Category Archives: Lecture Questions

creative commons licenses

Following week 10 tutorial’s exercise, explain why you chose the Creative Commons license that you added to your blog and discuss the relevance (or not) of adding the license.

Creative Commons is one of the most interesting things I think we’ve covered in this subject. The global nature of the Internet makes it a fascinating thing to study through a legal lens. For centuries, legal systems have been set up in national, state and municipal jurisdictions, and perhaps more recently, in limited-continental jurisdictions (think: the EU).

But the Internet, by it’s very nature is global.

  • So how do you govern it?
  • How do you police it?
  • And how do you put users to trial?

These are difficult questions with essay-long answers. But creative commons makes an attempt to govern the un-governable… or at least provide some form of regulation to internet-based intellectual property. Even in the real world, intellectual property law is a complex area of study. Take this not the virtual world, and IP law takes on a whole new dimension.

According to the CC website:

Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.

The founders of CC grew frustrated with licensing rights on the internet. If you want to use someone’s material that they’ve uploaded to the internet, it’s often very difficult to determine how they want it to be used (or whether they want it to be used at all). In response, Creative Commons was set up: an “infrastructure” that offers a set of “copyright licenses and tools” that allow people to spell out (in layman’s terms and in legalese) how they want their online material (often intellectual property) to be used.

For example, if I wanted a picture of a grasshopper for the front page of my blog, I could jump onto Google, do a quick search, and before you know it, I’d be met with thousands and thousands of results (1,020,000 actually…). But for most of these images, I’d have great difficult discerning who published the photo, or who can be credited as having taken the photo. So for people who get a moral buzz from accurately crediting the work and intellectual property of other people, they find themselves in quite the quandary.

The Creative Commons licensing system meant that internet users could state from the outset that they are happy (or unhappy) for their material to be used in ways X, Y and Z. The CC website claims that the ability to pre-define how your material is used “create[s] balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law [establishes]”.

For my blog, I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. So I had a quick browse of CC’s template-license agreements and made my choice.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


This license means that others are welcome to “remix, tweak, and build upon” my material on this blog. As long as their work is “non-commercial”, they credit me, and license their own work “under the identical terms”.

I chose this license for a number of reasons:

  • I am happy to have people “remix” and “tweak” the content of my blog. Having said that, I found that this ‘clause’ was an odd one to apply to a blog such as mine, which mainly consists of text and ideas.
  • I think that it’s important that any users of my work are “non-commercial”. The thought of someone using the text posted here for profit, when I am contributing for free seems most unfair to me.
  • I like to be credited. Who doesn’t?
  • And licensing the work under identical terms. I think that it is vitally important to include this one in any licensing arrangement. Without this it makes it possible for someone to use my material (under the other conditions), and then apply a different license; thus negating my license terms and conditions.

As I said above, the relevance of applying a Creative Commons license to my blog is fairly limited. But I think that the utility provided by CC to internet users who don’t have the time or expertise to draft a legal agreement is very valuable. If I were a visual artist, in a garageband trying to get my music off the ground, or if I was a more active amateur film maker, I would certainly use this valuable resource to protect (and share) the fruits of my labour.

//nickkotzman.

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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!

//nickkotzman.

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”.

//nickkotzman.

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nihilism or narcissism

To start with: no, I don’t know the meaning of the graphic above. If you’re only reading on to find out, you’ll be left disappointed. Sorry.

The week seven readings (Lovink) offered an interesting, and in some ways, an unorthodox proposition: that bloggers are nihilistic, and that “blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”.

Lovink (Reader, page 222) argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”.

Although I found that Lovink’s conclusion that blogs are merely another form of ‘one-to-many’ communication refreshing, I think that Lovink’s assertion that bloggers are nihilistic is flawed.

In one sense, I felt that it was as if Lovink had just used the wrong word, and intended to suggest bloggers were ‘narcissistic’ (self-absorbed) rather than ‘nihilistic’ (skeptical or pessimistic).

Here I will consider Lovink’s assertion and examine a couple of blogs.

Melbourne Gastronome, a blog that I regularly visit, is a blog based on the food scene of Melbourne (and Sydney, sometimes). The author of the blog, Claire, lawyer by day and foodie by night, writes about her journey through the diverse culinary landscape of Victoria’s capitol city. Melbourne Gastronome is a positive blog, and shows no signs of the nihilism that Lovink suggests. Indeed, the very purpose of the blog is to expand its readers’ horizons, encouraging them to try new and hidden-away eateries.

Another popular blog, The Sartorialist (first introduced to me by my highschool English teacher) also exemplifies a positive blog, and exhibits no nihilist sentiment. The Sartorialist (Scott Schuman) wanders the streets of the world’s fashion capitals and snaps a few pics of beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes. In his blog, he posts the pictures he takes (sometimes with commentary) and lets his readers comment on and discuss the fashion trends that he logs.

