The YouTube Trilogy pt. III: The Return of the Vlogger

Can an amateurs achieve celebrity status solely using Web 2.0 
technologies such as YouTube? Or does the mass media system of 
endorsement remain the only way this can be achieved.

The tale of the feud between dogger_the_blogger13 - a King 
Charles cross Poodle YouTube sensation - and media magnate Kevin 
Phillipson reveal both sides to this argument, and demonstrate 
its complexity.

So it took a while to come to fruition but I have completed a video response to Question A from Week 9! Here it is,

The Amateur vs. The Magnate – The Battle for New Media Celebrity

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Back 2.0 Basics

So to re-hash one concept we’ve been referring to all semester… What is Web 2.0?

Here we see a cute ‘notinwords‘video, which uses neither words nor any level of depth.

So yes, Web 2.0 is all about connectivity! That won’t get you very far though, really.

This guy certainly goes deeper and provides a good overview of the technical components of Web 2.0.  However demonstrating this on a whiteboard, of all things probably isn’t the best idea for a man already struggling to engage.

Most useful, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the top YouTube search result for “Web 2.0”:

It utilises appropriate visuals to explain the theory behind Web 2.0, starting with the software.  And it leaves us with a call for the need to rethink some of our traditional concepts – copyright, privacy, identity and ethics, amongst others – in the context of this new technology.  This is something I’ve attempted to pick up on throughout this subject, and blog.

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A Creative Commoner

It has been argued that by virtue of blogging I am a creative nihilist, and now, too, I am a ‘creative commoner’.   I have registered my blog under Creative Commons licencing, and I have chosen the specific variant that seems most appropriate for a commoner of the blogosphere like myself.

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Author: Creative Commons. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Creative Commons (CC) push for more open societies; something I personally support.  Laurence Lessig traces this concept back to one of ‘our’ founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson (painting by Rembrandt Peale, source: Wikimedia Commons), who said:

“He who receives an idea from me … receives light without darkening me. Ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition.” (qtd. in Lessig, 2005: 353)

We can extract two concepts from that quote:

  1. That “non-rivalrous” resources exist – ideas, for instance – which, as opposed to “rivalrous” resources, can be used simultaneously by an unlimited number without depletion (Garcelon, 2007 further explains these terms: 1309-10)
  2. That the free spread of ideas will improve our society.  This idea that societies should openly collaborate and critique themselves in order to become more efficient, instead of harbouring static ideas or objects, was crystalised in Karl Popper’s philosophy of science (Conjectures and Refutations, 1968).

Lessig draws on these concepts while lamenting the ironic state of our society.   “The greatest innovation … we have seen” – the Internet, built on the non-rivalrous commons of open code, he now sees acting to close our society (2005: 359-60).  The driving force behind this is the increase, since the 1970’s, in dominance of “intellectual property” laws – which equate ideas with property – along with the concurrent concentration of the media (Garcelon, 2009: 1307).

CC, then, strives to return to a more open society by “attempt[ing] to roll back the intellectual property approach to copyright” (Garcelon, 2009: 1310).

Notably, this is not a radical revisal.  CC licenses:

  • are voluntary and operate entirely within current law (Garcelon, 2009: 1309)
  • do not call for an end to property, but the need for certain commons within a capitalist system (Lessig, 2005: 352)

Personally, I believe the ideology on which CC has been founded, though I tend to agree with its problems Armin Medosch outlines in Paid in Full… (2009: 76-7):

  • Firstly, Leesig’s concessions with the law and copyright ideology outlined above seem to reduce CC to a form too politically neutral to accomplish its goals
  • Secondly, CC seems incapable of establishing a new copyright paradigm, or even having much influence on the existing one, because it fails to propose an economic model to support cultural production

However, there is a case that CC accomodates auxiliary models of income generating (as put forth by fellow-student clarencechen). Either way, I think of this blog as learning tool and assessment piece, not an income-generator.  Ultimately, CC attempts to influence a supremely relevant debate, and I very much want to support a push towards the ideals upon which it was founded.

