discuss what is known as "the consumer," discussion of those who access digital tools often refer to people as "users." We often discuss "audiences" and use the term "fans" in particular to describe the more engaged of those audience members as a way to insert agency back into the discussion of relationships between media producers and brands and those who support their products, rather than a construction in which the power is presumed to lie primarily in the hands of those who make the products, be they cultural products or goods and services.

This motivation and concern, along with our increased interest in studying online video, were the motivations behind C3 Research Manager Joshua Green's presentation at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference earlier this month. Joshua joined alongside other scholars studying YouTube, in light of our own work inside the Consortium at present on the video sharing site, not to present the particulars of what we've found in our early analysis of Youtube content but rather to talk about how to approach these new venues, and how to understand those who use these tools to consume and create content.

Joshua's presentation was entitled "The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All 'Users'?"

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SCMS: Ted Hovet on Framing Motion

Our approach here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies in general, and in the Consortium in particular, is that, often, the best way to understand the present moment and where the media industries are headed is to look at where they have been. That is one of the foundational principles, for instance, of our bi-annual Media in Transition conference, and it explains why the Consortium is built on the type of work, for instance, that C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio has done on early conceptions of new media forms in the past, such as the telephone, phonograph, cinema, television, etc. Questions currently arising about mobile media, online video, virtual worlds, and the Internet more broadly can often be better understood by looking at how similar questions were tackled and what mistakes were made in previous eras of media transition.

That approach is a staple of CMS curricula, and it explains in part our association with scholars like Dr. Ted Hovet of Western Kentucky University. I've been fortunate enough to know and work under and with Ted for six years or so now. We've had the pleasure of presenting workshops at conferences together in the past (the 2006 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in particular, where--along with my wife Amanda Ford and WKU's Dale Rigby--we discussed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum and academic research), and I was glad to be able to hear him present his latest work at this year's SCMS. His presentation on Friday morning was entitled "Framing Motion: Early Cinema's Conservative Methods of Display."

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SCMS: Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds

For a couple of weeks now, I've been planning to include some notes here on the Consortium's blog about a few of the sessions I had the opportunity to attend at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago. The event was a great opportunity to see many friends and colleagues, and it gave me a chance to learn more about the current state of a variety of research projects, as well as hear about some new projects and meet some interesting new faces as well. In the following series of posts over the next few days, I wanted to transform some of my random notes about the conference into a recap of sorts.

I'll start with the first session of the conference, which came at noon on Thursday. I had the fortunate opportunity to present first. I know many people probably feel that isn't so fortunate in timing, especially since most of the people I know weren't even arriving at the conference until Thursday, but I was excited about the opportunity to get the stress of my own presentation out of the way so that I could concentrate instead on enjoying other panels. Despite the early start time, though, the panel was standing room only, and I have the interesting work of some of my fellow panelists to thank for that.

My presentation was about a concept I've written on here on the blog from time-to-time: vast narratives and "immersive story worlds," a concept I have drawn on beginning with my Master's thesis work here at MIT.

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The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part Two)

See the first part of this series here. I have been running this over on my blog. This series is co-authored between myself and Dr. Joshua Green, C3's Research Manager.

Convergence Culture

"The historic role of the consumer has been nothing more than a giant maw at the end of the mass media's long conveyer belt, the all-absorbing Yin to the mass media's all-producing Yang....In the age of the internet, no one is a passive consumer anymore because everyone is a media outlet." -- Clay Shirkey (2000)

Push-button publishing, citizen journalism, and pro-amateur creative activities dominated early conceptions of the ways digitization would change media production. Newer, so-called "Web 2.0" companies integrate participatory components into their business plans. These activities run from feedback forums and beta-tests to inviting audiences to produce, tag, or remix content. Online services regularly collected under the banner of 'Web 2.0' such as photo sharing site flickr, social networking sites MySpace and Facebook, and video uploading sites such as YouTube and Veoh, have built entire business plans on the back of user-generated content. Software companies engage users as beta-testers and co-creators of content (Banks 2002). Marketing departments build puzzles, scavenger hunts, and interactive components into websites and mixed-media campaigns to generate buzz around branded entertainment properties. Technological, cultural, and marketplace changes make such tactics a necessity.

