Category Archives: Assessed Questions

internet celebrity

Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).

I contend that despite the spread of the internet medium and the availability of recording and computing technologies, individuals who rise to fame on the online medium rely on traditional or ‘old’ media outlets to sustain their fame. To demonstrate this, I will first introduce the article by Burgess and Green, and second, consider two contrasting examples of ‘famous’ individuals whose origins lie in the digital landscape of YouTube.

Burgess and Green (2009) explore the truth behind amateur video. They attempt to dispel the “myth” that the wide availability of recording equipment and editing software has meant that amateurs with “raw talent” will be able to rise to “legitimate success and media fame”, supported by the distributive capacity of the internet medium. Although the article considers a number of examples of amateur video makers have “made it” from YouTube to the Small Screen or even the Big Screen, Burgess and Green suggest that for the few success stories, their are countless stories of failure (or stories that didn’t end in mainstream “media fame”); indeed, “YouTube has been mythologised as literally a way to ‘broadcast yourself’ into fame and fortune” (Burgess & Green 2009).

The Burgess and Green article considers that for people to ‘broadcast’ themselves to media fame, “the distance between ‘ordinary’ citizen and celebrity can only be bridged when the ordinary person gains access [to the mass (or traditional) media]” (Burgess & Green 2009).

Let’s consider two examples. One of ‘ordinary citizen becomes celebrity’, and one of ‘ordinary citizen remains ordinary’.

Justin Bieber is probably the most widely cited example of YouTube ‘fame’ and success. At thirteen, a video that Bieber had made and published on YouTube was inadvertently clicked on by a record producer looking for another artist. After being impressed by Bieber’s cover performance, he was flown to meet Usher and sign with a record label.

Bieber’s story is one of internet fame (‘Baby‘ is currently the most watched video on YouTube). But his fame has been sustained by the the traditional outlets of the media:

  • Record deals
  • TV appearances
  • Album sales
  • Feature-length films

Justin Bieber’s truly incredible fame finds it roots in the heart of internet culture. But it is his sustained fame, and “pass[ing] through the gate-keeping mechanisms of old media” to traditional forms of media that has cemented his place in the world of celebrities (Burgess & Green 2009).

Let’s consider another story of internet ‘fame’. In 2010 at Blizzard Entertainment’s annual gaming conference (BlizzCon), a game developer (and Blizzard employee) was asked a question in a panel discussion forum (Know Your Meme 2011).

Soon after this was filmed at BlizzCon and posted on YouTube, the man asking the question (that revealed a hole in the storyline of Blizzard Entertainment’s most successful franchise, World of Warcraft) became known as ‘The Red Shirt Guy’. Within minutes of the video upload, Warcraft fan sites exploded with discussion of the Red Shirt Guy – not so much his probing question, but his shaky oral delivery captured on camera and uploaded to YouTube. Comments on the YouTube video criticised his weight, his voice and his face (Know Your Meme 2011).

But unlike Justin Bieber (and perhaps unsurprisingly), the Red Shirt Guy’s foray into the world of internet celebrity failed to “pass through the gate-keeping mechanisms” into the traditional and mainstream media. Admittedly, the Red Shirt Guy’s internet fame was insular to begin with: his fame was isolated to Warcraft fans and other gamers, but without going beyond the internet medium, an individual’s ‘fame’ cannot be sustained.

The Red Shirt Guy also represents the short half-life of internet fame, and the even shorter attention span of the internet’s users. World of Warcraft is a popular computer game with over 12 million players, but the nature of internet fame, the way individuals can rise out of nowhere (see Rebecca Black), facilitates a short lifespan. One week it’ll be the Red Shirt Guy, and the next week, it’ll be someone or something else that’s captivated the attention of internet culture.

If ‘famous’ individuals of the internet cannot extend their fame into the realm of traditional media, their days as a celebrity will be numbered. They best enjoy (or endure) it while it lasts!


PS. This video from Hungry Beast is also worth a look. It takes a brief look behind the computer screen at what really happened to the internet celebrities we loved and forgot.

PPS. Revisit Antoine Dodson. You know you want to!



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meet the new media, same as the old media

Alan Lui discusses the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design and argues that such metaphors “naturalize the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (Reader, page 228). Discuss while giving an example of a website.

