Social Networks

June 15, 2011

C3 White Paper: Learning to Share - The Relational Logics of Media Franchising by Derek Johnson

This summer, select 2010/2011 C3 research memos and white papers willl be made publicly available.

Now available for download from the C3/FOE website:

Learning To Share: The Relational Logics of Media Franchising

Derek Johnson (University of North Texas)
Consulting Researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium

franchising image

Download the executive summary or the entire research memo.

Executive Summary

In the contemporary media environment, it has become increasingly commonplace—and commonsense—to refer to successful, long-running intellectual properties as “franchises.” In May 2010, for example, Advertising Age made sense of the sale of Snoopy, Woodstock, and the rest of Charles Shultz’s Peanuts gang to the Iconix Brand Group in these terms, valuating the history of the property and its continuing potential in the global media marketplace by exclaiming “It’s a Great Franchise, Charlie Brown” (Bulik 2010). This metaphor for making sense of media properties extends beyond trade discourse, with popular blogs also participating in the franchise conversation. In a recent post later picked up by Yahoo! News, Life’s Little Mysteries blogger Mike Avila meditates on the media franchise by trying to determine “the most successful movie franchise of all time.” Having decided to make box office revenue the deciding factor, Avila awards the crown to the Harry Potter series and its $5.4 billion in ticket sales—but with the caveat that Star Wars would gain an advantage if merchandising were to be considered, while the James Bond films exceed both in terms of overall longevity.

Such posts contribute to an overall popular understanding of the media franchise as the result of ongoing management of a property across time and various markets, corroborating the perceptions of industry insiders like Disney’s Robert Iger, who similarly defines franchise as “something that creates value across multiple businesses and across multiple territories over a long period of time” (Siklos 2009). The economic meanings carried by this metaphor, however, have also been negotiated by those working creatively with these properties, whose individual interests and energies must be asserted in the face of all this successful brand maintenance. Reflecting on the conclusion of the TV series Lost in 2010, producer Carlton Cuse notes: “We certainly understand and absolutely respect that ABC and Disney has an incredibly valuable franchise and they want to do more things with Lost, but the story we're telling ends in May” (Chozick 2010). Because Lost is understood in this way as one of the most successful television franchises of the early twenty-first century, Cuse finds it necessary as a stakeholder to reassert the role of creative individuality within the perpetual corporate management of the shared property.

This notion of media franchising, therefore, shapes how analysts, executives, creators, and popular audiences each imagine the media industries of the contemporary moment. And as Cuse’s attempt to position his work outside perceptions of franchising demonstrates, this metaphor is a particularly loaded one, often negatively connoting corporate control and exploitation of a cash cow at the expense of independence and artistry. Without a doubt, many of these connotations come from the wider cultural history of franchising. Prior to the industrial revolution, a franchise was conceived primarily in the political terms of enfranchisement. Derived from the French franchir (to free), the word “franchise” conveyed one’s right to participate and pursue one’s interests free of constraint. Within a collective system such as electoral politics, the franchise was, by and large, a freely determined individual vote. However, as historians of marketing such as Harry Kursh argue, this free right to participate took on more economic—and more sinister—connotations by the nineteenth century, as emerging tycoons “slit each other’s corporate throats” in fierce competition to be awarded “franchise” rights over utilities, railroads, and other elements of public infrastructure (1968: 194). According to scholar T.S. Dicke, the term acquired an additional use around 1959, newly deployed to describe business systems in which corporate franchisors operating on a national level develop a trademarked system of doing business enter into contractual relations with franchisees who pay a fee to independently operate outlets on the local level (1992: 2).

It is from this usage that most consumers understand global business operations such as McDonald’s restaurants, Meineke auto shops, or Best Western hotels. Thus, as industry analysts in Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and other sites of trade discourse began in the early 1990s to make sense of media content and its production as “franchising” (moving the term beyond existing usage to describe the assignment of broadcasting licenses and municipal cable monopolies as franchise rights to infrastructure), the term brought with it a great deal of historical and cultural baggage. To think about media culture as franchise is to think about it in the same terms that make sense of fast food. And in the same way that critics like George Ritzer (2000) have lamented the increasing standardization and rationalized control of culture as what he calls the “McDonaldization” of society, the articulation of media to fast food reflects allows the latter to act as cultural shorthand for the inadequacies of the former.

So while media franchising has been frequently invoked in industrial, popular, and scholarly discourse, perceptions of its economic determinism and its lack of cultural value have at least partially sidelined specific attempts to understand what the franchising of media culture actually means. In most accounts, the media franchise is a rather simple effect, figured most often as a product of increasing corporate power and conglomeration or as the endgame for intellectual property management strategies. Even as Henry Jenkins (2006), for one potentially divergent example, considers the franchised intellectual property more productively as a site where new forms of narrative practice and cultural collaboration have emerged, the media franchise is positioned and understood in relation to the larger patterns of convergence culture and transmedia storytelling. Nevertheless, media franchising is a phenomenon in its own right, not confined to specifically transmedia considerations, as properties like Law & Order and CSI have become understood as franchises for their multiplication within the single medium of television. Similarly, in The Frodo Franchise, scholar Kristin Thompson (2007) offers a detailed picture of the Lord of the Rings franchise, but in arguing about its exceptional character, her book offers only a limited perspective on the phenomenon of media franchising at large.

But what can we learn from the logic of franchising itself? What does it tell us about how cultural production and creative collaboration might work? How can we make use of this understanding? With much of this phenomenon remaining to be explored by media researchers, this project aims to directly confront and deconstruct the cultural logics of franchising in order to understand it not as the effected product of other issues and forces, but as a process and set of relationships that have historically produced culture. Though the notion of the franchise carries with it much cultural baggage, those entrenched meanings and values accompany a very specific logic for organizing and making sense of cultural production sustained over time and across multiple market sectors. By developing a detailed, historical portrait of what franchising is and how it has worked, we will deepen our understanding of how culture has been collaboratively produced and consumed across decentralized networks of “enfranchised” stakeholders. To that end, this inquiry combines current research trajectories in media and cultural studies with conceptual models drawn from the fields of marketing and organizational communication to make sense of media franchising as a social practice. This approach demands we consider franchising not solely in terms of texts, products, brands, or properties, but also through power-laden, networked relationships between franchisors and franchisees with distinct interests in the shared cultural resources of the franchise. By combining analysis of trade press with archival research and original interviews with media professionals, this project examines how these shared resources have been deployed, managed, and sustained in specific historical instances by media institutions, creative personnel, and even consumers invested in them.

