Whitehouse.gov and our first social media presidency

white-house-pictureLike a lot of geeky people, I spent much of Inauguration Day (and night) online, riveted to the live streaming feed on CNN and also following the commentary of friends and strangers on Facebook. It was well noted that the transition of whitehouse.gov to reflect the Obama administration occured at noon, before Barack Obama even finished taking the oath of office.  

Of course we should have expected nothing less from our online-savvy President’s communication team. Social media was such a core part of the success of his presidential campaign and continues to be a  key element of his communications strategy. Check out this first post on the Whitehouse.gov blog from Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media (lucky guy):

Millions of Americans have powered President Obama’s journey to the White House, many taking advantage of the internet to play a role in shaping our country’s future. WhiteHouse.gov is just the beginning of the new administration’s efforts to expand and deepen this online engagement.

medium_whscreenshotAnd it seems off to a good start, with this seamless transition of the web site and the launch of the new blog.  According to Phillips,  the new Whitehouse.gov plans to focus its communication strategy around three priorities: communication, transparancy and engagement, which should be the three crucial priorities  for any organization’s social media initiatives.

I’m interested to see how all of this will pan out in the next four years, when the Obama presidency will surely face new and underheard of challenges. Social media can be a boon as well as a burden to an organization’s communications when it comes to crisis management and damage control. We’re in the exciting honeymoon phase of  the Obama presidency now; how the White House’s  new media team handles its first major crisis will be the truest test of the strength of this new approach to government online communications. 

Also, I just have to note that thus far, the Whitehouse.gov blog is still looking pretty Web 1.0 in its approach; it’s essentially just a glorified press release archive, and I’m not seeing much opportunity for authentic dialogue. Even so, this statement from the first blog post is encouraging:

Like the transition website and the campaign’s before that, this online community will continue to be a work in progress as we develop new features and content for you. So thanks in advance for your patience and for your feedback.

A work in progress. That’s what most online communities are, even the bottom-up communities that emerge organically by necessity and/or mutual enthusiasm (say for example, most online fan communities.)  

But for top-down online communities, organizations looking to create and engage an online community built on two-way communication, it’s an uphill battle, particularly if the organization has a history of ignoring or supressing public dialogue.  You don’t get more traditional top-down communications than the White House; there’s a lot of communication strategy that may need to be unlearned here.

But it’s what most organizations who are experimenting with social media are attempting to reconcile in their own strategies, and whitehouse.gov is wise to acknowledge the potential roadbumps early, and in a very public way.

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Our first nerd president?

Arguably, Obama is the first nerd president. (Considering that Thomas Jefferson’s books were the basis of the Library of Congress, my vote is for second nerd president).

Obama, who collected Spider-Man comics as a kid, has now appeared in a sold-out Spiderman comic.
And while Obama has more pressing problems to fix — like the economy — there are “nerd” issues that should be considered, such as intellectual property policy.

The Obama campaign, in Technology and Innovation for a New Generation stated

Intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the industrial age. Barack Obama believes we need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated.

Public Resource.org has five suggestions regarding how the government can better serve the public. They include

1. Rebooting .Gov. How the Government Printing Office can spearhead a revolution in governmental affairs…[including making government publications, including caselaw, available in an easier to access format]
2. FedFlix. Government videos are an essential national resource for vocational and safety training and can also help form a public domain stock footage library, a common resource for the YouTube and remix era.
3. The Library of the U.S.A. A book series and public works job program to create an archival series of curated documents drawn from our cultural institutions, …
4. The United States Publishing Academy. …
5. The Rural Internetification Administration …bring[ing] high-speed broadband to 98% of rural Americans just as the Rural Electrification Administration did for electricity in the last century.

While the incoming Obama administration is interested in these issues, some have serious concerns about the implementation. Siva Vaidhyanathan says

the General Services Administration is negotiating with YouTube (a Google service) to post federal hearings, etc.

… there is no clear reason for the government to solidify YouTube’s market dominance. In fact, there is no reason why the GSO could not mandate that all federal agencies post their videos in open forms — accessible, repostable, and mashable — on their own sites.

Then We the People could repost them on YouTube with commentary and maybe some cartoon graphics mixed in. Better yet, because .gov can’t deal with the bandwidth demands of too many folks pulling down popular videos, the federal government should post open format video as bittorrent files.

Maybe the Obama administration can help explain why Nancy Pelosi has Congress’ Youtube channel intro video hosted by cats, Capitol Cat Cam, — with a Rickroll (question: is including a section of Never Gonna Give You Up fair use? I doubt the lawyers of the RIAA would think so!)

