Alex Leavitt

May 14, 2010

Fan Edits: Improving the Original (Without Changing the Original?)

A fan edit is a production in which (what would have been considered) an ordinary viewer makes changes to an original film (or films) to create "a new interpretation of the source material" (Wikipedia; link above).

Edits of films ("cuts") have been around for decades, and director's cuts have long been an additional supplement to many film releases (or releases unto themselves). But as digital production technology became more widespread, cheaper, and easier to use, ordinary consumers began to take commercially-distributed films (which also became cheaper and of higher quality for consumer purchase) and edit them in their own homes: essentially creating "director's critic's edits."

One of the most popular early fan edits (and still to this day one of the most popular) is The Phantom Edit, which took George Lucas's fourth Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, and reorganized the footage to create a different, "better" film (the story of which is chronicled in this article).

There are vibrant politics around fan edits, from issues of fair use to questions of aesthetics and vision. More on these issues follow after the jump.

Continue reading "Fan Edits: Improving the Original (Without Changing the Original?)" »

May 12, 2010

Post-Story, Post-Promotion, Post-Education: Archiving ARGs

Way back in mid-March, I posted a collection of tweets from the Transmedia, Hollywood event out at the University of Southern California entitled Transmedia, Hollywood: The Spreadsheet. If you didn't check that out, it current houses 1489 messages posted to Twitter by participants and off-site audiences following the conference through whatever means they could manage. As one of those folk, I voiced a few thoughts myself, one of which I will return to today:

[637] Something I'd love to hear more about: Must ARGs be ephemeral? If so how do you archive an ARG? #TransH [@alexleavitt - 10584590976]

Today, I will explore a bit about the implications on storytelling that alternate reality games present as a form of narrative (or advertising; or teaching tool) and how conceptualizing the documentation of ARGs lends insight into understanding that form better.

More after the jump.

Continue reading "Post-Story, Post-Promotion, Post-Education: Archiving ARGs" »

May 4, 2010

Where Is Our Transmedia Mozart?

Back in April, I attended the MIT Business in Gaming conference, where I sat in on a panel called Hollywood, Music, & Games, from which I posted my notes here: The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood.

Chris Weaver, one of the panelists and a consulting researcher with the Consortium, made an interesting and critical comment that I've been thinking about for the past few weeks: We have not yet seen our transmedia Mozart. What he figuratively stated was that in the (American) entertainment industry, especially in the professional studios of Hollywood (here, a word that both evokes the geographical filmscape and also represents a metonymical substitution for the major players in each industry of film, gaming, etc.), there have been no creators of transmedia works that have been able to successfully construct a unified project that harnesses the power of each medium (whether through the producer's skills or collaboration with other creatives) to its largest potential.

Since I last read Convergence Culture a few years ago, especially Henry's chapter on transmedia storytelling, I have always explained the concept of transmedia with the example of the Wachowski Brother's The Matrix (1999 - 2005).

Henry writes, "No film franchise has ever made such demands on its consumers" (94). The remainder of this statement's paragraph elucidates the complex plot of the film trilogy, which bleeds out into a video game, animated shorts, and comics. What Henry pinpoints yet concurrently avoids discussing is the involved chain of media with which consumers are required to interact. Yes, they must understand all of these story arcs, but they must also be able to consume them. While Henry explains, "The Matrix is entertainment for the age of media convergence, integrating multiple texts to create a narrative so large that it cannot be contained within a single medium," he might also have highlighted that The Matrix is entertainment in an age of media literacy: audience members must possess the capabilities of dealing with texts across mediums.

And, the most important goal of the transmedia producer: the audience member must enjoy the product.

However, the trend in the industry that we are seeing right now is thus: transmedia franchises are profiting, not from the praise of fans for the creativity of the franchise, but from the money of fans purchasing uninspiring cross-platform tie-ins. Similarly, we are seeing more and more peripheral media of an initial text not act as related-but-separate story arcs, but capitalize on the extended experience of the audience.

Engaged your interest? Read more after the jump.

Continue reading "Where Is Our Transmedia Mozart?" »

April 28, 2010

Bowing and Begging: Resisting Industry Failure Through Fan Loyalty

The Japanese popular culture industry, especially for anime and manga, is an interesting case study for global fandom, but also for global industry. The comics, television, and film industry for animated popular culture in Japan has its own history, structure, and approaches, but over the past five decades, as it has reached millions of new, international viewers, new industries have risen to cater to these fans. Still, with the rise of the Internet and the economic troubles that most industries have gone through over the past decade, both the domestic and international manga and anime industries have been hurting for money, even with a surfeit of fans.

The anime and manga industry is especially volatile, because its domestic and international audiences have utilized the Internet to spread and consume the media at the expense of industrial and commercial models that cannot keep up with the audiences' changing tastes, modes of consumption, and cultural behaviors of media consumption (sharing with friends, international online distribution, the culture of collectors versus mere viewers, etc.). The industries, both in Japan and elsewhere, must change: however, the success that anime and manga brought a decade ago have influenced the producers of these media to stick with old models that are no longer fully applicable to the current fan cultures that drive the markets.

Today, I want to discuss two very recent issues of the manga and anime industries -- in Japan and in America -- publicizing comments to fans in a way that might be seen by many as "giving up": without adapting to technological, cultural, and commercial changes, the industries representatives have voiced concerns to fans by pleading with them to stop behaving as they current are -- mostly by using the Internet to circumvent commercial models for their media consumption -- and to think ethically about how these behaviors are affecting the respective industries.

More after the jump.

Continue reading "Bowing and Begging: Resisting Industry Failure Through Fan Loyalty" »

April 16, 2010

The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood

Today, I'm sitting at Microsoft NERD attending the MIT Business in Games conference. This morning, I attended a presentation called Hollywood, Music, & Games (which skewed toward just "Hollywood & Games"). The panel included:

Chris Weaver (MIT & Consulting Researcher for C3)

Mike Dornbrook (Harmonix)
Paul Neurath (Floodgate Entertainment)
Mark Blecher (Hasbro Digital Media & Gaming)
Ian Davis (Rockstar Games)

The panel talked about cross-platform narratives, how franchises span games and movies, and the problems that game creators have faced dealing with Hollywood executives and movie producers (as well as the implications that these problems have had on "good games").

My notes follow after the jump!

Continue reading "The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood" »

April 9, 2010

Still Catching Them All: Determining the Social Impact of Pokemon

Back in 1998, I was the first student in my middle school to buy Pokemon, the hit video game starring a young boy on a quest to collect and fight 151 animalistic creatures. Twelve years later, my passion -- and the passion of millions of Pokemon fans, both young and old -- is holding steadfast.

Today, I want to discuss the social aspects of Pokemon and video game culture, but specifically some current developments in the industry (from Nintendo) that have largely impacted how Pokemon gamers interact. First, I want to talk about my recent experiences at Penny Arcade Expo East and Anime Boston, two fan conventions that have become sites of media participation particularly around a new Pokemon technology called the Pokewalker. And second, I will look at an incident of fan suppression, when Nintendo sent a cease-and-desist to a team of fans creating and coding a Pokemon MMO (massively-multiplayer online game).

More after the jump!

Continue reading "Still Catching Them All: Determining the Social Impact of Pokemon" »

April 6, 2010

Notes from "The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized" by Christian Sandvig

Only a few hours ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Berkman Center for Internet & Society luncheon with a lecture by Christian Sandvig on the future of "television" distribution online.

The description from the event reads:

Video on the Internet briefly promised us a cultural future of decentralized production and daring changes in form--even beyond dancing kittens and laughing babies. Yet recent developments on sites like YouTube, Hulu, and Fancast as well as research about how audiences watch online video both suggest a retrenchment of structures from the old "mass media" system rather than anything daring. In this talk I'll argue that choices about the distribution infrastructure for video will determine whether all our future screens will be the same.