Key Findings

Ultimately, this study recognizes that any attempt to define the media franchise once and for all is an exercise in futility, as its slippery cultural meanings are perhaps what make it such a versatile means of understanding a wide variety of media practices. Nonetheless, by arguing that franchising offers a cultural structure through which media content, media institutions, and media audiences have been put into productive relations, this study helps point to the relational, collaborative logic that defines a franchised culture. From this perspective, five key findings will be delivered to demonstrate the value of comprehending franchising as a structure for organizing collaborative cultural production:

The Cultural Logic of Franchising is Relational: franchising must be understood as relational given its dependence on sustained, strategic relationships between stakeholders with unequal interest in shared cultural resources; franchises are not reflective of intellectual property monopolies, but instead negotiation of imperfectly aligned interests.

Franchising Drives Institutional Relationships: the cultural networks constituted by franchising have not merely bolstered the power of “big media” institutions, but rather, in driving institutional relationships, have created tensions, cleavages and challenges to be negotiated by conglomerates and upstarts alike. The franchise strategies of companies like Marvel Comics, when most successful, have depended upon institutional partnerships.

Franchising Supports Creative Relationships: franchising must also be understood with respect to creative relationships, in that it has enabled co-creation and collaboration through decentralized, emergent uses of shared story worlds. Users of properties like Battlestar Galactica must negotiate not only the structure of a shared set of narrative resources, but also hierarchies of creative power that encourage and constrain creative uses of them.

Franchising Generates Consumer-Constituent Relationships: as shared cultural resources, franchised worlds have supported what can be described as consumer-constituent relationships. Invited to invest at a variety of productive, affective, and even civic levels, consumers act as defacto franchisees, pursuing their own economic and political interests in the institutional and creative management of programs like 24.

Franchising Extends Transnational and Transgenerational Relationships: franchises support transnational and transgenerational relations through ongoing exchange, transformation, and reinvestment. Franchises like Transformers can be most productively understood not as globally traded products, but as cultural processes in which local innovations feed cross-cultural networks of production over long periods of time.

From these findings, this project theorizes the culture of media franchising to uncover an established tradition of collaborative production in the entertainment industries. As a cultural logic structuring production in relational terms, the media franchise might therefore be considered, despite its more historical, less cutting-edge character, a crucial corollary to any attempt to understand emerging “social media.”


By reflecting on the heterogeneous interests in a shared set of resources implied by the term “franchise,” we gain a much clearer insight into the social, institutional, and creative relationships by which culture has been produced and reproduced in the media industries. To be sure, media franchises are not reducible to the franchise relationships that have structured the retail and service industries over the past sixty to seventy years. Relationships geared toward the expansion of distribution channels and marketing reach function much differently from those aimed at multiplying the production of media culture.

Moreover, the degree to which the cultural logic of franchises (as it has been described in this white paper) is consciously and strategically recognized in the media industries remains to be seen. Many of the executives and creative professionals interviewed for this project disavowed or distanced themselves from the very notion of franchising, claiming ignorance of the term or explaining that such considerations were outside their job description. This likely means that relatively few producers are actually thinking in any real depth about media franchises. While the practices and relationships described here may be in place, a firm structural and strategic logic may not actually underlie them in practice.

Thinking more strategically in terms of franchising—and the cultural logic it implies—has some distinct advantages, and it is here that some initial recommendations can be synthesized:

1. Practitioners should consider franchising in terms of its instructive potential as a historical precedent.

2. The relational logic of media franchising challenges industry insiders to reconsider any strategic logics structured around singular control over the use of intellectual properties.

3. In contrast to prohibitive top-down controls, open and heterogeneous creative experimentation can be relied upon to renew and regenerate existing intellectual property production resources.

4. In developing collaborative productive models, industry professionals should develop greater appreciation of contributions that emerge from outside the top echelons of power. By thinking of licensed creators and fans alike as “franchisees,” license holders can recognize vital stakeholders in the ongoing production of media properties.


Derek Johnson is an Assistant Professor, University of North Texas, Department of Radio, Television, and Film. His dissertation examined the historical development of the media "franchise" as a form based on shared intellectual property networks, as a specific set of production and consumption practices, and as a discourse used to make sense of media culture. Interested in the organization of culture across media platforms, his research spans a wide range of industries (including film, television, video games, comics, and licensed merchandising) and encompasses issues of narrative theory, audience reception, public sphere discourse, as well as media economics and policy. His recent publications include "Inviting Audiences In: The Spatial Reorganization of Production and Consumption in 'TVIII'" (New Review of Film and Television, 2007), "Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom" (Fandom: Identities and Communities in Mediated Culture, edited by Gray, Harrington, and Sandvoss, 2007), and "Will the Real Wolverine Please Stand Up?: Marvel's Mutation from Monthlies to Movies" (Film and Comic Books, edited by Gordon, Jancovich, and McAllister, 2007). Derek can be reached directly at

April 12, 2011

Why Your Brand Doesn't Need Bieber

The marketing industry has been whipped into a frenzy by a 17-year-old Canadian pop star. Justin Bieber has been hailed as Master of the Twitterverse while most brands are still trying to figure out what a Twitterverse is. A quick tour of Google yields pages and pages on social media marketing a la Bieber, creating Bieber-based marketing strategies, and adulations of Justin Bieber as an "Internet Marketing Guru." While many of these articles contain not entirely un-useful platitudes along the lines of "listen to your customers" and "respond to your fans," the fact is that brands simply shouldn't try to out-Bieber Bieber.

