Book Review: Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives


Child observes internet tubes (image:boingboing)

In their new book, Born Digital, John Palfrey and Urs Gassler discuss the generation of digital natives, described as those born after 1980, and how they interact with online knowledge, compared with the online experiences of digital immigrants.

The thesis of the book is that those in the youngest generation are more adept, more at home on the Internet. As someone who works with the small percentage of college grads in the millennial generation (only 29% of American adults have a bachelors’ degree), age doesn’t always reflect degree of online knowledge.

Siva Vaidhyanathan has taken issue with viewing those of a certain age as a generation, and specifically with “digital natives“, arguing in a Chronicle article

Talk of a “digital generation” or people who are “born digital” willfully ignores the vast range of skills, knowledge, and experience of many segments of society. It ignores the needs and perspectives of those young people who are not socially or financially privileged. It presumes a level playing field and equal access to time, knowledge, skills, and technologies. The ethnic, national, gender, and class biases of any sort of generation talk are troubling. And they could not be more obvious than when discussing assumptions about digital media.

Henry Jenkins also has issues with the digital native terminology:

Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

Despite my own reservations about calling a generation “digital natives”, this book has a wealth of information about what I would prefer to view as two separate, but occasionally overlapping groups, those comfortable and familiar with online and similar technologies, and those who are not yet adults — with their still growing and developing brains.

The authors do discuss participatory culture and the intersection between creativity and copyright. There is a mention of fanworks like fanfiction in a section about mashups and creativity. But neither in the creativity or activism sections is there mention of fair use interspersed with the frequent mentions of copyright and ownership.

One of the sections that I found the most interesting was about libraries and librarians:

There’s never been a greater need for reference librarians. . . . In addition to maintaining access to traditional pools of knowledge [books and journals], librarians should help Digital Natives figure out how to manage the rivers of digital information that they encounter every day [like RSS].

The role of libraries is increasing … as Digital Natives up saturated in the information environment of the digital age.

One final note: While the text of the book is interesting, one of the most impressive aspects is the organization. Except for oddly leaving libraries out of the index, the supplemental backbone of the book (the index, selected bibliography, glossary, and notes/citation) help the reader to find useful information. I expect equally good information from the upcoming wiki.

Born Digital‘s ISBNs are 0465005152 9780465005154 & it can be found in many libraries.

MySpace Music: Late To The Party

I gave a test run to MySpace’s new and “improved” music store/community this weekend. I want to give it a little more time, since it literally just came out yesterday, but so far I’m not quite feeling it. Honestly, I don’t spend much time on MySpace these days, I long abandoned it for Facebook as my go-to spot for social networking, but I used to spend a little bit more time there to follow my favorite local/indie/unsigned bands and to learn about newer unsigned bands. In many cases a MySpace page was the only way to follow many of these bands.

But in the past year or so, I’ve found myself skipping MySpace entirely for iLike, Pandora,, Imeem, and (the departed but not forever) Muxtape to discover new music and when I’m ready to buy, go to emusic, iTunes, the band’s website or (!!!) my local record store. So MySpace has really stopped playing the role it did a couple of years ago for me and music. I wonder what MySpace music can do for music fans that the above companies aren’t already doing? Especially in the case of iLike, which isn’t locked into one social network.

That aside, MySpace Music isn’t really offering much to the online music party, in addition to being late to said party, it’s not very well dressed and socially awkward. The interface feels clunky and dated, reminiscent of Yahoo!Music back in the day. The selection is very limited, considering this is essentially a big marriage of convenience between the major labels and MySpace, good luck downloading bands from smaller labels here, or even full discographies of some bigger bands.

The functionality and offerings of MySpace Music will improve, but at this point, does it matter when music fans already have so many superior options to discover, share and (legally) download music?

Get A Little Bit Closer: DIY Marketing the NIN Way!

