All entries for Friday 15 December 2006

December 15, 2006

A Level Media. Web 2.0: An introduction

What is Web 2.0?

What was effectively ‘Web 1’ saw the development of the World Wide Web based upon the use of a graphical user interface in the form of a web browser which could run on Windows and Mac based PCs. The first of these was called Mosaic .

However although the Internet in its Web 1 version could be useful for gathering information and saw a rapid growth as many companies saw a presence on the internet as a magical tool for growth once the novelty of Web surfing had passed users of the web wanted something more.

The web wasn’t very interactive with the main real interactivity being confined to ordering goods or services over the internet such as travel tickets or books. Despite the hype and utopian hopes of some that was invested in the possibilities of the internet the power of the internet as a truly democratising media and communications tool had yet to be developed.

User Generated Content (UGC)

Web 2 is based on a set of new and developing software tools which allows people to communicate in radically different ways and ones which can by-pass conventional mainstream media institutions.

It is quite difficult to give a precise definition of the meaning of the term “Web 2”. Here is a page from the Guardian discussing the development.

The shorthand term for what is happening now is “Web 2.0”, a designation coined at a conference in 2004 by the web-business booster Tim O’Reilly, as describing “an attitude rather than a technology” (Guardian 4/11/06)

Wikipedia suggests that there is a ‘supposed second generation of internet-based services – such as social networking site, wikis, communications tools… that emphasise online collaboration and sharing among users.’ PC Pro doing a survey in its Feb 2007 edition (bought in December !) suggests that this is the best definition they had found. [Wikipedia itself is a ‘web 2’ based phenemoenon by the way]. We can argue that it is a definition reached by a collaborative consensus using Web 2 tools to define itself.

Six Key Technologies

PC Pro argues that there are currently six key technologies which form the basis of the ‘Web 2’ social networking experience. (here there is no inclusion of commercial developments such as Second Life which seems to include several elements of the social aspects of ‘Web ’. The six core technologies for PC Pro are:

  • Blogging
  • Social Networking
  • Podcasting
  • Democratic News
  • Modern Website Building
  • Contents Sharing

Blogging

Blogging has become the most popular Web 2 medium. It is a medium which requires very little in terms of technology or knowledge about software. Current (December 2006) estimates reckon there are about 100,000 million blogs. The blog-tracking service technorati currently tracks over 59 million blogs with 1.3 million ‘posts’ being entered everyday. Whilst some estimates think that this phenomneon has peaked the culture and nature of blogging is clearly an new and important democratic form – in the sense of being readily available to large numbers of people in the advanced economies.

As a method of publishing an individual or small group of people’s ideas and perspectives on the world blogging is probably the most effective method yet invented.

There are some significant differences between a blog and a personal website which are integrally linked to its inherently dynamic form in relation to its content:

A blog demands updates on at least a weekly basis and should provide links to other interesting or relevant blogs. These links then provide futher links to other websites… (PC Pro February 2007, p 142).

Ease of use is one of the biggest advantages that blogs offer over traditional websites. Based upon simple templates they don’t require any knowledge of HTML (the mark-up language underlying web pages).

They work in all internet browsers and can be used by any computer regardless of the operating system (such as Windows or Mac). Wordpress is one of the more complex ones which allows more experienced users to customise their blog to get a particular look and feel to it. Nevertheless it is a straightforward process requiring no software knowledge:

This, quite rightly moves the focus away from the technology being used to the *quality of the content* (my emphasis, PC Pro Feb 2007 , p 143)

Because updating blogs is a fast and seamless process this means that a range of new possibilities is emerging. One such possibility is the rise of the ‘citizen jounalist’. People may not have had much training but almost anybody can report something. As discussed elsewhere in this this means that even the most important of the mainstream media news services are reviewing their attitudes to news gathering and editorial ways of organisaing the news agenda.

Perhaps the most famous of these blogs has come from Salem Pax. He is an Iraqui who had discovered blogging and whose blog became famous when the Iraq war started. With most Western Journalists ‘embedded’ with the frontline forces or restricted to a hotel in Bagdhad getting daily reports available to the whole world from a resident’s perspective was filling a gap which media organisations for all their sophistication were unable to deal with.

Finding your Target Audience

As with any other piece of media finding your target audience is fundamental to its success unless you want to write solely for yourself and your best friend.