Continue reading "Why Your Brand Doesn't Need Bieber" »

February 22, 2011

Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt

[This post originally appeared at]

Earlier this month, amongst all the frustration, euphoria, and confused wonder surrounding the events in Egypt, Malcolm Gladwell and others got mired in another discussion regarding the relative efficacy of social media in creating political change.

I don't want to rehash the back and forth (some thoughtful opinions here, here, and here), except to say that I empathize with Gladwell's frustration, I really do, but I think that his push-back isn't particularly illuminating or necessary. It's true that some of the over-emphasis on the role of social media runs the risk of overshadowing more considered analysis of the historical context and implications of what happened in Egypt. And I have to admit that seeing some of the twitter and foursquare jokes made me bristle with annoyance briefly (not because they were making light of the situation, but because they made light of the privilege we had, as media and communications professionals in the US, in being able to be cute about it all). Maybe its a function of my youthful optimism, but I think Gladwell does a disservice in validating these strawmen as something worth arguing against.

For me, claims that social media brought forth the revolution in Egypt exist so deep within a territory of techno-narcissism that isn't really even worth refuting. And it's not unexpected -- these technologies are still relatively new. We're still trying to sort out what they can do. If we look at early film and TV criticism, so much focused on the "how" over the "why" in the same way that Gladwell laments, and it didn't prevent the "why" (and the "what") from dominating the discourse as the novelty wore off.

But more importantly, I think his arguments about social media not being relevant to revolutions makes the same awkward assumption as the claims that facebook changed Egypt: that what's compelling about what happened online has everything (or anything) to do with Egypt per se. Maybe because I think of them as dramatically important in totally different arenas, I don't see the emphasis on one or the other in competition with one another for column pixels. Because something significant did happen on and to social media, but to think it was what twitter and Facebook did (or didn't do) for Egypt is to have things backwards. Twitter didn't happen to Egypt; Egypt happened to twitter and is may be transforming how we think about the role of social media in our lives and communities.

Continue reading "Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt" »

September 17, 2010

Changing Relationships, Changing Industries (Nancy Baym, University of Kansas)

C3 Consulting Researcher Nancy Baym (University of Kansas) had a busy 2010.

Her new book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, was released by Polity Press in the Spring.

Also this spring, Nancy contributed one of the first C3 Research Memos distributed to C3 Consortium Members. This C3 Research will be made publicly available via the C3 blog in late November of this year.

This summer, Nancy was here in Cambridge as a visiting researcher at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Danah Boyd's Social Media Research Collective.

While here in Cambridge, Nancy was asked to speak at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. Her talk (in the embedded video below) entitled "Changing Relationships, Changing Industries" addresses her thinking on notions of exchange (economic and social) between fans, audiences, the music industry and the independent music scene - specifically in the case of independent Swedish artists and music labels.

Nancy's insights into how the independent music scene by necessity has embraced new media distribution channels and the audience embrace of these new channels, as well as her insights and metrics on the major label music industry as an inadvertent 'loss leader' in the swift dismantling of the top down corporate music hierarchy (which we are now seeing manifest in film and television) were an early influence on what became 2008 - 2009 C3 research on new consumption patterns, new patterns of value exchange, along with innovative ideas surrounding value and worth - specifically the 2008 C3 White Paper on Spreadability, Xiaochang Li's 2009 C3 White Paper More Than Money Can Buy: Locating Value in Spreadable Media, Ana Domb's 2009 White Paper Tacky and Proud: Exploring Technobrega's Value Network and the CMS C3 FOE4 Panel, Moderated by Prof. Jenkins entitled "Consumption, Value and Worth" (panel video here, liveblogging archive here).

Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported
Copyright Holder
The President and Fellows of Harvard College

April 22, 2010

Intriguing Videos of Notable Worth

Since we're spending the end of this week helping to organize the CMS 10th Anniversary, I figured that I'd write up a short article highlighting some relevant videos with which Consortium blog readers could relax during the weekend.

The above video was presented at DICE (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) 2010, by Carnegie Mellon University Professor, Jesse Schell, as the "Design Outside the Box" keynote lecture. Although the video was posted and I saw this back in February, I feel like Schell's talk, Beyond Facebook, is still extremely pertinent and engaging (in fact, I heard it mentioned at both the MIT Business in Gaming conference as well as BarCamp Boston 5 this past weekend). Schell discusses the future of gaming beyond social games (that is, games taking advantage and facilitated across social networks, like Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook), when game elements will become integrated into the tiny facets of our daily lives.

The second video in today's post was present at TEDxEdmonton by Sean Stewart, who has led companies such as 42 Entertainment and Fourth Wall Studios and has helped produced major alternate reality games (ARGs) such as I Love Bees (an ARG for Halo 2). In Bard 5.0: The Evolution of Storytelling, Stewart explains the steps in which storytelling has changed in terms of interactivity and sociability. He illustrates modern examples of interactive storytelling through transmedia properties, drawing particular attention to how the form and function of each media platform affects the consumption of the story by the audience.

Finally, let me end with a compilation of videos that recently appeared on Henry Jenkins' website, in his article, Thinkers Welcome: New Resources on Participatory Culture and Learning. Henry links to videos from two events, TEDxNYED and the Digital Media and Learning Conference.

Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010 Closing Keynote and Closing Remarks from UCHRI Video on Vimeo.

Sonia Livingstone, Closing Keynote: "Youthful Participation - what have we learned, what shall we ask next?"

These videos take a look at media engagement by youth with media at home, with friends, and in the classroom, and they cover a large breadth of topics.

February 22, 2010

C3 White Paper: More Than Money Can Buy: Locating Value in Spreadable Media

The next installment of our 2009 C3 white paper releases.

My white paper extends the work I began with If It Doesn't Spread, it's Dead in 2008. It digs deeper into how the social principles that shape the flow "free" goods and services online shape concepts of value.

Through theoretical analysis and practical case studies, the paper:

  1. Explains why "free" things aren't really free, and the social contracts that regulate these exchanges
  2. Outlines the key differences between socially-driven exchanges and market-driven ones, with an eye towards how to develop online monetization models that can bridge the two systems.
  3. Breaks down examples of best (and worst) practices
  4. Proposes general principles for understanding online communities and socially-motivated content creators, and how to build business models around their activities.

