Main Bloggin’ Question 5 – Online communities: A popularity contest?

The final post in this blog project will look to answer the following question:

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 of online ‘communities’?

Ranking tactics profoundly affect the way online communities are formed. By directing users to more popular users or content, these sorts of tactics can create a communal homogeny, as users who are alreay popular and whose content is viewed and enjoy by most is the same content that is displayed most predominantly on these sites. Whilst van Dijk uses YouTube as his prime example, YouTube is by no means the only site where such tactics are prevalent. When a person signs up for Twitter, the first time they log in, one of the first things they will do is be asked to search for users with similar interests by inputting a few keywords. Typically, the results the user are shown are ranked by popularity. So if you were tosearch for users who tweet about fashion, the first accounts shown in the results will be those who have the most followers and the most tweets. In this way, the voice of the most popular, and hence higher ranked, users becomes vastly louder than those who do not share the same amount of popularity. This invariably shapes the way these online communities are formed, as it means they tend to form around the highest ranked, or more popular, users.

This creates a situation where the idea that all users of a specific site, or all those who participate in certain online community, speak with an equal voice and can interact on an equal platform is not necessarily true (van Dijck pg. 42).  Instead, there are a group of individuals within the community whose voice exerts a greater amount of influence than others, and whose ideas and tastes are in many ways forced upon the less popular, or lower ranked users, through the promotion of the contribution of the “bigger” users as opposed to the “smaller” users. The higher you are ranked, the more popular you are, the more your opinion will mean to those who share similar interests and participate in the same online communities. Suddenly, as van Dijck argues in his article, the “participatory culture” as it is called, seems much less participatory.

That is of course not to say that these ranking tactics stop people from contributing and sharing in online communities. Website interfaces and ranking tactics simply mean that certain contributers are more influential as a result of their content being viewed by many more people. It can also be argued, that ranking tactics simply save users the trouble of having to sift through poor content to find those that contribute higher quality content, after all, these users were not automatically ranked so highly. As people enjoyed their contributions and recommended it to others, they grow in popularity and then achieve higher rankings within these websites, highlighting that while these tactics may in many ways create a homogeny in many way, they also serve the purpose of highlighting the better contributors and content, as judged by fellow users.

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Main Bloggin’ Question 4 – Is Creative Commons the Answer?

This blog post will attempt to discuss the following argument:

Medosch argues that: “CC does not pay any attention at all to the issue of an economic model for supporting cultural production” (Reader, page 315).

In my last blog post, I discussed why I had chosen to implement a Creative Commons license, and why I had chosen to use a Creative Commons Attributes 3.0 Australia license in particular to protect the content of my blog for the purpouses it intends. In the readings from Week Eleven, Medosch argues that Creative Commons still has not answered the biggest question facing copyright laws in light of new technologies and file transfer systems, in terms of allowing people to protect their work and content from illegal distribution and editing and the economic consequences of such activity.

I concluded my last blog post, by remarking that whilst the Creative Commons license in use on this blog was fit to protect my work to the extent that this project requires, it would never be anywhere near adequate for those whose work is where they derive their income from. For the purposes of this project, and because I stand nothing to gain from it economically, it does not bother me if my work is shared, or edited, so long as that work is attributed to me. For an up and coming Melbournian band, who do not have the millions of dollars someone like Kanye West might, who rely heavily on album sales, such a licence would never offer these artists adequate legal protection, and would do little to establish, sustain and protect the necessary income for these artists to support their own “cultural production”, as Medosch phrases it.

Considering this, it is hard to debate Medosch’s contention. Creative Commons, to put it simply, do not provide a viable solution to the shortcomings of existing copyright and licencing laws in terms of protecting licence holders economically. What Medosch ignores though, is that Creative Commons was never established to solve this problem, and that is an important point to make. Creative Commons was created with the purpose of encouraging creators of such content to be more liberal with their work, how it may be distributed, who may create derivative works and how those might also be shared and where their work, and edited versions of that work, may be shared. To claim that Creative Commons fails to “the issue of an economic model for supporting cultural production” is to state the obvious but, perhaps more importantly, it is also to misunderstand why Creative Commons was established in the first place.

