Tag Archives: prosumer

Out of Print: Prosumption and the Triumph of New Media

by pj.rey

President Obama recently gave a eulogy for the legendary news anchor, Walter Cronkite, on which occasion, he delivered the nation this message:

We know that this is a difficult time for journalism. Even as appetites for news and information grow, newsrooms are closing.  Despite the big stories of our era, serious journalists find themselves all too often without a beat.  Just as the news cycle has shrunk, so has the bottom line. [...] Naturally, we find ourselves wondering how he would have covered the monumental stories of our time. In an era where the news that city hall is on fire can sweep around the world at the speed of the Internet, would he still have called to double-check?  Would he have been able to cut through the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites to shine the bright light on substance?  Would he still offer the perspective that we value?  Would he have been able to remain a singular figure in an age of dwindling attention spans and omnipresent media?

The president waxed romantically about the old media and spoke with the sort fondness that one expects at the funeral of an old friend (or cherished institution).  He was hopeful about the future of conventional media.  But, eulogies are a post-mortum affair.  And, for all the president’s accolades, “the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites” appear to have won the day.

In fact, these days, one can hardly avoid stories about the death of print media.  Last December, the Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy. Shortly thereafter, Michael Hirschorn warned that “End Times” might be drawing near for the America’s paper of record.  A recent article reports that the crisis is spreading to other forms of conventional reporting such as photojournalism.  Michael Bowden has even gone so far as to announce that we have entered a “post-journalistic age.”

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the culture of efficiency

by nathanjurgenson

51gZ8phgHXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I have a number of posts on this blog regarding the user-generated web (what has come to be known as Web 2.0), usually focused on social networking sites or the changing relations of production and consumption online, leading to the rise of prosumption and the prosumer (briefly, prosumption involves both production and consumption rather than focusing on either one or the other). Some of these ideas are published as a chapter in the new book, The Culture of Efficiency, edited by Sharon Klienman. The chapter, co-authored with George Ritzer, is titled “Efficiency, Effectiveness and Web 2.0”.

There, we argue that there has been an explosion of user-generated content, creating a virtual world of general abundance. We maintain that efficiency thinking –getting the most output from a given input or using the least input to generate a given output- only makes sense to the degree that scarcity exists. Web 2.0 is, largely, an abundant system, requiring a post-scarcity focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency.

For example, it matters little the amount of input that goes into a Wikipedia entry. Many hundreds of authors putting in many hundreds of hours into an entry that is never finished is highly inefficient from the standpoint of content-production. Simultaneously, however, it can also be a highly effective way of building a base of knowledge, as the sheer size of Wikipedia illustrates.

Our essay is a small part of the larger book which looks at how people deal with new technological developments in modern, digital life –a timely and important topic. ~nathan

Light capitalism, prize economics, and the prosumer

by bmckernan

A few months ago, Sociology Lens news editor Nathan Jurgenson posted an intriguing article entitled “Facebook, the transumer, and liquid capitalism.” Among the interesting concepts that Jurgenson addresses and illuminates include Bauman’s notion of “light” or “weightless” capitalism as well as “prosumers.” Some recent events in American mass media and popular culture further illustrate these significant insights.

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weightless capitalism

by nathan jurgenson

800px-Google_wordmark.svgGoogle announced that its new operating system, Chrome OS, will be free of charge. Further, it is designed to operate in the “cloud,” meaning that most of its functionality will exist online, using internet applications like GMail and Google Documents instead of programs installed on a hard drive (as Windows does). The free cloud-based operating system is designed to run on smaller, lighter “netbooks” -a bright spot in the computer market in these tough economic times. I previously wrote about the transumer and virtual goods as evidence of Zygmunt Bauman’s liquidity thesis that exchange online is following a lighter and more fluid path. These developments further underscore the relevancy of Bauman’s thinking, and beg the question: is the digital economy approaching a sort of ‘weightless capitalism’?

Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, tackles just this sort of emergent business trend online. The marginal cost to produce digital items approaches zero because microprocessing, storage and bandwidth are increasingly cheaper. Another factor that applies to many Web 2.0 companies is that much of the content production is out-sourced to the consumers. That is, we are the prosumers of Facebook because we are simultaneously the producers and consumers of it. The result is that we do not have to directly pay to use Google’s services, or for things like Facebook, Flickr, Yelp and so on.

When products are free and labor is often done without pay, we have near-weightless capitalism.

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our digital culture of narcissism

by nathan jurgenson

Web_2_imageFor many (especially youths and young adults), attempting to quit or never start Facebook is a difficult challenge. We are compelled to document ourselves and our lives online partly because services like Facebook have many benefits, such as keeping up with friends, scheduling gatherings (e.g., protests) and so on. Additionally, and to the point of this post, the digital documentation of ourselves also means that we exist. There is a common adage that if something is not on Google, it does not exist. As the world is increasingly digital, this becomes increasingly true. Especially for individuals. One adolescent told her mother, “If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist.”

Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism argues that we are increasingly afraid of being nothing or unimportant so we develop narcissistic impulses to become real. The explosion of new ways to document ourselves online allows new outlets for importance, existence and perhaps even immortality that living only in the material world does not permit. The simple logic is that increased digital documentation of ourselves means increased digital existence. More than just social networking sites, we document ourselves on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and even increasingly with services that track, geographically, where one is at all times, often via one’s smart phone (e.g., Loopt, Fire Eagle, Google Latitude, etc).

