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The Brownian Motion of Collective Intelligence?

Some of my colleagues at QUT are involved in a new project they describe as 'cultural science' - a combination of cultural studies, economics, and other scientific methodologies, in order to arrive at a more rigorous and testable framework for the study of cultural activity. I've posted some more about this over at, and there's now a Cultural Science Website which has more information. I've cross-posted the following blog post on the Cultural Science blog.

I was lucky enough to attend part of the Brisbane meeting which officially kickstarted the project of cultural science, and I've been trying to trace the connections from here to my own work since then. I know little about economics, but for a couple of years before switching to media studies, I trained as a physicist, and a recent blog post by Yihong Ding has made me believe that some fields of physics, too, have valuable models to contribute to cultural science. In particular, it might be worth examining the way that particle and fluid dynamics describes the transition from random interaction at a micro level to orderly and predictable behaviour at a macro level.

But first, some background: the focus of my research is on user-led collaborative content creation, or what I've come to call produsage. One of the fundamental challenges in this field is to understand the processes of collective intelligence that arise in large-scale collaborative environments, and the conditions under which they flourish best. What makes Wikipedia work, for example? What would make it work better? What enables The Wisdom of Crowds to emerge, as James Surowiecki describes it?

Nielsen Online: Produsage Trends in Australia and New Zealand

Getting into the ANZAC Day spirit here at there's an interesting news release over at Nielsen Online, detailing results of their research into user-led content generation in Australia and New Zealand. As it turns out, Internet users in both countries are already pretty active in their online participation - but a closer look at the stats released by Nielsen's market researchers also reveals that their activities remain largely limited to sharing profiles, photos and links at present, and to accessing user-led content rather than necessarily generating it.

Mark Scott's Lacklustre Vision for the Future of Our ABC

Somewhat overshadowed by the extensive if occasionally perfunctory coverage of the 2020 Summit in Canberra has been ABC Managing Director Mark Scott's own ideas paper, "The ABC in the Digital Age - Towards 2020" which was released last Thursday.

Scott also posted a kind of executive summary of the paper to the ABC's 2020 Unleashed site: here, he resorts to time-honoured platitudes about how in future "we will be saturated with choices about what to watch, listen to and experience; it will be like trying to hold back the ocean with a broom." (Huh?) His solution: more channels - "a suite of six ABC TV channels", plus "at least 15 radio services."

From Production to Produsage: Book of the Week (II)

As I mentioned the other day, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage was chosen as book of the week on the P2P Foundation Website, and Michel Bauwens has kindly posted a few excerpts from the book on the P2P Foundation blog. The last two of these are now up, and I've also reposted the entire series here on this site - please feel free to leave comments here or discuss them over at the P2P Foundation Ning site.

From Production to Produsage: Book of the Week

Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage has been chosen as book of the week on the P2P Foundation Website, and over the next few days a number of selected excerpts will be published on Michel Bauwens's P2P Foundation blog. The first two of these have now gone up - check them out, and feel free to leave a comment on the blog or discuss them over at the P2P Foundation Ning site.

The first excerpt provides a general outline of and motivation for the produsage concept - it outlines the decline of the conventional production chain as we were familiar with it during the industrial age, and the corresponding rise of produsage as a hybrid model of content creation which involves users as producers: in other words, produsers. Necessarily, this also fundamentally reshapes our understanding of the outcomes of such processes: produsage generates only temporary artefacts which themselves remain up for further development, not fixed and finished products - even though many such artefacts (from open source software to the Wikipedia, and beyond) can be used to substitute for the products of industrial processes.

Social Networks on Ning: A Sensible Alternative to Facebook

As I've said before, I'm no fan of Facebook - in fact, I think that ultimately, it is no more than a poor caricature of what social networking can be and do. Clearly, that's not stopped the site's rapid growth, but as Facebook users themselves have had more time to come to terms with the environment they're now operating in, I think it's in good part responsible for the fact that in some key territories, Facebook usage numbers have now plateaued and even declined.

The main problem here is with the thoughtlessness with which Facebook handles what should be its central asset - the social networks that its users belong to. Social networks are defined in the first place by the term 'friend', but being friends with someone on the site is no more than a binary decision: you either are, or you're not. There's no opportunity to do what we do in our lives outside of Facebook every day - to distinguish between different types and levels of friendship: work colleagues, old school friends, family members, neighbours, ex-lovers, casual acquaintances must all be classified simply as either 'friend' or 'non-friend'. What's the use of that?

On my Facebook profile page (which I hardly ever visit), there are now some 30 friend requests waiting for me - some are genuine friends, some are students and colleagues, some are casual acquaintances or friends-of-a-friend. Overall, they have nothing more in common than that they - somehow - know (of) me. In no context other than within the artificial sociality of Facebook would anyone consider all of these people to belong to the same category. And I have no means to properly qualify the level of friendship which connects me to another person - I can't distinguish between people I've known for 20 years and people whom I've never heard of, but who may have read one of my books; I can't tell family members from colleagues at work whom I occasionally exchange ideas with.