Creative Commons is a licensing system that allows for, and encourages, greater transparency between creators and consumers. It is intended to allow for a more flexible system that allows those creating content to share on a grander scale, and gives greater creative freedoms to consumers in terms of creating derivative works, to whatever extent the creator feels fit. It’s failure to address the issue of an economic model to sustain the production of cultural products is as much to do with the intentions behind Creative Commons as a licencing system as anything else.

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Main Bloggin’ Question 3 – Why This Blog Uses Creative Commons

In this blog, the following question will be discussed:

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.

The work that I have produced for this blog, is all protected under what is known as a Creative Common license. More specifically, this work is protected under the Creative Commons Attributes 3.0 License. This License allows others to share my work or edit it as they please, so long as they attribute that work to it’s original creator and owner, which in this case is me. Creative Commons, in an attempt to provide an alternative, more flexible form of licensing to the more traditional forms of copyright (Garcelon, pg. 1309) that do not adequately deal with new technologies, particularly the internet, which allow for the sharing of files amongst thousands of devices with ease. To be more specific, the Creative Commons license I chose for this blog, was the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License. This allows anyone to share and edit the content of this blog, so long as the original creator and owner of the content, in this instance me, is given due credit for their work.

I felt this license was the best one for this blog because, whilst the work on this WordPress site may be done only as a requirement of the course, I believe everyone should receive due credit for any of their work, regardless of how important that work may or may not be to them on a personal level.  This is particularly relevant for this blog. As this is part of an online assessment, it is important to protect this work to try and deter anyone from attempting to plagiarize my work. Whether or not this Creative Commons License will actually be effective in that deterrance is another issue altogether, but from the perspective of the author, protecting this work ensures that I am protected and cannot be accused of negligence in protecting my work, should any such plagiarism occur.

It is also important to note, that whilst I feel this Creative Commons license adequately protects my work for the purposes it is intended, it also allows people to share and use my work. Unlike many of the more rigid copyright and licensing that is used by large record companies, or film studios, which Lawrence Lessig describes as “closed”, this Creative Commons license provides a much more “open” solution (Lessig, pg. 18-22). The license provided by Creative Commons allows for ample protection of my work, but also allows others to distribute and edit my work, so long as the proper processes are conformed to which, in this case, means correct attribution of the original work to it’s original creator.

It is worth noting however, that it is much easier for me to leave this work open, as I stood nothing to gain from it in the first place, in financial terms. Therefore, this Creative Commons license is effectively suited to my needs, whereas it is much less suited to music artists, or film studios, who rely on their work for money.

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Main Bloggin’ Question 2 – Bloggers: Speakers of Truth or Self Loving Liars?

In this blog post I will discuss the following question:

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.

Whilst bloggers are certainly not privy to the constraints of the mainstream media and its various institutions, there is a big, big difference between providing the general public with an independent opinion, one that is not perhaps “skewed” by the mega corporate media machine and being able to say that bloggers, “more effectively inform the public”.

Bloggers may not share many of the interests of the mass media, but that does not mean that bloggers are without their own interests and personal vendettas. With their own “editorial independence” as Russell terms it, people who write blogs are free to post what they like, however slanderous, untrue or unqualified. Of course, such posts are open to peer critique, but when a blogger’s main goal is internet notoriety, or simply greater exposure and more hits, such matters are of little importance.