Give it away: Why releasing music (and video!) through Creative Commons licenses is good for fan relations

NIN + Creative Commons = Remix(es)

NIN + Creative Commons = Remix(es)

We write about Nine Inch Nails a lot around here at Learned Fangirl. It’s not just because at least one of us is a hugely obsessive NIN fan, it’s because Trent Reznor’s been consistently breaking new ground in his approach to music distribution and fan relations.

While not mentioned in his recent book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Laurence Lessig has used Nine Inch Nails previously and recently as a positive example of the hybrid economy. (Ghosts was released under a Creative Commons license).

Since the Creative Commons blog has already put together links:

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

The post (mirrored on Laurence Lessig)

Yes, this is a still from the official Meathead video

Yes, this is a still from the "official" Meathead video

has an explanation for this:

So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked. The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule…

There are a couple of caveats here: number 1, the free/purchased files were not completely identical, as only the first quarter of the album, Ghosts I was free, Ghosts II-IV were not. Moreover, I think there is legitimate criticism from many unsigned and underground artists that this approach won’t work for them: NIN has an unusually dedicated and passionate grassroots fanbase for a band that’s not getting a great deal of mainstream airplay, Trent Reznor’s got the fan support to take a risk like that and win.

However, I do think it’s an approach that major record labels should heed and adopt. If you give just a little, if you’ve got a good product, and you extend even a little bit of trust and goodwill to the fans that want to support you, they will repay you in kind.

Recently, NIN went a step further in extending creative control to fans by “discovering” 400GB of high definition concert video footage online and inviting fans to create their own video projects.

There’s a bit of history behind this: after learning that a home video release of the most recent tour NIN was not in the cards (long story behind that, but at least according to Reznor, it was due in part to his former record label roadblocking him), some disappointed fans took it upon themselves to organize an online community to create a fan-produced video of the last show of the tour.

From fan website http://thisoneisonus.org

On 5th May, 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their latest album, The Slip, free online, as a gift to their fans. Or as Trent put it: “This one’s on me”.

On December 13th, 2008, dozens of Nine Inch Nails fans recorded the last show in the Lights In The Sky tour at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas. By working together, we aim to create a DVD to document this show that will be released free online, and possibly as a not-for-profit physical release. This one, is on us. Our time. Our effort. Our present to all NIN fans.

This was all with the indirect “blessing” of Trent, who loosened up the video security at the the show.

Now to be sure, artists condoning and supporting fan video isn’t entirely a new concept either: back in ’04, the Beastie Boys gave video cameras to fans and released an entire feature concert film of fan-shot video. And long before they became Public Enemy number 1 to grassroots fan activity, Metallica released a video, Cliff ’em All., that featured some fan-made video record during their early years

But providing what is essentially a DVD’s worth of video footage for fans to play with is notable: it’s a gesture that’s based on listening to one’s fans, and responding to their needs.

It’s also based on trusting your fans enough to know even when giving something valuable away, their support will be the best marketing campaign you could have. These are individuals willingly giving away their fan labor for the good of the artist and the fan community. And at first, the artist didn’t even have to ask. The initial fan video project was from organized from the bottom-up, because fans wanted “pay forward” Trent’s generosity and keep up enthusiasm for the next leg of the tour.

Seriously, even the best marketing department couldn’t create this for an artist.

Book Review: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, is the highly recommended third book by Laurence Lessig, focusing on why and how copyright laws need to be changed to allow for greater innovation. If you’ve read the two previous books The future of ideas: the fate of the commons in a connected world and Free culture: the nature and future of creativity — or heard one of Lessig’s exciting lectures, much of Remix will seem familiar, remixed with new examples of copyright owners pushing their rights beyond culturally acceptable bounds and why the time frame for copyright should be shortened, allowing works to enter the public domain.

But this book demonstrates the value of remixing, adding a lengthy discussion of the economics of two types of culture — commercial and sharing.

A commercial economy [is centered on] money or “price” [as] a central term of the ordinary, or normal exchange.

Of all the possible terms for exchange within a sharing economy, the single term that isn’t appropriate is money.

But Lessig discusses a combination between the commercial economy and the sharing economy — the hybrid economy:

The hybrid is either a commercial entity that aims to leverage value from a sharing economy, or it is a sharing economy that builds a commercial entity to better support its sharing aims.

If those within the sharing economy begin to think of themselves as tools of a commercial economy, they will be less willing to play. If those within a commercial economy begin to think of it as a sharing economy, that may reduce their focus on economic reward.