Christian argued that online video is more and more resembling old models of television networks, and he talked about everything from the YouTube redesign to a new approach to Chris Anderson's "long tail" model of distribution. He delivered some engaging thoughts on bandwidth monetization and asked critical research questions into how television and online video researchers can go about tackling issues of network algorithms. My liveblogged notes provide some textual takeaways from his talk, but the full lecture will eventually be available on the Berkman website here.

Christian Sandvig is a Fellow of the Berkman Center and Associate Professor in Communication, Media, and at Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds the Ph.D. in communication from Stanford University. In 2006 he received the Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in the area of Human-Centered Computing. He blogs at multicast.

My notes follow (unedited) after the jump!

Continue reading "Notes from "The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized" by Christian Sandvig" »

March 23, 2010

Transmedia, Hollywood: The Spreadsheet

So, I was unfortunate enough to have to miss Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story, which happened a week from today, but I swear we were hard at work last Tuesday here at the Consortium!

Anyway, if you were like me and had to miss this event, here's the description:

Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and research centers in Los Angeles, Transmedia, Hollywood will take place Tuesday, March 16, 2010, on the eve of the annual Society of Cinema & Media Studies conference, the field's most distinguished gathering of film and media scholars and academics (March 17--21, 2010) in Los Angeles.

Now, it's becoming more and more common to attend conferences and other events virtually (like I did last week with South by Southwest, utilizing the #sxsw hashtag on Twitter). Putting confidence on your "fellow" physical attendees, you can sit back while they tweet all the important or interesting information for you to enjoy from your desk at work or dinner table at home. And given that most conferences don't record their panels in video form (unlike some events such as Futures of Entertainment 4 or ROFLcon), Twitter has been a convenient way to glean content.

Mimi Ito (@mizuko) set up an archive via TwapperKeeper for the Transmedia Hollywood tweets, from which I compiled a public spreadsheet (after deleting irrelevant tweets that were also picked up) for everyone to read and/or search to see what went down at the event last week.

You can access the spreadsheet here.

If you're new to looking at archives of Twitter messages in table form, I recommend Google's Chrome browser, which uses a new highlighting feature when you search for terms. Have fun!

We'll also be featuring a few articles related to topics that came up during the conference. Check them out here soon!

March 22, 2010

Articles You May Have Missed

Hey there, blog readers!

Due to some scheduling conflicts, you may have missed some articles in the past couple of weeks that were just now published.

If you want to make sure that you didn't miss anything when it was supposed to come out, check out the blog posts listed below:

Why We Should Care About Retrans Part II: Battles for the TV Audience

What the Chinese Are Making of Avatar

Why We Should Care about Retrans: Introduction

Vidding Kung Fu Panda in China

I'm With Coco (Physically)

The Transmedia Potential of Music Videos, Part 1: The Band

"If I Can Dream"... I'd Dream of Different Television

The Good and The Bad of Video Game Convergence

March 15, 2010

I'm With Coco (Physically)

Back in January, Sheila wrote a solid post about the Conan O'Brien v. Jay Leno controversy taking place on NBC. Her third point, about the rallying of fans behind Conan, known as the "Team Coco" movement, has interestingly taken a turn for the best: Conan will be touring the States and putting on live events for his newly-optimistic fanbase.

The Facebook group acted as a space for anti-fan (Leno) and fan activity, even spurring massive rallies in major cities across America.

The fan support has been so astounding that Conan O'Brien teamed up with American Express to produce live shows in thirty cities across the country, which Conan is calling "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" (the details of which can be viewed at

Fan support for media or celebrities is not a new phenomenon: it's one of many examples of engagement that has produced beneficial results for television series, movies, etc. (such as Firefly, which saw a DVD release and a movie, Serenity, after the show's cancellation on FOX).

But Team Coco, having increased in size due to rapid communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook, seems to be the first that achieved results in such a short period of time. Will this expeditious trend continue with other fandoms as the Internet slowly connects people with similar interests online? And will we see similar trends with future examples of civic engagement and fan activism?

March 12, 2010

The Transmedia Potential of Music Videos, Part 1: The Band

With the uneven future of the music industry and its models, I've become really interested in exploring the potential that music has by integrating these old tactics into transmedia storytelling and cross-platform distribution frameworks.

Previously, I've gushed about how the hit television show Glee has experimented with these methods with respectable success. The Glee model takes advantage of the ease of cross-platform distribution as a business model; however, it's a bit difficult to discuss the transmedia storytelling elements of its story. In my Glee article, I attempted to speak to the idea of affective economics, "which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions" (Henry Jenkins, in Convergence Culture). Glee's story extends beyond its original narrative when expressed by its consumers and especially its fans, by understanding characters better through playing their songs, or by performing favorite dance routines.

Unfortunately, what I can't argue is that the producers of Glee have themselves extended the story across mediums. In response to this basic fact, I've been trying to look for the appearance of other types of stories that span multiple forms of media. Today, I want to discuss the band OK Go and how the story of not the songs but the band has succeeded in with a transmedia model.

And now the story continues... On Wednesday, OK Go announced that they will be leaving EMI to set up their own independent label.

Continue reading "The Transmedia Potential of Music Videos, Part 1: The Band" »

March 11, 2010

"If I Can Dream"... I'd Dream of Different Television

If you aren't a big Hulu watcher or hadn't caught wind of this experiment, Hulu has been trying out a new method of online television: it's own _______ series.

I put an underline in my introductory statement, because I hesitate to call it a "television" show. There is a certain distinction to be made between multiple forms of online video, which can be uploaded, hosted, or sponsored television content, or entirely original Internet-based content. Hulu has originally been a portal for content of the first variety: a streamlined user interface for hosting television shows online, closely monitored by actual television networks, to which the ad revenue from the site returns.

With regards to other content, Hulu has hosted not-quite-American-television, such as Japanese animation (though most is available on DVD or official streaming websites). However, the website has never hosted Hulu-specific content... until recently.

More on Hulu's original series "If I Can Dream" after the jump...

Continue reading ""If I Can Dream"... I'd Dream of Different Television" »

March 10, 2010

The Good and The Bad of Video Game Convergence

Two recent news items that deserve some commentary:

The Good

Steam Comes to Mac, Offers Cross-Platform Gaming Free of Charge

Valve Brings Hit Games, Steam Service to Mac

The Bad

When Ubisoft takes a break, your games break

Ubisoft DRM Servers Attacked Rendering Games Unplayable

My comments after the jump:

Continue reading "The Good and The Bad of Video Game Convergence" »

March 9, 2010

The Changing Culture of Online Television:

Today, the popular Japanese animation streaming portal, Crunchyroll, announced:

As Crunchyroll continues to evolve, we add new features and remove ones that don't perform well. Recently we've made a decision to discontinue our Download-to-Own service, which lets users purchase DRM-free, downloadable videos of our popular shows. We believe online streaming video is the future will continue to focus on those efforts. Starting March 31, 2010, no new purchases of video downloads will be allowed. However, your existing downloads will continue to work until May 1, 2010. Please download and save your video files by May 1, 2010.

As an alternative, we offer high quality, ad-free streams through our Premium Membership service. It offers over 50% of currently airing Anime titles in Japan and thousands of catalog episodes for as little as $5/month.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact

As a major portal for the community around Japanese animation, Crunchyroll has made a decision that reflects the current trends and behaviors of online television.

Continue reading "The Changing Culture of Online Television:" »

March 5, 2010

Innovating the Medium for Transmedia: The Case Study of Valve's "Portal"

Picture 11.png

A sequel to the smash hit PC video game, Portal, is coming in 2010. Portal, produced by Valve, was released in 2007 in The Orange Box, for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The unique gameplay and interaction with the game's environment brought Portal to immediate popularity among gaming communities.