As a rather active blogger myself, I write for a number of websites and fanzines about football (you might know it as soccer) and in particular Manchester United, I always try to stick to the facts and ensure to differentiate between what is fact and what is my opinion. Some others, however, take such considerations much less lightly, and it is not entirely unusual, in fact, it is rather common, for bloggers to post ridiculous rumours, suggesting United have signed this player or that, simply to garner more hits on their blog, or more followers on their Twitter accounts. While this is ultimately a trivial example, it is demonstrative of the potential for bloggers to completely mislead their readers, by simply telling them what they want to hear, or creating ridiculous rumours merely for hype to gain a little more popularity.

Of course, it would be wrong to generalise so broadly amongst bloggers. Whilst many unfortunately misuse this technology, there are many more who use their blogs as a platform to share their opinion and understanding of many issues in an informative and interesting manner. This sort of opinion is invaluable in a world where news presentation is becoming increasingly homogenous  across mainstream media platforms, but again it also is presented with its own biases and inaccuracies.

That most of these blogs are simply reactionary to what is reported and presented in the mainstream media, further disproves the suggestion that bloggers provide a “more effective” way of informing the public. Rather, I think a fairer comment would be to say that blogs perform an essential task in any liberal democracy of providing a number of challenging opinions, and in helping participants in such a society to think laterally and think critically of what the mainstream media is telling them. It is a complimentary service to the big time media, as opposed to a proper replacement for it.

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Main Bloggin Question #1 – Facebook Privacy

Following on from a previous blog post in which I posted comments from Mark Zuckerberg regarding a number of new products released by Facebook to simplifying users options in terms of privacy on the popular social network website, I will attempt to answer the following question in this blog post:

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

Firstly, it is very important to understand that the changes being announced in this video by the creator of Facebook, are directly a reaction to the criticisms made regarding the many issues that exist with Facebook, particularly after the launch of the News Feed, which records and shows everything one’s Friend does on the website in one place. That includes everything from adding new pictures, adding new Friends, posting on someone else’s Wall, commenting on someone else’s pictures or updating one’s relationship status (Boyd, 2008, p. 13).

This might be billed as “convenient”, in that it allows users to see everything their rinds (and their friends for that matter) are doing, but it is also a privacy nightmare, as your updates, photos, relationship status might be being seen by people whom you do not know or people who you had never wanted to see such personal information. Prior to the changes being announced in this video, it was rather difficult to ascertain just who was seeing what you put on Facebook and just as difficult to change your settings.

In this context it is easy to see that these comments from Mark Zuckerberg, and the changes he is announcing are a direct attempt to quell user fears about the privacy of their information, and allow for easier control over who is able to see what you are sharing on Facebook. The “master control” discussed in the video is the prime example of this, one simple setting that determines whether or not your information is accessible by all users of Facebook, your friends and their friends, or just your own friends. This returns an element of control to the user that went missing when the “News Feed” was first implemented. This loss of control greatly undermines one’s sense of privacy, as privacy is not percieved by how many people know certain information about oneself, but how much control one person has over such personal information. Once control is lost, there is no privacy (Boyd, 2008, p. 15). The changes announced in this video are directly addressing this issue, by handing control back to the user, an important public relations move by Facebook, to help restore confidence in their users that their date and personal information is viewable only to those whom they want it to be.

What is interesting about this video however is that Zuckerberg does not criticize the “News Feed” idea, but rather, continues to promote it as a tool for convenience, agragating all the information Facebook allows users to share in one place. There is no fundamental change in principles here, and as such, Zuckerberg continues to insist that Facebook’s goal is to allow people to share themselves with the rest of the world. To be fair, he has a point. One might argue that if you do not want anyone to be able to connect with you, then there is no point in you owning a Facebook account, but that is a debate for another day. What is of fundamental importance however is that users retain as much control as possible over their information, a goal Facebook is obviously working on as demonstrated by the new privacy settings discussed in this video.

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Privacy on Facebook? You Got It!

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Facebook Privacy Explained

 

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Mark Zuckerberg’s Comment on Sharing (start at 0:26 – stop at 0:39)

This video is related to the first blogging question in this subject:

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

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