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February 25, 2007

My failed BeyondBroadcast talk

I did the “wrapup” at BeyondBroadcast, and tried to talk about the thought I keep coming back to but am never able to articulate. At least it was brief – under 10 minutes, I think. Here’s the outline of what I said:

1. What’s the thread between participatory culture and participatory democracy? Why think one has to do with the other? How can participatory culture be “transformative,” as Henry Jenkins suggested in his terrific opening talk. (Digression: The mainstream media are focused on including “user-generated content” on their sites as their response to participatory culture, but that’s not transformative.)

2. Well, what is democracy. There are bunches of definitions: Majority vote, society of equals, government that gets its authority from the people. But most important, it’s ours. The government isn’t theirs, the way it was the king’s.

3. So, what does “ours” mean? Again, there are bunches of definitions: What the law gives you control over, on our side, of our nature or essence. But, when it comes to culture, look at the difference between your study of a foreign culture and your participation in yours. Culture is ours because it makes us who we are; we are indistinguishable from it.

4. But, participatory culture is changing the nature and topology of ours. It’s ours in a different way. We can create works with strangers, with anonymous crowds, and in all the other ways we’re inventing. This is a very different sense of ours. And it’s not just that we can build Wikipedia or Flickr streams. We also get to make these works matter to one another: That we can surface and pass around the video or the prose so that it becomes a shared cultural object also changes the nature of the ours.

5. So, how does this new ours affect democracy? (And it’s more likely to affect democracy before it affects politics since those folks have a death grip on power.) How does this ours get turned into an us that operates politically? I dunno. I.e., this talks makes no progress on the question it raises :( [Tags: ]

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February 24, 2007

Who’s happy, where and why?

Ethan Zuckerman has a great post analyzing data about which parts of the world are happy and why. It’s statisticalicious. [Tags: ]

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More spies embrace social networking tools

“The U.S. Department of Defense’s lead intelligence agency is using wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and enterprise ‘mashups’ to help its analysts collaborate better when sifting through data used to support military operations,” according to an article by Heather Havenstein in Computerworld. Wikis, blogs, mashups…lots going on there. [Tags: ]

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[bb] Participatory vs. commercial culture

Jesse Walker, managing editor of Reason magazine, is moderating a panel on the relation of participatory and commercial cultures. He begins by saying that the inersection is older than the Web 2.0, “or, as I like to call it, The Web.”

Panelists: Kenny Miller, creative vp for MTV media; Elizabeth Osder, sr. dir. of product dev at Yahoo media; and Arin Crumley, one of the creators film Four-Eyed Monsters .

Kenny talks about “navigational dominance. [What a phrase!] “We navigate our world by means of brands,” he says. Each of the MTV properties has its own demographics (ComedyCentral, Nickelodeon, etc.). Each is a brand with navigational dominance. But now there are lots of ways to getting to info. “How do you enter that world in a respectful way?” It’s no longer a one-way conversation, he says. There’s more chunking. It’s a fundamental shift. MTV is getting more of the audience’s voice back on the air. “American Idol is awesome and we think about that.” It’s a binary world and we’re divided into teams; people might like another option, but people don’t know what it is. Attention is a zero-sum game.

Elizabeth (who was the first girl to play Little League softball officially) says that Yahoo makes connections among people. She points to the single sign-in identity system with 400M registered users. Yahoo bought Flickr, Delicious.com and MyBlogLog, she points out. “Every day citizen journalism and photo journalism is happening” there. Now at Yahoo she’s trying to figure out how to disrupt Yahoo news. Seven years ago Yahoo started a Digg-like facility for news.

Arin talks about the reception of his movie. They did festivals for 9 months and 3,000 people saw it. The same number saw the first portion of it in the first 36 hours they put it on line.

Jesse asks questions.

Q: Arin, how is the process affecting your film-making?
A: The MySpace page surfaces ideas and questions that would never show up in the Q&A at a conference showing. Real conversation. We can see what the audience got from the movie and can adjust. Also, we can share the backstory, etc.