Over the past week or so, Valve took an interesting transmedial approach to announce Portal 2.

Continue reading "Innovating the Medium for Transmedia: The Case Study of Valve's "Portal"" »

February 16, 2010

Points of Converging Interest

Although I tend to avoid doing posts that consist of only links, there has been so much good writing recently that I'd like to spend today on pointing out some of those publications!

Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games, by Craig Silverman (PBS MediaShift)

The PBS MediaShift blog takes a look at the integration of online audience engagement with the Olympic brand through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Why Pete Warden Should Not Release Profile Data on 215 Million Facebook Users, by Michael Zimmer

Michael Zimmer, executive committee member of the Association of Internet Researchers, gives his opinion on the ethical implications of Pete Warden's 215-million-user data set of public Facebook profiles.

The YouTube (R)evolution Turns 5, by Rachel Sadon (PCWorld)

PCWorld examines how YouTube has shaped our interaction with online video over the past five years.

The User Experience: Not Likely to Win the Gold, by Liz Shannon Miller (NewTeeVee)

NewTeeVee provides a first-hand perspective from an attempt to watch the Winter Olympics online.

Multitaskers: More Viewers Watched Super Bowl, Surfed Net, by Wayne Friedman (MediaPost)

MediaPost analyes a set of interesting statistics from The Nielsen Company about how many people interacted with social networking sites during the Super Bowl.

Obligatory Google Buzz post, by Jean Burgess (co-author of YouTube: Online Video & Participatory Culture)

Jean Burgess produces her own review of the criticism on Google Buzz's privacy issues evolving on the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list.

And, finally, enjoy (or be surprised at) this video:

What is a Browser?

A representative from Google asks 50 strangers in Times Square if they understand what a browser is and does? Given that most of the online hype around Internet development addresses early adopters, here's a look at how the general public perceives the Internet. The results: Less than 8% of those interviewed knew what a browser was.

February 9, 2010

Streaming Sports: Superbowls, Olympics, and Online Video

If you live in America, you probably did not miss out on the constant chatter about the Superbowl this past weekend, whether you were paying attention to the football or the commercials. Nevertheless, you might not have watched the actual event -- like myself, who was on a bus from New York to Boston throughout the duration of the pre-, in-, and post-game periods. However, I followed the by-the-moment hype of the sport and the advertisements on my phone's Twitter client, and the morning after I caught up on the game highlights and commercials (rated and organized by social media addicts via services like BrandBowl 2010).

Even though the Bowl lasted at least 4 hours, I feel like I didn't miss much after spending about 40 minutes rewatching -- for no fee -- game highlights and the Bowl's funnier commercials. Watching this content via the Web is not something I could have done a few years ago. The potentials of online video have created an environment in which I don't need to own a television. I can simply flip to to watch a 10-minute recap of the best plays while spending the time it takes to wait through's ads watching the previous day's commercials on Hulu's 2010 AdZone. I can even jump over to the Discovery Channel's website to watch the annual Puppy Bowl.

However, I still need to own a television set to watch everything. What gives? I thought this was the Age of the Internet, where all content would be beamed to my computer screen through my Apple TV (no, I don't actually own one). The situation for most television shows at the moment is that I can see most episodes online at some point in time, until they are removed (producers need to make some money off DVD sales, and online ad revenues are still nowhere comparable to those of television ads). But sports events are pretty hard to come by for free online. Occasionally we will find a hub of clips (eg.,, or we can subscribe to a subscription service which grants access to high-quality streams (eg.,

Why? Well, while most networks are feeling the heat, sports are still bringing in all the viewers.

Continue reading "Streaming Sports: Superbowls, Olympics, and Online Video" »

February 5, 2010

The Appeal to Consumer Audiences: Apple's iPad as Shift Toward Entertainment

In yesterday's blog post, Why Apple Hasn't Revolutionized TV (Yet), Sheila wrote:

We've come to expect an exciting kind of innovation from Apple. Apple doesn't give us the newest technology--there were MP3 players before the iPod and smart phones before the iPhone. Apple's true revolutions come in the form of innovative digital business models. The iTunes store changed the way we think about buying music and the App Store made cell phones into anything a third party developer could imagine and create.

I want to talk briefly today about the iPad, but the real content of this article will be how Apple's campaigns are not changing the industry but instead consumer culture. Leading up to Apple's announcement, a lot of expectations seemed to be that the company would present a product that fulfilled a computer user's wildest dreams. The reality, of course, ended up being a touchscreen tablet based on the iPhone's operating system, which promotes the operation of applications ("apps"), small constructed platforms to run specific tasks or services.

The app environment presents the consumer with a much different interface which evades the "general purpose, do-it-all" nature of ordinary computers. The do-anything practice of what Steven Frank calls "Old World" computer practices, which contrast with the new world of "task-centric" practices, from checking email to browsing YouTube videos.

Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain has argued against the closed model of the iPhone and has recently expanded his argument to match the case of the iPad, but it seems unlikely that the audience toward whom the iPhone and iPad are targeted will be concerned. These two pieces of technology are consumer-oriented products, and they embody a shift toward entertainment technology overtaking the market of general computing.

Continue reading "The Appeal to Consumer Audiences: Apple's iPad as Shift Toward Entertainment" »

February 2, 2010

Memes as Mechanisms: How Digital Subculture Informs the Real World

In the last week of January, an interesting conversational thread broke out on the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list regarding a video about scholarship in the "critical commons," on the debate between digital humanities and media studies. The video follows below, but judging by the preview image it might not be exactly what you expect:

Professor Charles Ess reacted to the video, writing:

How profoundly disappointing, if not on the edge of insulting. If (a) you know German reasonably well, and especially if (b) you've seen the terrific film, Der Untergang, that is ripped off here - it doesn't strike me as funny at all. (emphasis mine)

Jeremy Hunsinger, who had circulated the video to the mailing list, responded:

It is actually just a spin off of a meme that uses this clip from that movie, there are probably 30 or so different re-texts and mashups i've seen of this clip. The joke, i think, of the meme is that it never ever comes close to the German, nor is it ever supposed to, nor is the content really supposed to be evil or really related to the clip, it is a play of contrasts and a play of hyperbole. I think you hit it on the head, it is supposed to be contrary to intentions, that's sort of its point. ... however, i'm pretty sure that neither german, nor evil is supposed to be the point here. (emphasis mine)

Before elucidating the above situation (the entire thread of which can be viewed in the AoIR archives here), I want to take a step back to examine the idea of "meme" -- a unit of cultural information -- once more.

Continue reading "Memes as Mechanisms: How Digital Subculture Informs the Real World" »

January 15, 2010

Zuckerberg's Privacy Dispute: A Need for Comparative Social Network Analysis

If the Google v. China incident didn't steal all of your attention, you may have come across a short interview by Michael Arrington with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (8 January), a few minutes of which deals with privacy on Facebook and across the social Web.

Watch the interview above, but the relevant content begins at 2:30 and ends at 4:00.

After the interview, many blogs went into a frenzy, proclaiming that Zuckerberg had declared privacy over and done with (eg., Facebook's Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over, ReadWriteWeb). In two sentences, these were Zuckerberg's remarks:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

As a general statement, we might declare 2000-2009 the decade of the social Web, in which a large sum of the general population entered the online space (versus the '90s and previous, which catered more toward computer scientists, specialized academics, and niche early adopters). With a new generation of users, then, the social Web defined the progress of the evolution of Internet culture: that is, how people interact with and are mediated by the technological infrastructure to produce or consume culture.