Let’s reflect.

In this subject, we have focussed on the rise and rise of ‘new media’ or perhaps more specifically, ‘Web 2.0’ applications. We have identified a number of features that help characterise a website, or a software application as ‘new media’: user-customization; interactivity; on-demand, and; community/network focussed.

But up until now, our studies have not considered how these Web 2.0 features are presented in the online medium. While we love the idea of ‘new media’ (as if somewhere along the timeline of history, someone performed a firmware update), for ‘new media’ to be an effective medium, audiences and individual users must still be able to interpret and understand the information presented.

Alan Lui (2004) explores this idea. Lui (2004) contends that information presented in ‘new media’ applications is represented within visual metaphors of ‘old media’. Essentially, he argues that although we describe interactive and network-based mediums as ‘new media’, the ways in which information is presented to users is the same as the way information is presented in supposedly ‘old media’ platforms.

A few examples provide a better explanation.

Here, on the Boost Juice website is an ‘encyclopaedia’ of fruits. As a company that emphasises the use of fresh fruit in their products, they have included a sort of fact book that examines each fruit available in their stores. The designer of this website has used the familiar layout of a book (with pages, text and illustrations) to present the information on a new media platform. Essentially, the information that is presented on this website is presented in the same style and fashion as it would be if it were presented in ‘old media’.

Another example is the iBook app that operates on the iOS system software used on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

The iBook software attempts to take the experience that users have with information in old media, and recreate it (or “disguise” it) in the ‘new media’ platform (Lui 2004). With iBook software, users consume, interact and engage with the information in the same way as they would if the information was presented in a physical book.

Another iOS app that uses the visual metaphors of ‘old media’ in on a ‘new media’ platform is the Flipboard app.

As the video demonstrates, Flipboard serves as a “personal magazine” that shows the genre of news and information that you are interested in, in a magazine-style format. Again, this application presents information in the same way that we are accustomed to in ‘old’ mediums like physical, published magazines.

I think that it’s always interesting to consider, whenever there is an instance of revolution or evolution (either in technology, social norms or politics), how much the new is similar to the old. While it is easy to find oneself swept up by the superficial changes between old and new, invariably it is the basic elements that will remain unchanged.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.



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user agency on the web

WordPress “masks the database and creates a continuous blogging experience within the browser” (Helmond in Reader, p. 180), yet the database is rigidly defined and categorised. Discuss how this shapes the way we interact with the World Wide Web through blogging and how it affects user agency.

What lies behind that Times New Roman 'W'?

Anne Helmond discusses the relationship between users and the mediums that they ‘engage’ with. In this subject, we have established the characteristics of Web 2.0, or more specifically in this case, blogging. ‘Interactivity’ is routinely cited as an essential component of Web 2.0 and blogging. Indeed, we must engage with the medium for it to be considered a part of the ‘new media’ category.

A core element of this subject is the blog project. Through blogging, we are given first hand experience at using the tools of Web 2.0 and interacting and engaging with net communication applications – to facilitate this, we use: WordPress.

Helmond (2007) proposes that in spite of the rhetoric of Web 2.0 and interactivity and customisation, our supposedly limitless user agency is in fact quite limited by the database foundations of WordPress and other similar blogging websites.

The interface presented to users in their browser windows “masks the database” to create a fluid and seamless “blogging experience” for the user(/blogger) (Helmond 2007)

Hosted by servers and managed by software, databases are used to store information. As the name suggests, ‘data’ is ‘based’ in a single location, resulting in the efficient ‘storage’ of information. But databases cannot be interpreted or manipulated by the untrained eye. It requires particular technical expertise to be able to edit and control a database without the assistance of an interface. For this reason, a graphical interface is employed to help ‘bridge the gap’ between database-illiterate ‘users’ and the database. Helmond delves into a technical explanation of the various internet protocols and coding languages that are used to store information in the most efficient manner within digital databases.

The question raised by Helmond’s article is this: if we are interacting with an interface (such as the one of WordPress), are we really engaging with the medium at all? Is our user agency limited by our technological-illiteracy?

Although these are valid questions, blogging websites like WordPress and Blogger are not about facilitating an intimate relationship between the user and the database. They focus on the relationship between users and other users: they create a clean and clear interface that “masks” the complexity of the database that lies beneath.

