I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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My name is fangirl; we are legion

Recently, the power of the fangirl has been seen as having potential economic power, especially with the huge opening of New Moon. And regardless of one’s own personal feelings about Twilight , these fans have power in through sheer numbers.

I’m not sure why this is a sudden revelation, but it likely has to do with the more familiar “hiding in plain sight” fangirl of the comics, gaming, sports, music, etc. variety, considering that in *all* of those areas, the stereotypical fan is a dude.

“[Male fans] tare tolerated as “normal people” at Comic-Con while hordes of girl fans [of Twilight] are not.”

Jezebel has an interesting post on this “chicks spend money on entertainment!” phenomenon:

New Moon explodes the myth… that fanboys hold all the power,” Pamela McClintock writes for Variety. … Women buy movie tickets, and we’re interested in great stories with women in the lead roles. And! Fangirls should be taken seriously. As Women & Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein writes for The Huffington Post:

… I’m not trying to say that all women’s films will be as successful as New Moon because that’s silly. These kinds of movies come along rarely cause Hollywood hardly makes them. But this weekend’s number indicate that they should make more of them.

But not all women like gender-specific (or directed) fandoms — and sometimes girls and women are looking for non-sexist, non-racist material regardless of whether there is female representation (as a edit to the Bechdel rule).

But there are often different ways in which women and girls approach fandom, in economic and other ways:

  • What does the crazy fangirl plotline on Supernatural mean?
  • Why is there a wave of hardcore bands with female-centered names with no female members (Daughters, Baroness)?
  • Why does so much of Genghis Tron merch seem appropriate to decorate the room of a small child?
  • Was the way the Doctor decided what happened to Donna an assault?
  • Which reboot, Star Trek or Sherlock Holmes, better lives up to its slash potential?
  • Is the new Powergirl powerful or sexist? Or both?
  • What is the reason there has not been a mainstream popular girl-focused manga/anime series in the U.S. since Sailor Moon?
  • Will wizard rock and twi-rock find mainstream success, considering nu-goth?

And these types of questions are more important in connecting with female fans as a big opening weekend for one movie in a popular book series because (secret here!), the next girl/women-focused movie isn’t going to do as well.There are still plenty of ways of energizing female fans — but figurine washing laundry and contests to ComicCon that don’t allow female fans just aren’t going to cut it in this brave new fandom world.


I Read a Book! Chris Anderson’s “Free”

So I was at a reception the other day, talking to someone about the internet and the free/gift economy and how it’s the inevitable future of a lot of industries, including journalism. The discussion invariably turned to Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price and I talked up the book and Anderson’s theories.

“So you liked the book, then?” asked my colleague.
“No, not really.” I said, after a pause.
Considering my enthusiasm over Anderson’s last book, The Long Tail, and my own defense of the free/gift economy model on this very blog, my cool reception to “Free” surprised the hell out of me, too.

With all the hype and debate surrounding Chris Anderson’s book, months before it was even released, it’s no wonder that the backlash started less than a week after it officially hit bookstores. Earlier this year, the influential Wired editor and author of The Long Tail brought his thesis of giving products away as marketing strategy to South by Southwest and was greeted with as much skepticism as enthusiasm from attendees (myself included). So Malcolm Gladwell’s review of the book in the New Yorker summed up a lot of the overall criticism of the book, even before it was released:
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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.

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.

“Social Networks and the Good Society” presented at Northwestern University by Cass Sunstein, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Eszter Hargittai

I attended a very interesting lecture “Social Networks and the Good Society” presented at Northwestern University by Cass Sunstein, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Eszter Hargittai. While I planned on liveblogging, I brought only a notepad. (grr!) Since my notes don’t include many direct quotes, but instead I summarize, all errors in my lecture notes are my own, and the bracketed materials are my comments. If you want an actual news report, here is an article from the Daily Northwestern.

My notes:

In her introductions, Eszter Hargittai asks how well known does someone need to be before you don’t have give their bio or be linked? [This issue is also mentioned in her post about this event on Crooked Timber]

Cass Sunstein [for a published version of these ideas in Cass Sunstein’s own words, read this Chronicle of Higher Education article]:

He is concerned about extremism on social networks. MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte created the term “daily me,” a utopian vision of receiving communications based on one’s own interests. More recently, in the Long Tail, Chris Anderson writes about a new niche society. This is also what social networks do.