Yippie! On Monday, I got an exciting e-mail from my hero, Trent Reznor! I had this entire post planned about the survey that Trent Reznor sent out to registered fans at, and how DIY marketing is a sign of things to come in the music industry, and that connecting with and engaging your base is better return on investment than the old school approach of trying to demand loyalty from a large number of casual fans, but Bob Lefsetz did it for me, so I’ll just let the man speak:

Hold on to what you’ve got. Maximize what you’ve got. Pleasure your regular customers. At least you know they’re interested. Trying to convert someone new is oh so difficult. That’s one of BMW’s successes. The number of people who buy ANOTHER BMW! Are you gonna buy another album by lame-o act if the first one only had one good track out of ten? Are you going to buy the new single if the act never made it beyond the first single? Are you going to go see an act live that only has one hit single?

Record labels still believe it’s the nineties. They’re in cahoots with the major media outlets. But radio’s tanking, newspapers are in free-fall and MTV doesn’t play any music. These are your modern partners? Ridiculous. Your partner is your AUDIENCE! It’s easy to reach your audience, if you’re good, if they like you.

Hell, YOU can’t even convert a new audience member. Usually A FAN has to do this! If I get one more loser e-mailing me a link to his MySpace/YouTube page, or worse, committing the crime against humanity known as e-mailing an unsolicited MP3, I’m gonna PUKE! I don’t want to hear it from you! I want to hear about it from the underground, not someone with an investment! … Old line marketing is dead. And who knows what’s truly going on in the present? NOBODY! Which is why Trent Reznor is ASKING HIS FANS!

Let me piggyback on that. I will add, as always, it’s not just the music industry that could stand to learn from this, and not just the entertainment industry but most companies, organizations that are engaging their fans online. But it’s the entertainment industry who needs the biggest fire lit under their asses, because marketing execs never seem to listen to what people want. That’s how we end up with movies like Ghost Town.

Yes, it’s a survey, you may say. Big deal. We sent out a survey last week! That’s nice, but do you really want to find out what your base thinks, to really get input from your fans or do you just want an ego stroke, to get the success of your existing marketing strategies confirmed by your survey results? That’s a losing battle.

Seriously, just ask what your fans want. What they really, really want. And like the Spice Girls, they will tell you. There may be answers you don’t necessarily want to hear, but you can learn from it.

Bob Lefsetz may be a bit in love with the CAPS LOCK key, but he is on the money with this. If you are using traditional marketing strategies to get your message across online, you fail. Ask, and then listen, listen listen. Engage, and be honest.

And while I’m at it, can I just say, as a fangirl, it took at least 20 minutes for me to figure out what my favorite NIN song is. I am still not fully sure of my choice. Why did I care so much? Because this survey gives me the impression that I have am a stakeholder, and that my answer may lead to some kind of action that affects me as a fan. (Maybe my favorite song will get played live, perhaps my favorite album will get re-released in Surround Sound! Hint, hint.) I don’t get anything tangible from this survey except the feeling that I’m being listened to. Sometimes for a loyal supporter, that’s enough. Think about it.

Lexicon of not fair use: The Decision in the Harry Potter Lawsuit

After many months, Judge Patterson issued an opinion (PDF) in the Harry Potter Lexicon case, ruling that the Lexicon, could not be published and ordered a payment of $6,750 for copyright violation.

The part of the decision based on fair use states

The fair-use factors, weighed together in light of the purposes of copyright law, fail to support the defense of fair use in this case. The first factor does not completely weigh in favor of Defendant because although the Lexicon has a transformative purpose, its actual use of the copyrighted works is not consistently transformative. Without drawing a line at the amount of copyrighted material that is reasonably necessary to create an A-to-Z reference guide, many portions of the Lexicon take more of the copyrighted works than is reasonably necessary in relation to the Lexicon’s purpose. Thus, in balancing the first and third factors, the balance is tipped against a finding of fair use. The creative nature of the copyrighted works and the harm to the market for Rowling’s companion books weigh in favor of Plaintiffs. In striking the balance between the property rights of original authors and the freedom of expression of secondary authors, reference guides to works of literature should generally be encouraged by copyright law as they provide a benefit readers and students; but to borrow from Rowling’s overstated views, they should not be permitted to “plunder” the works of original authors [], “without paying the customary price” [], lest original authors lose incentive to create new works that will also benefit the public interest [].