Make it interesting / Make it relevant

It is obviously essential to make the content as interesting and as relevant to your target audiences as possible. this means that you first of all need to have your target audience / s well defined in your mind. For example the audiences I’m targeting this particular blog at are as follows:

  • The course members of my Weimar and Nazi Cinema Course
  • Other students who are likely to be very interested in this cinema.
  • Other people interested in German culture and history
  • Other people interested in European cinema

This blog is also about the history of European cinema taken from the perspective of the 5 major industrial countries in Europe during the 20th century. There are several courses run which explore this. As the blog develops it will link into the courses and a wider range of visitors will hopefully visit the site. Because the site doesn’t rely upon up to the minute information but is more historically based it will have longer term relevance. when new information comes to light then it can be easily added even if it is just in the form of of links.

Very dynamic parts of the site are provided through feeds in the sidebar. There are links to the current days screenings on Film Four, there is a link to a well develop cinema blog on alternative cinema. There is also a feed to regular podcasts from a commercial organisation. This should interest people who are also intersted in European cinema and so on. Static links are provided to a range of Cinema journals. Articles have a good range of embedded links built in. The idea is that there is a good range of resources available for people who have quite a deep interest in the area.

The commentary boxes will allow conversations and debates to develop thus there is a good area of potential interactivity should visitors wish to engage.

Another Audience

I also have a different but overlapping audience in mind for this site. I have some ‘A’ level media students and I wish to publish resources for them. This article is one of them. This article is also for a more general audience who may wish to find out more about New Media.

The same principles as above apply in terms of providing feeds and resources which are being continuously updated automatically. In this sense this specific blog is an early model of an ‘educational blog’. In media terms it can be seen as becoming part of a specific genre of blogs.

Blogs and Genre

Already some research is suggesting that the blogging phenomenon may have peaked. I would suggest that it is too early to call there is a lot of the world that is not yet networked also many people prefer to wait and consider the options. already there is a strong move in educational circles to develp blogging as a particular tool. this blog is effectively a part of that specific movement. Undoubtedly there are many other ideas bubling under the surface. It is likely that a range of blog genres will develop in quite a deliberate form. Now the first flush of just being able to do it is over content, relevance and target audience become fundamental. These are all standard media issues. It is the form and openess which make this media form different.

Getting Your Blog Noticed

The important thing, though, is to engage. Make a valuable or entertaining comment on a related popular blog and many people will click through just out of curiosity. There are countless “web rings” – loose affiliations of like minded blogs and bloggers -... (PC Pro Fe 2007 p 147)

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Sear Engine optimisation is another factor to consider. however it is something of a ‘dark art’ so don’t beat yourself up over it. Even an “and” isn’t meant to make a difference it does make a slight difference even on page one of a search term “Weimar and Nazi Cinema” or separate words “Weimar Nazi Cinema”. Your blog can be read by search engines and looking through a Google trawl you
are likely to find some blogs fairly high up the list. Indeed on one particular search term this blog appeared as the first entry in Google for nearly three weeks. currently it seems to have been banned altogether by the algorithms. It does appear quite high up in other search engines. There is a dark art to search engines and part of the job of those organising them is defeat those scams such as ‘google-bombing’ which artificially promote sites which often have noth ing to do with entered search term.

Don’t expect to hit the high rankings early. Pay attention to what your site is called. Clearly if your core target audience is ‘coarse fishing in the West Midlands’ then there are unlikely to be millions of hits generated by the search engine. Trying this today generated 52,200 hits. The last few thousand would have been thinly related. Thus the opportunity to get seen by your target audience which is very specific is good.

As your blog builds up a history of posts this is a parameter which is taken into account by search engines. There are many other ones including the use of headings, key terms and tags as well as things such as usage and traffic.

By comparison entering the term globally for “European Cinema” netted 12.7 MILLION hits. Even allowing for some very thin relationships a very general sweep like this is going to favour very large longstanding sites usuall part of commercial or educational institutions. So although the primary objective of this site is dealing with European cinema I wouldn’t be expecting this blog to come into the top ten pages for several months at least using this search term.

In general the better your site the more users it will attract and the higher up the search engines prioritisation your site will move. Try and develop your design to optimise search terms which target your primary target audience.

More to Come

I will be dealing with some of the other core Web 2 technologies another time. There is work on podcasting already underdevelopment as work in progress. ciao fo now :-)


Open Studies in European Cinema. The Cultural Hurdles Controlling UFA's Potential

Introduction

Throughout the Weimar period the company that eventually became UFA was under continuous pressure from a range of different political sources. The criticisms which UFA faced came from both Leftwing and Liberal sources as well as from those such as religious quarters which saw the cinema as a potential basis for moral debasement.