So what?

Neon_Internet_Cafe_open_24_hoursIn this world where we can document our lives endlessly, we might become fixated on our every behavior. How it will appear to others, how it will help us with our jobs, friends, relationships, etc. Simply, self-presentation is a strategic game. Erving Goffman discussed this using a dramaturgical model where we are like actors on a stage performing ourselves. The new technologies described here mean that more and more areas of our life become part of this perforce because new parts of our lives are now able to be documented (e.g., our every-moment geographic locations). More and more areas of our life are lived subservient to the performance and identity we want to convey.

In this way, a hyper-fixatedness on our own subjectivity to create its own digital simulation (e.g., Facebook) can, to some degree, dictate how we live, becoming like characters on a “reality” show always performing for the camera, seduced by the importance and immortality that digital existence promises. ~nathan

square-eye32 Where Are You? Show ‘Em With Google Latitude

square-eye32 £1.99 - small The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

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facebook, the transumer and liquid capitalism

by nathan jurgenson

Zygmunt_Bauman_by_KubikDuring this “great recession” capitalism might become lighter and more liquid while older and more solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially an economic “reboot,” similar to Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”, both having received recent attention.

The transumer (video) is, in part, one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. Zipcar, Netflix and others mentioned articulate that for many, especially the young and/or wealthy, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves and in our attics, instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of “virtual goods” -digital commodities such as gifts on Facebook or weapons on World of Warcraft. Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products such as software, which is, opposed to heavier items such as automobiles, more changeable and disposable. The proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

facebookGoing further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued at $10billion because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Is it the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case? ~nathan

square-eye32 Virtual Goods May Be a Blip

square-eye32 £1.99 - small The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

By nathan jurgenson

In light of the current “great recession” one might argue that capitalism needs to become lighter and more liquid while old solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially a “reboot” of the economy, ala Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmund Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of two recent New York Times articles highlighting the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”.

The transumer is one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. ZipCar, Netflix and others mentioned in the article articulate that for many, especially younger folks, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people one once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves or in our attics, but is instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of virtual goods, that is, digital commodities such as… Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products (software, as opposed to automobiles, is more changeable and disposable), and the proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

Going further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening, towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued in the billions of dollars because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Therefore it might be the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case. ~nathan

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britannica is putting customers to work

by nathan jurgenson

600px-wikipedia-logo1The very idea of Wikipedia -the open-source encyclopedia that anyone with an internet connection can edit- has sparked many discussions about knowledge construction, such as the politics behind truth, the social construction of knowledge, the tyranny of epistemic expertism or populism, and so on. In these discussions, the Encyclopedia Britannica is often posed as the antithesis to Wikipedia. So it came as big news earlier this year that the Encyclopedia Britannica, the model of old-school expertism, is going to begin to allow user-generated content.

Users will be able to write new content, which then goes to one of the thousands of paid Britannica editors to accept/edit/reject. Ideally, Britannica wants new edits to appear on their site within twenty minutes and are planned to be incorporated into subsequent print editions.

Outside of the debates regarding knowledge production mentioned above, there is another point to be made here: Britannica is a for-profit model in contrast to the not-for-profit status of Wikipedia. There has been no indication on the part of Britannica to pay users who make good edits. The underlying point is much the same as can be made regarding “our” free labor that we donate to Facebook: that, simply, Britannica is trying to improve its costly operation and its profit-potential with unpaid user-labor. Britannica has, in part, “crowdsourced” production to its consumers, highlighting the highly efficient business model of turning consumers into unpaid “prosumers” (those that consume that which they produce). A further discussion might begin with asking how has Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia also profited from the prosumer business model (for example, by “branding” the Wikipedia name)? This will be a topic for a later post. ~nathan

square-eye32 Read More: Britannica reaches out to the web

 

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The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

The Facebook Privacy Fiasco of 2009

by nathan jurgenson

266px-facebooksvgAll over the news the past few days has been the outing of Facebook for changing its terms of service so that it could keep its user’s data for whatever it pleased for as long as it pleased. Even if the user deleted their account. Next came the vast uproar to this move followed by Facebook’s backtracking, arguing that the wording was harsher than what they would actually do in practice. Under continued pressure, however, Facebook backed down and reverted its terms of service to its previous state before this fiasco.

What the articles I link to above do not highlight is the fact that Facebook always had your data (if you are a user), and continues to have your data. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that users “own and control their information”, but what do the terms “own” and “control” mean with respect to Facebook and other similar sites?

The fact remains that Facebook is a company that still hoards its users’ personal information in an attempt to make money. They are building a database -a digital goldmine- from the entirety of one’s profile. In fact, just about everything one does on Facebook is a cell in this ever-expanding database of our lives, identities, and social networks. What real ‘control’ do we have? In what ways do we ‘own’ our data? And perhaps most importantly, in what ways does Facebook own our data? Facebook clearly owns the profit-potential from our online social networking labor. This is a point made before, and all of the events of the past couple of weeks have not changed this. ~nathan

square-eye32 Read More: Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use

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The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption