Monday, May 12, 2008

The end is nigh, but the revolution is coming!

Well this is it bloggers, the final post... How depressing that sounds, but fear not. This constitutes simply the ending of my KCB201 academic blogging career, the assignment, now completed is in the past. But I have now been introduced to the world of blogging and like any true 'user' I am hooked. I hope my fellow colleagues in the subject are the same, for it would be sad to see them leave. The trials and tribulations can now subside (and let me promise you this, there have been some doozies! - maybe more on this at a later date). The therapeutic qualities of the medium have kept me sane, and I apologise for the random rants, actually scrap that, no I don't. You logged on at the beginning without knowing the monkey behind the keyboard, whilst you may still not know me perse, you certainly have some insight. The future of this blog may now lead anywhere, the possibilities are endless and that is both daunting and exciting at the same time. I may continue some of the ideas I explored in my previous blogs, because yes, I did actually become incredibly interested in some of the content, and the freedom I have to carry the ideas wherever I want. But I am willing to tap to the rhythm of the keyboard and see what scroll out onto the screen... I hope you wait with baited anticipation...

The Brendam Revolution is coming...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Are we all Pulitzer Prize journalists?

TEACHER: [To child] “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
CHILD: “A citizen journalist!”

I too was this child, if only for a moment, when first introduced to the concept of citizen journalism. It appeared as the future of reporting for the world, and I wanted to participate. But after reading an article by James Farmer of The Age I was gob-smacked to hear a professional’s opinion on citizen journalism. Farmer (2006) detests the naming of citizens as journalists, and I will discuss his issue in depth later. Initially however, I wanted to indicate the potentiality of citizen journalism, so that you too can make up your mind.

The established news brands have long held their oligopolies over news and current affair delivery, but no more. The citizen is now a formidable foe to the CNN’s, ESPN’s and the entire myriad of journalistic news outlets saturating the media. The YouTube video “New Media and Citizen Journalism” (a form of citizen journalism in its own right) exhibits why the practice of citizen journalism is so necessary in society.


So what is citizen journalism and what does it achieve? Put simply, people are actively finding, evaluating and re-sharing information (Bruns 2008a). They are creating content and adding to the information that is widely made available to us; following the core principles of Bruns’ (2008a) produsage theory. The passive injection of information is no longer accepted. Willis and Bowman (2003) called it correctly when describing the new age citizen; “[who is] armed with easy-to-use Web publishing tools, always-on connections and increasingly powerful mobile devices, the online audience has the means to become an active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and information”. This epitomises the essence of the citizen journalist and their audiences, who may now switch and choose between the topics, and most importantly, the sources which most interest them (Negroponte 1995; WeMedia). The beauty of the citizen journalism process is openness, and with avenues such as blogs and wikis, where citizen journalists are achieving publication, there are varying levels of content control. Bruns (2008b) identifies the struggles that broadcasters of citizen journalism are facing, noting that Indymedia have long struggled to balance maximum content openness with content control. The problem with content control is that it can be taken too far, with the final product being so edited that it resembles “mainstream news media” outputs (Bruns 2008b).

So back to Farmer’s comments. Farmer (2006) is a strong believer in the profession of journalism, and states that once a citizen “collect[s], report[s], analyse[s] and disseminate[s]” information then they are no longer a citizen at all; they are now a journalist. Farmer (2006) challenges though, whether this is in fact “good” journalism (a concept Henry Jenkins explores well). He notes that sites such as Digg are simply “transparent forms of editorialising” and that OhMyNews employs “scores of editors and journalists [including students and amateurs]”; arguing that the content is no more ‘citizen’ than TV or print news. This I believe is a fair argument and perhaps we should indeed have adopted Farmer’s (2006) term “citizen media” over citizen journalism, but what’s in a name? Also Farmer’s prediction that citizen journalism will not prosper outside “uber niche areas” may be a little short sighted. Essentially we as citizen journalists are creating journalistic content, simply without qualification, and supposed objectivity that professionals must. But in no small way are we any less dedicated. The issues covered may vary significantly to those of professionals, but again we are catering to the niche, and this I feel is why citizen journalism will rise as a formidable force.