Continue reading "The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part Two)" »

March 20, 2008

MIT Communications Forum on Global Television (2 of 2)

This followup to yesterday evening's post comes from CMS graduate student Lan Le, who is reporting on the MIT Communications Forum called Global Television. An audio version of the event is available here. The previous post from Lan summarized the comments of C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio. This post looks at the comments of Roberta Pearson and Eggo Müller.

Roberta Pearson (University of Nottingham)

Pearson began her talk with a billboard advertisement for American television in the UK. The slogan is "Who says nothing good ever came out of America," and features "respectable" television actors and producers like Spike Lee or William H. Macy. This example shows the way American television is framed and positioned in the UK.

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March 19, 2008

MIT Communications Forum on Global Television (1 of 2)

The following post comes from CMS graduate student Lan Le, who attended the recent MIT Communications Forum called Global Television. An audio version of the event is available here.

A feature of emerging television is the increasing global profile of programs appealing more widely across national boundaries, a kind of global programming. Big Brother is an example of the wide appeal of this competition-based reality programming, which has been adapted to different national contexts. Fiction shows like Ugly Betty require only a small amount of adaptation before release in the US. And a great deal of American television, like Lost or Desperate Housewives, now finds enthusiastic audiences in other countries.

These global flows of television are accompanied by country specific promotion strategies to frame the show for national contexts. But are we moving beyond nationally specific interests to a global village of television? This forum will also consider the impact of American programming on the world, especially how the world reacts, adapts to, and utilizes American TV formats.

The following are summaries of the speaker's remarks for the forum.

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Jonathan Gray's Notes from SCMS

New C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray, who is a professor at Fordham University and--among other things--posts regularly on The Extratextuals. Since I couldn't take notes on all of the panels at the SCMS conference last week, he offered to put together some of his notes from the event to post there. I wanted to include his introduction here and then link to his post over on The Extratextuals.

This past weekend marked the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia. This SCMS also marked the beginning of my time as a consulting researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium, based out of MIT. I've been chatting with the C3'ers for a while now, and was truly honored to be invited on board (incidentally, Ivan already has his C3 Brownie Badge, and Derek Johnson's a consulting researcher now too, so The Extratextuals are now Completely C3-Compatible, or "C5").

I'm still not exactly sure what is entailed, but it meant I got a free breakfast at SCMS, so it's already looking good. Sam Ford, one of C3's several superhuman forces and one of the nicer folks in the business, asked me to write up some comments on SCMS, in the aim of perhaps sharing these with other C3'ers. Well, he paid for my eggs benedict, so I will deliver.

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The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part One)

I wrote the following essay on the cultural politics around web 2.0 with Joshua Green, a post-doc in the CMS program, who is speerheading the Convergence Culture Consortium and who is my partner in crime in organizing the Futures of Entertainment conferences. Green came to us from the Creative Industries program at Queensland University of Technology. This paper blends work out of Queensland on creative industries with work out of MIT on convergence culture. Green is currently completing a book manuscript about YouTube with Jean Burgess, who was interviewed over at my blog earlier this year. I am running this series on my blog but also wanted to cross-post it here, considering its relationship to the work we do here in the Consortium.

Continue reading "The Moral Economy of Web 2.0 (Part One)" »

March 18, 2008

GDC Roundup 2008: Diversity and Innovation in the Contemporary Games Industry

I ran this over on my blog, but in light of our various conference roundups here on the C3 blog of late, I thought it might be good to share some insight on the GDC as well.

Every Friday afternoon, the team at our GAMBIT Lab hosts a game critique session. Lab staff and students pick a theme, bring out a range of contemporary examples for people to play and pick apart, as the lab seeks to develop their own strategies for game design. GAMBIT's remit commits it to trying to expand and diversify our understanding of games as a medium of expression. A few weeks ago, Eitan Glinert presented the group with his perspectives on the games which had been nominated or won awards at the recent Game Developers Conference, and they individually and collectively generated a lot of buzz and excitement in our group.

