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Produsage Communities

The Industrialisation of User Recommendations

Cécile Méadel and Francesca Musiani are the final speakers in this ECREA 2014 session. Their interest is in the Industrialisation of user contributions through online platforms: this includes recommendations, information, and advice. The Internet reconfigures the mechanisms by which goods and services are assessed by others; this creates an economy of qualities.

The process has been increasingly automatised through contemporary Internet technologies, and this allows new practices. This is an industrialisation of user contributions, drawing increasingly on 'big data' approaches that create links between a variety of different data points.

Political Action in Non-Political Online Fora

The next speakers at ECREA 2014 are Daniel Jackson and Todd Graham, who are interested in the use of online third spaces for political action. This is especially important at a time of austerity which tends to let citizens fend for themselves rather than providing government support. To what extent does political talk in these spaces lead to political action, then?

The study looked at the discussion fora of Money Saving Expert, Digital Spy, and Netmums to explore the presence of political talk in these otherwise non-political spaces and identify the presence of commitments or calls to further political action.

From Worker-Generated Content in China to Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

The AoIR 2015 keynote today is by Jack Linchuan Qiu, whose begins by highlighting the contributions Asian communication and Internet researchers and practitioners have made to their fields, from very early research publications to Korea. citizen journalism site OhmyNews, Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, and most recently the incomplete "umbrella revolution" in Hong Kong.

But Asia is also the industrial base of the global digital revolution, and in this it remains part of the global south. Here, classic 19th century-style industrial struggles take place using 21st-century communication technologies. The problems around Apple iPhone manufacturer Foxconn represent just the tip of the iceberg for these kinds of struggles.

To illustrate this, Jack discusses the picture of a handwritten protest poem which was posted to a tree in the manufacturing town Dongguan, and was shared virally using social media. Transmitted through social media, this is an expression of digital activism, similar to so many other campaigns around the world. But in Asia it also has a special meaning, as it represents workers armed with smart phones challenging the Chinese social and industrial model. The recent tidal wave of social media use amongst Chinese workers is just as important to study as the Arab Spring uprisings.

Understanding the Cultural Intermediary

The next session at AoIR 2015 starts with CCI graduate Jonathon Hutchinson, whose work is on the integration of user participation into the activities of public service media. User participation is not new, but in fact some form of user participation may just be interaction – there is a need to also make sure that participation is relevant, to both users and organisations.

A useful concept to use in this context is the idea of co-creation, bringing together users and organisations as mutual stakeholders in the participatory process. This may also result in a clash of heterarchical community and hierarchical organisational structures – and the organisational staff charged with managing institutional online communities are the ones to negotiate that clash. These community managers serve as cultural intermediaries between the two sides.

The Individualism of Online Social Movements

The third speaker at this ASMC14 session is Paolo Gerbaudo, whose interest is in the organisational processes of informal collaboration in social media activism. In order to understand these processes it is not enough to study the large datasets of their outputs, but to also ask the people behind such activities why and how they do this work.

Across the various cases of social media activism in recent years there has been a clear power distribution – a handful of leading accounts have been driving protests such as Occupy, Indignados, or the Arab Spring. These accounts have attracted a large number of followers and serve as movement leaders and organisers. Who is behind these accounts; who is working to keep such feeds going, and how?

Wikipedia's Role as a Gatekeeper

The next ASMC14 speaker is Heather Ford, who shifts our focus to Wikipedia. In its early days, the site was seen as an underdog challenging existing publishing models – this includes news publishers, and Wikipedia was seen as a challenger to the conventional gatekeepers. It was also shown that the quality of its content was not necessarily any worse than that of traditional encyclopaedias, even though it had been collaboratively compiled. Nonetheless, a persistent view of its inaccuracy due to this collaborative model remains.

Wikipedia itself offers a range of self-definitions, which inter alia point out that Wikipedia is not a social network (or even a dating service), so personal profiles should be kept short; not a soap box from which to promote personal views or original research. Wikipedia also defines reliable sources which should be used as evidence for its articles, and in doing so for the most part explicitly rules out self-published media (blogs, etc.) as unreliable.

Thinking through Connective Networks

The next keynote at ASMC14 is by W. Lance Bennett, whose begins by highlighting the use of social media by NGOs. For them, the game has shifted in recent years – the emphasis now is less on continuing membership than on temporary calls to action. Other recent political movements – from the Spanish Indignados to the global Occupy movement – also appear to be crowd-based movements pursuing some form of collective action, and are moving away even further from conventional organisational models.

Conventional collective action in organisations has its problems – with free riders, for example –, and communication here simply reinforces the existing organisation. By contrast, in connective action there is more self-motivated networking well beyond the organisational setup: social technology enables sharing, using personal action frames, and thereby enlists a greater range of participants beyond the organisation itself.

Revisiting Produsage

After the “Compromised Data” symposium in Toronto I’ve made my way over to Europe, where my first stop is a PhD symposium in Copenhagen where I’ve been invited to present an update on my work on produsage. Here, I’ve revisited the fundamental concept of produsage and made the link to my current work on the uses of social media, especially in a journalistic context. Slides and audio below:

When Wikipedians Go Wrong

The final day at AoIR 2013 starts for me with a panel on conflict, controversy and aggression in online spaces in which Theresa Sauter and I also have a paper - but the first presenter is Heather Ford, whose focus is on Wikipedia. She has been involved with Wikipedia for some time, and has seen a substantial level of conflict (leading to article deletions and user bannings) during that time. Her paper here focusses on the specific case of a Wikipedian being stalked and banned.

Being a Wikipedian means being part of a peer-production community, which Benkler and Nissenbaum have claimed fosters virtue. But more recent research has exposed some of the darker sides of Wikipedia - as experienced especially to newcomers to the community. Entering the now-mature project at a late stage is difficult, and many contributions from newbie users are reverted by established participants; this has been seen as contribution to Wikipedia's decline and the slow-down of new user sign-ups.

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