So are we “gatewatchers” as Bruns (2008c) calls it, honing in on what is in the mainstream media “repurposing… recontextualising, and reinterpreting” our own content? Are we journalists in the making? I think I am with Farmer on this one; we shouldn’t be ‘journalists’ (though the argument may be superficial), instead we should be ‘medialists’. Amateurs who have the capacity and drive to create a vast array of informative/entertaining or objective/biased or any number of binary opposed works, in text, video, audio or whatever else we choose; for the consumption (or even further use/production) of others. Citizen news is our news.

*NOTE: For further understanding I recommend following the links to Zeitgeist via the Chorazy Thoughts blog!

Bruns, A. 2008a. KCB201 Produsage. Week 8 Podcast. (accessed April 23, 2008).

Bruns, A. 2008b. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. New York: Peter Lang.

Bruns, A. 2008c. KCB201 Citizen Journalism. Week 10 Podcast. (accessed May 8, 2008).

Negroponte, N. 1995. Being Digital. New York: Vintage.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The source is open, so don't spill!

The edit function we are given in Microsoft Word is a completely different function to the edit functionalities of OpenOffice. Within Word we can edit our work, but the program remains static. OpenOffice on the other hand allows us to edit our creations; whilst at the same time is editable itself. This simple function is the beauty of open source software. The mission statement of OpenOffice was "To create, as a community, the leading international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide access to all functionality and data through open-component based APIs and an XML-based file format." (Wikipedia 2008). It is under this principle that open source software is taking the world by storm.

Eric Raymond (1998) may just have it right; there's an itch to scratch, and this itch can only be satisfied by people making their input. So how is the itch satisfied? At the most basic level open source software is software production, created by users, which relates back to the notion of produsage. This software creation is achieved through giving people access to the programming, or source code, which 'makes' the software. But we cannot always reach this itch, and this is reflected by the closed source model (Bruns 2008). Under this production model the source code of a product such as Microsoft Word is closely guarded and protected under intellectual property. This protection prevents people taking the software product, which the company uses to make profit, and creating their own version and redistributing it, which in essence is still illegal (Bruns 2008).

But with open source software we suddenly have a back-scratcher to reach the itch. Open source software in its basic form is software which is distributed under a limited rights licensing system (Bruns 2008), instigated by the Open Source Initiative. With open source software we the users are allowed access to the source code to change and add functionality (should we possess the skills to do so) as we like. The only catch here is that what you create as an open software creator cannot be capitalised from, and it must be freely available to others on a free basis (Bruns 2008).

For some extra comparison on the differences between open source software and commercial production follow this link.

So what are the advantages of open source software? Put simply it is suitability. Even commercially available software may not suit your own specific needs, with open source functionality can be personalised and as such the software code can be changed and adapted for any particular individual's needs (Wheeler 2007). So what we fundamentally end up with is an abundance of software versions available to the wider community, with each version serving a slightly different purpose.

What I find interesting is the apprehension that some people feel towards open source programs. I know that I was personally reluctant to try Firefox, one of the most popular open source programs. However after trying it Firefox has fast become my favourite web-browser, and whilst I do not have the ability to edit the program myself I have noticed the sheer quality of the product. Linux (an open source operating system) has also been noted for its stability and reliability; it simply does not crash as easily as its commercial counterpart Windows does. Why, I hear you ask? Simple really, the bugs and faults are found and edited out by users, thus the beauty of open source, the best and strongest form is constantly, and freely, available. Though the big-gun commercial corporates may claim otherwise, open source software is truly the way of the future.

Bruns, A. 2008. KCB201 Open Source Software. Week 9 Podcast. (accessed May 1, 2008).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Which life are you living?

A funny thing has happened to my opinion whilst studying this subject, it has, wait for it... changed. Unbelieveable, I know, but true nonetheless, and for the better I think. So what is this thing that has changed me, and what opinion is it that has changed?

