Archive for September, 2012

In a true democratic society the public should be able to make correct and informed decisions about what their views of the world are. To make these informed decisions the public is dependent on a true and transparent public sphere where ideas and information can be discussed and debated, and for a long time this has been the role of the mass media. The Internet which has grown to be an alternative public sphere, proves to be even more transparent and has in many occasions put the “4th estate” in a bad light; it has come to our knowledge that many of these news organizations have strong ties to Governmental members and are for that reason being edited to suit their needs and wants. One example is embedded journalists during warfare, which are only exposed to the “good” side of the army, and only given stories that justifies their reason for invading a country such as e.g. Iraq. Another example is news organizations like “Fox News” which suffers from gatekeeping through its’ biased owner Rupert Murdoch.

So who reveales these truths? What makes the Internet more transparent? One obvious reason is that every one of us (which are able to connect to it) can participate and share, but an even more significant part has come to be websites such as WikiLeaks. The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is a man with many titles; editor, activist, publisher and journalist, but he is also a hacker-activist, which evokes questions of ethics. Assange has, one can say, specialized in revealing Governmental and military top secret information to the public which have in many cases weakened the ground on which authorities walk on. One of the releases he is most known for is the “collateral murder” video which depicts U.S soldiers killing a number of people, including two journalists and two children.

Hackers have different missions and the activity can be used with both good and bad intentions, but no matter the reason it is still an illegal activity. But when hacking comes to show us that we are victims of propaganda and being manufactured to give our consent to warfare, it is hard to say that it is wrong. This is why I find Assange’s motives especially hard to judge. How can we make our informed decisions when we are clearly being kept in the dark?

So in a way I lean towards supporting Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, but when that is said, other questions come lurking; is one man in the position to judge what we should and should not know?  WikiLeaks has also come to publish documents which potentially can threaten the lives of individuals or even put the national security as risk, so clearly some information is kept from us for security reasons. Who is Assange to decide whether or not this should be published? In a way that is our exchange deal with our Governments; we trust them with a good portion secrecy in exchange for a promise that they will protect us and our nations.

Should hacktivism be an approved form of political protest? This is a question that I came across this week and I am going to leave it here for you to reflect on. This reading also provides a thorough analysis of WikiLeaks and the controversy around Julian Assange if you are looking for more information.

Today we are in the middle a digital revolution, a technological shift which threatens the survival of many industries. In my latest post I have been discussing the possibilities to how industries can join the new online market and how they might adapt to a technological age. As of today many industries, especially the media industries seem to refuse to let go of their old business models. Personally I find myself thinking a bit like a technological determinist, we have to accept cultural and social changes which comes with new technologies, it makes no sense to resist. We have always invented new things that have changed our way of behavior and communication, very often to the better, so why not this time?

Power and control; probably the key words to why this revolution is met with so much resistance. Politics and news have walked hand-in-hand for a very long time, and both politicians and media owners have become very powerful through such cooperation. The Internet builds a foundation for a true democratic society, good for the consumer, but bad for authorities.

But let us look at the possibilities. I am not going to focus on the possibilities to maintain control, but the possibility to maintain business and revenue. The problem with industrial media is that it has always been centralized. The collection, production and distribution of news were built on a one-to-many model which gave these industries advantages through gatekeeping. They were able to filter and decide what was the news of the day, they had the power to judge what was important and what we were supposed to think. This screams propaganda, doesn’t it?

Today we are citizen journalists. We also decide what is the news of the day, judge what is important and influence what people should think. The Internet decentralized the news-market; it took the control out of the authorities’ hands. For democracy, this is a victory, but I still think that we need these media industries. We need them for quality control and distribution.

Many people can write a very convincing and important blog about a certain issue, but most people do not have the resources to check the accuracy of this information, I am sure many citizen journalists do, but to be honest, most of us do not. Most of us write and publish, without having researched the facts and background of the content.

