Shannon201’s Blog

This final blog entry reflects on principles of produsage through the use of citizen journalism and other open participatory communication channels such as Wikipedia. Produsage has changed the way online communities share and use information. Its limitations must be recognised as produsage can only being used online therefore if the technologies no longer existed there would be the missing link to sharing and networking information.

Produsage is the evolution of the industrial process as consumers no longer want to be the last element of the chain. Online consumers have demanded a more creative, productive and socially beneficial method of interacting with information which is the very reason why the concept of produsage exists and is continuing to grow with popularity at such a rapid rate.

Henry Jenkins (2008) defines convergence as a word that describes technological, social and industrial change that depends on who’s speaking and what they are speaking about. He states that ‘convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content’. The link betwtween convergence culture and produsage is an interesting battle to discover as technology and the social, cultual can all interlink when analysing it’s theory. I believe that produsage is a perfect example of convergence culture as users are encourged to share, comment, add, edit and improve information on open source software systems. Another interesting example of convergence culture in produsage is to explore the use of one medium such as an online open source software system to create a new medium such as a tangible working product. Bruns (2009) discusses this concept as ‘turning artefacts into products’ and highlights the extent that produsage can aid participating communities in developing tangible solutions for themselves.  Also known as the ‘DIY ‘ (Do it yourself) culture this concept ties in produsage, citizen journalism and the pro-am theories. These DIY communities partitipate in practices (some only usualy produced by professionals) to improve their knowledge or skill regarding a certain topic. For example ‘Trendwatching’ uses the example of a website that allows users to download free and user-friendly software to design objects such as door handles either in metal or plastic and then sends it to a manufacturer to produce the tangible product (Bruns 2009). Williams (2004) highlights that there has been a cultural shift in what consumers are wanting. He states that ‘consumers’ have emphasised human agency rather than economic constraints when explaining their reasons for purchasing DIY products rather than retail products’. This statement highlights the essence of why people are embracing the produage and DIY cultures. Consumers want when using or sharing products or infomation want to feel that they are contributing just as much as they are receiving. I think that people feel more of a sense of control over DIY products and feel good about themselves for contributing to the end product. I think it would be interesting to analyse if the current economic climate has affected or even increased the paticipation in DIY culture as times are getting tougher and people need more bang for their buck.

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There is great debate on what is defined as an expert and amateur. For the debates sake I would like to initially define what experts and amateurs mean. An amateur is usally defined as ‘a person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession’. An expert can be defined as ‘a person with a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a certain subject’. Both definitions indicate that both contributors will have a passion or motivation about a certain subject however it is evident that an expert will be more dedicated and committed to their field of interest. This is where experts have rasied concern that websites such as Wikipedia allows amateurs to become ‘self proclaimed’ experts with unsubstantiated ‘theories’ that contend with experts theories that are based on years of research. Academics such as Sanger argue that these websites lack credibility of knowledge and if amateurs are able to access and edit expert’s work than this work must be evidence supported and not just a self-proclaimed theory.

From these concerns experts have established Citizendium, which is a colloborative encyclopedia content system, similiar to wikipedia but ensures that there is a heirarchy system where only experts theories are published. Bruns (2008) states and I also believe that this system can therefore no longer be considered a user-led form of produsage because it’s contributors system is policed and monitors. While wiki-based, registered users who have had to show their academic credentials to become a member are the people allowed to contribute to the website. This approach has been criticized because of its policed form of open colloboration that is hypocritical to the theory of produsage. It forms the idea of elitism and discourages the ever growing culture of so called online ‘amateur’ participation.

However Sanger a critic of Wikipedia and it’s lack of expert knowledge has indentified why Wikipedia is so successful. These characteristics include:

  • Openness
  • Ease of editing
  • Collaborate radically (allowing users from around the world to contribute information without being policed)
  • Offer unedited
  • Neutrality
  • Start with people who are genuinely interested in the topic, and
  • Enjoy the Google effect

I believe that these points indicate the exact reasons why anyone would want to access information including academics. While academics such as Sanger may not have trust in the credibility of information published on Wikipedia it’s characteristics such as openness, neutrality and ease of editing are what I belive, whether expert or amateur, empower the access of collaborative knowledge. It would be quite evident to those who have experience of interest in a particular field if  someone with no knowledge or interest published content on Wikipedia and due to it’s produsage nature would soon be edited by somone with more experience and knowledge thus maintaining the quality of information.

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Wikipedia is one of the key tools and resources that has embraced produsage and motivated citizen journalism around the world. Wikepedia’s founders have called itself the ‘free encyclopedia’ and not only has it challenged the traditional resources used to access information but has defined an evolution in the way we recieve and interact with a broad range of information. Guranteed that if you googled a topic, Wikipedia would be one of the first links to providing information and definition because it has been visited and used by numerous online users. It provides the freedom for those who are passionate or interested about a certain subject to share their knowledge worldwide and embraces the online culture of creation and collaboration. Wikipedia was officialy launched on 15th January 2001 as a single English edition and quickly grew to having over 20 000 articles in 18 languages by the end of the year. By the end of 2002 it communicated in 26 different languages and by 2004 it provided editions in 161 languages. It is now the largest assembled encyclopeia that has ever been created and will continue to evolve. 

So how does it work?