Online socialistation, I was one of the sceptics, I never believed that a person who was truly happy with their 'real-word' social life would feel the need to explore the online world to expand thier horizons. But the strangest thing happened, I myself began to become involved with online social networking and also the use of Avatars, not explicitly, but through MMORPG's. The game is called Grand Theft Auto IV and I am sure you have heard of it, you can play online and the game automatically assigns a character to represent you. But I wasn't happy with my selection, I was a short and giggly chick ---> sorry GTA but that's not me. And so the customisation process began. I am now a trim, athletic looking guy who surely is faster than the rest of the other Avatars in the game. So low and behold withing the space of 5 minutes I had developed a relationship with this character. And it appears that I am not the only one.

After watching a video in class (which I cannot seem to find the link for anymore), I was completely gobsmacked by the sheer success of the online world, literally another society, called Second Life. So the following are some points raised in the video and my reactions to these:

- I noticed a significant generation gap in interest of Second Life interaction. The average age of users is 32 years old, MIND BOGGLING, who would have ever thought the older generations would latch onto this technology so prolifically? Not me that is for certain. And yes I am sure there is a significant number of users that are younger but I noticed a general consensus in our class after watching the video and that is that we, Generation Y, are quite pessimistic towards the 'game'. We were worried about the effects of use, what people actually saw in it, etc. yet a great number of us also reflected an interest in at least trying out Second Life. The Boomer generation, those in the average age gap for usage, are quite optimistic and intrigued, reflected primarily in the video and by some outside opinions I have heard. So why the difference? This is something I will HAVE to explore at a later date!

- There is a real economy in Second Life, and the virtual world possesses a GDP that is the equivalent of some third world countries such as Bulgaria. WHOA. That's right people are actually spending real cash online. That's a scary thought, but the program is free to join and are we all not willing to pay for entertainment? Perhaps Second Life is onto something here, they may have just discovered a new age way for economic exchange. Third parties are developing content,form the individual, to the corporate business, a la produsage? And many venture capitalists realise that this is indeed a new economy investment.

- Back to the content production, it is simply amazing, no one asks users to create it. But they do nonetheless. Has living a Second Life become a labour of love? People's creativity is driven, and whether this be from their own knowledge, education, or interests in something appears irrelevant.

- So my concern appear unwarranted. I used to believe there was a major difference between living a 'real' life and living vicariously through a second one, such as in Second Life. I do still maintain some semblance of this notion, I believe these programs should be used to expand ourselves as people, but not as a substitutes. Explore yourself, and if it makes life easier and more enjoyable then embrace it. Consume it, produce it, but simply do not let it consume or produce YOU. What we can do in the 'real' world now appears re-creatable in the cyber world, so enjoy and explore.

The old saying "you only live once" now appears redundant? Just ask yourself, which life are you living? And does it really matter?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Online communities, and the offline hype!

Would you still be friends with people if you didn’t know them? Let me explain this. What I mean here is that you still actually know them, but not in the physical realm, you know only their virtual self (sometimes referred to as an Avatar). Is this person still a friend or acquaintance? Can this relationship even be called that; a relationship? Are virtual links even valid?