Much of Lessig’s discussion about hybrid economies is applicable to fan culture and other examples of participatory culture and user-generated content. He does use the examples of Harry Potter fandom (relying heavily on Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture) and Second Life.

We’ll be using this section extensively in our future writings, so our readers will be seeing much more of the ideas in Remix.

Interview: Heavy Metal Writer/Publisher Ian Christe

sofbI was pretty psyched when I learned that music journalist Ian Christe had started his own book publishing company focused on heavy metal, Bazillion Points. His 2003 book Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, is a favorite of mine: highly informed, without being snobbish and accessible, even for music fans who you couldn’t pay to listen to a Slayer album.

It was one of the few books that I feel gives metal an honest, critical examination that’s free of the usual sweeping generalizations that seem to come with a lot of writing about metal, as a genre and a subculture. You know what I’m talking about: people thinking it’s just noise, appealing to only numbskulled, uneducated teenagers, and so forth.

As a metal fan, good books on the genre are hard to find, I’m looking forward to Bazillion Points expanding the critical coverage of heavy metal – the music, the musicians, the fans. There’s a lot to cover, as it’s a scene that’s quite active and diverse, despite very little mainstream airplay or major label support. As a writer and publishing geek, I’m interested in how this DIY company is going for a pretty narrow niche (but dedicated) audience, kind of like blogs. I’m pretty sure this approach is going to be the future of the print publishing industry. I sent Christe an e-mail last week and asked him for a phone interview. Here’s some of our chat:

Keidra: So without getting too fangirly on you I just wanted to tell you that Sound of The Beast is one of my favorite music criticism books.

Ian Christe: Yeah, thanks. It had to be done, it was about 10 years overdue when I started writing it. It just seems so obvious of a topic.

K: Yeah, I feel like it’s kind of a red-headed stepchild, like there’s a feeling that it’s not worthy of exploration, and I feel like the book gives the genre some critical legitimacy. Was that a big motivation to start Bazillion Points?

IC: It was borne of frustration for sure, even though I think Sound of The Beast was a success by mainstream publishing standards it didn’t make it make it any easier [to get a book on metal] the second time around. I knew a lot of writers who were experts on different subsections of metal, like Jeff Wagner with progressive metal and Jon Kristiansen, “Metalion” from (extreme metal ‘zine) Slayer Magazine, and these guys would never get a mainstream book deal, and yet if you look at other genres like 70’s folk rock, something that’s very micro-niche, and there’s like two dozen books about it, because it appeals to the sensibilities of many book editors, it seems like a safe bet. Meanwhile, the progressive metal scene is thriving, obviously black metal is thriving.

I felt like it’s a very frustrating process to work with a mainstream publisher anyway, and you do about 90% of the work yourself. I learned a lot from doing Sound of the Beast and the Van Halen book [Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, 2007], and basically I felt like there’s only a few aspects of the [publishing] industry that I don’t know anything about, so I think I can probably learn those and fill a void, you know?

K: There’s a big fanbase for this kind of stuff that’s probably not on the radar of a lot of publishers. Even within mainstream music magazines there’s not a whole lot of options.

IC: There’s a lot of talented music writers writing for the metal magazines, but where do they go outside of that, I dunno? How do you break out of that, where do you go next? It’s tough.

K: Are you working on any kind of follow up to Sound of the Beast through Bazillion Points? A lot’s gone on since 2003.

IC: Nomit still belongs to Harper Collins, the only thing I can do is release it in a language it hasn’t already been licensed in, which I thought about .. but right now there’s about 15 translations, and in the past 15 months, they’ve licensed to Japan, Italy, Portugal, which includes Brazil. Those were the three big translations that I wanted to see, and it took six years for that to happen, but I am perfectly happy to let Harper Collins continue to do what they’re doing. I still think they are super surprised, though. I think the reason they were happy about the book coming out when it did was because “The Osbournes” [TV show] was really popular at the time.

K: Oh wow…

IC: It kinda showed their awareness of heavy metal. But that’s OK, metal is supposed to be underground, it’s supposed to kind of an outsider appeal.

K: Yeah, but it’s funny because now you’ve got all these documentaries out now that have done pretty well: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey was on VH1, the Global Metal sequel, Heavy Metal in Baghdad. Has that helped Bazillion Points at all?