As I have mentioned before (Practical Geographies: Understanding How Cultural Practices Shape Social Media Usage), the Web Ecology Project has aimed to study the mediated space between users and platforms. We have achieved certain results by analyzing publicly available data over social networks (eg., Twitter, FriendFeed, etc.), while also scraping information from networks with privacy settings (therefore, we could only access that information available in our personal networks).

But the problem here is not a conflict over data for research. Nor is it a battle over keeping information away from companies. Rather it is a basic issue of providing the user with the ability to shape the platform according to his or her own preferences. It just so happens that the idea of social network produsage is commencing with the issue of privacy.

While the comfort level of general Internet users sharing information certainly has increased since 2000 (remember when most people were worrisome about using their credits cards on Amazon?), I am hesitant to agree with Zuckerberg's statement that users wish to share personal information more freely (in terms of volume and number of recipients). Certainly it's easy to see that the concept of spreading information across various networks has become a frequent practice. However, I would argue that users are currently more conscious about which information they share than at the beginning of the decade.

However, I will also argue that a user's understanding of and relationship to information depends heavily on how the user understands and relates to the platform which he or she uses. On one side of the spectrum, Facebook operates with user profiles which are interconnected with other profiles to create networks of "friends." Information can be "shared" when accounts intersect across friend networks. On the opposite end, a website like thrives in user anonymity, where no user networks exist and where no personal information is shared between users (on the website, in theory, of course). In fact, it's positively "old-fashioned," as a Wired article puts it (Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess). "It relies on email and the telephone in an era of SMS and social networks. It sticks to traceless transactions in an industry that makes its living collecting data from every touch."

Of course, these two websites flourish based on the assumed necessity of sharing information. Contrastingly, OKCupid, the popular web-savvy dating site, allows users to set privacy preferences from account creation. As a dating website, users are probably more in-tuned to exactly what details they share about themselves. But OKCupid's matching algorithm -- which suggests other users to contact or avoid -- specifically utilizes shared information to make the matches (ie. the more questions you answer about yourself, the better the match).

Ultimately, the difficulty in debating about privacy is that each platform requires its own analysis. To understand the larger picture, therefore, more studies of cross-network analysis are sorely needed. The Web Ecology Project had attempted a study in the past, but we hit a wall: it was confusing to compare social networks without creating equivalency between different features on each network. danah boyd has written a few analyses, but they tend to share similar traits (eg., her study of status updates focuses on the two most similar networks, Facebook and Twitter: Some thoughts on Twitter vs. Facebook Status Updates).

In the end, we also have to remain conscious of the evolution of the social Web. When Facebook was only available to college students, users tended to share a lot of information and friend arbitrary people. But as Facebook has opened up to all users, these trends have significantly decreased, and it is common to even delete information before going to a job interview or censoring your profile before friending a family member. If Facebook's ultimate direction is toward open information practices on all ends, users will adapt to share less information, or at least similar amounts with smarter strategies in mind.

January 14, 2010

China: The First Geographical Walled Garden and What It Means for the Future of the Internet

It's hard to ignore all of the discourse that has occurred online in the past few days regarding Google's un-censorship in China. If you don't know the basics of the situation, take a look at the recent New York Times article (Google, Citing Cyber Attack, Threatens to Exit China) or simply read through the post that started this conversation over at Google's blog (A new approach to China). You can also look at the Twitter trending hashtag #GoogleCN here, which is sure to provide a lot of quick commentary and updated links.

Law professor Jonathan Zittrain explains that Google's website has been censored from access in China in the past, before Google agreed to set up its address and filter content. However, as Zittrain also points out, most users attempt to circumvent filtering through anonymity networks and proxy servers.

Not that has been used frequently in the past. Search competitor currently owns more than a 60% share of the market, perhaps because the website's search results tap into and reflect local Chinese culture much better than Google's algorithm. Whether or not Baidu finds the most relevant information, though, might not matter, as according to Rebecca MacKinnon's personal experience, might actually censor less information.

The pressing issue, therefore, is whether or not Google's potential withdrawal from China will make a profound (or, really, any) impact on the local Chinese Internet culture. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Tuesday (12 January), even though a large majority of English-speaking users voted that they wanted to remain in China, a majority of Chinese-speaking users wanted the company to leave:

At last look on, the main, English-language Web site, 80%, or 361 votes, said a resounding Yes. However, on, the Chinese-language version, asked the same question in Chinese, 72% of a total 934 voters said No. The number of votes, just a couple hours of the announcement, was well above what similar questions have drawn in the past, and was growing.

Conversely, since Google is not just a search provider, but offers its many services to Chinese users, many people are upset about losing access to their data (link in Chinese).

The Blawgdog blog marks out the current websites that are already blocked in China:

  • blocked.
  • blocked;
  • it's Chinese website has been acquired by Alibaba, a Chinese company;
  • Windows Live, still can be accessed in China, but some blogs are blocked.
  • Wikipedia: blocked.
  • blocked several times.
  • still can be accessed from China.
  • still can be accessed from China
  • China's top IM provider and the top news website now.
  • Google India, it will be blocked because Google's search engine is uniformed.
  • Twitter: blocked.
  • Myspace: blocked sometime;
  • It will die soon if Google keeps its promise.
  • will also be blocked soon.
  • Some of it's S3 Servers in America is blocked; it's Chinese version still works.
  • has been blocked for a long time.
  • it is alive.

  • More blocked website not in the top 20 include but not limit to (the largest BBS in Hong Kong), (the most reliable newspaper in Hong Kong),, (the biggest Chinese forum out of China),, etc. Yes,  flickr. So one may know why yahoo sold its Chinese site. The fact is: for each new application that can not be controlled by the Chinese gov, if the operator does not restrict itself, it will be blocked. This is surely not an environment that Google can endure.

    Now, that this article points out that "if the operator does not restrict itself, it will be blocked," China is creating a politically-induced walled garden. Just like literal walled gardens, which are service providers that control content on their platform and restrict access to other platforms, the Chinese government is creating a national walled garden by slowly carving off websites that don't agree with the government's political philosophies.

    Of course, I have written before (Practical Geographies: Understanding How Cultural Practices Shape Social Media Usage)about how the Internet really isn't a linguistically-unified structure anyway, and the Google-China split will re-enforce the language divide. But as the Blawgdog also explains, while it would be detrimental to the general idea of the Internet as a unified structure if the Chinese Internet and English Internet split, the fact that non-skilled users will not be able to access any information they wish (skilled users though will continue to bypass restrictions, re: Zittrain above).

    A further division between skilled and amateur users of the Internet would throw Internet culture in China into further chaos, which might affect how citizens deal with and understand human rights, political activism, and communication policies. Thus, Google's split from China marks the first major instance of the direct political influence on digital appropriation. If the Chinese government continues to restrict access to certain websites, digital appropriation will move in two directions, resulting in either a highly-educated, unified user base or a split between current users and the next generation that are mediated by walled garden tactics.

    The Chinese government has already issued a response: "China's Internet is open," said Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman. "China welcomes international Internet enterprises to conduct business in China according to law." While "open" seems to describe if businesses can operate within the digital space, it appears that the government is not willing to bend on the censorship issue. And if Chinese netizens must learn to operate within this policed Internet ecosystem, then we may see a lot of interesting user innovation (with probable violent consequences) in the near future.

    January 8, 2010

    Three Converging Presentations: Digital Migrants, Western Otaku, and Our Google-ized World

    At the end of the autumn semester, the Comparative Media Studies department hosted a set of colloquia called Comparative Media Insights. Three of these presentations focused heavily on digital culture and fit neatly into our interests here at the Consortium, so I want to share them (especially since I'm sure all of you are still recovering from the holiday and wouldn't mind a couple intellectual, mid-day breaks).

