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July 04, 2008
Will Web 2.0 = Media 2.0?
The new AS Media studies textbook from Hodder exemplifies the danger of being too euphoric about developments on the internet. There is no doubt about the importance of UGC (user generated content) etc. However, if it is really going to become a 'new model of media' rather than the digital equivalent of lots of teenagers chatting on phones and starting up their own smalltime rock band largely for pleasure then a massive change is required. Currently there is much fantasy about 'making it big' -see The Frustrating Chase of the Long Tail - and it is dangerous to equate numbers of users with the creation of profits which is what media is primarily about. The core issue is how to 'monetise' all these communications. Otherwise all those venture capitalists who have invested in MySpace, Facebook and Second Life etc will withdraw their money. Tom Hodgkinson from the Guardian explores the dirty venture capitalist secrets behind Facebook:
Although the project was initially conceived by media cover star Mark Zuckerberg, the real face behind Facebook is the 40-year-old Silicon Valley venture capitalist and futurist philosopher Peter Thiel.
It would be the utmost näivety to think that these social networking sites aren't in it because of the hope of building up some momentum and offering the promise of profits to be made from a large set of audience/creator.
Inevitably this means advertising, and the best advertising goes to the best sites! For that reason the large media companies have developed thier own websites which are well placed in search engines and have professional writers with high levels of expertise writing for them. In other words at the end of the day 'content is king' backed up by high quality SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). The growth of "widget culture" on social networking sites is examined by the Financial Times below for example. It shows how the fantasies of wannabee internet entrepreneures are collapsing into the realities.
The notion of Media Studies 2.0 based upon a utopian vision of user/creator is almost certainly a fantasy at least as far as offering a serious challenge to the status quo is concerned as the comments upon subsumption below argue compared to a speculative optimism expressed by Gauntlett:
Conventional concerns with power and politics are reworked in recognition of these points, so that the notion of super-powerful media industries invading the minds of a relatively passive population is compelled to recognise and address the context of more widespread creation and participation. (Gauntlett).
.Anybody who is successful through their own blog etc is likely to be contracted to a larger company in the longer term. This is simply because there are inordinate amounts of energy required to keep these things updated and managed so that search engines give the site a high ranking. Without this high ranking neither high value advertising nor audiences are attracted. Inevitably this is a disincentive to develop longer-term. Newer forms of social media, once they settle, will become proving grounds and recruiting grounds for larger media organisations. A quick Google of the search term Media 2.0 is mainly about advertising. Gauntlett himself mentions it in his theory.org article providing a link to the Media 2.0 Workgroup. Check it out!
Cold Water on Widget Millionaire Fantasists
The Financial Times (27 / 05 / 08) did a useful analysis of the development of the newly developing Widget industry in relation to Facebook and gives some fuel to those who are sceptical about hyped up internet utopian junkies:
The wave of "social media" companies that has arisen since the middle of this decade, many of them characterised by user-generated content and new forms of communications, has changed the way millions of people interact and entertain themselves online. Yet, by their nature, these new forms of behaviour are proving extremely difficult to turn into hard cash.
The reality is that investors are not interested in providing platforms for millions of people unless healthy profits can be generated from these. Rupert Murdoch's investment in MySpace was tiny in terms of the size of News International. One can compare the extraordinary financial risks taken by Murdoch on developing Sky when it first started. The whole of News International was on the line. It was the biggest business gamble of Murdoch's career albeit with a very good idea that it would eventually become successful.
For the Murdoch organisation MySpace is an experiment just as the website of the Wall Street Journal is. A recent Media Gaurdian interview with Tom Anderson the co-founder of MySpace has shown how MySpace has always made money. Currently critics can only complain that it isn't making Murdoch buckets of money. However plans are afoot to redesign MySpace and fend off the challenge of Facebook which makes far less money as MySpace has got dominance in the US market which is where most of the online advertising takes place. The excellent cogapp blog which I have just discovered has a very good article on Media, Money and Metrics for example. Here you can quickly start to see how big media is responding to the growth of the online video sites for example.
The FT reporters Chris Nuttall and Richard Waters, in a discussion with Mike Maples - who runs a micro-cap fund whose investments include Twitter, a micro-blogging site, and Digg, a news aggregator summarise Maples' comments:
It is only natural, he adds, that the winners in this race for audience attention will end up with "mass adoption and user attention before you necessarily recognise where the revenue comes from".