When we post on WordPress, we are entering information (or raw data) into a database. The information of this database is hosted by a ‘server’, managed by ‘software’ and reproduced on personal computers and mobile devices with the ‘browser’. But posting on WordPress is more than just the technical side of things. Posting on WordPress is about encouraging free expression, in text and in visual form; it’s about engaging with your fellow WordPress peers on the other side of the world, and; it’s about being a part of community which today alone has ‘freshly pressed’ 107,034,473 words.

One problem that I encountered with Helmond’s article was the sense of techno-elitism that it promoted. Part of her article seems to suggest a quasi-class divide along the lines of technical expertise between “those who know” and “those who don’t”. In suggesting such a divide Helmond undermines the meaning of WordPress and the internet at large. The internet is about a freedom to network, to communicate and with Web 2.0, a freedom to interact. Moreover, the internet introduced a crucial change to the media landscape that preceded it: the internet put the means of production and distribution in the hands of many, not just the hands of the elite. As Helmond alludes to a divide between technical experts and the technically-illiterate, she simultaneously resurrects the very media landscape that the advent of the internet sought to quash.

“Masking the database” connotes an insidious and deceptive act, but it isn’t a bad thing. “The job of computers and networks is to get out of the way, to not be seen… so we can interact with it intuitively” (Berners-Lee in Helmond 2007). Tim Berners-Lee is right, it’s just important to consider and acknowledge that something more happens ‘behind the scenes’.



  • Helmond, A., ‘Software-Engine Relations’ in Blogging for Engines: Blogs Under the Influence of Software-Engine Relations, MA Thesis, Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, pp. 44-80, 2007.

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blogs vs. newspapers

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.


In this article, Russell (et al.) challenges the mainstream media’s dominance over the news industry, and questions whether the rise in blogs and bloggers reflects a trend away from mainstream media as a source of news.

Russell (2008) begins her discussion of online news by emphasising the power of ‘in-the-field’, ‘self-made’, ‘part-time’ reporters. Soldiers who, in their downtime reflect on the conflict they are fighting in, and share those reflections on Twitter, or photograph their journey (Russell 2008). Or mere citizens, who document the experiences of their life in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, and in turn, shed light on the untold stories of war.

Russell (2008) attributes the growth of ‘self-made’ journalist-bloggers to the increasing availability of video recording devices, internet connections, and the evolution of the (smart) mobile phone.

Despite the growing population of the blogosphere, and the inherent characteristics of blogging (“independence… merit-based popularity”), I argue that blogs are do not “effectively inform the public” anymore than traditional news sources. To support my contention, I will approach the argument from an economic point of view, and demonstrate the benefits of a profit-based media industry (and in turn, that traditional profit-based media is superior to “independent” blogs at “effectively inform[ing] the public”).

The economic principles that support the media industry ensure that the media industry, or individual media outlets, must “effectively inform the public”. Consider the following. ‘Media Source A’ decides to publish a handful of stories that gain little interest in the public domain; the Media Source sells fewer units; it generates poorer ratings; attracts less revenue from its advertising partners, and ultimately; ‘Media Source A’s annual turnover is diminished. In market terms, ‘Media Source A’ has produce an undesirable product, and in response, consumers have bought fewer units.

Enter ‘Media Source B’. ‘Media Source B’ publishes stories that are received well by consumers in the public domain; the Media Source sells more units; it generates higher ratings; attracts increased revenue fro its advertising partners, and ultimately; ‘Media Source B’ yields a greater annual turnover.

Here, market mechanisms ensure that the firm (Media Source) that delivers the most desirable product (the news source that best “informs the public”), are rewarded with higher profits, and as such, sustain and grow their business for longer.

Blogs, on the other hand, are not supported by the same market ‘voting system’ that supports the traditional media industry. Furthermore, the “editorial independence” of blogs is no more advantageous than the profit-dependent editorials of traditional media.

There is, however, strong (and some valid) opposition to my economically-grounded argument. My argument, for example, does not take into account the “quality” of public discourse published by traditional media sources – in general, emotive or celebrity stories attract more public interest and attention than political debate (the latter of which is argued to be more relevant). But such is the nature of economics. It believes in “selling people what they want” rather than the sociological argument of “selling people what they need”.