These are the questions that have faced those who latched onto the networking and community building aspects of the internet, which is now pervasive in so many of our lives. In the infancy of the internet these aspects were identified as solutions for global problems on many levels (Flew 2005). However this was unrealistic, instead the internet has most certainly provided a new take on community construction, rather than community absolution. Flew (2005) recognised the key drawing principle of the online realm. He states that the reason for members flocking to online forums was; “the decline in opportunities for democratic participation and community formation in contemporary industrial capitalists and mass-media societies”. Flew (2005) further acknowledges that the search for like minded people, a key socialisation act of all humans, have been accelerated and indeed easily facilitated by the internet. He continues to indicate that this online search is in fact an evasion of the human obligation to act on real-world democratic responsibilities; these include dealing with diversity differences, power relationships and inequalities in society (Flew 2005). I can see the validity of the argument, by using the internet to expose ourselves socially; we are really hiding behind the digital projection of ourselves (our Avatar), and can end up shutting out real-world physical relationships. Cuthbert and others (2002) reflect similar reservations as my own acknowledging the restraints that the cyber word is bound by, which at times can limit the ties that may be developed. This in-turn impedes the formation of social hierarchies. They continue to say that online interaction simply, and should only, act as a support function as opposed to giving full a sense of community. However they do note that once an online group seeks a common goal, their ties are fortified indeed mimicking real world community obligations and associations.
Though these outlooks are very pessimistic, the virtual world is indeed capable of exponentially expanding our social circles within the public sphere. I myself have noticed how integrated into my daily routine the internet has become and the social expansion capabilities it has enabled me, parallel to my real-life social capital. The internet acts as a compliment of my social life, not as a substitute. And oxymoronically, or so it seems, to be part of the real-world “in” crowd, we must also be part of an online community such as Facebook or MySpace.

Consequently we must perhaps look further into the possibilities of online communities. Once online and part of a community, as in real life, we find those who are similar to ourselves and have shared interests, a la internet dating. The internet is now a basically ubiquitous medium (at least in westernised society), and therefore the links created can become incredibly strong. Hartley (2002) takes the notion of online communities so far as to say that they are “self-governing” within their own social space, that is, they are cyber-democracies. This, I feel is the key successful aspect of online communities, communication is once again solely a democratic medium.
This re-socialisation of people around media creates new forms of culture, referred to as technocultures (Bruns 2008; Martin 2006). Willingly we find others who have the same interests as ourselves, and the exponential increases offered to our social circles by the internet allow us the ability to be accepted by and operate in fields “neglected by the mainstream” (Bruns 2008). It is this social acceptance which fast creates Netizens, or citizens of the internet (Bruns 2008). But I do wonder if this is in-fact corrupting to people’s lives, is this the best cure for those who are otherwise socially awkward?

Anyway when looking at online communities they do serve a predominant single purpose, and this is the “finding, evaluating and sharing” of information, much the same as the process you are reading right now (Bruns 2008). I have found this information, evaluated its concepts and am now sharing my thoughts to you. Online cultures or communities, whatever you decide to call them, are made up of the produser society. They are a forum for experimentation, where we can explore ourselves and our likes/dislike with the wider global world, and specifically those who fit into our niche. However with the capitalisation occurring with online networking sites, I hold the same reservations as Holmes (1998); are people simply “being sold the illusion of sociality for the price of an ISP?”

Bruns, A. 2008. KCB201 Online Communities. Week 6 Podcast. (accessed April 9, 2008).

Cuthbert, A., D. Clark and M. Lin. 2002. WISE Learning Communities: Design Considerations. In Building Virtual Communities: Learning & Change in Cyberspace, ed. K.A. Renninger and W. Shumar, 215-248. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Flew, T. 2005. New Media: An Introduction. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Hartley, J. 2002. Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Holmes, D. 1998. Virtual Identity: Communities of Broadcast, Communities of Interactivity. In Virtual Politics: Identity and Communication in Cyberspace, ed. D. Holmes, 27-78. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Martin, F. 2006. New Media, New Audiences. In The Media and Communications in Australia, ed. S. Cunningham and G. Turner, 323-324. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Produsage! There, I said it!

As I sit here typing my Blog, I am one of two things. I am a producer, creating the content that is being streamed and published for you the reader. But at the same time, I am a user, using the medium of Blogs to further my education. The difficultly of classification now prevails, which one am I? And from an audience perspective, can an audience that is active with the content they use still be called simply an audience? The concept of audience implies some sort of passive consumption, a speaker (producer) sending out messages (products) to the masses (consumer), and there the link stops, or at most is reciprocated. So why is everything now more about the experience and interaction? I think the change started with the growth of the services industry, when marketers realised it was not a tangible product craved, but a wealth of intangible experience.

Since the conception of the internet the world has been awed, but what everyone craved was the chance to make their own mark, and now it is possible. The internet as we know it was not pumped out from raw materials by a conveyor belted manufacturer, instead million of users sitting in their offices, their loungerooms, in the park (on WiFi, of course) or in any other imaginable, and occupiable place has (or at least has the opportunity) to add to the building blocks creating the network of information that is the World Wide Web.

So here content in, equals content out. And the producer equals the consumer. The end result is of course the "produser", a term coined by Axel Bruns (2007), which accurately describes the dual functionality of the active consumer. But the process does not stop here. Each and every consumer adds to the content or information, building on and validating information. We are thus creating a collective knowledge base, maintained and improved by the users without centralised control (CSE 2008). The collation and re-communication of information was once thought of as the "bottleneck" that strangled information sharing. No more. The internet and its produsage capabilities have exponentially increased the ways that we can communicate and coordinate information, and at minimum has overcome the physical barriers blocking progress. The intellectual barriers are still to be addressed (CSE 2008).

So where is produsage actually operating in the real world? Take the social networking site that is SecondLife. Users of this software operate under an avatar, and their interactions within this online community build and enrich a virtual society. Effectively SecondLife is a funtioning and by all means legitimate community. The possibilities of what users can do is only limited by their imaginations and what they can actually create. And here lies the beauty of produsage, whilst all users are not equally skilled, they all have an equal opportunity to utilise and add to the community/system/project (Bruns 2007).

So, next time you log onto a web page, and have the chance to modify or add your own content; DO IT. Experience the produsage phenomenon. Chances are you already have. The consumer has always been right (so the saying goes), now the consumer can be king.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Passively progress through this thought if you dare!

Some random thoughts:

Mindlessness, that's the way I feel lately. Is mindlessness even a feeling? I mean it has no effect on the senses, and in fact if the senses were being stimulated it wouldn't be mindless now would it? Anyway where am I going with this? Probably nowhere so either bare with me or skip on to the next thought. Your choice. Ah, choice, what a grand concept. It gives us so many options yet simultaneously closes so many others. But choice implies thinking, and thinking implies use of the mind. So back to my mindlessness.

I had a revelation the other day, nothing that emancipates the soul, or achieved a Buddha like enlightenment for me, but a revelation none-the-less. I'm a passive progressive. (Axel gets his term, so this is my concept).

Contemporary life is so fast-paced nowadays that it seems to follow Moore's Law, as computer power doubles capacity every 18 months life itself seems to struggle to keep up. And when we try to slow ourselves down we inadvertently find ourselves living in the dark ages, and behind the times. So with all the new capabilities and wonders that are easing the stress of our lives are we actually achieving the opposite? With the capability to cram more into life, we do! Living life to the most we call it. But this has been my downfall, my brain, intrinsically linked to that of the apes (evolution, look it up!), simply cannot be upgraded, it does not run at a gigahertz speed and my memory is absolutely shot. I mean it certainly is Random Access Memory (RAM), but not in terms that electronics use... simply put it is random, not necessarily accessible. The pressures of life have overloaded my wires, and thus now I rely on my phone planner, my Facebook 'events', my digital calendar, and electronic alarm clock to keep me running. Half (or so it seems) of my life is stored on a USB 'nerd-stick' that takes up less space than a folded-up photograph. So I have become passive in my life, I live through my gadgets, they dictate what I do and where I go, when I go and how I work out how I'm getting there. My life is progressing passively. I'm a passive progressive, and finding the reigns again seems like a daunting task. I'm scared that the car speedo will no longer read as Km/h, but in volts or terahertz. I'm scared that my photos are stored as millions of 1's and 0's, and not on fading sepia-tone paper.

So am I bagging out technology here? NO! let me make that clear. The wonders that we are achieving are fantastic, and indeed life is improving, but we cannot do it all. Try, yes; but achieve not so much and perhaps this is the concept I need to understand. It is me, the monkey, controlling the keyboard, not the keyboard controlling the monkey.