There is especial interest here in games which manipulate time and space in creative ways. Some years ago, I was part of a group which organized a series of Creative Leaders workshops for Electronic Art. One of the exercises we did was have game designers read passages from Alan Lightman's novel, Einstein's Dreams. Lightman, a physicist, was interested in describing worlds with radically different structures of time and space and then playing out how they would impact the lives of their residents. Our conversations with game designers focused on how they might give players the experience of "visiting" such worlds, though I have also had fun in class discussions getting students to imagine what it would mean to design media for the inhabitants of such worlds.

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March 17, 2008

Self-Distribution and Me

About an hour ago, I was able to articulate what I wanted my thesis topic to be, and I'm writing this blog post to celebrate. My aim is to study the self-distribution models that are currently being developed here in the US and figure out how that can translate into Latin-American and international distribution.

All the guys that lead the From Here to Awesome Festival have innovated in that realm. They created spaces of dialogue with their audience that enabled them to show and monetize their films. It seems that there is space to be innovative within the US market, but, even for them, once films begin crossing borders, it's back to traditional distribution paradigms, sales agents and a total disconnect from their audiences. So my first question would be, how could these self-distribution approaches be expanded upon?

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March 14, 2008

Participation and User Value: LiveJournal's Latest Debacle

The social blogging site has had quite a tumultuous past year, starting last May with what has been called Strikethrough 2007 by users, wherein hundreds of community and fan journals with content ranging from fanfiction to abuse and molestation survivor support groups to discussion groups for Nabokov's Lolita were deleted on claims of child pornography.

Then there was the licensing, then sale, to Russia-based company SUP toward the end of last year, which, according to Wired, raised suspicions of censorship among Russian users and general wariness of change amongst US users.

To ease the transition, a LiveJournal advisory board was created with founder Brad Fitzpatrick, Professor of Law at Stanford Lawrence Lessig, Internet investor and journalist Esther Dyson, and danah boyd, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Despite some changes made to the abuse policies, the change in ownership caused little uproar amongst LiveJournal users, until now.

Last week, it was revealed that LiveJournal had made a drastic policy change, without bothering to inform current users. LiveJournal began with two account options, "basic" and "paid," with a former having less features than the "paid" account in exchange for being free. In 2006, LiveJournal introduced a "plus" account option, which offered more features than the "basic" in exchange for hosting ads.

Last week, they did away with the "basic" option, so that all new accounts would have to pay a fee or host ads. While this is an annoying (and arguably poor) decision, what really angered users was that there was no announcement of the change on the LiveJournal news feed, the news traveling instead by word of mouth. Users were angry that they were not notified of such a significant change in policy, and the revelation that at least three of the four members of the appointed advisory board had spoken out against the decision.

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C3 in the News: MIT Communications Forum and PR News Webinar

As we mentioned previously, all of our Consortium's management and a variety of our consulting researchers presented at the SCMS conference in Philadelphia last weekend. We are going to be including some notes on several of those presentations in the next few days.

C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio participated in a MIT Communications Forum with Eggo Müller, and Roberta Pearson this past Thursday which will be available in audio and video form shortly.

The audio from last week's Prime Time in Transition MIT Communications Forum featuring MIT's David Thorburn and television writer and producer John Romano is available here.

Meanwhile, I had the honor of being invited to participate in a Webinar for PR News this past week, sponsored by Peppercom, a company I have consulted with in the past, separate from the Consortium's work.

The Webinar last Tuesday was entitled Building and Managing Your Company's Reputation Online.

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TWC Journal CFP

The call for papers is currently open for the inaugural edition of Transformative Works and Cultures, the international peer-reviewed journal coming out of The Organization for Transformative Works. For more information, see the CFP.

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My Response to the "1, 2, 3 Challenge"

Considering our interest in the past few months in the history of ideas such as "viral marketing" and mimetics, I thought I'd take Henry Jenkins up on his spread of what he is calls the "1, 2, 3 Meme." According to Henry, from his post earlier this week:

Here's how it works:

  • Look up page 123 in the nearest book

  • Look for the fifth sentence

  • Then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123.

I decided to look at the books that I've been carrying around in my bag, and give three examples from the books I've looked at most recently as well.