It is worth noting their scepticism born of long experience:
That was the thinking behind a few winners - and many losers - from the first generation of consumer dotcoms at the end of the 1990s. Something similar looks in store for Web 2.0.
If there is going to be a successful "Media 2" model created in which large media companies create platforms such as social networking sites which are going to offer payback then the secret is going to be creating an advertising model that is suitable for this format. Remember Advertising is a key aspect of Media Studies! Right now -as the FT points out there is a disconnect between social media and advertising. It won't last long:
Social media is ahead of the capacity of the advertisers to take advantage of it," says Mr Price at Widgetbox. The standardised units of advertising and methods of measurement needed for this medium have yet to be developed, he adds. "Real spend has been held hostage by that lack of analytics and what we've been relegated to is fighting for experimental budgets that don't require clear proof of value. (My emphasis. Nuttall & WatersThe Financial Times (27 / 05 / 08))
New Forms of Media Research?
Gauntlett suggests that:
Conventional research methods are replaced - or at least supplemented - by new methods which recognise and make use of people's own creativity, and brush aside the outmoded notions of 'receiver' audiences and elite 'producers'
Whilst qualitative research will continue to be important in the study of emergent online and even online / offline subcultures whether the online environment will generate any more creativity than already existed in the realm of amateur photography, home movies / videos etc is debateable, that it has a greater reach isn't debateable. Clearly the possibility to reach a global audience is significantly different at a structural level however the organisation of search will act as a creative blocker as large companies who invest in SEO will predominate in the top pages of a Google.
Subsumption and Social / Alternative Media
What appears to have been forgotten by those promoting notions of 'Media Studies 2.0' is firstly the ethnographic research which has been done into audiences via cultural studies which explored many subcultures into which micro-media production falls. The other thing which cultural studies did effectively was to promote the term subsumption. Here we can take subsumption to mean the gradual takeover and absorbtion of those things that were once radical. We can conceive of this as being part of a dialectical process (where there are contradictions which create a third thing thesis / antithesis = synthesis) of hegemony (old centralised pretty undemocratic mass media) versus a counter-hegemony (new decentralised media forms often associated with youth and new technologies). The hegemonic processes gradually takeover control of the new processes when it can be seen that they can be made to create new markets and in media terms new audiences. Here it is a considerable advantage to old media who have brought up user-generated content platforms because they are in a win-win situation. They are not paying for the content or those who provide the content.
As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued in their Empire, American neo-Roman imperialism works by a constant subsumption and inclusion of "others," such that difference is apparently welcomed, yet actually subordinated to an unremitting uniformity.
Media 2.0 is the development of new media platforms which once the models have been developed can sell advertising at a high price at very low cost. It makes so-called reality TV content look expensive! The very best content providers as evidence by the ability to generate advertising revenue will become contracted by Media 1 (in Gauntlett jargon).
There have always been alternative forms of media around which appeal to small audiences, make little or no money and are by and large by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. These have at various times been political and cultural. It is rare that they last very long, either because of finance and lack of interest or because the individuals involved 'fall out'. The fragemnted audience of Web 2.0 are likely go the same way.
Once the Hype around Media Studies 2.0, Web 2.0 (We are already looking at Web 3.0 anyway) and Media 2.0 we can see that as Visconti's The Lepoard puts so well that "Everything Must change so that Everything Stays the Same". The reality is that Big Media will remain big media even if forms change. Onbe need go no further than a study of Rupert Murdoch's Take over of MySpace at one end of the specturm and the Wall Street Journal at the other working on different models of web-based revenue generation to recognise that. This has led other organisations such as the Financial Times to rethink their approach. In the light of thises comments Gauntlett's comments on big media look a little presumptuous:
Conventional concerns with power and politics are reworked in recognition of these points, so that the notion of super-powerful media industries invading the minds of a relatively passive population is compelled to recognise and address the context of more widespread creation and participation
A point by point discussion of Gauntlett's suggestions will be continued in another posting. Hopefully enough of a challenge has been established here to stop people falling into this attractive discourse in a complacent way. One key issue in all of this needs to a political economic approach which questions whther the underlying social and economoc relations of society are going to be fundamentally changed in terms of wealth and power.
Feminism and Women's Studies. Discussion about subsumption.
Cogapp Media 2.0 Blog Team. This looks to be a very interesting space and comes stongly recommended as they seem to have their finger on the pulse of what is happening.
Clicks and links will bring all the walls tumbling down. Jeff Jarvis in the Guardian Sept 2007.