Download the executive summary or the entire paper. You can also view the executive summary online at my blog: part 1, 2, and 3

Let me know what you think in the comments or tweet @xiaochang.

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 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 26, 2010

3 Lessons Conan, Leno, and NBC Taught Me

After lots of press coverage and a very heated (and often uncomfortable) public debate, Conan O'Brien hosted his last episode of The Tonight Show on Friday, January 22.

As the clip below shows, O'Brien bowed-out gracefully, despite earlier snarkiness directed at NBC.

Ultimately, both Conan and Leno were hurting NBC's bottom line. Conan was the lowest rated host in Tonight Show history and his tenure marked the first time the show was ever on track to lose money.

Leno's 10 pm show hurt NBC too, but at the affiliate rather than the national level. Local news is the bread and butter of affiliates and with the low-rated Leno as a lead-in many 11 pm newscasts were hemorrhaging viewers. No doubt the poor lead-in from local news also hurt Conan's ratings.

NBC made a huge mistake putting Leno at 10/9c and their huge mistake has taught us three huge lessons about the television business.

Continue reading "3 Lessons Conan, Leno, and NBC Taught Me" »

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 11, 2010

Fandom, Participatory Culture, and Web 2.0 -- A Syllabus

I'm back at my desk after what was far too short a break! MIT gave us all of January off to focus on our own research as well as to participate in their Independent Activities Period. USC's semester starts, gulp, today, so my rhythms felt all wrong through late December and early January. But here we are -- once more into the breech.

Today, I am going to be teaching the first session of a graduate seminar on "Fandom, Participatory Culture, and Web 2.0," and so I wanted to share the syllabus with my readers here, given the level of unexpected interest I received when I posted my syllabi last fall for the Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment and New Media Literacies classes. I am in a very happy place right now with my teaching -- starting over at USC is freeing me to form new kinds of classes which grow more from my own research interests rather than the institutional needs of sustaining an under-staffed program. I am thus developing classes around key concepts in my own work which are allowing me to introduce myself and my thinking to this new community. Surprisingly, given how central the study of fans has been to the trajectory of my research from graduate school forward, this is the first time I have ever taught a full class around this topic.

There are many ways you could conceptualize such a subject. A key choice I faced was between a course on fan culture, which would be centrally about what fans do and think, and a course in fan studies, which would map the emergence of and influence of a new academic field focused on the study of fandom and other forms of participatory culture. On the undergraduate level, I would have taken the first approach but on the graduate level, I opted for the second -- trying to map the evolution of a field of research centered around the study of fan communities and showing how it has spoken to a broader range of debates in media and cultural studies over the past two decades. As you will see, teaching a course right now, I found it impossible to separate out the discussion of fan culture from contemporary debates about web 2.0 and so I made that problematic, contradictory, and evolving relationship a key theme for the students to investigate. Do not misunderstand me -- I am not assuming an easy match between the three terms in my title. The shifting relations between those three terms is a central concern in the class.

I think it speaks to the richness of the space of fan research that I have included as many works as I have and I still feel inadequate because it is easy to identify gaps and omissions here -- key writers (many of them friends, some of them readers of this blog) that I could not include. Some of the topics I am focusing on are over-crowded with research and some are just emerging. I opted to cover a broader range of topics rather than focusing only on works which are canonical to the space of fan studies. All I can say is that I am sorry about the gaps but rest assured that this other work will surface in class discussion and no doubt play key roles in student papers.

I am hoping that in publishing this syllabus here, I can introduce some of the lesser known texts here (as well as the overall framework) to others teaching classes in this area and to researchers around the world who often write me trying to identify work on fan cultures. I'd love to hear from either groups here and happy to share more of what you are doing. Regular readers may anticipate more posts this semester in the fan studies space, just as last term saw more posts on transmedia topics.

Syllabus follows after the jump!

Continue reading "Fandom, Participatory Culture, and Web 2.0 -- A Syllabus" »

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" »

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 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" »

February 17, 2009

Facebook's latest faux pas (or the struggle over control)

Much has been said in the past couple of days about Facebook's new Terms of Service. If for some reason you've stopped reading blogs, twitter, your friends' Facebook updates and The New York Times, here is a brief recap:

Facebook modified their terms of service; they now retain certain rights over content you host on their service forever. Yep, forever. They've phrased it as "an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (to)...use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works, and distribute" material as long as it doesn't violate the privacy preferences set by the user."

Continue reading "Facebook's latest faux pas (or the struggle over control)" »

January 30, 2009

Boxee Unboxed

Boxee, the much-hyped "social media center," opened its alpha download to Linux and Mac users on January 8. A private version of boxee alpha became available last fall and today it has been downloaded by over 100,000 users. Boxee is an open source application that allows users to play media and share recommendations with friends through the boxee interface or through automatic Twitter updates. Boxee plays media from local and network sources, but its real innovation is a slick interface that allows users to stream video from a popular sites including Hulu, Joost, CBS, ABC, CNN, MTV, YouTube, and even Netflix.

Boxee has been in development since early 2007 and it recently secured $4 million in funding to expand. Boxee is based on XBMC, the open source Xbox product that allows users to turn game consoles into home media centers. Boxee CEO Avenr Ronen saw a need to bring digital media to TV screens and thought XBMC was the perfect platform. Ronen explained in a July interview with CNET blogger Don Reisinger: "We believe it's the best damn media center you can get your hands on today." I've been playing around with boxee for the past week and I have to agree with Ronen.

Continue reading "Boxee Unboxed" »

December 5, 2008

Revoking Spreadable Media: Soulja Boy take-down notices

Last week, just in time for the holiday season, CMS colleague Kevin Driscoll received a Youtube DMCA take-down notice for Crank Dat Roflcon (video viewable here on Fred Benenson's blog). Crank Dat Roflcon was part of the Internet Conference held at MIT last year in conjunction with Harvard Free Culture and the Berkman Center, as well as the follow-up to our own CMS Soulja Boy project, Crank Dat MIT with free software guru Richard Stallman.