    The first talk is by Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. Her presentation, entitled Race, Rights, and Virtual Worlds: Digital Games as Spaces of Labor Migration, focuses on digital migrants, workers who labor in virtual worlds for other virtual world users. A lot of the work is done across transnational networks, such as gold farming in World of Warcraft performed by laborers in China for users in the United States. Lisa argues that in relation to these workers a type of "transnational working class" is being created, and she wishes to point out that these communities of workers provide a different perspective to the cosmopolitan, global, or converged Internet.

    You can listen to a podcast of Lisa Nakamura's talk by clicking here or using the embedded player below:

    As ICT's become available to new groups of users, notably those from the global South, new social formations of virtual labor, race, nation, and gender are being born. And if virtual world users' claims to citizenship and sovereignty within them are to be taken seriously, so too must the question of "gray collar" or semi-legal virtual laborers and their social relations and cultural identity in these spaces. Just as labor migrants around the globe struggle to access a sense of belonging in alien territories, so too do virtual laborers, many of whom are East and South Asian, confront hostility and xenophobia in popular gaming worlds and virtual "workshops" such as World of Warcraft and Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Do these users have the right to have rights? This presentation considers the affective investments and cultural identities of these workers within the virtual worlds where they labor.

    Lisa Nakamura is the Director of the Asian American Studies Program, Professor in the Institute of Communication Research and Media Studies Program and Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. She is the author of Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet (Routledge, 2002) and a co-editor of Race in Cyberspace (Routledge, 2000). She has published articles in Critical Studies in Media Communication, PMLA, Cinema Journal, The Women's Review of Books, Camera Obscura, and the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. She is editing a collection with Peter Chow-White entitled Digital Race: An Anthology (Routledge, forthcoming) and is working on a new monograph on Massively Multiplayer Online Role playing games, the transnational racialized labor, and avatarial capital in a "postracial" world.

    The second presentation is given by Mia Consalvo, a professor at Ohio University and also a visiting professor at MIT. Her talk, Western Otaku: Games Crossing Cultures, examines digital games -- particularly MMORPGs -- as spaces of transnational cultural exchange, places of hybridity formed by cross-cultural contact. She is particularly interested in the relationship between Japanese and American gamers, both in how the industry impacts transnational reception and in how players interact with each other across languages.

    Mia's talk comes in convenient video podcast form below:

    But you can also listen to the audio-only version of the podcast here:

    Or download it!

    From Nintendo's first Famicom system, Japanese consoles and videogames have played a central role in the development and expansion of the digital game industry. Players globally have consumed and enjoyed Japanese games for many reasons, and in a variety of contexts. This study examines one particular subset of videogame players, for whom the consumption of Japanese videogames in particular is of great value, in addition to their related activities consuming anime and manga from Japan. Through in-depth interviews with such players, this study investigates how transnation fandom operates in the realm of videogame culture, and how a particular group of videogames players interprets their gameplay experience in terms of a global, if hybrid, industry.

    Mia Consalvo is a visiting associate professor in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. She is the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames and is co-editor of the forthcoming Blackwell Handbook of Internet Studies.

    The final presentation (and my favorite of the bunch) is given by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor at the University of Virginia. He talks about The Googlization of Everything, a point in the convergence of real and digital culture by one company: Google. Phrased in one of William Uricchio's questions during the Q&A, in its attempt to "informationize" the world, Google has had to face "the pushback of culture." As I wrote earlier this week, Siva argues that on top of being its users, we act as Google's product. Our concerns over privacy (Google Maps' problems photographing Japan), property (Google Book Search scanning), and pride (transforming ourselves into Google's "data") therefore conflict with our understanding of ourselves as the customer versus the product.

    Listen to his podcast below, or download it here.

    Google seems omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It also claims to be benevolent. It's no surprise that we hold the company to almost deific levels of awe and respect. But what are we really gaining and losing by inviting Google to be the lens through which we view the world? This talk will describe Siva Vaidhyanathan's own apostasy and suggest ways we might live better with Google once we see it as a mere company rather than as a force for good and enlightenment in the world.

    Siva Vaidhyanathan, cultural historian and media scholar, is currently associate professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia.

    January 5, 2010

    Industry Innovation, User Loyalty, and a Phone to Rule Them All: Google and the Nexus One


    For the past two years, rumors have been swirling around the Internet regarding a potential attempt by Google to compete in the cell phone industry. Today, the monolithic company has entered the ring with its new product, the Nexus One smartphone superphone. You can read more about the new phone by visiting Gizmodo's succinct coverage page.

    I spent a good portion of the afternoon today watching a live feed of Google's official presentation of the Nexus One. The phone is certainly faster, prettier, and boasts a number of new features, but I hesitate to agree with its manufacturers that the Nexus One -- "the Google phone" -- would be the smartphone to blow away the competition. The Google representatives at the event continued to emphasize the vibrant ecosystem that exists between Google, its phone application producers, and its app-store customers, but it's really nothing new considering Google's first venture into the phone sector with the company's application of its Android operating system to the HTC Dream (commonly known as the G1).

    Many of the circulated rumors a few years ago focused on the implementation of the Google Voice service into a Google-produced cell phone, which would allow for free calls (therefore eliminating the necessity of paying for a yearly phone service). Back in March, the New York Times covered the threat of the Voice service in its article, Google's Free Phone Manager Could Threaten a Variety of Services , where Phil Wolff (editor of Skype Journal) states:

    I would consider Google to have the potential to change the rules of the game because of their ability to bring all kinds of people into their new tools from their existing tools.

    The potential for Google to change the rules of an entire industry is what most people expected from the Nexus One. However, Google made little surprises this afternoon, and this absence of novelty seems to have spurred a much different set of questions, away from new features and pricing schemes, in the question-and-answer session after the presentation.

    In the Q&A session, a major concern of the audience centered on the difference between Google as a company and Google as a service. Mario Queiroz stated during the presentation that anyone who visits is a Google customer. However, Siva Vaidhyanathan argues in his CMS lecture, "The Googlization of Everything" (you can listen to the podcast here) that we are actually Google's users and hence product, instead of the company's customers. We produce information for Google's services and algorithms, while at the same time we interact with Google mainly in a non-monetary relationship (in that we do not spend money on most of Google's services and even in some instances are instead paid).

    The concern of the audience, then, seemed to point out that with the Nexus One, Google is now attempting to act as a retailer. Google makes an effort to argue that they are not the manufacturer of the Google Phone hardware and instead are only the distributor of it. But this relationship between producer, consumer, and distributor is beginning to shape the web ecosystem in a new way.

    The Nexus One's motto, if you visit the webpage, is "Web meets phone." But I would argue that Google's strategy is instead pushing their phone to meet the Web. If we consider the motto, Google has already put the Web -- especially the Google-mediated Web -- into the G1 and its brethren. So what do I mean by drawing an antithesis with "Phone meets Web"? In the past, Google has made its services and Android system available through cell phone providers' phones. However, with the Nexus One, Google is attempting to push a phone under the guise of the Google brand to encapsulate its existent services. The previous Android-utilizing phones were associated with Google, but were not emphasized as Google-sponsored phones. However, now that Google is marketing the Nexus One as its own product, it is creating a new relationship with the customers who buy the phone. In its most basic form, Google is the producer and its customers are the consumer. But as I mentioned previously, Google is trying to avoid being associated at the phone's makers, thereby identifying the company as the phone's distributor. The company is distancing itself from the product but maintaining a relationship with the phone, hence drawing in Google loyalists or general users that trust in the Google brand.