Q: Elizabeth and Kenny, how have users used your tools in ways you didn’t expect?
A: Kenny: We put up a message board. We made a game. They took moderation off a board.

A: Elizabeth: Flickr taught us that users want to take your stuff and stick it on their site.

Q: What do you have to offer that we can’t get elsewhere?
A: Kenny: You can’t compete with everyone. The world is open and flat. We only ask if the audience is liking what we’re doing and is it growing. [Shouldn’t use the “audience” word in this crowd.]

A: Eliz.: We’re part of an ecosystem. The job on our news sites is to point people to the best info on and off the site.A: (arin) A lot of what’s been done seems contrived. The Web is becoming a means of expression. “We’re just peers.” We’re sharing what we do with other peers. And we have tutorials about how to create videos and post them.

Q: (audience) How do commercial sites connect the needs of advertisers with needs of participatory participants?
A: Eliz.: We understand our audience. And we share revenues with bloggers.

A: Kenny: That’s the big question.

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[bb] John Palfrey

John Palfrey says we don’t know how the Internet might affect democracy, but there lots of possibilities. He lays them out. [I’m typing quickly trying to capture the outline. As always, I’m missing stuff and getting it wrong.]

First, it might affect participatory democracy by providing open information enviornments, making new networks, enabling tools for individual activists, a productivity tool for campaigners, and attracting new participants. On the other hand, it might provide too much information, it can fragment us (“The Daily Me”), the participation can be watered down, it limits participation to those with access, some states are instituting censorship (cf. the ONI project), and maybe we should be jumping to “postdemocratic” order. So, maybe we’ll see refinements; the context matters a lot and it depends “a ton on what baseline you choose.” That is, if you’re only asking if participatory culture makes demcoracy better, that’s an easy bar. But maybe we should be aiming higher.

Second, acadmics says that the real story is about economic democracy and the emergence of a stronger middle class, and Doc Searls’ “Vendor Relationship Management.”

Third, academics also talk about semiotic democracy, e.g., control of cultural goods, with meaning created by many, not by the few. More YouTube and Second Life, less Disney. But (he asks), will people participate? Will we just create the old structures online? And won’t new intermediaries emerge to decide what we see?

John lists takeaways:

The Web is about creativity, innovation, and greater power at the edges.

This is a global phenomenon.

Big media companies generally have no idea how to deal with participatory democracy.

The legal and political battle over the future of the Internet is where a lot of this will play out. The outcome is not assured.

This conference is about where theory meets practice.

Q: First, participatory culture and democracy are non-partisan. Second, someone has to tell us what’s true or else we’re liable to end up with fascism, racism, anti-semitism, etc.
A: Something to talk about this afternoon. [Tags: ]

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[bb] Henry Jenkins

MIT’s Henry Jenkins (Convergence Culture ) opens the Beyond Broadcast conference. Henry asks what the line is that connects participatory culture and participatory democracy.

Henry begins with the always-delightful chain that led a parody site’s photos of “Ernie is Evil ” (the Muppet) to be included in genuine, pro-Bin Laden posters. Henry points out that our current images of democracy recycle previous images, such as Mr. Smith in Washington, Rockwell paintings, etc. He shows captures of an avatars’ protest march in a game space in China, an anti-Bush music video, Flickr images of the London bombing, American Idol voting (and “Vote for the Worst” as an anti-corporate Idol site), and the Moonite lite-brite (which he says is becoming a symbol for the young for a regime that’s “frightened of its own shadow,” is unaware of pop culture, and unable to respond to threats). Are these the new images of politics, Henry asks. The left, he says, uses the same images as the media does when talking about media reform. We talk about conformity, being narcotized, being turned into idiots and fools…as if we are victims of media. “The media reform movement is self-defeating the moment it holds mass media in contempt.” He is going to propose a way of conceiving media reform.

