Sustaining business in the virtual age

 With the rise of interactive media, Bruns, Levy and Von Hippel question, to what extent does produsage exist within a commercial entity? It has been suggested by Bruns, that produsage can be utilised as a low cost business model. In understanding how produsage technologies can be incorporated into a commercial context it is necessary to look at the gaming industry, which was one of the first industries to place emphasis on systematically empowering its customers (Prugl and Schcier 2006, 2). Today the gaming industry has a worldwide sales volume of more than USD 49.1 billion (Bond, 2008), and remains at the forefront of open innovation for user innovation and design (Prugl and Schcier 2006, 3). The player population has been transformed from mere consumers into active, vested participants in the development and evolution of the game. Accordingly, research and development belongs as much to the players as to the developers, since player innovations are incorporated into the next iteration of the product (Herz 2006, 331).

In terms of sustaining a business model, it is important to note that produsage is used to best effect in the research and development industry. Since a company’s competitiveness increasingly depends on its capabilities beyond its internal boundaries, by harnessing the community, gaming companies have loosened the hold of platform manufacturers over game content (Meikle 2006, 322). Not only are consumer innovations drawn from the message boards of websites to identify weaknesses in the game, developers are also changing the dynamics of the game by giving gamers access to functionality. In a professional sense, this has business application, as empirical studies on the sources of innovation have revealed that in the fields of both industrial and consumer goods, users are often the initial developers of products, prototypes and processes which later gain commercial significance (Prugl and Schcier 2006, 3). Common tool kits awarded to consumers, range from level builders (which allow players to create their own game environments) to character-building kits (which enable users to create avatars). An example of this model is the first person shooter game Doom (1993), which was released on the Internet before its commercial debut.

Furthermore, The Sims, illustrates how produsage can produce profits from increased engagement with the game. Before the game was even released, the company released the tools to allow players to create custom objects for the games virtual environment including architecture, props and custom characters. The hype surrounding this release resulted in record sales, with one quarter of a million boxes sold in the first week. One year after the release date of the game, there were already 150 independent content creators, half a million collectors and millions of players reading 200 fan sites in 14 languages (Herz 2006, 335). Accordingly, this represents the completely bottom up process, of open participation with community property that is inherent to produsage. Herz (2006, 330) argues how a comprehensive business model can be built of the back of produsage. He notes that even only if 1 percent of the population contributes to the innovation in the product, (no matter how minor), that translates to 10, 000 (unpaid) people working in research and development (Herz 2006, 331). This represents, the heterarchy within produsage projects that Bruns (2008, 25) describes. Using the tools supplied by the company, customers can take on problem-solving tasks and design products to fit their individual needs. However, with this model it is warned that the challenge lies in the developer’s ability to cultivate this community but not to exploit it. For example, there is current copyright and patenting laws that inhibit the open source sharing of knowledge. An example of this, it the threatened law suit against Second Life.

The designer pro/am divide

Bruns (2008, 201) asks the question, how can the holders of expertise be distinguished from ordinary folks engaging in the produsage project? Now, with so many produsage based sites, it is almost impossible to draw a distinction between professionals and amateurs and vice versa. By gathering a following, many amateur bloggers have used produsage platforms to create careers of their own and in contrast, many professionals have turned to produsage to further annunciate theirs. Through peer evaluation and generating a fan base, many bloggers have become professionals in their own right. This is a current trend in the fashion industry, with fashion blogs such as Fashion Toast and Satorialist illustrating the Pro/Am divide.

 

According to Bruns (2008, 216), through produsage it is apparent that the lines between professionals, enthusiasts and experts are nowhere near as defined as before. Accordingly, Pro Ams (professional amateurs) and committed produsers have blurred these lines considerably. Fashion Toast replicates this notion, as the creator Rumi (whose official title is described as blogger, fashionista and model) with the aid of her boyfriend (her photographer) has taken photos of her wardrobe collection. The photos are published on the site with descriptions about the clothing labels and how the clothes make her feel. What defines this Pro/Am blog, is how Rumi, an amateur publisher, has become a professional in her own right. Her reputation has been attributed to her trendy wardrobe collection, personal style and photography. This reflects the nature of produsage, as this blog is not located in any particular community (e.g. a particular designer), but rather in Rumi who is not associated with any official community (Bruns 2008, 211).

 

It must be noted, that although representing the Pro/Am, this site could not operate without the traditional expert support. Due to the success of fashion toast, professionals now send her pieces of clothing to model. An example of this is her recent trip to Paris, courtesy of designer of Ungaro Esteban Cortazar, to see his show in the Louvre. The designer then followed up with a package of his favourite pieces for her to photograph. Although this is an advertising platform for designers, traditional experts do have a role to play in complementing amateurs (Bruns 2008, 216). Furthermore, fashion toast relies on publicity via traditional media, such as Rumi’s recent fashion spread in the June issue of Metal Magazine.