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March 12, 2008

If You Saw My Talk at South By Southwest...

On Saturday, Steven Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good for You) and I delivered the opening remarks at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas. I originally posted this over on my blog, but I know many C3 readers are interested in conferences like SXSW, so I wanted to share this here as well.

Conference organizers told me that we were heard by around 2000 people, including those in the large auditorium and in various overflow rooms. So, I've got to figure that a certain percentage of those people are going to be visiting this blog for the first time in the next week so I am pulling together a guide to where they can read more about some of the topics we discussed. For the rest of you, you might want to check out this very elaborate chart which was "live drawn" during our discussion and which does a reasonably good job of mapping out some of the core topics.

For those of you who want to learn more about the New Media Literacies, you might want to check out the white paper my team wrote for the MacArthur Foundation which identifies 11 core skills and cultural competencies which we think young people need to acquire to become full participants in this emerging media culture. The MacArthur network has generated a series of books on key topics surrounding digital media and learning which can be downloaded for free.

If you'd like to read more about the politics of fear and the ways it blinds us to what's really going on as young people engage with media, you should consider this blog post and this document which danah boyd and I co-authored in response to the push to regulate school and library access to social network software.

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March 10, 2008

Misplacing Medium Specificity

At the Consortium, we tend to dig into long discussions regarding the validity and scope of concepts. I am now wondering about a question that has also been on our minds on more than one occasion, but that we haven't had a chance to tackle just yet: without looking for a inevitably incomplete formulaic answer, what are the aesthetic properties of a Web TV show? And in turn, what makes a TV show a TV show?

The past couple of weeks have made me think about these questions in light of two projects: Quarterlife and Squeggees.

Continue reading "Misplacing Medium Specificity" »

Mobile Marketing: More Ads on the Go? (Part I)

A few days ago, Nielsen released a report where they estimated that 58 million Americans had seen advertising on their phones in the last month. Even though no one would debate that's a lot of people, it represents 23%, less than a quarter, of subscribers in the U.S.

And that number might be a little high.

According to Nielsen's site, the findings were based on a survey of 22,000 people who were "active mobile data users who used at least one non-voice mobile service in the fourth quarter," suggesting that the respondents may be more open to or better able to receive advertising in a variety of formats than the average subscriber.

Clearly, there is growing interest in mobile as an advertising channel, but the study found that just 10% of respondents thought that "advertising on their mobile device was acceptable."

Continue reading "Mobile Marketing: More Ads on the Go? (Part I)" »

Controlling to Protect?

As a 29-year-old with no kids, I might not be the best qualified person to talk about parental controls on computers: I'm not by any means a "digital native," (not that anyone really is), nor am I a parent, so I can only imagine the concerns and difficulty of bringing up a child in this networked world.

But, a couple of days ago, I read 12 Tools to Keep Kids Safe Online on PC Magazine, and it made me think of the issues of control (and safety) that participatory culture and new technologies have brought to the fore. Although this issue has been discussed at length in, around, and outside the Consortium, it is yet to be close to resolved.

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March 9, 2008

Around the Consortium: SCMS, Comments, No Meanings, and Facebook

I've just gotten back from a fabulous trip to Philadelphia for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. I had the pleasure of speaking as part of the event and will post a full report of the panel I presented on, as well as my notes from a variety of other panels I had the privilege to attend. All I talked with everyone about, however, is the guilt I felt at the number of great panels I DIDN'T get to attend. With an event like SCMS that has so many stellar scholars on the agenda, it seems that every panel choice, lunch break, or coffee came at the exclusion of something interesting.

Perhaps best of all was the fact that a variety of C3 Consulting Researchers were there presenting some of their latest research, and most of us even got the chance to get together, share a breakfast, and talk about the type of research the Consortium is doing moving forward. Included in that breakfast was four of the Consortium's six newest consulting researchers. We'll be sure to run a post in the near future introducing you to those new folks.

Continue reading "Around the Consortium: SCMS, Comments, No Meanings, and Facebook" »

Politics in the Age of YouTube

I originally posted this on my blog and wanted to share it with the Consortium readers as well, considering C3's particular interest in online video and participatory culture in its current research.

