Sunday, May 11, 2008

Free Hugs.

This is an interesting response to the question of if online communities are destroying the physical community. It seems that as we form tighter bonds to people in the online world, we lose the connections we had in the physical world and as a consequence are starting to crave human affection. Read the full article here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

To Blog or not to Blog

Today I read an interesting article in the latest copy of Frankie magazine regarding blogs. The article discusses the nature of blogs, their authors and their relevance in our growing technological age. I found the article to be significant to our current KCB201 assignment, and I started wondering where blogging fits into my online life and my scholarly pursuits. I wanted to raise the issue of not only relevance, but importance of blogs within our growing online society.

Coming into this subject with a fair knowledge of media studies, Internet usage and of Axel’s quirky assessment items, I wasn’t surprised or overwhelmed with the thought of continuous blogging as part of the assessment criteria. However, when we compare this to a traditional university assessment (essay format, word-processed, etc) we can see a shift in both technological advancement and communication methods. As Henry Jenkins (2008) points out in his own blog, media studies is a discipline that has been quick to embrace new media platforms that incorporate research and scholarly pursuits. He suggests in this particular article titled ‘Why Academics Should Blog’ that Blogs are an important medium in which expression and academic credibility combine with prompt availability and widely circulated content.

According to Cameron Marlow (2004, 1), blogging is a new form of social interaction on the web that allows users to connect over conversations of interest. In the beginning, only a handful of individuals adopted these blogs into their regular online social communication, however popularity grew and now the prevalence of blogs in the online sphere (112 million, as of December 2007 - according to Wikipedia) is phenomenal. Looking at this popularity, perhaps blogging is the way of the future for some university subjects. Is blogging the new online communication frontier?

Upon talking to a few people, it came to me that blogs can either go one of two ways. I know some people who consider blogs to be their source of entertainment and information, whether it be a gossip blog like Perez Hilton or a factual blog like Henry Jenkins. To these people, blogs are considered to be a valuable and useful tool for finding information. I also know the people who despise writing and reading blogs, who consider them to be a means for people with nothing significant to say, to publicly voice their opinion. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but as a society how important is a rambling article about the choice between vegemite and jam in the morning? The quality of blogs found on the Internet strongly varies between blog to blog and author to author.

The article that appeared in Frankie was very interesting about the importance of these blogs. Written by Justin Heazlewood (in case he comes across this in his morning self-google) it discusses the standard of blogs circulating on the Internet. He makes the point that punctuation and spelling has gone out the window, and the content also leaves much to be desired. He then raised a really interesting point about the ethics of writing about others in your blogs. Should we change names to hide identities? Or technically do we own our experiences and memories, and therefore have the right to blog about whatever we want? This is important point to keep in mind in our blogs, as we are being encouraged to interact and incorporate others’ opinions into our articles. Where do the ethics lie in relation to this? For my fellow KCB201ers and myself, this shouldn’t be too hard knowing what is appropriate and what isn’t. However, within an informal blogging sphere the question of appropriateness is not only highly relevant, but something that should be considered by all before hitting the ‘Post’ button.

I wonder what the general opinion is on blogs, and in particular their relevance to virtual cultures and media technologies. What rules govern the blogging realm? Do we take creative ownership over what we post, and therefore have the right to say what we feel? Or are there certain rules and ethics we should abide by to respect our fellow internet users?

Heazlewood, J. 2008. Dear Blog… Frankie. Page 88, issue May/June.

Marlow, Cameron. Audience, structure and authority in the weblog community. 1-9 (accessed 11th May 2008)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Old-School Gamers

Today I was having lunch with a few friends, and the topic of games (in particular, games from yester-year) inevitably came up. We reminisced about favourites such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Kart (The Nintendo 64 version). There was less chat about newer, more advanced games, as they didn’t have the emotional connection or the fun that we remembered from these older games.

‘Old- School’ game popularity is continuing to rise rapidly. Whether we feel it connects us to our past, we feel it makes us part of a culture, or we genuinely miss these games, the popularity of 80s/90s video games is soaring. I know personally that when I returned to my family home for a holiday I was devastated to find my mother had given away my Sega Mega drive to a young child who probably dismissed it with a claim of ‘where’s my Playstation/Wii/Xbox?’. Kids these days.