So which specific licence did I pick and why?

I selected that my work can freely be shared and remixed, as ideas should be for the advancement of society.  The three conditions I opted for to restrict this sharing are:

  1. Attribution, so I am credited with an idea where due
  2. Noncommercial, because as I mentioned, my work here is intended to be educational for myself and others, and nothing more
  3. Share Alike, so that in any development of my work, the CC licence remains so this process may continue

(These conditions are fully explained here)

And that, dear readers, is why I chose the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Works Cited:

Creative Commons (2011), About the Licenses, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/, accessed 4 June 2011.

Garcelon, M. (2009) ‘An Information Commons? Creative Commons and Public Access to Cultural Creations’, New Media & Society, 11(8): 1307-1326.

Lessig, L. (2005) ‘Open Code and Open Societies’, pp.349-360 in Feller, Joseph, Fitzgerald, Brian, Hissam, Scott. A, and Lakhani, Karim (eds.) Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Medosch, A. (2008) ‘Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production’ pp. 73-97 in Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies. London: Deptforth TV.

Popper, K. (1968) Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. New York: Harper & Row.

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Concerned users have private detectives ‘mark’ Zuckerberg

As of this morning, the investigation is yet to expose any scandalous motives – still, users remain suspicious.  One significant breakthrough, however, has come from TV presenter Jimmy Fallon:

“Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is apparently renting a new five-bedroom house. It’s a nice house, except as soon as you get used to the furniture, he rearranges it for no reason.” (‘Late Night Monologue’, 14 January 2011)

The implications that such ‘furniture-rearrangement’ has on privacy has been heavily debated, so I’ll run through and critique the main positions in this debate.

Firstly, check out what Mark ‘Sharing is Caring’ Zuckerberg has to say (due to trouble with Tubechop, here’s the full video via YouTube [0:19-0:39 most relevant]):

Reproduced in basic argument form, Facebook’s team of altruists have installed new privacy settings which are great because:

……………………People having control over what they share……………………

……………………Leads to more sharing……………………

……………………Which leads to a more open and connected world……………………

……………………Which makes it easier to solve the world’s big problems……………………

This progression appears logical enough, but is the assumptions the argument is built on which are problematic.

There is an attempt align Facebook with organisations with non-commercial political ideologies – Wikileaks is one such example, which fellow NetCom blogger ‘Joanna Pappa 33’ recognises.

But the fundamental problem with the argument is its assumption that Facebook users indeed do have control over their privacy and what they share.  This position seems to be reliant on an oversimplification of ‘privacy’, which defines information with the binary of ‘private’ or ‘non-private’ (Boyd, 2008: 14).  Privacy is a more complex concept concerning emotions and experience, and assumes a level of control of three factors which Facebook does not guarantee:

(1)    Control over information – Today, with the help of a computer or even a phone, information we may have wanted to keep hidden can escape from out control and spread like wildfire (Solove, 2007: 29).  This is by no means unique to Facebook; the ‘Star Wars Kid’ became a YouTube sensation at the cost of the reputation mental health of the unwilling subject of the video (Solove, 2007: 47).  On Facebook, you can be easily be tagged in a less than desirable photo or video, contradicting Zuckerberg’s promise of control over what is shared in the above video.

(2)    Control over context – As Jimmy Fallon joked, Facebook’s ‘furniture’ gets moved around a fair bit.  One significant reshuffling occurred when the News Feed was introduced, which aggregated all your friends’ information and projected it live.  Information posted under the assumption that it was not highly visible suddenly became so – as if the music stopped at a party and everyone heard the end of your conversation (Boyd, 2008: 15).  As I have pointed out, News Feed now displays mainly the information of Friends that you commonly interact with, though this includes non-reciprocal interaction a.k.a. ‘stalking’.

(3)    Control over audience – Related to the instability of context is the “social convergence” which Facebook facilitates.  Whilst both are in public, you can distinguish between your statements and behaviour in a pub as opposed to a family park (Boyd, 2008: 18).  On Facebook however, choosing your audience is harder – recent changes have allowed this, though it is not a particularly visible or accessible feature.