File:Wikipedia article-creation-2.svg

Their belief of being a ‘neutral  point of view’ and ‘publicly editable document’ embraces the produsage principle of open participation and communal evaluation. These priniciples give Wikipedia the capacity to expand and provide knowledge faster than any other produced encyclopedia because it is being contributed to worldwide – unlike traditional encyclopedia’s where a specific team is dedicated to a certain topic. In addition the website offers users the tools to evaluate and contribute to what other peers have written and compare edits. This method of produsage embeds the theory of collective intelligence well into Wikipedia’s information structure. As Bonabeau (2009) states ‘collective intelligence is better for ideas generation and evaluation and in practice collective intelligence has performed better than theorists can explain’.  I belive that this is one of the main reasons why Wikipedia is such a rapidly growing success. It gives everyday people the opportunity to contribute to a certain subject that they feel passionate about and are also able to view how other people have responded and adapted to the information they publish. The freedom of colloborative knowledge has empowered many online participatory cultures and has given the opportunity to share with others around the world information that may have been otherwise not had the opportunity to be released.

 We must recognise that Wikipedia will never be given the same authority and academic credibility as other encyclopedia’s such as Britannica due to its open communication and participatory nature. Bruns (2008) states that many academics fear and criticise the quality of information that Wikipedia contains. However Rahman (2008) believes that Wikipedia is able to reach the core truth of information as users are able to highlight errors on certain subjects which is a feature that other encylopedia’s do not have. He suggests that if an article is further opinion than fact, people do not have the capacity to sort the bad information from the good where as in Wikipedia you  are able to highlights these errors therefore making it more informative.

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Citizen journalism can be defined as the participation of interested members of the public playing an active role in receiving and producing up to date information and news on the web. It can also be known as ‘street journalism’ and first emerged in the early twenty first century when the public demanded an avenue for news content to be independant, reliable, current and less controlled.

As stated by Terry Flew there are three fundamental areas that are essential to the involvement of citizen journalism including open publishing, collaborative editing and distributed content.

Lasica (2003) has catagorised citizen journalism into six types including:
1) Audience participation (Blogs)
2) Independant news and information sites
3) Participatory only news sites
4) Collaborate media sites
5) Sent forms of media (e-newsletters)
6) Personal broadcasting sites (UTube)

One of it’s main purposes is not to impose and take over the world of traditional journalism but to contribute and add an innovative depth to the content and information published online. Citizen journalism allows users from all over the world produce and  distribute through open communication channells such as blogs. As seen on many online new websites the audience are now allowed to contribute and add opinion to stories published based on their own knowledge and experiences and Meikle has defined this process as the creation of ‘DIY media’. Axel Bruns discusses that the concept of DIY Media as much as it is an opportunity it is also a hindrance. As content cannot be controlled and the audience can write whatever they feel that may not even be relevant to the information presented, this causes  poor quality in content. Websites have developed tools and functions to help control the quality of content produced by the public however some websites have lost credibility due to the content published and distrubuted on their site.

However in some cases citizen journalism has given websites the market advantage as they have been given the opportunity to report on breaking news and events that has been initially overlooked by mainstream media. This ability for the audience to choose and report on what they believe is newsworthy has become increasingly powerful and has been acknowledged by the mainstream media. It has evolved the way main stream media deliver their news and information. For example the Korean news publication OhmyNews have combined some of their conventional attributes of journalism such as the editing processes with citizen journalism qualities and have developed a very successful method of delivering content.

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Traditionally, the way people consumed and the way manufacturers produced occured in a simple and straightforward fashion. Better described as the industrial production value chain it begins with the producer then is sold to the distributer who then sells to the consumers. This value chain is what kept the need for products stable as each value of the chain had their own duties and habits. So who controlled and directed the industrial production value chain? It is discussed by Axel Bruns that as the consumer is at the end of the value chain that they play no kep role is affecting any direction however because they are at the end of the chain this is essentially why they hold all the power. Producer will only want to make want the distrbutor wants to buy and the consumer only want to buy what they can sell to consumers. Therefore as consumers are ultimately the target market for both producers and distributors they will control the demand and supply of the production and distribution of products.

However  as time went on, traditional methods of consumption were questioned and the duties and seperation between producer, distributor and consumer were slighty blurred. Axel Bruns (2008) argues that the term production is no longer used correctly. This is because  more user lead production systems are being created and embraced by online communities such as Wikipedia, Facebook and other social networking websites. Bruns defines and creates the word ‘Produsage’ to better describe the nature of which information in produced and shared. He further explains that hybrid communities such as bloggers eliminate the traditional value chain due to their active participation in not only consuming and user the content but also produce content to share with others. As users are always able to add to the information they consume, this method of collaboration creates a contineous build of information that aims to provide the most detailed version of information on the specific topic. Similarly Henry Jenkins’s (2008) definition of  convergence can similarly relate to produsage as academics are releasing at that consumers are discovering new ways to use information. He describes convergence as a technological, social and industrial change that depends on who’s speaking and what they are speaking about. He states that ‘convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content’ (Jenkins’s, 2008).  As seen in the diagram below content is working in a cyclical motion as consumers seek new information and produce the means for them to be accessed by others.

The Produser

This diagram explains the cyclical nature of produsage. Unlike traditional value chains where their will be a beginning and end with a finished and tangible product. The produsage cycle will never end as users will always produce more on what other users have contributed. This signifies the power of collective intelligence through the use of online communities.

For more information and interesting reads on produsage visit Axel Bruns blog Snurb, the creator of the concept.

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