Continue reading "Revoking Spreadable Media: Soulja Boy take-down notices" »

November 23, 2008

FOE3 Liveblog: Session 3 - Social Media

Our last panel of Day 1, liveblogged by Christina Xu, current undergraduate student from Harvard and whom some of you know as one of the organizers of Roflcon last year.

Joe Marchese (
Amber Case (Hazelnut Consulting)
Sabrina Caluori (Director, Marketing and Promotions, HBO Online)
Kyle Ford, (Director of Product Marketing, Ning)
Rhonda Lowry (Vice President, Social Media Technologies, Turner Broadcasting)

Alice Marwick (grad student @ NYU)


  • RL: Has been working in social media for a while. She uses a separate online identity to research virtual worlds. It's hard to grok virtual worlds without understanding social media, so she took a role at Turner to get people to understand identity as construct, leveraging talents across mediums and how that can transform you & the marketplace.
  • JM: Brings brands into social media. We're the answer to how you're going to make money off of all of this. It's not easy: brands have the opposite problem of media (instead of where media is going, it's where their brands are NOT going). Each person is a micro-publisher, and now brands need to have relationships with lots of people. There's a myth that brands reach people through social media, but people reach people through social media.
  • KF: Direct of product marketing @ Ning. Been there for about 3 years. Crossed 600,000 social networks. Before that, was at Yahoo TV & Movie and Fox, doing television site.
  • AC: Cyborg anthropologist, studies what it's like to be on the online space and what happens when people upload parts of themselves online. Blogs for Discovery Channel.
  • SC: Marketing at Aggregates social media activities that happen across the company and try to gather them back into the brand by keeping communities online past specific events.

November 21, 2008

FOE3 Liveblog: Conversation -- Wealth, Value, and Social Production

Henry Jenkins and Yochai Benkler see themselves as a closely related, which that they had read each other's book in terms of thinking about differentially motivated players.

Nonprofit distribution of content - now we can begin there. In this moment of peer production, what are the nonprofit, public television.

YB: implications that I see are - 1. A change of role. In an environment where communicating with large groups, public media was uncorrelated with market flows of cultural production. That cost barrier isn't there anymore, so the necessity of sufficient level of ____ isn't there anymore. So is it the elite aspect of it? When you look at free software and open access books and the role of foundations that harness work of peers into whole. Nonprofits are becoming helping groups become more effective in what they do. Public media needs to
instead of producing educational materials that are stable good but to provide ways in which teachers can produce content. WGBH - Nova - convert content into spreadable media in ways that are pitched from a different perspective. Understanding the need for a locus of high capital production has become less important. What little public funds there are can go further if they're oriented toward provided opportunities for generating content rather than created fixed content. Mentione - sunlight foundation, apache software

HJ: Public tv used to provide diversity, but it couldn't provide the social network, the passion for diversity. In an era of social networks, PBS plays a role as a digital network. Very good at soliciting us as contributors but stops once pledge week ends. Function it plays in joining people into a real network

YB - not a non seq - WSJ creating a network of paid subscribers. A signal about what kind of person they are. Same thing possible with public television, except not an issue of payment but participation. Not sure if it would capture young people.

HJ: what;s your research showing about what motivates people to join social networks?

YB: not just social networks-- we're slowly coming to accept (loosely defined "we") that academia is dominated by a view of selfish rationality. Shared perception that this is largest modality of perception in social sciences. Image of Alan Greenspan - I relied on self-interest and it failed me. Not to be sneezed at. For me, free software as been particularly powerful in making this argument. Someone who relies on markets
renewed interest in mapping
catalog in an organized way what are human motivations
object is to come up with a sufficient usable set of clusters of human motivators, and then, what do I need to think about - using the terms of gift and worth and the gift economy. Tends to think in terms that are useful but partial. Examples - status, atomistic giving, reputation,
function of social capital - also interpersonal relatedness - a sense of identity
fascinating surveys of free software - why- reputation, expectation of future work, solving a particular problem - easily convertible into a self-interested problem. But, it turns about that people say 75% as a central aspect of their identity, of who they are, fairness, giving back, sheer pleasure, then reputations, etc. need to be part of sociality is important, what's right, fair, reciprocal, etc. Though guilt and shame can be part of it.

HJ: Web 2.0 includes economic motivations on one side and ---- on the other. How might it scrambled?

Continue reading "FOE3 Liveblog: Conversation -- Wealth, Value, and Social Production" »

November 11, 2008

distributed collectivity: storytelling on twitter

In recent months, everyone has been abuzz about twitter fiction, from projects to broadcast Moby Dick, 140 characters at a time, to the recent collective re-enactment of the Orson Welles radio program War of the Worlds over Halloween, more and more people are looking at Twitter as a potential storytelling engine. This should come as little surprise. After all, we humans are narrative creatures. Storytelling is central to the construction and articulation of cultures, nations, social imaginaries, publics, counter-publics, relationships writ large and small. So it seems only logical that every new communication portal be tested for its narrative capacity.

Less interesting to me are the efforts to merely fragment narratives in 140-character chunks. As compelling as some of these projects are on an individual level, structurally they present a type of reformatting or, in some cases, adaptation. Though this has consequences on reception and the reading experience, it is not a radical reimagining of narrative structure. Distributed storytelling, on the other hand, draws together a number of different narrative traditions in a way that may, at least, provide a provocative way of thinking about narrative form.

Continue reading "distributed collectivity: storytelling on twitter" »

November 4, 2008

My First Election: PBS Mediashift

As an Australian, my experience of the US political system has always been a mediated one. As such, this is the first US election I've ever experienced 'live', and what an election it has been; Regardless of the outcome, this has been a unique and significant campaign season for a number of reasons. As we've pointed out previously in discussions about election monitoring, campaigns and fandom, Facebook and campaign building, and politics in the age of YouTube, the 2008 campaign has seen unique, interesting and savvy uses new media tools, particularly social media and online video publishing for grassroots campaigning, campaign financing and connecting with constituencies.