'Remixed' banner for the group.

Source: The Brocial Network

These deficiencies in the level of control Facebook gives users is evident in the controversial Facebook group ‘The Brocial Network’.  This required members to upload pictures of their female friends for the viewing pleasure of other members (Brisbane Times news story).  There is no doubt that in a large percentage of cases this was neither the audience nor the context the photos were intended for.  Yes, these girls uploaded these photos and thus they were not totally private, but only a completely black and white view of privacy would assert that they did not lose control over what they shared.

Works Cited:

Boyd, D. (2008) ‘Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion and Social Convergence’, Convergence: The International Journal into New Media Technologies, 14 (4): 17-49.

Brisbane Times Online (2011), ‘Facebook pulls Brocial Network’, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/technology/technology-news/facebook-trade-in-female-images-20110517-1erfu.html, accessed 3 June 2011.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon – The Blog (2011), ‘Late Night Monologue, 1/14/11’, http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/blogs/2011/01/late-night-monologue-11411/, accessed 3 June 2011.

PC World Business Center (2009), ‘Facebook Simplifies Privacy Options’, http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/184123/facebook_simplifies_privacy_options.html, accessed 3 June 2011.

Solove, D. J. (2007) ‘How the Free Flow of Information Liberates and Constrains Us’ pp. 17-49 in The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale.

YouTube (2010), Mark Zuckerberg on Making Privacy Controls Simple, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWDneu_w_HQ, accessed 3 June 2011.

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Smells Like Free Spirit: The Nihilist’s Nirvana [via Hipster Runoff]

Lovink argues that bloggers are creative nihilists “who celebrate the death of centralized meaning structures and ignore the accusation that they would only produce noise”.

Born 2 B A Creative Nihilist.

All Rights Reserved, Joey Celis (2010).

Hipster Runoff might respond with something like this:

I ❤ blogging, but really, does ne1 know what blogs r all about?

R we killing old grandpa News Media?

How long have blogs been mainstream?

Is the buzz about 2 die?

R blogs ‘post-virtue’?

Is our posting all in search of Nirvana??

And like Kurt and his alt.bros, can we ignore claims that we are only producing noise???

Hipster Runoff is a blog which, in such a manner, pokes fun at the post-modern, hipster culture built around blogging and other new media.  In (over-)using shorthand, ‘buzz words’ and questions, it highlights the cultural context of insecurity and uprootedness within which blogging exists; ultimately, we’re laughing at an exposition of this pervasive but seemingly shallow new medium.

But firstly, let’s hear what Lovink has to say:

“Blogs bring on [the] decay” of the traditional media system, but not because they are inherently subversive or claim to be its paradigmatic successor.  Instead, this decay is symptomatic of a transition from a societal ideology based on the existence of truths, to one of “creative nihilism” and subjectivism (Lovink, 2007: 17).  Blogs are a platform for the expression of these new values, and collectively act as an overwhelming symbol of this change.

I ❤ the name, but R ‘Creative Nihilism’ Pitchfork-approved? Have they been BNM’d?

Do they include a Eurasian and/or a harpist?

Creative nihilism actually hasn’t even gotten a mention on Pitchfork.

It is a revival proposed by Lovink of the often misconstrued concept of ‘nihilism’ – an in fact supremely liberating reconciliation of the self with the “meaninglessness, hopelessness, and … lovelessness” of life (2007: 17); even considered a path to ‘Nirvana’ (2007: 20).  In the context of new media, creative nihilism appeases our frustration with the set ideologies of traditional media by ‘creatively’ dismantling them.

This philosophy rivals that of optimistic cynicism – cynical in the sense that it questions activities and values, and acknowledges that humans are flawed; optimistic in the sense that it believes that we can improve through the pursuit of ideals such as knowledge and rationality.  Lovink argues that this brand of cynicism emerges in blogs as a method of negotiating, and finding meaning in, an increasingly complex and interconnected world (2007: 16-17).