IC: Not as far as I know, it’s helped me get on random VH1 documentaries on metal, and get back in touch with people I haven’t seen since elementary school by being on those shows, I guess it does impress people in someway, makes me seem more legitimate than I really am [laughs] actually I think the big cultural motor right now for heavy music is Guitar Hero. Metal’s kind of in danger of taking itself too seriously, so now you’ve all these goofy 14-year-olds flopping around to the stuff. Assuming that maybe later these kids start getting into bands like Dragonforce or something; To come from a place that dorky its kind of important.

K: I feel like most metalheads usually start out dorky to begin with, I think there tends to be a big correlation between being dorky and liking metal.

IC: Yeah, the whole outsider thing, definitely, dorks are welcome!

K: So I know you’ve got the Slayer book, a book on Nightwish, what else is planned for Bazillion Points in 2009? I know there’s one on prog metal…
IC: The progressive metal book comes out in fall 2009. In general, I’m taking on new books as I can handle them, the next one for sure will be the [biography] of Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks. That was actually the very first book we were working on, it’s just taken longer for different reasons, first being that it had to be translated from Finnish. Hanoi Rocks, next to Van Halen, were probably the biggest inspiration to the glam metal scene in Hollywood in the 80’s, yet they were basically a bunch of homeless, Finnish Gypsys living in a subway station in Stockholm. They’re the real deal, and Andy McCoy is a pretty interesting guy. The book originally came out in the 90’s and Hanoi Rocks has kind of comeback and started playing a lot of festivals since then.

I’m working on a metal logos book with [artist] Mark Riddick, who’s done a lot of metal logos (Decesased, Dethklok, God Forbid, The Faceless, Black Dahlia Murder).

I was working on my own book and found out that he self-published his own book on a smaller scale, so we joined forces. He a designer, so talks about them in terms of headers and descenders and scaling, it’s really great.

Part 2 next week! More about Nightwish, fan culture, micro-niche publishing, and other stuff.

Blogging May Not Be Dead But Live Journal Could Be

alivejournal2Uh-oh. According to Mashable, LiveJournal, of blogging’s old warhorses, is in some big financial trouble:

The company has reportedly laid off 20 of 28 employees, “leaving only a handful of finance and operations workers.”

As the Mashable article implies, MySpace and Facebook currently dominate when it comes to social media, and personal blogging is on the wane, for the most part. Most non-fandom oriented bloggers I know abandoned LJ for Blogger or TypePad years ago.

I joined LJ back in 1999-2000, mostly to follow specific fan communities that made a home there at the time, but even then I did my personal blogging on Blogger, and only kept up my LJ account to follow “Friends Only” accounts and communities like Oh No They Didn’t or Fandom Wank, when it was housed there. But blogging – and fandom activity – has certainly changed, much as it did when many e-mail discussion groups were abandoned for LJ in the early ’00’s.

LJ’s impending demise has been a long time in coming, I believe, considering the steady account erosion that started several years ago, and it certainly may have some correlation to the fans that abandoned LJ in the wake of “Strikethough/Boldthrough”, the primarily fan-community driven backlash was spurred by LiveJournal’s parent company, Six Apart, suspending user accounts deemed sexually explicit or “harmful to children.” Since a lot of fan-fiction writing communities (particularly the Harry Potter fanfic writers) were among the few that remained on LJ after the blogging masses moved on, Strikethrough was kind of the death knell for LJ, when those communities eventually moved on to open-source alternatives like GreatestJournal, insanejournal, JournalFen, etc., especially after Six Apart sold LJ to Russian software company SUP.

There’s a lot of contention about Six Apart/SUP and how the companies dealt with some of their most dedicated consumers – fangirls, for the most part. But regardless of that, with the fluid migration of social media audiences and fan communities being a constant, I think the eventual decline of LJ was inevitable.

MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Conference — Futures of Entertainment 3

While we can’t make it to every great conference held at MIT by the cutting-edge Comparative Media Studies program, they have put on another great Futures of Entertainment 3 conference (discussion of Futures of Entertainment 2). And upcoming this year is Media in Transition 6, which we are planning to attend.

Interestingly, the Conferenceis first is being released on video through MIT’s homegrown TechTV site and then will be released through other means — but you can add it to your ipod. Surprisingly, the podcasts are listed as having the copyright status of “all rights reserved” — yet embedding is not only allowed, but listed as an option, Therefore, it seems as if the conference is being released more like a Creative Commons attribution-sharealike license. An unanswered question — if the conference is copyrighted, who owns the copyright? The speakers? MIT — of the whole or only of the compilation? If you would rather read about the conference, the liveblogging summaries are also available.