These will be some of the things I'll reflect on this afternoon, when I participate in a live chat over at PBS' MediaShift site. At 4 pm EST/1 pm PT I'll be chatting about the election coverage and online media specifically with PBS blogger Mark Glaser and my old friend Alice Robison, Assistant Professor of English at ASU. Come on over if you'd like to join in. They've got a whole afternoon of discussion lined up.

Oh, and whichever way you fall, please do vote. And for the junkies out there, Twitter's election feed makes for interesting reading throughout the day.

April 16, 2008

Our World Digitized: Henry Jenkins, Yochai Benkler, and Cass Sunstein

As we've mentioned a few times on the blog lately, the Program in Comparative Media Studies featured the latest version of the MIT Communications Forum last week, an event particularly of potential interest to Consortium readers.

C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins moderated a conversation between University of Chicago law and political science professor Cass Sunstein and Yochai Benkler of Harvard University's Berkman Center, in an event called "Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly."

Sustein is the author of 2.0 and Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, while Benkler wrote The Wealth of Networks.

According to the abstract:

Much discussion of our impending digital future is insular and without nuance.  Skeptics talk mainly among themselves, while utopians and optimists also keep company mainly within their own tribal cultures.  Today's forum challenges this unhelpful division, staging a conversation between two of our country's most thoughtful and influential writers on the promise and the perils of the Internet Age.

The audiocast of the event is already available here, and video will be available soon.

Continue reading "Our World Digitized: Henry Jenkins, Yochai Benkler, and Cass Sunstein" »

April 9, 2008

NCAA/NBA Social Network for Youth Basketball

I was contacted by a reporter on Monday with The Chronicle of Higher Education about a decision from the NCAA to work with the NBA to develop a company to help cultivate the organization of youth basketball in the U.S. Prior to the request, I hadn't heard about the announcement, but there was particular interest in the Comparative Media Studies/Convergence Culture Consortium perspective because of the centrality of social networking at the center of the initiative.

I had a 10 or 15 minute conversation with a reporter who was contributing to the article, Catherine Rampell, in which we talked about the positives and negatives of such a decision, particularly how this approach has much promise but also plenty of potential stumbling blocks. You can see the full article here.

My appearance comes in the article's conclusion, in which they propose that reaction is mixed. As evidence of the mixed reaction, Brad Wolverton picks out mine as a positive response to the decision, saying "A project like this really catches my eye," and noting I thought it had "much potential," while Eric J. Anctil was quoted as saying that it's hard to get kids to "do what you want them to do" and that this "sounds like a good idea to people who are in their 40s and don't know what kids like."

Being a journalist myself, I know how the construction of articles goes, and perhaps it set Eric and I up as being on two opposite sides of the article, myself the CMS optimist and Eric the cynic. But, and perhaps Eric would agree with me, I'm both optimist AND cynic when it comes to announcements like this.

Continue reading "NCAA/NBA Social Network for Youth Basketball" »

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.

Continue reading "Participation and User Value: LiveJournal's Latest Debacle" »

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.

Continue reading "YouTube's Downmarket Aesthetic" »

February 18, 2008

Online Buzz as a Catalyst and a Symptom of Popularity

Perhaps it is intuitive, but it's always helpful to have some bolstering studies out there. News came out earlier this month of the results of a study from the Stern Business School at NYU that, among a variety of factors studied surrounding the success of album sales, blogs and social networks are particular indicators of successful album sales.

According to Jacqui Cheng with Ars Technica, the study found that albums with 40 or more posts made about them before their release received three times the average sales; for albums with 250 or more blog posts about them, the sales were six time the average.

Continue reading "Online Buzz as a Catalyst and a Symptom of Popularity" »

January 29, 2008

Bernard Timberg and "Launch" and "Rebound" Texts

I've had the pleasure recently of having several conversations and exchanges with Bernard Timberg, a professor at East Carolina University. Bernard wrote a piece on soap operas more than 20 years ago that dealt with production, and Abigail Derecho and I are interviewing him for the collection we are putting together on soaps, looking at the rhetoric of the camera in American soaps today, compared to the early 1980s.

Timberg has written on a variety of subjects, including a substantial amount of work on talk shows, and he is passionate about fair use as well, which is where our most recent conversations were targeted.

Continue reading "Bernard Timberg and "Launch" and "Rebound" Texts" »

January 25, 2008

Field Notes from Shanghai: China's Digital Mavens

I wanted to provide an update from my post earlier this week with some more notes about my recent trip to Shanghai. For more posts on the trip, see my blog.

As I was getting ready for the trip, I stumbled onto a recently released study, produced by IAC and JWT, which compared the centrality of digital media in the life of teens in the United States and China. I used these statistics in my talk at the conference to suggest the importance of fostering new media literacies and ethics among Chinese youth. Here are some of the report's findings:

  • Almost five times as many Chinese as American respondents said they have a parallel life online (61 percent vs. 13 percent).

  • More than twice as many Chinese respondents agreed that "I have experimented with how I present myself online" (69 percent vs. 28 percent of Americans).

  • More than half the Chinese sample (51 percent) said they have adopted a completely different persona in some of their online interactions, compared with only 17 percent of Americans.

  • Fewer than a third of Americans (30 percent) said the Internet helps their social life, but more than three-quarters of Chinese respondents (77 percent) agreed that "The Internet helps me make friends."

  • Chinese respondents were also more likely than Americans to say they have expressed personal opinions or written about themselves online (72 percent vs. 56 percent). And they have expressed themselves more strongly online than they generally do in person (52 percent vs. 43 percent of Americans).

  • Chinese respondents were almost twice as likely as Americans to agree that it's good to be able to express honest opinions anonymously online (79 percent vs. 42 percent) and to agree that online they are free to do and say things they would not do or say offline (73 percent vs. 32 percent).

Continue reading "Field Notes from Shanghai: China's Digital Mavens" »

October 28, 2007

What Value Is There in Being LinkedIn?

A friend of mine, Surya Yalamanchili, recently took a job as director of marketing for LinkedIn. His moving into that position got me to thinking about the role that social networking site plays in the "Web 2.0" universe and the reasons people get involved with the site.