Of these two ideologies, the tone of Hipster Runoff resembles more closely that of a cynical optimist.  Current trends, bands and celebrities are questioned and undermined sarcastically, while at the same time the blogger grapples for certainties in this fickle world of hipsterdom.  In an attempt to nut out the formula behind what is hip and cool, this blog mirrors a citizen trying to find their way in our unstable post-Fordist society (Virno qtd. in Lovink, 2007: 19).

Of course, this blog is very much tongue-in-cheek.  Despite the author’s apparent search for answers, the ‘moral’ of the blog is that the truth is “inescapably subjective” – and Pitchfork scores are, in fact, arbitrary – supporting the ideal of creative nihilism (Lovink, 2007: 22).  The death of meaning structures is implied as the author highlights the lack of answers available.  Having a large readership, this blog is not part of the Long Tail (see Chris Anderson, 2004).  However, it does interpret and remediate content with an acknowledgement of the worthlessness of blogosphere opinions on such matter.  Thus, it can be seen as an example of Lovink’s idea of blogs which “ignore the accusation that they would only produce noise … [and] have turned their futility into a positive force” (2007: 22).

So what do u think?

Am I an optimal cynic or whateva?  A creative nihilist?

Does it even matter in 2k11?

Or has creating ur own sub-genres been out ever since Witch Haus and Crunkcore?

 Hipster Runoff, 1; Lovink, nihil.

Works Cited:

Lovink, G. (2007) ‘Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse’ pp. 1-38 in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. London: Routledge.

Hipster Runoff, http://www.hipsterrunoff.com/. Accessed 28 May 2011.

Anderson, C. (2004) ‘The Long Tail’ on Wired Magazine website, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html. Accessed 27 May 2011.

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Welcome to Facebook, We’ll Take It From Here…

Most of us are guilty of having had a whinge about a ‘friend’ from our Primary School/first job/Guitar Riffs tute who keeps posting/liking/linking annoying statuses/pages/videos that seem trivial or below our statues/pages/videos, which are of course far more relevant and important.

It’s the classic complaint from an amateur Facebooker, really.  You don’t need to be a tech head to know you can hide, unfriend or just ignore/laugh at these people.   But Facebook don’t rely on such assumptions.  With seemingly ever-growing influence, Facebook algorithm writers determine who and what you see on your News Feed, based on who and what they think you’ll want to see.  If you haven’t interacted with a friend in a while, they might start to drop off your radar, while that person you have a crush on inexplicably remains Top News despite you never speaking to them #facebookstalking.

Last New Years Eve I took part in the inaugural Snake Valley Music Festival – essentially a party at a friend’s property – where I met several new people – friends of friends.  Significantly, it also marked the coming together of an unusual large proportion of photographers/serial uploaders.  At a guess, a good third of the photo’s I’m tagged in are from this place (admittedly, it is magnificently picturesque).  Here’s one such snap:

Facebook Tag-fest, Snake Valley. Source: Facebook, accessed 30 May 2011.

If you’re detecting an eerie air to that photo, don’t worry – this wasn’t just before we were targeted one by one by an elusive but ultimately predictable serial killer.  We were, however, all tagged together, within the space of a few days, in an unprecedented amount of photos.  This gave my News Feed a serious restructuring.  The Facebook Algorithm reassessed who I was hanging out with, talking with, and wanting to know about – in a big way.  Of course I welcomed all their presences on my News Feed; my point is that I had only met a few of these people a day or two ago, and they were already far more prominent than many older and closer friends.

So one thing to take away here is that being tagged together in photos definitely does big things for mutual Facebook visibility.

There is the question of ‘how appropriate is Facebook’s algorithm for determining what you want to see?’  Pretty apt I’d say, this is simply an extreme case in which the statistical nature of the filter is revealed.

But most interesting is a debate also surrounding the YouTube ranking system: is Facebook’s ranking of ‘news’ items simply an impartial way of delivering to you the content you want to see?  Or is this structure an imposition on the user’s experience; is it an inhibitor on the user’s freedom?