In conclusion, bloggers do not inform the public more effectively than the mainstream media. Indeed, both ‘old’ and ‘new’ mediums are vulnerable to subjective editorialising.



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online ‘communities’

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 online ‘communities’?


YouTube recently launched a vote-based competition, where members of “the YouTube community” could vote for their favourite video-producing artists. By way of majority, the results of the competition reflected each artists’ popularity amongst YouTubers. The community-based competition was appropriately titled “myYouTube”.

This latest community development by the administrators and owners of YouTube supports the argument proposed in van Dijck’s ‘Users like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’. In her article, van Dijck (2009) challenges the perception of YouTube as a website that fosters a “participatory culture”, and proposes that instead, the administrators and owners of YouTube have attempted to create an online “community” using hidden software algorithms. Van Dijck (2009) asserts that although users are valuable “creators and arbiters of media content”, there has been little attention paid to the role that a website’s platform (and interface) performs in corralling these users into virtual “communities”. Van Dijck (2009) argues that concealed “algorithms” are used to “steer” the mass of users to particular videos, and specified “trends”, to help build and develop online “communities” that users can feel comfortable to share and discuss each others uploads.

YouTube’s “ranking tactics” inherent in the “top favourites”, “most viewed” and “most discussed” lists that lie within YouTube’s interface, play an important role in the formation of “online communities”. Lists such as these provide new and existing users with immediate access to the core of the YouTube “community” (Geisler 2007: Dijck 2009). When new users can easily identify the popular videos or current trends, they are given immediate access to the heart of the YouTube “community”. Through ranking “tactics”, users are steered in the direction of the majority, and as a consequence, feel included and a part of a YouTube culture or “community” that encourages the open sharing of information, ideas and most especially, video content (Geisler 2007: van Dijck 2009).

With “ranking tactics” creating something of a snowball effect in the online landscape (where the bigger, more popular videos become increasingly popular as their ‘relevance’ in search results increases), van Dijck (2009) questions whether “participating” in YouTube is really “participation” at all. If users routinely follow the trends of others (and are encouraged to via the site’s ‘trend’ and ‘most viewed’ interface elements), then the degree to which users are actually participating in the online community is seriously diminished (van Dijck 2009). Indeed, their agency over the website and the YouTube community is stifled by the website’s interface.

YouTube’s “myYouTube” feature is exemplifies both of van Dijck’s arguments. First, by encouraging users to “vote” for their favourite video artists, users are made a part of a virtual democracy that through the power of the majority can define which video artists are popular (and thus, superior). This in turn makes users feel a part of a Youtube “community”, encouraging the open sharing of information, ideas and videos. Second (and almost paradoxically), in creating an “online community” that revolves around what is popular or what is trending, the true participation of individual users is limited; instead of participating in the YouTube “community” as they please, they are encouraged to follow the pack and submit to the tyranny of the majority.

Tertiary to this lecture question, it would have been appropriate for van Dijck to further explain and develop her argument behind the economic value of online “communities”. We know that YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion – but Google were not buying the technology of YouTube’s software – Google were investing in the productivity of YouTube’s online community and essentially “buying the users” from YouTube’s URL… a “commodity” of sorts that YouTube never owned in the first place. To me, this seemed as though an appropriate avenue for elaboration.

It would have also been welcome for van Dijck to have discussed the importance of “Featured” videos in the YouTube system and interface. I think that the “promotion” of particular videos on YouTube invites an interesting discussion about equality and fairness on YouTube and the internet in general – YouTube claims that it’s “community belongs to [us]”, but clearly some users are more equal than others.



  • Van Dijck, J., ‘Users like you?’, Media, Culture & Society, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 41-58, 2009.
  • Geisler, G., ‘Tagging Video: Conventions and Strategies of the YouTube Community’, 2007.
  • Pauwels, L., ‘Strategic and tactical uses of internet design and infrastructure: the case of YouTube’, Journal of Visual Literacy Spring, Vol 28, No. 1, pp. 51-70, 2009.
  • Jenkins, H., ‘Enabling Participation’ in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part 1), October 2006.

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