    This distributor identity has already appeared across the Web in many forms. For example, take Hulu as a case study: Hulu is maintained by a partnership of large television studios, but avoids direct association with those companies (eg., NBC) by sustaining the Hulu name. Therefore, users of Hulu associate the content available on the website with Hulu instead of television networks. Differently, though, Google occupies both spaces: with the Nexus One, it acts as a distributor of the phone, but as a monopolizing company (with the many pre-phone services that people associate with Google) Google still acts as the producer of those services. The problem, therefore, derives from the conflation of Google as both maker and deliverer. This distinction is important, though, because it affects how Google's users/customers/products associate with the company, which subsequently affects user loyalty.

    December 23, 2009

    Horribly Influential: Fan Passion for a Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Prequel

    In 2008, Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog took the entertainment industry by surprise. As a response to the writer's strike, Whedon's 42-minute low-budgeted online superhero musical opened in July to a fan following that already anticipated the web series' success. Available for free over the span of a week, Dr. Horrible eventually was taken down to be released later for a small fee on iTunes, until its second release this time on DVD (chock full of incentivizing extras) alongside the CD soundtrack in December 2008.

    Comparable to the success of Glee and its soundtrack (which I wrote about before in Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee), Dr. Horrible's success depended on the relationship between its transmedia franchise and its fandom. The (unintentional?) short form of the web series seems to have fueled fans to search out and purchase the DVD, which featured a segment called Commentary! The Musical, containing twice as much music as the original musical (and is now available on YouTube here. TubeFilter reports that Dr. Horrible banked over $2.6 million via iTunes before the DVDs were even released. And the series has even made its way onto Henry Jenkins's syllabus for his Transmedia Storytelling & Entertainment class at USC.

    But recently a new variable has been thrown into the equation: Horrible Turn, the Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog prequel.

    Horrible Turn trailer from Horrible Turn on Vimeo.

    Continue reading "Horribly Influential: Fan Passion for a Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Prequel" »

    December 14, 2009

    Futures of Entertainment 4: Videos, Shwag and More Thoughts on Transmedia

    Point, the First:

    If you were not able to attend the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference back in November, you're in luck: the videos are now available thanks to MIT TechTV. You can view the aggregation of videos here, or check out the individual talks and panels linked with their respective videos after the jump.

    Point, the Second

    If you were able to attend the FoE4 conference, you're probably in post-con withdrawal by now. So, why not push your FoE experience into the transmedia realm? Luis, our excellent artist and designer, has made FoE4 mugs -- featuring the cosplaying girls -- available for purchase here.

    Her Excellency, Ana, pimping the FoE4 mug

    Point, the Third

    Last week, I published to the blog an article entitled Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee, which examines the music of Glee as a transmedia experience and how transmedia factors into Glee's business model. I sent out the link to Nancy Baym via Twitter (@nancybaym), who had questioned the relationship between transmedia and music while at the FoE4 conference. Along with Ana Domb Krauskopf (@anadk) and Xiaochang Li (@xiaochang), Nancy and I (@alexleavitt) responded in quick succession about our thoughts on approaching new and old aspects of transmedia that might inform future approaches to franchise studies. I found the discourse interesting and exploratory, so I've reproduced the conversation after the jump below!

    Continue reading "Futures of Entertainment 4: Videos, Shwag and More Thoughts on Transmedia" »

    December 10, 2009

    Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee

    Warning: This article on Glee might tend toward the meta, as while I write this article, I will be listening to the first Glee Soundtrack*: seventeen songs from Ryan Murphy's hit show on FOX. And the songs are exactly what I wish to discuss: the transmedia of music.

    * The second soundtrack was actually released for sale two days ago on December 8th. If you want to listen to and/or purchase the first soundtrack, you can find it on iTunes or Amazon.


    During the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference, as Henry Jenkins comments on his blog, "Nancy Baym asked us to think about when and how music has gone transmedia. We struggled to come up with examples - everyone of course immediately latched onto the ARG created around the Nine Inch Nails; I proposed the comic book Tattoo where artists and writers used Tori Amos songs as their inspiration." What I wish to bring into the limelight is that we've been participating in a musical transmedia experience of epic proportions for the past few months, on TV, on Hulu, on our iPods, and even in our living rooms: the rockin' music of Glee.

    Before I continue to discuss how exactly Glee works as transmedia, let me discuss the concept of the fan experience. Henry also writes in the same paragraph, "The question looks different, though, if we ask about transmedia performance, because most contemporary musical artists perform across multiple media - minimally live and recorded performance, but also video and social network sites and Twitter..." Back in October, I wrote an article for the Consortium blog, Performing with Glee, which examines the fan (re-)production that has emerged on YouTube from reenacting scenes from Glee's television episodes. While this fan performance has pushed the Glee experience into a transmedial mode -- the total experience of interacting with the Glee "franchise" spreads across mediums, regardless of its production origins -- the fan activity obviously is not the same as the actual artists or content producers performing across mediums. I try to make the distinction obvious, especially by putting quotation marks around franchise, above, because when we consider transmedia, usually we apply the term franchise to the complete production consumed by the audience without taking into account the extensive continual experience that moves beyond the original production (think: Star Trek conventions, anime cosplayers, or even Superbowl celebration parades).

    So I wish, in examining why Glee's business model has been so successful, to explain how Glee's business model has been so successful. And this is due to the fan experience.

    Read more after the jump.

    Continue reading "Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee" »

    December 7, 2009

    Convergence of Industry and Fandom: The Japanese Musical Character as Production Platform

    Once per month, the Comparative Media Studies department holds a general staff meeting, after which one member from the department gives a presentation. For November's assembly, Philip Tan from GAMBIT gave a presentation entitled "Hatsune Miku & Nico Nico Douga: Remixes, Media Production, and File Sharing."


    Hatsune Miku (her name means "first sound / future") is a 16-year-old character from Vocaloid, "a singing synthesizer application software developed by the Yamaha Corporation that enables users to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody" (Wikipedia). The software allows anyone to create a song with synthetic vocals, allowing for creative new melodies, recreations of old harmonies, and the imagination of improbable or impossible music.

    Hatsune Miku Live Concert, Japan

    In commercial terms, Miku-chan met wild success, finding a strong fanbase in the otaku subculture of Japan. These fans have created thousands of permutations of original videos, fan comics (doujinshi), mashups, fan art, and cosplay. Even in America, Miku has spread across the online American anime fandom like wildfire, and her image is noticeable to even young fans.

    Below, I've embedded a video recording (excuse me for the not-so-great audio quality) of Phil's 15-minute presentation on the progress Hatsune Miku has made for fan production in Japan. It's the perfect example of an industry-produced piece of media that has been utilized by audiences in ways unimaginable to its producers. Amazingly, as Phil will explain, the industry actually celebrates the fan production and honors it in new productions.

    Philip Tan is the executive director for the US operations of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, a game research initiative hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is concurrently a project manager for the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore.

    He has served as a member of the steering committee of the Singapore chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and worked closely with Singapore game developers to launch industry-wide initiatives and administer content development grants as an assistant manager in the Animation & Games Industry Development section of MDA. He has produced and designed PC online games at The Education Arcade, a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that studied and created educational games. He complements a Master's degree in Comparative Media Studies with work in Boston's School of Museum of Fine Arts, the MIT Media Lab, WMBR 88.1FM and the MIT Assassins' Guild, the latter awarding him the title of "Master Assassin" for his live-action roleplaying game designs. He also founded a DJ crew at MIT.

    Specialties: digital, live-action and tabletop game design, production and management

    December 4, 2009

    Human Signaling: Competition and Cooperation in Everyday Communication

    A couple weeks ago, I sat in on a lecture by Judith Donath, who is an Assistant Professor of Media Arts & Sciences at MIT. She also works in the MIT Media Lab, where she founded the Social Media Group, and is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.

