I'm briefly back in Brisbane before heading back to Europe for the next round of conferences and a good month as a visiting scholar and Alcatel-Lucent Fellow at the Hans-Bredow-Institut in Hamburg. My time here at home has given me an opportunity to reflect on the conferences I attended on the last trip: WebSci '09 in Athens and Prosumer Revisited in Frankfurt.
Prosumer Revisited in particular, which I blogged about here, was an interesting experience - probably my first opportunity to reconnect in detail with the work being done in the overall area of produsage (and some way beyond it) in German academic research. A number of the keynotes at the conference were excellent, and it'll be interesting to follow some of the trajectories they explored.
I remain very much unconvinced about the attempt to make Alvin Toffler's term 'prosumer', now a good quarter-century old, do all the work of carrying this research, though - and not just because with the produser I have my own neologism to offer as an alternative. To begin with, the term 'prosumer' has never been satisfactorily defined, and is now regularly used to mean whatever a particular speaker wants it to mean - that tendency, I'm afraid, was also in evidence in some of the presentations at the Prosumer Revisited conference itself. (Put another way - perhaps we've never properly visited the prosumer when the term was first coined; 'revisiting' it today can therefore inevitably only add to the confusion over how to understand it.)
For Toffler himself, as far as I can make out (and even here, the definition shifts over the decades), the prosumer was for the most part simply an extension of the conventional production line: a way to involve consumers in better reporting their needs and wants to producers, and thus to enable a process of mass customisation. More active, independent customer, consumer, or user agency seems to be denied by this model, though - the prosumer, as I read Toffler, very much remains a (professional) consumer, and fails to make the more towards becoming an active producer in any real sense of the word.