As you know, I am am a proponent of social networks and the way they can transform our lives. I also think they introduce a variety of new strains and that you should not enter them lightly; as well, you should have a strategy about how to handle connections and try to remain consistent with that strategy.

All these issues prompted me to write after I read Steve Cody's recent piece on LinkedIn over on his RepMan blog about the headache of trying to manage LinkedIn. Steve is one of the co-founders of Peppercom, a public relations company who recently graciously hosted me for a day at their offices in New York City. He writes about some of the challenges of finding use out of LinkedIn from an executive-level standpoint.

Continue reading "What Value Is There in Being LinkedIn?" »

October 17, 2007

"Meet me at my crib . . .": Reading the official "Crank That" video

Last week, I brought up the phenomenon surrounding Soulja Boy and the "Crank Dat" dance craze that propelled him to success and touched upon a few of the things that drew my attention to this particular case. This week I thought I'd dig in a little further, and try to tease out some of the things that Soulja Boy really embodies for me (as a concept more than as a musician or performer) through a closer examination of his official music video, which touches upon a lot of these themes of production, participation, and distribution in the age of convergence.

Continue reading ""Meet me at my crib . . .": Reading the official "Crank That" video" »

September 30, 2007

A Guide to Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites are changing the way we interact with our peers. The National School Board Association and Grunwald Associates LLC released a recent study about how "teens and tweens are creating content and connections online." They reported that 96% of students with Internet access use social networking technologies.

While it may seem that Social Networking Sites (SNS) seem to be vulnerable to the next new site, we can't deny that MySpace and are here to stay.

What are the characteristics of a good SNS? What are some of the key differences between them? How are the good sites holding the interest of its users?

I thought the best way to answer these questions was to create profiles for three popular sites, Friendster, Facebook and MySpace. I wrote a mock user profile from the position that I was the actual site I was writing the profile for.

Continue reading "A Guide to Social Networking Sites" »

September 17, 2007

Privacy and Information Ownership: The Rapleaf Controversy

The past few weeks, I've been following the controversy around Rapleaf, a company that got some attention in early 2006 as an expanded, more powerful version of Ebay's feedback system, which would allow people to build and look up the "reputations" of other by entering an email address. Profiles on Rapleaf can include everything from your age to your political affiliations to what books you want to buy, as well as testimonials from people who have done business with you (though it's unclear how Rapleaf verifies that these testimonials are legitimate). In short, Rapleaf billed itself as a way to find out what you were getting into before entering a business transaction.

That proposition quickly became rather ironic once controversy surrounding the company started picking up speed in late August 2007, when some bloggers received email notifications from Rapleaf informing them that they had been searched.
While some of the backlash was directed at the "spam" factor of receiving annoying email invitations to Rapleaf, the most vocal outrage was over the potential invasion of privacy.

Continue reading "Privacy and Information Ownership: The Rapleaf Controversy" »

September 7, 2007

Social Networks Eye Going "Public"

As we have mentioned a few times here on the blog, C3 has been been paying special attention to social networking sites in the past several months. That work has spilled over here on the blog in a variety of ways, looking both at the business models and deals struck around the business models for these sites, and perhaps even more interestingly, the types of behaviors that take place in these online communities.

For me, it is key to distinguish between Facebook the company and site, and Facebook the community of people, just as it is for MySpace, or even sites like YouTube. Especially when lawsuits and accusations start getting thrown around, precision of language matters, as squabbles between corporate parent entities often instead seem to be conversations that show disdain for the community of users who inhabit and empower these sites.

In my mind, it is crucial to realize that these sites mean nothing without the people on them, and that any discussion of the brand equity of a YouTube or MySpace has to be tempered with the realization that it is directly the users who provide that value and who control the continued vitality of these sites.

Continue reading "Social Networks Eye Going "Public"" »

August 23, 2007

Surplus Audiences, ATWT, and the Luke/Noah Kiss

Those who follow the blog even with casual interest probably know that the world of soap opera is the site of a significant amount of my research and writing. I'm currently in the early stages of preparing a course here at MIT in the spring on soap operas, and my Master's thesis work was on the subject as well.

I'm also really interested in the topic of surplus audiences, those that rest outside the "target demographic" but who still create a valid and significant audience portion. The fact that pro wrestling is sometimes among the most popular content for young adult women, according to some numbers I've seen, or that 25 percent of gamers are over 50, as I wrote about earlier today, are key examples of this.

Perhaps most interesting to me, then, is male soap opera fans, a group I fit into. There are many male soap opera fans, and that's nothing new, but soaps have always been about the 18-49 female demo. Some have gone so far as to say that anyone else simply doesn't matter or doesn't exist, since that's not who shows are selling to advertisers.

Continue reading "Surplus Audiences, ATWT, and the Luke/Noah Kiss" »

August 12, 2007

An Interview with Parry Aftab (4 of 4)

This is the final part of the four-part series featuring an interview with WiredSafety's Parry Aftab.

Sam Ford: If the government's involvement is limited, what are your views on how to manage self-regulation?

Parry Aftab: The industry needs to do a lot of self-regulation because they have the power to respond quickly and create standards that will be enforced. Further, they should want to, because their insurance and banks and venture capitalists will expect them to answer to these questions when these social networking companies start getting popular. That's just good business to be prepared for these safety issues. Whenever the business environment require the companies involved to be smarter and more careful, I am always for self-regulations. I think MySpace had the best of intentions, and we worked with them for free. A lot of people are safer because we did that. The key to keep in mind is that these companies, for the most part, will do the right thing and the safe thing. No one wants to have something terrible happen through their site, and the people who work for these companies are often parents themselves, and we've all been kids ourselves once. A lot of what needs to be done for safety really are simple things these companies can do, simpler than many people think.

Continue reading "An Interview with Parry Aftab (4 of 4)" »

An Interview with Parry Aftab (3 of 4)

This is the third part of a four-part series with Parry Aftab, the Executive Director of the WiredSafety organization.

Sam Ford: Are you still working with MySpace?