Why the Criticism?

Many critics whose political persuasion was either socialist / communist or just plain Liberal saw UFA as a tool of the Nationalist right. The arts pages of the liberal left newspapers (the Weimar equivalent of the Guardian in Britain today) tended to denounce artistic films as ‘kitsch’ (in other words not genuine Art with a capital ‘A’. The genre films – of which there were many – became denounced as ‘Shund’ (trash). See Elsaesser (2000, p 127).

Part of the cause of this liberal critique was generated by the fact that the original organisation of UFA was strongly associated with the military leadership of 1917 didn’t help. These elites had been persuaded that the Reich needed a more organised propaganda outlet, however Germany had been defeated by the time UFA had started up. Elsaesser argues that there was a certain commercial logic which:

...belonged to the political culture of Wilhelmine society, making UFA an expression not so much of the war as a new way of thinking, on the one hand about corporate capitalism, and on the other about public opinion and the (technological) media. (Elsaesser, 2000 p 113).

The Moralist Critiique of UFA

Whilst the Liberal critics saw murky links with the military elites of Wilhelmine Germany the professional classes from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds tended to see the cinema as a potential space for moral debasement. As a result they campaigned strongly for the creation of ‘cultural films’. They had in mind educational and documentary films, which was an outlet that UFA catered for.

The Left-wing attitude to cinema

Those in the more organised and radical left such as the KPD (German Communist Party) tended to be uniformly hostile towards cinema in general. UFA was frequntly attacked for poisoning the minds of the masses with reactionary celebrations of Prussia’s glory (Elsaesser p 128). After 1925 Willi Munzenberg successfully persuaded the KPD to try and counter bourgeois cinema by establishing thier own distribution company. This was done and the comnpany was called Prometheus Films. It was Prometheus who were to sponsor Kuhle Wampe (1930) for instance.

Pommer’s Response

As the producer of UFA in overall control of the cinematic output Erich Pommer ignored these criticisms and the demands for ‘realism’ from the various quarters of the critical establishment which accompanied these demands.

A turn to realism was entirely contrary to Pommer’s ambitions to establish strong export led growth. From the outset Pommer had understood that Hollywood was the main source of competition that German cinema was having to compete with.

Realist output in the years immedaiately following the war would have been disastrous for the export market . A fact that Pommer was keenly aware of. This stemmed from the fact that Germany was very closely associated with causing the First World War. The promotion of contemporary German settings would have spelt the kiss of death to cinema.

As a result UFA output was split into films for the domestic market and export oriented films. The former largely consisted of comedies and social dramas which used realist settings. By comparison, the sort of films available to the English market today were the films which Pommer had wanted to be available in the 1920s. Films from the Neue Sachlichkeit period, for example, by directors such as Pabst and Joe May were strongly associated with what became known as the “UFA look”. This look meant high production values. The emphasis was on strong sets and the best craftsworkers that UFA had avalibale in terms of camerawork, lighting, sets, and costumes to create an excellent mise en scene.

UFA’s Problems with America

Right from the outset UFA had problems breaking into the American market place. The developing Hollywood system manage to gain control over distribution and exhibition which helped to exclude potential competition from Europe.

But at the end of the day UFA wasn’t producing the sort of films that appealed to American audiences. By comparison the Americans – especially after 1924 – were winning significant market share of the German audience. One key element in this failure was the lack of internationally renowned stars. Most actors who started to become famous in the Weimar republic were quickly wooed by the razzle dazzle and serious cash offered by Hollywood. The establishing of the star system was a central feature of Hollywood success then as it is now.

As a response Pommer tried hiring American actresses such as Louise Brooks, Anna May Wong and Betty Amman. Louise Brooks worked with Pabst and Betty Amman worked with May. None of the actors who worked with Fritz Lang ever gained international stardom.

It was only after the coming of sound and the strategy of hiring American directors such as von Sternberg as well did UFA manage to develop some significant stars with genuinely international successes. Marlene Dietrich and Lilian Harvey modelled upon contemporary Hollywood stars to name but two.

Conclusion

Although UFA became a very successful film company being the only European film company to offer serious competition at all to Hollywood there were many hurdles which were culturally based which it faced. These hurdles reduced its chances of success both at home and abroad. It was only after its restructuring under the control of Klitsch that UFA began to make consistent profits in a fully competitive environment. To do this it had to develop a Hollywood business model.


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