An interesting point was raised in the conversation about all the hype surrounding today’s children who spend all their time indoors with their video console instead of playing outside. Technology has been blamed for this, but as the speaker pointed out, as children we had the equivalent technology and we were still active young whippersnappers. I guess this leads me to the point that perhaps video games are not at all to blame for the problem, but it’s a family/society issue that needs to be resolved. Parents tend to use a video console as a babysitter for younger children, with the idea that it’s a lot easier to pop them in front of the computer/television and they will be entertained for a few hours. The other problem may stem from the lack of trust within a community. Observing a neighbourhood today is very different from what we could see years ago. There is a lack of trust between neighbours, where it seems safer to keep children indoors and be suspicious of the outside world. However, the view from the inside may be destroying not only the idea of a community, but also of a childhood. However, I am making a lot of extreme claims so please feel free to jump in with your thoughts.

But back to my original point, the games we played as children (which for the point of this article will refer to as old-school games) are still very, if not more so, popular today. The Escapist is a really good source that discusses “fringe cults” whose ‘fanatical dedication to the games they love has bloomed into a huge niche mod scene’. These gamers thrive on the games of yester-year, the games most of society have said goodbye to. They are keeping them alive with active participation in message boards and blogs, by posting game tips and creating mods. When quizzed about why they have such an affiliation with these games, the answers were unanimous. The games resonated on a nostalgic level, the older games have a staying power that newer games lack and it envelops them in a happy niche culture. However, not all fans of old-school games are fanatical on this level.

The main point I wanted to make is the effect of media convergence on these games. It was revealed to me in the aforementioned conversation that these games can be downloaded on the Internet and be played via computer. However, an emulator must be downloaded first which works as the console. I.e. you would need to download a Nintendo 64 emulator to play Nintendo games (at least this is to my understanding) and then from there separate games can be downloaded and played. In theory, this works similarly with the purchase of the actual console, but the physical constraints of the real world do not apply. Imagine if we had known 10-15 years ago that we could access our favourite video games in such a fashion!

I am interested to see what others think of this old-school video game trend. Why are we so fascinated by technology that is considered out-dated and by games that don’t challenge us?

Monday, April 28, 2008

a current work in progress...

The term ‘produsage’ is an interesting concept introduced to us by our lecturer Axel Bruns. It accurately describes the happy medium that occurs when producer meets consumer. In today’s society, the concept of the ‘produser’ is becoming more prevalent. Within my circle of friends, I can safely say that the majority of them would be considered produsers, regardless of if they know it or not.
In a collaborative environment (like the online communities I have previously mentioned) the mutual sharing of content and information flows freely between parties. This encourages the creation of new media, and this is also where the blurring of lines between producer and creator start. The difference between this content creation and the traditional method, is the dedication to the continuous building and improvement to the media.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

it's a Mad World.

As I write this blog, the ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ finale is on. Stay with me, I do have a point. A singer, made popular by another reality ‘talent-search’ television show is on, singing a song that somehow has made its way into contemporary culture. The singer is Damien Leith, the television show that made him popular is Australian Idol and the song is Mad World (the Gary Jules version – as seen on Donnie Darko). The song is brilliant. Definitely one of my favourites, but the question I ask is how did it somehow make its way into commercial television? Possibly generating success for not only the song, but the artist, Donnie Darko film and even the original band, Tears for Fears. All of these things may have been previously overlooked, had this song not been introduced in this way.

The deviation by society away from mainstream culture is known as the Long Tail effect. The Long Tail effect refers to the idea that mainstream culture is diminishing, while niche culture is booming with the help of a medium that makes suggestions based on topic, not popularity. Chris Anderson’s article ‘Wired 12.0 – The Long Tail effect’ gives a very long and detailed explanation of this topic. However I think my fellow blogger Brendan explains this concept with great clarity in his blog. He suggests that the Long tail is centred around the ‘misses’ in society, rather than the ‘hits’. Our hit-driven culture has existed basically forever, but the popularity rising for the misses, is what is motivating this long-tail effect. Niche markets are welcoming the ‘misses’ with open arms, based on taste and quality.

The Internet holds a world of content that is waiting to be discovered with the click of a button! Nicole Safker mentions in her article on that the Internet has made it possible for consumers to discover music outside of the mainstream. Prior to the shift in consumer patterns, most of this content would have been considered obscure and wouldn’t have been deemed acceptable into mainstream culture, however this is all changing with the rise in internet capabilities. MP3 technology has made online music distribution simple, easy and most of all popular. Music distribution occurs usually over a forum where users swap and download music files, whilst also recommending different or upcoming artists that other users may enjoy (Hartley 2005, 168). This participatory culture allows the sharing and finding of music to be easier than in the physical realm.