 

While Fashion Toast, represents how an amateur can harness produsage technology to create a professional expertise, by contrast the Satorialist (fashion blog) demonstrates application of produsage to an established professional. Here, the creator saw a need for a blog that translated street level culture to designers, after working 15 years in the fashion industry. This blog’s purpose is to foreground international trends, (mainly New York, Paris, Milan and Sydney) by taking photos of fashionable people. This blog’s popularity is defined by Time Magazine, which voted it one of the top 100 designer influences. Accordingly, this blog through the creators individual merit and reputation, has given rise to greater recognition amongst their peers and therefore to emerge above the waterline into the traditional expert model (Bruns 2008, 216).

Wikipedia: a source of knowledge

Like most people, I think that there is a time and a place for Wikipedia. Like most online tools, I think that its place is not in the professional world. However, my view is not based on Wikipedia’s unreliability, inaccuracy and uncorroborated evidence, rather the fact that it is innapropriate to rely on secondary sources in a professional context. Universally, secondary sources (including Britannica) if left uncorroborated may not be reliable. Accordingly, before blaming websites for the unreliability information online, there is a need to spend more time teaching about the limitations of all information sources, including Wikipedia, and emphasizing the skills of critical analysis of primary and secondary sources (Bruns 2008, 132).

In reading condemning comments about Wikipedia, it is interesting to note that many other websites have gone unscathed. Wikipedia appears to be the perennial poster child of web 2.0 (Bruns 2008, 133), and is the most often used example of collaboration, open source and knowledge drawn to by the media. Accordingly, Wikipedia can be distinguished from its printed counter parts, by enabling users to create a network of knowledge that is structured in an ad hoc manner through multiple links between individual pieces of information within the knowledge base (Bruns 2008, 102).   It must be noted that a key difference between Wikipedia traditional encyclopedias is its editorial process.

Too often is Wikipedia blamed for being incomplete, offering limited in scope, being poorly edited, lacking sources or otherwise being defective (Bruns 2008, 115). Accordingly, Wikipedia often used as the scapegoat for inaccuracies, when in fact the author and editor should have corroborated his/her own sources to prove reliability before printing. A contemporary example of Wikipedia being blamed in a professional context was last week, when a fake quote was circulated in newspaper obituaries around the world. The quote attributed to French composer Maurice Jarre, was replicated in newspapers in major British, Indian and Australian newspapers. Instead of condemning the journalist and questioning the mainstream media’s gate keeping process, commentators on this story chose to blame Wikipedia for containing inaccuracies. As Jason Brummond, editor in chief of the Daily Iowan, notes, for journalists Wikipedia a good initial source, “but you go from there to find what most people would consider a more reputable source.”

Further, a common misconception is that Wikipedia contains inaccurate information compared to printed encyclopedia’s. However, rather than deem the information inaccurate, it is more pertinent to point out the vast differences between articles online. It is noted by Shaw , that Wikipedia is “maddenly uneven”. It can be impressive in one entry (the entry on Naval Battle of Guadalcanal includes 138 endnotes, 18 references and seven external links) and sloppy in another (it misspells the name of AJR’s editor). Its topics range from the weighty (the Darfur conflict) to the inconsequential (a list of all episodes of the TV series “Canada’s Worst Handyman”). In contrast Bruns (2008), focuses his arguments on the fact that accuracy is achieved through the editorial process, where only  the accurate contributions survive. Supporting his theories is a 2005 study by Science Magazine Nature, which revealed equal inadequacies (4 each) in 48 science articles in both Wikipedia and Britannica.

Citizen Journalism: is there a future?

After one year studying a double degree of Journalism/Law, I was swift to change my course to Media Communication/Law because of the rise of citizen journalism. After one year of journalism, I had heard enough about citizen journalists taking over the mainstream press, so to render my six-year course and $50 000 HECS debt a complete waste of money. For the record, it wasn’t just my journalism lecturers threatening that we wouldn’t get a job, other new media professionals such as Bruns (2008, 84) note that professional expertise or standing no longer has any special role in the journalism field. Now with the Internet and open source publishing, anyone can do the job of a journalist with a computer, Internet connection and an opinion. Accordingly, citizen journalism challenges the traditional media’s conception of news (Bruns 2008, 82).

It must first be noted how citizen journalism works. According to David Hazinski, former NBC correspondent, citizen journalism is an extension of the news business where the audience becomes the reporter. According to We Media, in this model we can play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information. Apart from obvious benefits including democratisation of publishing and its ability to represent long tail interests, citizen journalism allows for continuous editing, post publication (Bruns 2008, 82). This therefore provides a clear example of how the media has adapted from ‘read-only’ mass communications to ‘read-write- citizen media (Flew 2008, 165).