He cites Stephen Duncombe’ s vision [but my computer stopped working so I have no notes :( ]

What should politics look like? Henry points to a purple map of the US that shows states as a mix of red and blue depending on the proportion of Reps and Dems. This is not a partisan issue, he says. First, he says, we need free speech. We need to fight how copyright is being used by government and business as a “pincer move” squeezing participatory clture. We also have to “guarantee that everyone has access to participate,” he says. We need to look at non-political sites where we come together, e.g., we could have used Survivor as an opportunity to talk about race, or 24 to have a dialogue about torture. We should mobilize fans without condeming the fantasies they embrace. We need to look critically at astroturf but also see it as a sign that participatory clture matters. He ends by looking at AskANinja’s rant on the Net neutrality movement.

Q: My high school blocks all social networking.
A: Our schools are turning off sutdents’ best access to information. It’s a mass deskilling…

[Great talk. I’m left wondering more particularly about how the democratizing of media affects democracy, i.e., the very point of the conference.]

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February 23, 2007

JD interviews Doc

JD Lasica interviews Doc Searls. [Tags: ]

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Massively peer reviewed science

Dario Taraborelli has a terrific post looking at the strengths of weaknesses of social software when stacked up against scientific peer review. He finds lots of uses, especially since traditional peer review doesn’t scale, although he doesn’t think social software will replace it.

Overall, the systems Dario looks at are better at flagging items as interesting than at vouchsafing their credibility, although his proposal for “a wiki-like system coupled with anonymous rating of user contributions,” would head in that direction. [Tags: ]

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February 22, 2007

The Oscars – a (re)usable list of nominees

In a bid to make it hard for its readers to feel any sense of participation in the Oscars, and possibly to prevent us from mischievously spelling “DiCaprio” “DiCrapio,” The trademark-and-copyright besotted Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes it difficult to get the list of nominees in a form we can munge the way we want. (No, pdf does not count.) So, I liberated the data and have posted it here. It’s a very plain HTML format, with span metadata for nominees, categories and moredata. [Tags:]

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Shut Up and Sing

Last night I was just going to watch a few minutes of the documentary about the boycotting of the Dixie Chicks, Shut Up and Sing , but I ended up watching the whole thing, going to bed too late. It’s an imperfect documentary about imperfect people, which is why I loved it.

I didn’t used to be in the DC’s demographic. I’m a totally stereotypical northeastern liberal Jew, predictable down to my preference for iceberg lettuce and whining about sunburn. And that means I don’t much like country music (although I was brought up on folk music). I only started paying attention to the DC’s once their fans turned against them because Natalie Maines, the lead singer, uttered a single line critical of our president. Now, some celebrities have been brought down by using a single word, but generally those words have indicated an intolerance that we (thankfully) no longer tolerate. But Maines only said she’s ashamed of our president. That’s well within the range of political discourse. Economically punishing people you disagree with makes democracy worse, not better, imo — although I know many of you disagree. (As for Maines criticizing the president while outside of the US, the notion that we need to put on a fake, unified face for our allies strikes me as being ashamed of what’s best about democracy.)

The documentary makes it clear that Maines is a big mouth. Nothing wrong with that. Heck, some of my best friends and bloggers are big mouths. She said that one sentence from the heart, in the heat of the moment — London had just seen its largest-ever anti-war demonstration — and, as she acknowledges, to get a rise from the audience. Life is complex, and the documentary’s willingness to acknowledge this is a real plus.

Seeing the DC’s embrace the consequences of Maines’ single sentence, growing as people, citizens and musicians, is moving precisely because the growth is contingent and painful. This isn’t a matter of riding some bromide. They feel their way. They’re pushed and they react, sometimes with anger, sometimes with sadness, sometimes with their instruments. They may be insanely talented millionaire musicians, but it’s easy to connect with them as bullies shove them off their accustomed path.

The DC’s are great musicians and singers. I would never have found them if their politics hadn’t snagged me. I am, I believe, part of their new demographic.

(Disclosure: I got sent a free copy of the DVD as part of a blogging marketing campaign. I was planning on renting it anyway.)

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