Lovink’s statement is too broad: it casts an unfounded generalisation and fails to acknowledge the positive blogs that thrive on the internet.

Interestingly, it seems that the nihilistic or cynical blogs that Lovink refers to are that which maintain an academic and political focus. It comes as little surprise that many popular blogs of a political inclination, are those that flout a heavy dose of cynicism; questioning the government, and the oppositional mainstream media.

I think perhaps if Lovink had instead argued along the lines of narcissism, he would have been closer to the mark.

Melbourne Gastronome has a very strong sense of “I” throughout the posts, and focusses heavily on personal opinions and “managing” and publishing those opinions for the public.

Likewise, The Sartorialist has an inherent focus on what the author (/photographer) considers to be a ‘fashionable’ style.

But we must remember that this egocentric/narcissistic feature is what makes blogs great. Indeed, it is what separates and distinguishes blogs from the mainstream media.

By focussing on the “I”, we feel an immediate connection with the author. As we read their thoughts on a new Melbourne restaurant or the latest street fashion in Prague or London, we connect with who they are and sympathise with their opinions. This more casual relationship that we build with our favourite bloggers is a world apart from the more professional relationship we build with our trusted hard news sources in newspapers and on television.

Lovink’s article offers a deep and refreshing discussion of blogs in the 21st century, but casts too wide a net in its assertion that blogs are driven by nihilism and cynicism.

//nickkotzman.

Sources:

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

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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’.

//nickkotzman.

Sources:

  • 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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a more ‘open’ world

Analyse critically the following statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices:

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/146252

A ‘more open world’ is something that Mark Zuckerberg has been pursuing for a long time. On Zuckerberg’s personal Facebook page, his ‘about me’ section spells this out:

I’m trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share.

But this is to be expected.

In my brief essay for this subject, I examined the exchanges that occur in all business transactions.

Facebook, like all businesses engages in an exchange of goods to generate revenue ($1.86b from advertising alone in 2010). But what is interesting about Facebook, and almost exclusive to companies that engage with users on the internet, is that they are trading something that they acquired for free.

Consider the job of a blacksmith. A blacksmith’s tasks could range from forging a sword, to smelting some ore, or crafting a shield. A blacksmith has a set of expertise that allows him to perform a ‘crafting’ task. But the blacksmith cannot just conjure swords and shields out of thin air, he must acquire the ore from a miner, or some timber from a lumberjack. To acquire this ore – this base material for the more sophisticated objects he wishes to create – he must exchange something in return for the ore (gold coins, for example). Once he has this ore, he can make a sword, and hopefully sell it (or exchange it) for more money than he bought the ore from the miner. This is an example of a rudimentary business.

Facebook is the same.

Facebook performs the role of a ‘middle man’, in a way.

Facebook has created a digital locale that attracts users. Facebook do not charge its users for this service. Instead, they ask you to exchange something with them:

‘Tell us a bit about yourself!’

But Facebook is still a business, correct? So where do their profits come from? The exchange of goods with their network of advertisers desperate to tap into a market of 600 million users. Hence, we do not use Facebook for free.

We are charged when we use Facebook. We offer up our (valuable) personal information to Facebook for free, and Facebook in turn ‘sells’ that information to advertisers – a process that created $1.86 billion in advertising revenue in 2010.

But how does Facebook’s role in the social media industry affect issues such as privacy?

Because in the ‘more open world’ that Zuckerberg envisages, there is more information exposed to Facebook and for Facebook to use in their business model of exchanging users information with the lucrative advertising industry.

Facebook has been criticised for it’s complex Terms of Service (that wall-o’-text that you scrolled passed and clicked ‘agree’). Using legalese jargon, Facebook attempts (quite successfully, I would suggest) to dissuade people from reading the document that spells out what a user surrendered when they sign up for a Facebook account.

The internet is a fantastic medium. It’s changed human society as we know it, and for many people of my generation, it has defined our social engagement.

Going online and talking with our friends on the other side of the world is a great thing to do – I know that without Facebook, I wouldn’t have maintained the connections I forged with friends I met in India – but we need to remind ourselves that Facebook is a business. And business is booming.

We need to consider that all businesses engage in the exchange of something – whether it’s as tangible as some iron ore, or as intangible as ‘personal information’, the exchange of ‘goods’ occurs in every business, and Facebook is by no means an exception.

My cynical great aunt used to always say “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

She never used Facebook, but her pessimistic adage hasn’t lost its relevance.

Facebook is not a free service. We do pay for it.

Be aware of the exchange that you make each and every time you log in to Facebook.

//nickkotzman.

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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.

Really?

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.

//nickkotzman.

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