Parry Aftab: When Rupert Murdoch took over MySpace, everything was put on hold with everyone for about 10 months while they were tring to figure out what to do. I personally wasn't very pleased with the company's responsiveness once Murdoch took over. I work with MySpace still, but we don't work with them in the same way we had before. They've hired their own lawyers now, and they are working with all the politically correct groups to work with. No one is embedded with them like we were in those days, but our mark is still there.

Continue reading "An Interview with Parry Aftab (3 of 4)" »

An Interview with Parry Aftab (2 of 4)

This is the second part of an interview with Parry Aftab, Executive Director of WiredSafety, an organization which focuses on safety issues related to children on the Internet and particularly on social networks.

Sam Ford: Tell us about what has now grown into WiredSafety and the work that you all do.

Parry Aftab: We are a network of 12,000 unpaid volunteers from 76 countries around the world. We have no offices; we operate virtually. None of us are paid a dime, including me. And we all come together to do different aspects of the job. I had personally been interested in Internet safety before I saw the picture of the little girl. I had gotten involved in writing a book on Internet safety and also did a piece on CNN. At the time, my argument was that you could protect children on the Internet, but it requires a little more of a thoughtful response and not knee-jerk reactions to just shut the technologies down. I self-published a book on these issues that ended up becoming a bible on Internet safety for some called A Parent's Guide to the Internet.

My early days were spent working to protect the Internet to well-meaning people, some of them in Congress, who were interested in curtailing or even shutting down the Internet. When I saw that image, though, I went from working primarily on protecting the Internet to protecting children from horrible things, such as online child pornography, cyber bullying, and a range of other issues. My work focused on trying to keep children from being sexually exploited and trafficked online, for instance.

Continue reading "An Interview with Parry Aftab (2 of 4)" »

An Interview with Parry Aftab (1 of 4)

Over the next few posts, I want to present an interview I conducted over the weekend with Parry Aftab, a leader in Internet safety movements for children who heads up the WiredSafety volunteer organization. Aftab, a lawyer, has worked with a variety of companies--including MySpace--to help develop their strategies on how to develop child safety protections and privacy settings while still maintaining as many of the features of the network as possible.

I first got introduced to Parry through a New York Times story by Brad Stone, in which she was quoted as saying that no good could come of children using Webcams. At the time, I wrote, "The problem is that people go to these extremes when discussing the issue. It has to be all bad because of child safety fears, with no balancing discussion of the many ways high schoolers could use tools such as video chat and Webcams."

Later, I received comments here on the blog from Aftab, in a post on DOPA that was part of my Access vs. Censorship series.

Continue reading "An Interview with Parry Aftab (1 of 4)" »

August 10, 2007

Social Networking and Social Marketing

As many of you know, we have been doing a significant amount of research here at the consortium recently in regard to social networking. While some of this has ben for a white paper shared internally in the consortium, our musing on social networks has appeared multiple times here on the blog in the past several months (see here, for instance).

Tied into those comments on social networking, though, are questions regarding social marketing, especially as we think about how brands co-exist in these online spaces. There are always a variety of opinions on what this means for users, what the correct balance between marketing and a lack of commercialism is, and...on the business side...what constitutes a worthwhile investment and what does not.

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August 5, 2007

Gender and Fan Studies, Facebook, and The Death of Marketing

Over the weekend, I thought it might be helpful to point the way to a few recent posts from the blogs of some C3 Consulting Researchers and corporate partners.

First, the ninth round of Henry Jenkins' continuing Gender and Fan Studies series posted late this past week. This round features Cynthia Walker and Derek Kompare. It can be found here and here.

I continue to do a lot of thinking about virtual networks and how they are transforming social and professional relationships, as I've written about several times here on the C3 blog. For instance, see my post from back in June on personal questions on maintaining personal relationships raised by social networks.

That takes me to this interesting post from the Idea City blog from our partners over at GSD&M. This focuses on how Facebook is being heralded as the next big breakout star of online networks, based particularly on its surge of popularity since going public and away from high school and college registration.

Continue reading "Gender and Fan Studies, Facebook, and The Death of Marketing" »

July 17, 2007

How Much Have Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year?

While thinking today about how this issue between the Writer's Guild of America and television producers seems to have been stretching on for quite a while now, I began to realize that a lot of the issues I've been covering for the Consortium since we started our blog a little under two years ago, and especially since I've been the primary contributor to the blog since last summer have not changed that much.

So, while people talk sometimes about how fast change happens, it is important to realize that the falsity that nothing is ever going to change is often countered by an equally tall tale, that things are changing extremely quickly. The truth is that industry practices, corporate infrastructure, technological lagtime, and an endless variety of factors causes everything to move slowly.

I was told by an industry executive not too long ago that the upfronts this year didn't feel that much different, as if this person were somehow disappointed. I think that's how we all feel when we realize that the new environment feels only slightly removed from yesterday's...and that's because we as human beings can only move in steps. The first cars really did resemble horseless carriages, and the first mobile phones looked quite like landline phones. Change necessarily comes one step at a time.

That being the case, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the stories that were posted here on the blog during this same week last year. You'll see a few stories that have fallen by the wayside but a few more that could quite possibly be easily plugged into this week's headlines and still seem right at home.

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July 5, 2007

Gated Content, Walled Gardens, and Social Networks

There are both positives and negatives to building walls around content and services. I often get caught up in the negative aspects, especially when thinking content that is locked down by service providers, which I find to be a particularly bad idea for the content brands.

For instance, if you are an ardent fan of a particular show that uses a transmedia storytelling campaign across multiple platforms, but that deal is locked down into only those who have Sprint mobile or Verizon for an online provider or Comcast as a cable provider, it can be a little hard to take for the fans most likely to take advantage of such transmedia stories. After all, if you follow three shows, but you must have Verizon mobile service for the extra content for one, AT&T for another, and T-Mobile for the third, it wouldn't really seem very worthwhile to have three cell phone contracts just for the extra mobile content.

That being said, though, it doesn't mean that walled gardens are not without their uses, and Steve Bryant has raised some good points in this regard in relation to the benefits of privacy, particularly in relation to Facebook's lack of searchability and accessibility from the Googles of the world.

Continue reading "Gated Content, Walled Gardens, and Social Networks" »

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