A few weeks ago, Stephen Duncombe, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, and I held a public conversation about "From Participatory Culture to Participatory Democracy: Politics in the Age of YouTube" at Otis College. The conversation ranged across many aspects of the current campaign season -- from "Obama Girl" to Huckabee's relationship to Chuck Norris, from The Daily Show to this anti-Hillary video -- suggesting the ways that social networks and participatory culture have impacted this most unlikely of campaign seasons.

Continue reading "Politics in the Age of YouTube" »

The Dreaded 1,2,3 Challenge

I posted this on my blog earlier this week and wanted to share it with the Consortium readers as well, since I know the C3 team has been doing some thinking about memes of late.

The other night, I had dinner with a group of colleagues from the MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. Amongst them was Tom Levinson, sometimes producer for Nova, author of three published books on science and culture (Einstein in Berlin: Measure for Measure: A Musical History of Science; and Ice Time: Climate Science and Life on Earth) with a fourth (about Isaac Newton) on the way, and a relative newcomer to the world of blogging.

His newly launched blog, The Inverse Square Blog, is full of interesting information and arguments centering around the presentation of science within the public sphere. Check out, for example, his response to the Obama "Yes We Can" video and to the topic of viral marketing, which crops up with some frequency here these days.

This morning, I awoke to find that Tom Levinson has tagged me on what is being described as the "1, 2, 3" Meme.

Continue reading "The Dreaded 1,2,3 Challenge" »

March 8, 2008

MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition (2 of 2)

Questions from the Audience

Question: Given the rich spectrum of human drama that's available, I've always thought that cops and robbers as the least common denominator. Is the obsession with crime drama a feature of the TV industry, the audience, or some combo of the two?

John Romano: I think it's hardwired in the human being. The question of whether or not you're breaking the law is central to Antigone. Prof. David Thorburn told my class at Yale that a cop stands at the junction of social forces, and yet has to go home and be a person. The great foundational works of narrative fiction found cops very interesting, and the odd social place they occupy as perfect for a narrative exploration for our social issues. The fundamental question of how we can stand each other, how we can live with each other.

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March 7, 2008

MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition (1 of 2)

Here are notes from Thursday night's MIT Communications Forum presentation called "Prime Time in Transition", focusing on transformations of narrative storytelling in the last 20 years in light of cultural, social, and political events, as well as the recent writer's strike and changes in the media landscape with the rise of video online. I'm including notes from the presentation itself here, and I will also includes some notes on the Q&A portion of the event tomorrow.

The speaker is John Romano, writer and producer on more than a dozen shows including Hill Street Blues, Party of Five, and Monk as well as creator of Class of '96, Sweet Justice, and Michael Hayes. His screenwriting credits include The Third Miracle, the Coen Bros.'s Intolerable Cruelty, and the forthcoming Nights in Rodanthe. In a previous life, Romano taught English literature at Columbia University and wrote a critical study of the novelist Charles Dickens.

The talk was moderated by David Thorburn, a professor of literature and television at MIT and John Romano's former professor at Yale.

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Crossing Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (2 of 2)

Five Key Components of Viral Marketing and ARGs

You can certainly have a viral marketing campaign without an ARG, but I've been thinking that leveraging the common elements of viral marketing with the concepts behind an ARG while executing the campaign could really engage audiences and create significant buzz in the popular press, especially when the field is becoming more crowded and the ideas less novel.

There seem to be five key components shared by successful viral marketing and ARGs:

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Crossing Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (1 of 2)

One of the things I enjoy about working with C3 is that you actually get to see many of the concepts and tools that we study applied in practice. How I discovered a new ARG, Find the Lost Ring, made me think about four common elements of viral marketing and alternate reality games (ARGs) - two things I've been thinking about of late - and how these concepts can be used together to build a franchise or a brand.

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March 4, 2008

"Your Move on Scrabulous!": Hasbro's Legal Facebook Faceoff

Around late November of last year, I stopped playing the popular Facebook application Scrabulous, because it was wrecking havoc on my productivity.