    Her talk, entitled Human Signaling: Competition and Cooperation in Everyday Communication, was one of a weekly seminar held by the Cooperation group at the Berkman Center. The talk introduced concepts of signaling, which draws from theoretical biology, and connected them to cultural practices of behavior, language, and even fashion. Judith's abstract explains more, below:

    It can be quite beneficial to deceive - to indicate that one is smarter, nicer, or possessed of better genes than is actually the case. Yet if deception was rampant, communication would cease to function. Signaling theory provides an economic model that shows how enough honesty is maintained to keep communication working.

    This model, which was developed in the field of theoretical biology, has also been used to understand a variety of human behaviors, e.g. cooperative hunting and religious rituals. Yet human communication differs significantly from animal signaling: we can rely on cheap
    conventional signals because we have coordinated sanctioning; our cultural evolution allows for rapidly changing signal vocabulary; we can imagine other minds and deliberately manipulate impressions; we have internalized morality; and we are very creative - there are no signals, no matter how seemingly reliable, that we will not attempt to fake.

    In this talk I will introduce signaling theory and describe how to adapt it for modeling human communication. I will then discuss two examples of applying this theory - first to analyze the social phenomenon of fashion (in clothing, arts, academic concentrations) and second to design new interfaces for online communication.

    Unfortunately, while the presentation applied so well to many of the ideas floating around here at the Consortium, there's currently no recording of it. The best I could do for you wonderful readers was embedding Judith's similar talk from 2007 that she delivered at Google:

    However, if you'd like more insight into the 2009 version of the talk, I've appended my personal notes after the jump below. Enjoy!

    Continue reading "Human Signaling: Competition and Cooperation in Everyday Communication" »

    December 2, 2009

    Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops: The Networked Publics of Global Youth Culture


    Back in November, I was lucky to attend an excellent lecture/presentation by Wayne Marshall, who is currently a Mellon Fellow in the Foreign Languages and Literatures department here at MIT. His talk, entitled Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops, explores dance subcultures across the globe and examines how technology is impacting these networked communities:

    What can we learn about contemporary culture from watching dayglo-clad teenagers dancing geekily in front of their computers in such disparate sites as Brooklyn, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, and Mexico City? How has the embrace of "new media" by so-called "digital natives" facilitated the formation of transnational, digital publics? More important, what are the local effects of such practices, and why do they seem to generate such hostile responses and anxiety about the future?

    Wayne's talk is available via audio below (with a direct link to the mp3 here).

    Of course, the presentation relied heavily on audiovisuals, so I've embedded some relevant dance videos below. Please enjoy the talk, or dance along!




    Finally, if you're interested, I've appended my own notes from the talk in this post, after the jump.

    Wayne Marshall is an ethnomusicologist, blogger, DJ, and, beginning this year, a Mellon Fellow in Foreign Languages and Literatures at MIT. His research focuses on the production and circulation of popular music, especially across the Americas and in the wider world, and the role that digital technologies are playing in the formation of new notions of community, selfhood, and nationhood.

    Continue reading "Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops: The Networked Publics of Global Youth Culture" »

    November 24, 2009

    Cultures of Resistance: Technology's Effects On and From the Iranian Election

    Over the next couple of weeks, I'm planning to bring to the C3 blog a handful of presentations that have been given recently at MIT and Harvard.

    Today's feature is a quick reflection on a talk I attended this afternoon at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. The presentation was titled #iranelection: The digital media response to the 2009 Iranian election, and was delivered by Cameran Ashraf (Adjunct Faculty member in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at California State University, Pomona) and Brett Solomon (recently Campaign Director at and Executive Director at The description from the Berkman Center's website follows:

    The ability of social and digital media to play a crucial role in helping mass social movements coordinate and communicate effectively has been highlighted by the recent post-election unrest in Iran. Due to the borderless nature of digital communications, the resources available to many activists can now be global in scale and supported by virtually instantaneous communication. Some governments have taken notice of this borderless nature and the potential threat it poses. To limit communications within and with the outside world they have erected their own border in the form of firewalls, monitoring mechanisms and internet filtering systems.

    With Iran as a case study, this presentation will explore the role new communication technologies are playing in the post-election unrest, how people outside of Iran are helping through digital media, and the Iranian government's efforts at maintaining its information border.

    Working with existing projects and movements in the field, a new ongoing movement for digital freedom is forming (, rallying digital activists and ordinary online citizens around the world, to assist political freedom movements and civil society who are being shut out from their rights to information, political expression and assembly.

    My short reaction and a link to the presentation video follow after the jump.

    Continue reading "Cultures of Resistance: Technology's Effects On and From the Iranian Election" »

    November 9, 2009

    Practical Geographies: Understanding How Cultural Practices Shape Social Media Usage

    For the past few months, I have been glad to work with a solid team of friends (and now, colleagues) over at the Web Ecology Project. Earlier this year, the dozen of us teamed up to see if we could research -- quantitatively and qualitatively -- online culture and the communities that shape it. However, what I've come to realize as the months have flown by is that what we're trying to study is in fact online cultures (plural) and how communities shape them.

    Conveniently, the major trends of the Internet seem to have evolved in easy-to-remember decades. If we want to talk about the social history of the Web, popular definitions have already been laid over these decades: the '90s represent Web 1.0, while 2000 to present equates to Web 2.0. Obviously, these monikers are overgeneralizations of the actual directions in which Internet use has moved, and I will not even approach explanations of what they might mean. Instead, I want to ask: What are we looking at in the coming decade in Internet culture? Or, more generally, Where do you go to find cool, interesting things online?

    Continue reading "Practical Geographies: Understanding How Cultural Practices Shape Social Media Usage" »

    October 27, 2009

    World Building as Design: Exploratory Video Games

    Recently, I've been trying to think about the aesthetic and emotional balance of transmedia works. Many have written before that transmedia flourishes when each individual part of a transmedia experience utilizes the strengths of its respective medium. For example, if a movie is paired with a video game, is it beneficial to incorporate cinematic aesthetics into the video game, or should the producers focus on the interactivity that video games afford (and most films do not)? There are certainly arguments for both sides. Whatever the final decisions of the production team, the individual parts of the transmedia experience will affect and impact the transmedia narrative's audience in specific ways.

    Henry has written before that "the core aesthetic impulses behind good transmedia works are world building and seriality" (The Aesthetic of Transmedia [Part 2]). Although Henry states that he wishes to see transmedia narratives flourish in genres beyond "fantasy and science fiction franchises", he concedes, "[T]he transmedia approach enhances certain kinds of works that have been udged [sic?] harshly by traditional aesthetic criteria because they are less concentrated on plot or even character than more classically constructed narratives."

    While this article will avoid issues of transmedia, I want to explore more the idea of world building (Henry's first core aesthetic of transmedia works) as possessing successful emotional potential for an audience.

    In the same article, Henry writes, "It's long been a charge directed against science fiction works that they are more interested in mapping complex environments than in telling compelling stories," but I would argue that complex environments can give rise to a well of emotional response that in turn create the foundations for compelling stories.

    After the jump, I'll be exploring three video games that utilize world building and exploratory participation to craft complex stories out of very simple aesthetics.

    Continue reading "World Building as Design: Exploratory Video Games" »

    October 19, 2009

    Google Wave: Innovating Innovation at the Expense of Innovation

    Platforms for culture and community are no longer a "cool, new thing" online. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have been around long enough that most users understand the basics of their purposes and functions. But now that these systems have been entrenched in the flow of the Internet, some users have begun to hack away at the conventions of Youtube, for example, to create some pretty innovative uses for the platform.