So what I think? Overall, this decision will not hurt non-commercial fan works, but one should be careful before commercializing works or using too much of the source material.

As I discussed previously, the exclusion of mentions of fan labor and fan contribution is unfortunate. However, there are helpful nuggets for those who are engaged in fanworks, for example, the Lexicon was found not to be a derivative work — meaning that it recast the story of Harry Potter in a way that no longer made it the same as the work of J.K. Rowling:

altering the original aesthetic of the Harry Potter series from an intricate narrative to an alphabetized catalogue of elements from the Harry Potter world.

Overall, the decision gives a distinct impression that if one is to base a work on that of another, it should be of high quality — and that means not too much direct copying:

The Lexicon’s verbatim copying of such highly aesthetic expression raises a significant question as to whether it was reasonably necessary for the purpose of creating a useful and complete reference guide…. Verbatim copying of this nature demonstrates Vander Ark’s lack of restraint due to an enthusiastic admiration of Rowling’s artistic expression, or perhaps haste and laziness as Rowling suggested …, in composing the Lexicon entries.

So be careful about the aesthetic quality of your next fanfic or fanart !11!!

Lessons Learned from Bitch Magazine

Bitch Magazine is saved! The organization made over $46,000 last week – in under three days. At the time of this writing the magazine’s made $55,000. It’s an amazing feat, especially in light of the current toilet our country’s financial stability is swirling down, and especially considering the sad fate of many similar independent magazines in the past five years: Clamor, Punk Planet, LiP, Stay Free.

But more importantly, I think there are lessons to be learned for grassroots groups and organizations who are looking for a model on how to get the word out and galvanize their support base using social media. Full disclosure: I regularly write for Bitch, but I have no clue about their marketing or fundraising strategy. But from an outsiders perspective I still saw a clear strategy that allowed Bitch to succeed in their efforts and really use social media to the greatest possible advantage. How? First off…

1. Bitch knows where their supporters live online

Bitch does not have a huge circulation compared to most mainstream publications, but as a feminist publication and media organization, its part of a large, active and connected social network of feminist bloggers, webzines and online communities ready to support (or in Jezebel’s case, criticize) their efforts.

Either way, as soon as the news went out that Bitch needed help, the word spread like wildfire on Feministing, Feministe, Women’s e-news, Jezebel, etc, From there, the spread the word via e-mail, Facebook and other social networks. I originally found out the first thing last Monday morning from a Facebook friend who posted the initial You Tube video plea for help.

And speaking of that video..

2. Bitch’s YouTube video got the message across in a dynamic, original way; an approach that was tailor-made for the audience they were trying to reach

We can all bitch (no pun intended) and moan about how we live in a soundbite society that responds to entertainment rather than “just the facts” but, seriously? People need to get over it.

Bitch’s “ask” video was effective in a way that a mere e-mail blast, blog posting or – heavens forbid- letter never would have been, it was especially creative, poignant, creative and passionate. Note that it wasn’t flashy, but it was transparent and honest and real. Even better, it was viral, placed on YouTube, making it easy for supporters share and spread the word on blogs, Facebook, My Space, etc. (Let me say that again. It was placed on You Tube. If your video can’t be shared, it’s NOT viral.)

And even better, it’s the kind of video with content that’s easy and fun to share, rather than glooming and dooming it up, or shaming people into giving (trust me, ya’ll, it’s the approach of far too many non-profits.) Bitch came at us honestly, and with a hopeful rallying cry. And share they did, the video popped up all over the place and went a long way in getting the word out, resulting in over 40,000 page views. And then, to follow up ..

3. Bitch made it easy for supporters to keep the momentum going – and most importantly, to give.

With a clever, cute weiner dog giving thermometer on the Bitch website to monitor progress, and self-updating banners to place on one’s blog. It was a novel way to keep message going throughout the web and giving supporters and easy way to be proactive about spreading the word

And yes, there was some negative attention, some really offensive You Tube comments from some asshats, a snarkily dismissive post on Jezebel, but instead of bellyaching and attempting to silence it, the Bitch crew spent their energies engaging their supporters, who had questions, comments and suggestions about fundraising and a sustaining financial structure to keep Bitch alive, a conversation that seems to be leading to constructive output (it looks like a number of in person fundraisers are occurring across the country in support.) Also important, online giving is a breeze at the Bitch Magazine website. (Seriously, if you’re going to invest in anything, invest in good online giving software! Nothing turns away a potential supporter quicker than a bad online giving experience.)