This fundamentally ignores some of the basics of how we as humans understand the social networks we're embedded in. We don't just see everyone as our 'friends', but instead have social ties with others that are more or less strong - and for most of us, there's a pretty low upper limit on the maximum number of really close friends we have. (Perhaps it's just me, but I don't know that I'd even say that I have 30 extremely close, 'through-thick-and-thin' friends - so who are those 30 who want to befriend me on Facebook?) Which highlights the absurdity of the Facebook 'friends' system: any social network that enables any of its members to claim that they have 10,000 or more friends doesn't deserve to be called 'social network'; what the tag 'friend' in Facebook really means is no more than 'here's someone I know (of)' - and what good is that if I can't also say 'but here are my very best mates'?

Beyond Broadcasting: TV as a (Deficient) Form of Streaming Media

Beyond BroadcastingContinuing the streaming media theme on from Wednesday: the latest issue of the journal Media International Australia has now been released - "Beyond Broadcasting", edited by Graham Meikle and Sherman Young. I've contributed an article and have received permission from the editors to re-publish it here. In the article, I try to take a fresh look at television in an increasingly Internet-driven media environment.

Traditionally, the Net's equivalents to television (mainly, streaming media) have been viewed through the lens of the older technology; to some extent, streaming media has tried to mimic television's feel and format - this is visible in the user interfaces of media players like Windows and Real, and even (though perhaps with some irony intended) in brand names such as YouTube,, or Democracy TV, the original name for the podcast feedreader Miro. I would argue that this is a case of what we could call a paleomorphising process: the tendency to shape new media technologies in keeping with older technologies. (In much the same way, it's taken decades for the mobile phone to look and feel like a mobile media and communications device, rather than simply like a wireless handset.)

ABC Digital Media Forum 2008 - Beyond Public Service Broadcasting: Produsage at the ABC

This time next Friday, I'll be attending the 2008 ABC Digital Media Forum, an internal strategy conference that aims to develop innovative approaches to engaging with digital media (and importantly, digital media users) for our national broadcaster. I won't be blogging the full conference itself, as much of what will be discussed there will remain confidential for the moment, but I'm sure I'll be able at least to post my overall impressions. For some years now, the ABC has taken a markedly proactive stance towards exploring the potential of participatory new media models; it will be exciting to see what's already in the pipeline for the near future, and what may be possible a little further down the track.

I was invited to the conference by Tony Walker, Manager of the ABC's Digital Radio division (and the driving force behind the ABC Digital Futures blog), and will provide a few thoughts for a session titled "Content Production in the Age of Participation". Below is a draft of my remarks - any comments, especially from current or potential users of the ABC's services, would be very welcome...

Beyond Public Service Broadcasting: Produsage at the ABC

By Axel Bruns

Re-Public: Who Controls the Means of Produsage?

I'm very pleased to see that a new article of mine has just been published in the energetic Greek online journal Re-Public. Editor Pavlos Hatzopoulos invited me a little while ago to respond to a first wave of articles discussing and critiquing the emergent phenomena of the social Web, and the contributor list already includes a number key thinkers in the field, from Michel Bauwens to Trebor Scholz. In fact, I responded specifically to the opening discussion between Trebor and Paul Hartzog, which revisits the industrial-age question of "Who owns the means of production?" for the new, information-age context.

What was missing from this, from my point of view, was a concern not so much with the means of production, but with the next step in the chain - with the means that connect producers and users, the means that facilitate the interaction, collaboration, and ultimately the produsage that takes place when the producer/consumer dichotomy diminishes. This, I feel, should be the main starting-point for critique now - the question should be "Who controls the means of produsage?" In fact, its claim to exclusive ownership and control of the means of produsage within its gated community is one of the reasons why I am so concerned about the rise of Facebook, as I've noted previously.

Anyway - the article is now available on Re-Public, and reprinted below. A special thrill for me (having studied ancient Greek at school) is that Re-Public also published a (modern) Greek translation of the piece: Ποιος ελέγχει τα μέσα παραγωγής/κατανάλωσης; Cool...

Picturing Produsage

Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage is now at the printery, on track for a release in February - and one of my last tasks for 2007 was to approve the book cover design that Peter Lang had come up with, and to start building this Website. Key to any of this was finding the appropriate graphics and artwork - images that would look good in their own right but could also stand in as a graphical representation of the collaborative, iterative, continuing processes of produsage. I wanted these images to bear some resemblance to the functional graphs of produsage processes which are used in the book, and which feature circular arrows to symbolise the repetitive nature of these processes:


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