With platforms like Twitter information can be aggregated into topics. When I post this blog to Twitter, no one will probably notice it, but if I use the hashtag #gatewatchers, it is a very different matter; my blog will end up in a very interesting search, which suddenly enhances the value of my blog-post.

What media-industries could do is to change their way of finding information. Instead of being told by editors: “Today we should be focusing on the U.S election”, journalists could use these aggregation-platforms to search for interesting and important news. Not only will we be a part of what the news is, but originally the news would be written by citizen journalists and the content would be made out of our opinions, not the editors. The role of the media industries would be quality control, to improve an already good piece of journalism as well as to distribute it to make sure it gets attention from the right people.

At least I would find the news much more trustworthy in the way that I know it is not just a piece of propaganda, it is something someone out there really cares about. In this way, I can see a very much improved public sphere.

For a long time now I have been discussing convergence and how it has affected us. I have mentioned that we are now producers as well as users, and that we are participating in creating content as well as publishing it. The Internet also makes it easy for us to access content. Everything can be copied, actually everything IS a copy, and because of this the content in itself loses its value. E.g. If I produce a song and publish it online where everyone can download it for free, who will be willing to pay for it? When the information in itself loses its value, what becomes the new value? Kevin Kelly wrote a brilliant piece on this called “Better than free”. The article says;

“When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied become scarce and valuable.”

He calls that stuff “generative values”:

  1. Immediacy. Although people have access to the content, many would pay for a VIP membership which gave them even better deals; discounts to concerts, announcements directly in their mailboxes etc.
  2. Personalization. Everybody can get a free copy of an album, but would you pay extra for a special greeting to you from the artist?
  3. Interpretation. Software might be free, but everyone needs a manual, which could be expensive.
  4. Authenticity. The kindle is good, but would you perhaps pay for the author’s signature? Maybe a signature AND a personal greeting?
  5. Accessibility. Storage of content is free; would you pay someone to organize it? To make it available to you everywhere at any time, without the advertisement?
  6. Embodiment. Music is free online, but experiencing your favorite band play live is worth your money.
  7. Patronage. Radiohead asked fans to “pay-what-they-wanted” for an album. Many appreciative fans would use the opportunity to thank an artist this way, would you?
  8. Findability. With so much content in the world, it might be hard to be discovered and “found”. Many would pay to become more visible.

I really enjoyed these generative values because they answered a question that has struck my mind many times while reflecting on convergence. What can they do? All the industries which struggle to control their content, what can they do now that we can access it all online for free? The little extra! When content becomes abundant and loses its value, businesses need to discover what their new scarcity is.

In the traditional manner the content-industries found information for us by controlling access to it. Due to limitations of time and space these distributors have created a hit-driven culture, serving us a fruit-bowl of popular content to choose from, also called the mass-market. But with the rise of online aggregators (e.g. google), the control have shifted from monitoring access of content to monitoring the attention of content. One way of doing this is by the use of search-algorithms.

This week I was introduced to this article; “The long tail” by Chris Anderson. In short, Anderson suggests that because we are no longer constrained by limited time and space, and because the cost of distribution and production declines (online),   there is no longer a reason to only focus on a small number of “hits” or mainstream products. A local book-store in a small town will only keep a limited selection of the most popular authors because they know this will be sold, the niche-markets are neglected because they do not have enough space or money to distribute products to these minorities. In the online world this has becomes a different story. Here, there are always someone who likes something, somewhere, and it costs nothing to distribute it. When the top 20% of the popular content is sold, the sale continues throughout millions of niche-markets, and this revenue actually overcomes the commercial business of the mass-market.

I am very surprised that I have never heard talk of this “long tail” before. Maybe it is just appearing now because we are shifting into an information-era, but I am still surprised that the content-businesses are not embracing this more. Aggregators and algorithms have opened up the nieche-markets to the world. So many people seek other content than what is served by the mass-market, and it is only logic that industries ought to take an interest in this and discover the possibilities.

Reference:

Mitew, T 2012, Into the cloud: the long tail and the attention economy, DIGC202, Global Networks, University of Wollongong, delivered 2 September.