There’s still struggles ahead for Bitch, but this is still a happy end to what could have been another tale of a great indie publication going under. I don’t think a campaign like this is out of reach for other types of small grassroots groups, I think it helps to know and understand your audience, on social media and in the real world, but the tools to actually do the communicating are free and easy to use. In short, this isn’t just a victory for indie media, it’s a model to learn from, repeat and refine. Hopefully these same strategies will benefit other grassroots organizations that could gain from more awareness.

I know a lot of this sounds like common sense, but many organizations big and small seem to get tripped up by how to use social media in their fundraising/awareness building/ activism, thinking some dude with an IT degree or slick marketing consultant will give them the answers, when really, the answers are really right in front of them all along. Social media is ultimately all about people, and knowing how to communicate to them.

The other shoe has dropped: Bitch Magazine is in trouble

Gah, it looks like Bitch Magazine is in big trouble.

It seemed like Bitch had weathered the storm that had shuttered most independent print magazines from the 90’s. I was wrong. Bitch needs $40,000 by October 15 to keep publishing. This is bad, but if you can help, please do what you can and donate today.

Bitch supported me by publishing my first print piece eight years ago. I have been writing for them ever since, not just for that reason but because this women’s magazine is like no other; an oasis of smart, passionate, provocative writing in a desert of vapidity. In addition, the writing has an impact outside of its obvious audience — our article on the fandom phenomenon of Mary Sue, published in Bitch, was cited in a law review article.

It’s a hard time for a lot of people economically, and we all have our pet causes, I know. But if you’ve ever read Bitch and liked what you saw, or if you’ve ever complained about the sorry state of women’s magazines or about what idiotic thing was said on Jezebel today, then here’s a chance to make a difference.

Edit: In three days, Bitch exceeded its fundraising goal. Another post to follow on this.

Heart’s Barricuda: A lesson in licensing, ownership, politics, and moral rights

Do artists have control over the use of their songs? Should they? Most people would agree that an artist’s work being used to support a completely opposite position seems somehow wrong (such as John Lennon’s Imagine being used to sell cars). Heart’s song, Barracuda, was recently used by the McCain campaign at the Republican Convention and at rallies. I believe the statement of the McCain campaign that it paid all fees required. But Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart strongly objected to the use of the song.

The Wilson sisters state:

We ask that our song ‘Barracuda’ no longer be used to promote her image. The song ‘Barracuda’ was written in the late 70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The ‘barracuda’ represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it there.

So assuming that the appropriate fees were paid, what is the problem? Heart doesn’t want their song played by certain people to promote their cause — yet ASCAP/BMI blanket licensing most likely don’t give them the ability to opt out or limiting of specific users of their music. Others have made legal arguments to prevent the use of Barracuda based on Lanham Act trademark claims and right of publicity of the members of Heart, but I think the larger issue is one of moral rights.

So what are moral rights? The Berne Convention lists the right even if the author does not own the copyright to:

  • the right of integrity: the right to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the said work, which would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation
  • the right of attribution: the right to claim authorship of the work

Notice how similar these are to the license terms in most of the Creative Commons licenses.

After all, what is Heart worried about? That their song is being used to promote a position they don’t agree with — and by having their song used, it seems like they are Republican supporters. Based on the above quote, they would likely view this use as “derogatory” to their reputation. If the U.S. had a strong moral rights tradition, basing a claim on moral rights would allow musicians and others to prevent this type of use of their work.

Academics argue about whether moral rights exist in the U.S. and the general answer is that they should be recognized because the United States has signed the Berne Convention, but in practice, moral rights don’t exist (with the exception of visual artists, who have their own special law). The moral rights tradition is strong in most civil law countries, such as France, as well as Canada.

*Yes, I understand the irony of embedding the song here in a post commenting on the appropriate use of the song!