Back in January, I started up again, spurred on by Hasbro's crease-and-decist order and have since been nervously awaiting the outcome of the Hasbro versus Scrabulous legal faceoff. With Mattel having also joined the battle, every move might be my last (most recently played: Pledged, for 22 points). But it's telling that I decided to reintroduce the game into my still-overpacked schedule because of the need stake my claim while I still could: whether or not I plan to keep playing, I felt compelled to make known that I supported its right to exist.

According to a recent New York Times article, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Not only have multiple "Save Scrabulous" Facebook groups cropped up, some with several hundred thousand members, but the executive director of the National Scrabble Association, John D. Williams Jr., noted that "People believe it to be in the public domain . . . The idea that Scrabble belongs to a corporation is something that people don't or are unwilling to accept."

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March 3, 2008

YouTube's Downmarket Aesthetic

As part of ongoing work about YouTube and the nature of online video sharing we've been pursuing, I've been looking lately at the some of the reasons for the ascension of the service to almost generic status as a shorthand for online video-sharing. The reasons for YouTube's rise to Xerox status in the US are many and murky, some having to do with diverse matters like site design, early mover status, canny marketing, the width of the stripes on their sweaters and champions they picked up along the way. Undoubtedly, however, I think that one of the reasons for YouTube's particular success is the downmarket quality of the video on the site. This is due to change, with the service currently testing technology that's been in development for a while now to increase the video and audio quality of the site, so it is perhaps prudent to point to some of the reasons I think grainy quality equalled success in YouTube's case.

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Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (V of V)

This is the final part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.

Sam Ford: WWE has been increasingly working to expand its mobile services.  Where do you feel this might take the product in the future, and how will mobile fit in to the future of pro wrestling, in your mind?

Jim Ross: I think WWE Mobile is on the same path that the Internet created for our company. I think it's a new horizon. It's a new way of getting your message out. Telephones are becoming all-purpose, and now iPhones provide computers in your phones. Phones are not just something to talk to someone with today; they are now information sources. As the technology continues to evolve, the WWE is smart to be on the front end.

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Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (IV of V)

This is the third part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.

Sam Ford: In addition to your work on, you also run your own blog, J.R. What are the differences between writing on the WWE's official site and writing on your own site?

Jim Ross: What I write on is a little different than what I wrote on my own blog on That's done intentionally. I look at it as apples and oranges because there's a major difference in what I write on those two venues. I write my column every week for, and they tell me that it does well and that people enjoy reading it. I believe that's because I infuse that column with humor and entertainment.

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March 2, 2008

Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (III of V)

This is the second part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.

Sam Ford: J.R., what do you feel are the biggest changes in marketing and producing professional wrestling in the Internet era?

Jim Ross: I think one of the biggest changes would probably be the timeliness with which information is provided. When I was a kid, before cable television was invented, we got our one hour wrestling show in our area, and that was it. We got one hour a week on our local show.

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Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (II of V)

This is the first part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.

Sam Ford: J.R., you have been involved with a variety of projects for WWE 24/7 On Demand. Can you tell us a little about the motivation behind that initiative?

Jim Ross: I have a theory that you really can't navigate the future if you don't understand the past. I think that from just a corporate standpoint and a young sports entertainer standpoint, it's really a great option for them to see how the business was and how it has evolved.

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Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (I of V)

Over the next five entries, I'm presenting the transcript of a recent question and answer session I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment Monday Night RAW commentator and professional wrestling icon Jim Ross, known affectionately to wrestling fans as "Good 'Ol J.R."

J.R. has been a fixture in the wrestling world for decades now, growing up in the territory era and serving as a referee, an announcer, and a pivotal part of the organizations of Leroy McGuirk and later Bill Watts in the center of the country. J.R. worked for several years for Ted Turner's now defunct World Championship Wrestling and has been a key part of the WWE, as both an on-air personality and a pivotal behind-the-scenes force, since he joined the company in 1993.

When I taught a class on American professional wrestling last spring, the WWE partnered with me to officially sponsor the class, which included sending J.R. our way to visit with the class on two different sessions, as well as participate in a public question and answer event that has later been made available as a podcast. That podcast is available here.

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