Are these social networks dangerous or based around serendipity? Empirical studies [detailed in the Chronicle story] show how social networks help people switch their opinions to greater extremes, whether they are discussing political viewpoints, potential jurors, or judges on U.S. Court of Appeals in three judge panels. These three empirical studies show groups polarization due to the impact of a social network. Groups that have a starting viewpoint will move more towards that viewpoint.

People want to be different, but to the right degree — in the right direction. This causes group polarization. Also, some arguments have a built-in rhetorical advantage (regardless of actual facts, it is much easier to imagine reasons to give a large jury verdict than it is to imagine reasons to give low jury verdicts).

Whether in person or online, social networks can promote problems of errors and mutual incomprehension. Alternatively, the value of enclave deliberation benefits individuals and the group, allowing for diversity of viewpoints. He fears that social networks don’t allow for bubbling up of information — once the group has a set viewpoint, it is difficult to challenge.

Siva Vaidhyanathan:

During the Napster era, repeated often was the phrase, “kids today don’t care about copyright.” However, there wasn’t really a change in how people behaved; instead there was an amplification.

Now he is interested in privacy and personal information, like the information held by Amazon, MySpace, Facebook, Ebay, and his new project on Google. And now what is being said is that “kids today don’t care about privacy.”

People use social networking online as management tools; privacy is not really what the focus is for users. Instead, people are trying to hit the marketing of “self” for the right market, for the right audience at the right time. Different people or networks know different things about different people.

Kids may not manage their information as well as they will when they are older. He hates how kids are called “born digital.” Terminology based on generation is imprecise , when we envoke generations be are being sloppy — similar to astrology. Focusing on generations puts increased emphasis on those with weath, means, and access, focusing on those who are consumers of stuff. However, it excludes those not in the U.S., and even for those in the U.S., immigrants and those who cannot buy all the stuff.

He mentions Eszter Hargittai’s study on the digital divide [study here: Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use], that the digital experience of kids varies greatly. Most students tell him that they use social networks for their usefullness. Students enter college with a variety of life experiences and not everyone likes using the latest thing (or can). Kids are still interested in reading books when there is a payoff; students just don’t like the cost of books.

He then cites to Henry Jenkins’ thoughts about “digital natives” [quoting the quotes from the blog post]:

talk of “digital natives” may also mask the different degrees access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. 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.

…Talking about digital natives and digital immigrants tends to exagerate the gaps between adults, seen as fumbling and hopelessly out of touch, and youth, seen as masterful. It invites us to see contemporary youth as feral, cut off from all adult influences, inhabiting a world where adults sound like the parents in the old Peanuts cartoons — whah, whah, whah, whah — rather than having anything meaningful to say to their offspring. In the process, it disempowers adults, encouraging them to feel helpless, and thus justifying their decision not to know and not to care what happens to young people as they move into the on-line world.

He then says that the conversation continued with comments from Leslie Johnson:

I often take part in discussions about services for faculty and students, and sometimes hear ageist comments about how older faculty are completely non-digital and all students are automatically all digital. Hah! Just like some folks have an interest or skill in languages or math or art and some folks don’t, it’s the same with whatever “digital” is.

[Then there was more about the back and forth conversation on blogs about “digital natives”, including input from Print is Dead author, Jeff Gomez, but it seems ridiculous to include my notes when you can just read the conversation of the quoted blog posts yourself here. I would have linked to Gomez’s blog directly but the archives are down — I guess at this point I could make an overarching statement about generation blog archive.]

Thinking about digital natives has serious policy implications, such as for universities. This term limits us to design systems that might not fit the needs of all, by requiring one-size-fits-all ways of thinking. Google Books is not focused on the need for quality and stability; instead the project is interested in putting things out there. He quotes John Wilkin of University of Michigan libraries, as saying that kids today are only interested in looking at digital books — and we should move in that direction. [I didn’t find a quote saying exactly that but Wilkin is a strong booster of Google Books.]

Educators are guides to learning and research, and should not pander to what is easiest. Only the needs of privileged are being considered, similar to pop culture, the focus is on those that are white and rich.

He says that Danah Boyd says what really matters is that digital platforms meet some needs and desires but not all. [I must have written down the quote incorrectly, but you can read what she thinks here.]. Social networking only amplifies what was already present in the real word (such as stalking). These are human problems, while they can be amplified online, they aren’t new.

The first fish that was on land wasn’t called part of “generation land,” but there was a great deal of change over time, gradually moving. Our everyday ways of engaging in social interaction haven’t changed.

Fandom mentions: Cass Sunstein loves Lost and Lostpedia, Siva Vaidhyanathan is a Yankees fan.