    Last year, Sheila -- now a second-year graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies program and a researcher with C3 -- wrote a report for the Consortium on the current state and future potential of online television. One of the interesting perspectives she draws from is that of technological adoption, to which she responds that now is the time for television to adapt and integrate with other technologies. Referring to the research of Noshir Conractor of Northwestern University, Sheila describes three stages of technological adoption -- substitution, enlargement, and reconfiguration -- which describe the evolution of technology to fit social practices: 1) new technology replacing older forms, 2) frequent use of the technology, and 3) a change in the use of the technology to fit social customes, or (vice versa) a change in a cultural practice because of the use of the technology.

    YouTube is a great example of this, because in the past couple of years we have witnessed a host of awesome projects that have come out of the third stage, reconfiguration. Most of these projects have attempted to move beyond the ordinary practice of "viewing one video on a single hosted webpage" with wonderfully successful results.

    After the jump, I'll briefly describe a set of these YouTube-based innovations, and then comment on Google Wave, the new venture of Google to mix up email and social networking into a highly collaborative space, and how the Wave might be moving a bit too quickly beyond its initial adoption phase.

    Continue reading "Google Wave: Innovating Innovation at the Expense of Innovation" »

    October 16, 2009

    Performing with Glee

    Fans reject the idea of a definitive version produced, authorized, and regulated by some media conglomerate. Instead, fans envision a world where all of us can participate in the creation and circulation of central cultural myths... Media conglomerates often respond to these new forms of participatory culture by seeking to shut them down or reigning in their free play with cultural material. If the media industries understand the new cultural and technological environment as demanding greater audience participation within what one media analyst calls the "experience economy," they seek to tightly structure the terms by which we may interact with their intellectual property, preferring the pre-programmed activities offered by computer games or commercial Web sites, to the free-form participation represented by fan culture. The conflict between these two paradigms -- the corporate-based concept of media convergence and the grassroots-based concept of participatory culture -- will determine the long-term cultural consequences of our current moment of media in transition.

    "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture," Henry Jenkins

    Henry wrote up a revised version of this essay (which appears on his website, linked above) in his Convergence Culture book, which is obviously an important read if you've never picked it up before.

    But coming away from this excerpt above, I can't help but feel that the first sentence suggests a very intense feeling, given what I assume to be a more subdued general viewership that constitutes a given show's (or movie's, or band's, etc.'s) fan base. Given that the modes of "participatory culture" are pervading the contemporary media landscape almost everywhere today, I still hesitate to state outright that fans "reject the idea of a definitive version" of any kind of narrative or media. Fans certainly work inside the construct provided by the "media conglomerate" and participate by interacting with the established narrative or media form.

    What these initial thoughts are really leading up to is my attempt to spout a bit about Glee.

    Continue reading "Performing with Glee" »

    October 6, 2009

    Innovations in Anime: Time of Eve

    Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits: Culture and Creation in Manga and Anime is an annual academic and industry-related workshop held at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to explore the creative and cultural implications of anime and manga.

    During the weekend of September 25 to 27, I was invited to speak at this year's event, where I presented on elements the conflict of transmedia storytelling and franchise in relation to Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion (1996 - 2009+). If you've never encountered this epic television series (or any of its movies, video games, toys, etc.), there's a solid set of Wikipedia articles explaining the original Japanese animated television program as well as the expansive franchise.

    The last panel on Sunday -- usually a comprehensive panel consisting of the conference's guests -- attempted to answer any and all questions posed by the audience. The discussion evolved into a debate surrounding the innovations, debacles, and general future of the Japanese animation and manga industry, both in Japan and the United States. However, at least in my opinion, the discussion by the panelists was fairly unenlightened.

    While there are many points that I could tackle in a tl;dr article, I'm going to introduce one series that has attempted a few unconventional endeavors to innovate an industry that has been fairly static over the past forty years.

    This series is called Time of Eve.


    Continue reading "Innovations in Anime: Time of Eve" »

    October 2, 2009

    Thoughts on Kseniya Simonova's Sand Animation

    I originally had another topic planned for this article, but I decided haphazardly to change it at the last minute, because one video made such an impression on me yesterday morning.

    My morning routine consists of a few primary objectives, one of which is to browse my Twitter stream to find anything of note or something missed during the night. I noticed that Henry had posted a link to a YouTube video late Wednesday night under the guise of:

    Susan Boyle's Legacy?: Winning performance from Ukraine's Got Talent has Drawn more than 2 Million views.

    The link sent me to the video embedded below. While the clip lasts 8 minutes and 33 seconds, I highly recommend taking the time to watch through the entire video. This is storytelling at its finest.

    The astounding ability of a hand to shape a story is purely evidenced by Kseniya's work. It's simply awe-inspiring at how simple movements of addition and subtraction, how curves and lines and cuts can craft such simple yet refined art. I find it more beautiful because the scenes flow and crash (literally) into each other. Metaphors become real images. After the planes enter the scene, at 1:47 Simonova scrambles the bench-sitting couple into a blur of sand, a blur that represents fear, but a physical swirl that becomes the scared face of the female onlooker. When the bombs hit at 3:08, Simonova throws a handful of dust onto the baby, eliminating him symbolically and literally from the picture.

    This video represents a piece of wondrous art and fanciful storytelling. And by the posting of this article, it has probably reached over 3 million views on YouTube. After the jump, I'll examine some more implications that this video presents about YouTube, transmedia, and cross-platform distribution; how we explain our understanding of popularity online; and how the Internet complicates our comprehension of foreign cultures.

    Continue reading "Thoughts on Kseniya Simonova's Sand Animation" »

    September 30, 2009

    C3 '09-'10: An Introduction

    With a new school year comes a new team. And now that Henry Jenkins' blog will be out of commission for a couple of weeks, I'm glad to announce that the C3 blog will be active once again!

    My name is Alex Leavitt, and from here on out I'll represent the dedicated voice of the Convergence Culture Consortium team for the C3 blog. Sam Ford has taken up this role for the past few years, but I hope to keep up with his prior rigor and valuable insight to provide you, reader, with some (hopefully) interesting and intriguing thoughts, essays, links, and ideas. It will certainly be laborious, but as is common to say in Japan, ganbarimasu (I will do my best)!

    I write in Japanese because part of my focus is on -- as geeky as it sounds -- Japanese popular culture, specifically Japanese animation (anime) and comics (manga). Before leaving college, I studied abroad in Kyoto, Japan for four months at Kyoto University through the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies. And I graduated in May 2009 (only a few months ago; how nostalgic!) from Boston University with a degree in English Literature & Language and Japanese Literature & Language.

    While I have a background in what might be considered comparative literature, this did not lead me to pursue comparative media studies. First, I came to find myself in a love affair with the Internet. I grew up with the Nintendo Gameboy, Saturday morning cartoons, and; I was trained in middle school as a professional singer and musician at the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School in Harvard Square; and I've even worked as a research assistant on the Digital Natives project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, so it seems only natural that I discovered the Comparative Media Studies department in 2007, and I have been following the department's events and activities ever since. I even applied to the master's program in Comparative Media Studies last December; alas, two days later, admissions were closed.

    Luckily -- and I am so thankful -- I am currently a research associate and assistant to Dr. Joshua Green here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, where I get to act as a "faux"- grad student by performing research for the consortium and department. And, now, contribute as much as possible to this blog.

    Over the next year, I'll be writing about transmedia, spreadable content on the web, Internet culture, television, video games, subculture, popular media, and -- just as Sam has done with his favorite soap operas -- anime and manga. I hope that this blog will also come to be regarded as a valuable resource for an insider's view on what's happening with convergence culture in contemporary society. While the work of our team and consulting researchers will certainly be profiled, I will try to compose a fair amount of (personally) original insight, especially in relation to articles, books, and blogs that I am reading alongside Henry's two classes at USC (we miss him dearly): New Media Literacies and Transmedia Storytelling & Entertainment.

    So here's to a new year and a new voice! If you would like to keep in touch or share some thoughts, I can also be reached at

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