Examples of citizen journalism:

–       http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

–       http://perezhilton.com/

–       http://newmatilda.com/

While citizen journalism can be heralded for its democratisation of approach, this is a double-edged sword. Since publication is not limited to those who can afford a media company of their own and writing limited to those with a journalism degree, in consequence, anyone can be a citizen journalist. An article in 2005 by Tom Grubisich reviewed ten new citizen journalism sites and found many of them lacking in quality, reputability and content.

 

In mainstream media, it is the editor who ultimately selects for audiences what content to show, which often replicates the power balance in society. Further, due to the business model (Dvorak, 2008) of traditional media, what is published, printed or aired is most often, what is of interest, importance and relevance for the dominant class in society (Bruns 2008. 73). Both Bruns and Flew note that citizen journalism will continue to overcome inherent weaknesses in the mainstream media through its multiplicity of perspectives. However, it must be noted that with no gatekeepers or firm editorial process in citizen journalism, dominant social mores will still prevail. Since citizen journalists build reputability by gathering supporters and ‘fans’, it stands to reason that the most popular citizen journalists will be those who represent the most popular views in society.

While I accept that news is important as the fourth estate of society and should be accessible to the masses, I disagree strongly with Bruns’ (2008, 96) idea that democracy requires journalism to be open to all citizens. Since the Internet and open source software is so incorporated into our society, I think a balance, facilitated by policy should allow UGC to be blended with mainstream media. An example of this is through citizens capturing footage then to be superimposed with a news story, written by professionals. This is blending of citizen media is exemplified in the mainstream news coverage 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and the 2005 London bombings (Farmer 2008).

Produsage in a professional setting; a critical analysis of content creation online

 

In the professional world, I wonder how much collective intelligence, produsage and collaborative work will be used? It seems on one side Bruns (2008), Herz (2005) and Shirky (1999) privilege its flexibility and use in an academic setting, while in contrast, other professionals, such as Philip Bradley, claim that these principles leave content unreliable and uncorroborated.

It is accepted that we now live in a digital age, where consumers dictate the production of goods. This can be distinguished from models of traditional and prosumer production, where consumers were simply passive rather than active participants.  However, this increased equipotentiality of the consumer must be seen in light of its benefits and weaknesses in a professional setting.

The concept of produsage highlights that within online communities, the distinctions between producers and users of content has faded into insignificance (Bruns 2008, 2). Causing this trend are Internet sites that promote communities where ideas are shared. While speed is recognized as a benefit of this production model (Bury 2007), it must be considered whether this speed contributes to or negates the strength of collaborative content creation. Bruns  (2008) suggest that the rapid speed of change in the online environment is met only by produser methods. For example, books can be outdated before they reach publication point, while websites are a fluid text with the ability to be constantly updated.

While books can be outdated, I argue, so too can community led websites. Perhaps the content on these websites is irrelevant, because many of the people operating them are less engaged in the community that they blog about.  Since, anyone can blog, what makes his or her content reliable, relevant or interesting to me? On sites such as Wikipedia amateur contributions are foregrounded just as much as professionals. While this democratization is heralded as a benefit, there is comfort in knowing a book has gone through a publication process, which ensures a modicum of reliability.

With self-evaluating websites, I wonder what credentials people have to critique other peoples work? At the heart of produsage, no one needs formal qualifications to participate (Bruns 2008, 28). Accordingly, there is no formal filtering process, as opposed to traditional models where publication was based on expertise. On Amazon online, anyone can review a book. What right do people have to critique a book, when they may have dubious qualifications and experience, and there is no certainty they have understood the plot.

While there is an argument that the rise of the Internet is empowering for users who can build communities amongst themselves (Bruns 2008, 14), conversely traditional concepts of alienation still exist in online medium. In Wikipediaalienation is exemplified through edit warring. This is the confrontational use of edits to win what content is published.

Further, wiki-vandals damage the reputability of the site. These inherent problems with Wikipedia are noted by Zittrain. The motive for encyclo-vandalism is mostly humour. According to a report in the New York Times, the contributor who entered false information about Seigenthaler (claiming he’d played a role in Robert Kennedy’s assassination) was playing a joke on some friends. This fraudulent action negates the relevance of this information for readers.

Even if editing is done with good intentions, there is no way to moderate whether the content is correct. The produsgae approach believes that quality control will occur organically where participants are able to evaluate and add to the contributions of others, no matter how major or minor the contribution. This granularity of contribution, although a benefit, must be seen in light of a copyright perspective since any one creator does not uniquely hold the content.

 

Disclaimer: I recognise the irony in blogging; how blogs do not contribute to high quality content online. Accordingly, this blog should only be used as a secondary source, as indeed, that is its intention. 

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!