Speaking only from a personal, anecdotal viewpoint, I’d take a position in between (wow, big surprise!).  Of course I see the merit in such a system, especially the wanker in me who was exposed at the very start of this post.  But I would advocate a level of transparency on Facebook’s part which would include an easy way for you to consciously tailor your own News Feed if you so desire.  And maybe a ‘Reveal All’ option, for those rainy days when ‘Most Recent’ just isn’t enough…

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The YouTube Trilogy pt. II: The Phantom Menace?

Week 3 Question: While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?

Is YouTube’s ranking system a ‘phantom menace’ – an invisible agent of coercion which shapes communities in certain ways?

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Screenshot from YouTube, accessed 30 May 2011.

José van Dijck challenges the idea that communities of YouTube users are able to construct their own ‘grassroots’ identities within the impartial framework of YouTube.  Instead, the algorithms involved in the YouTube interface should be acknowledged as agents in community formation (2009: 45).  I will explore and assess this position, and the associative claims about ‘new media’ and user participation.

van Dijck – somewhat hesitantly – looks beyond the traditional notion of the word ‘community’ to define it as a group of users of a UGC (User Generated Content) site with shared tastes (in music, movies, lifestyle etc.) or similar brand preferences (2009: 45).

From this definition alone, it can be seen that the idealisation that Web 2.0 hosts an army of ‘produsers’ operating in a whole new limitless space is somewhat off-kilter.  Outside and commercial influences inescapably inform the preferences and actions of these communities.

The focus, however, is the extent to which YouTube’s algorithmic ranking system inhibits the formation of self-determined communities.  An individual video is ranked according to factors including its title, description, annotations, number of back-links, likes, comments, etc. – factors which are discussed in the video embedded in this blog post in which I discuss my own SEO efforts.  In addition, the YouTube interface points users towards videos arranged in categories such as ‘Top Rated’, ‘Most Viewed’, and ‘Most Discussed’.  Although it is evident that these are ranked according to the activities of the entire YouTube community – whether or not they were aware of their position as arbiters – this construct does spoon-feed many users and communities (van Dijck, 2009: 45-46).

The argument can thus be made that ranking tactics shape communities to fit in with the existing interface structure.  The implications of this (only the first of which van Dijck explicitly suggests) are that 1) ‘new media’ does not allow absolute user agency (2009: 45), and 2); that users are being steered towards the top ranked videos, and consequently these communities are becoming homogenised.  The bar may have been lowered to accommodate the lowest common denominator, and the Long Tail may be lost in favour of a ‘Tall Head’.

One issue I have with van Dijck’s position is that she neglects to address the necessity of a ranking system to filter the oceans of content available to find videos of interest – even on as small of a scale as my Facebook network, the need for one is evident.

Furthermore, van Dijck compares YouTube’s ‘Top’ categories and commercial radio stations’ ranking tactics, which comes off as an attempt to trivialise the difference between ‘new’ and ‘old’ media at the same time as dismissing the notion of a truly participatory and self-determining user or community (2009: 45).  Though I would not suggest a complete paradigm shift has occurred, I would side with Lev Manovich in emphasising that “new media may look like old media, but this is only the surface” – beneath lies complex software which is absolutely “new” (2001: 73).

Langdon Winner made the case that technologies, while often assuming the guise of neutrality, are political.  We must recognize this, he argues, and foster technologies which allow freedom and self-determination rather than obstructing it (Kaplan, 2004: 90).

Where does YouTube’s interface sit according to this philosophy?

The way I see it, YouTube’s ranking tactics allow large YouTube communities to form with great ease.  To emphasise this necessary ranking system’s ‘inhibition’ of freedom or self-determination is to cling impractically to the ideology behind Winner’s position.

Works Cited:

Kaplan, D. (2004) ‘Part II: Recent Philosophy of Technology’ pp. 89-94 in Kaplan, D. (ed.) Readings in the Philosophy of Technology. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Manovich, L. (2001) ‘What is New Media?’ pp. 27-48 in The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

van Dijck, J. (2009) ‘Users like you? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, Media, Culture & Society, 31 (1): 41-58.

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