The Internet’s role in niche culture and the long tail effect is vital. Chris Anderson (2004) also goes on to mention that in the physical world, intangible goods still take up space, and space costs money. On the Internet, these intangible goods (music and movies, for example) can float around, not taking up any physical space, and not costing any money. These can be easily accessed, and consumers can also access information about similar topics they may be interested in but may not have found before. People are creating and finding their own niche cultures.

This is particularly prominent within the music community. Coming back to my original example with the idea that popular television is introducing niche music into contemporary culture, we can clearly see this pattern in many shows. Australian Idol has been mixing the mainstream hits with the niche classics with the use of Death Cab for Cutie, Damien Rice and Imogen Heap songs. Shows like the O.C have also brought bands like Spoon, The Dandy Warhols and The Postal Service into the limelight by playing tracks on high rotation. PopMatters introduced this concept in their article ‘The O.C effect’ commenting that these shows are winning by boosting their credibility as being elitist and hip, and the bands are winning by widening exposure. One episode of the O.C featured LA rockers Rooney, which incurred a tripling of their album sales after it aired.

The main idea behind my argument is that this Long Tail effect, combined with the mixing of medias is creating a new appreciation of once thought of ‘niche’ music. Great bands are now being recognised for their talent, but only through traditionally popular vessels. Is this still a genuine recognition for talent? Are these bands ‘selling out’, or is it society just responding what they think they ‘should’ like? When is a niche culture, no longer a niche culture?

Hartley, John. 2005. Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts, Third Edition. New York: Routledge

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Online Communities – a place to call home.

Communities, in the traditional sense of the word, have been around forever. We can define them as a collective group of people that are bound by one or more common features. Before the advent of telecommunications technology, this common feature was geography. Social relationships revolved around physical location, with a focus on face-to-face communication. Considering the difficulty in maintaining long-distance communication, the costs associated with this and the general physical separation, it made sense to be part of a community that was in your immediate geographical sphere (Preece and Maloney-Krichmar 2003, 3).

Before the internet (and other telecommunication developments) the person who lived next door was your best friend because it was convenient. You bought your clothes from the local shopping centre because it was easy – and probably the only option. However, with the rise of online communities the geographical boundaries that we used to rely on have been broken. No longer are we bound by locality, but by affinity. Terry Flew (2005,62) quotes Howard Rheingold (1994, 5) as defining virtual communities as ‘social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions [using the Internet] long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.’ We can see from this definition how the Internet plays a central role in building new online relationships.

I can honestly say that I know only one person in my age group who does not belong to any form of online community. ONE. How he missed the technological train is beyond me, but this shows the popularity of online communities such as myspace, facebook, youtube, ebay and thousands more. We can now find other individuals that also like to walk around in Yoda costumes whilst doing Rubik’s cube… if that’s what we are into… I’m not. But it’s possible.

Preece (2000, 1) states that online communities are hard to define, mostly due to the room for interpretation that exists for different people. However, we can mostly see that members have shared goals, interests or a basic reason for belonging to the society. They interact with one another, learning and teaching all the while, gaining strong ties between members. However, this raises the issue – are online communities destroying the geographical society? Are we becoming more and more segregated in the real world as we become more united in the virtual one? And if so, is it really a bad thing? It is in my opinion that while it’s important to maintain our relationships in the physical world, we shouldn’t dismiss the importance of relationships within the virtual realm. We should embrace the ability we now have to find a community based purely on interests, and all the benefits that come along with this. However, what will this mean for the traditional ‘community’? Will we become so jaded by the gleam of reality that we will only communicate with friends via online channels? I hope not.

Preece, J. 2000. Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability. England: John Wiley & Sons.

Preece, J. and D. Maloney-Krichmar. 2003. Online Communities: Focusing on sociability and usability. Baltimore.

Rheingold, Howard. 1994. “The Virtual Community: Finding Connection in a Computerized World” in Flew, Terry. 2005. New Media: Second Edition. Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Monday, April 14, 2008

Blogging like a pro.. kind of...

So here is my first blog for the purposes of this assignment. Strange to think that a whole bunch of people who wouldn't know me in the street could possibly read this. However, it is more likely that only friends and my tutor will ever access this. Good. I am currently unable to attend university for four weeks for personal reasons and i already feel like i'm behind fellow classmates who are a few blog entries ahead of me. I guess i will catch up eventually!
Virtuals Cultures so far has been a whirlwind of technological mishaps, information overload and miscommunication. However, it has also been a source of learning new (valuable?) skills and furthering my education about all things media related. This is all for now, i'm sure more will follow.