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Produsage: Research

Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards: Call for Expressions of Interest

I’m afraid this blog is going through a slow period again as I catch up with a backlog of work. I did want to pass on some information on this exciting postdoc opportunity in Media & Communication at Queensland University of Technology, though: we’ve recently been ranked as the leading media research institution in Australia (“well above world standard”), and we’re now calling for expressions of interest from researchers who are interested in joining our team under the new Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme.

More information, and details for the key QUT people to contact, below. On a personal note – I’d be especially interested in postdoc researchers looking to explore aspects of produsage, social media, and online journalism, and I’d be happy to chat to you informally about a potential application before you contact my QUT colleagues.

Call for PhD Applications: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation

It’s that time of the year again: my research centre, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI), is calling for applications from prospective PhD students (and while this call focusses on PhDs, Masters and Honours applications are also due around the same time…). Undertaking your PhD at the CCI means you will be working with world class researchers who can offer supervision of the highest standards. Our research activities cover a broad range of emerging issues, themes and projects across the entertainment and creative industries including innovation and policy development; significant project collaborations with Asia; a major project looking at broadband services; mapping the creative industries; IP law; a global cultural futures study and other projects which engage community and industry partners in creative industries from major film studios to the Salvation Army and ‘at-risk’ young people working as media co-creators. visit the CCI Projects Page at to find out more about the Centre’s activities. There are a broad range of research opportunities available across the CCI’s member organisations in Australia, and I encourage you to have a look at the Website for the full details – application deadlines vary from university to university. Successful PhD projects would start in early 2011.

For applications to my university – Queensland University of Technology, based in Brisbane, Australia –, the relevant application deadlines are 30 September 2010 for international students, and 15 Oct. 2010 for domestic students.

Overall, I am interested in PhD applications from anyone with a research interest in the broad areas of produsage, Web 2.0, and social media, either in general or with a specific focus on fields and technologies including blogs, citizen journalism, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, social network analysis, government 2.0, or related themes. If any of those themes are of interest to you, please get in touch.

In addition to these broader themes, we’re also calling specifically for expressions of interest for a number of concrete research projects. In my own case, these are related to our research into mapping Australian online publics which will examine interactions across blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, which we’re undertaking as part of an ARC Discovery project, and to our work researching our changing media ecologies. For these projects, we’re particularly interested in expressions of interest from potential students who operate in the following areas:

Wikipedia: Some Thoughts on Inclusionists vs. Deletionists

One of the major sites of produsage which I examined in Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond was Wikipedia, of course. I continue to think that relative to its major impact on how we deal with information, Wikipedia remains curiously underresearched - especially so if you consider the vast number of individual language-specific Wikipedias which exist today. That's not to belittle the work that has been done - but for a site which sits alongside Google, Facebook, and only a handful of others in a very rarefied category of real gamechangers, we simply haven't seen the amount of scholarly publications about it that we should rightfully expect to see.

CFP: Exploring Produsage - Special Issue of New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia

With my colleague Jan Schmidt from the Hans-Bredow-Institut in Hamburg, I'm delighted to have been approached by the editors of the Taylor & Francis journal New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia to edit a special issue on produsage. Below is the Call for Papers - we welcome any enquiries and submissions. Please spread the word!

Exploring Produsage

A Special Issue of New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia

Call for papers

The concept of produsage points to the shift away from conventional producer/consumer relationships, and highlights the more fluid roles of users and contributors within social media environments. Participants in open source projects, in Wikipedia, in YouTube and Second Life are no longer merely consuming or using preproduced material, but neither are they at all times acting as fully self-determined producers of fully formed new works; rather, they occupy a hybrid position as produsers of content.

Strategies for Engaging with Social Media: Two Reports for the Smart Services CRC

One of my research gigs for 2009 was to investigate the potential of social media for the Smart Services CRC, a cooperative research centre comprised of several Australian universities and industry partners from the media, finance, government, and IT fields. Ostensibly, the goal here was to translate what we know about the principles and processes of produsage into actionable ideas for organisations and businesses which aim to engage with social media communities, and I'm pleased to announce that the two reports produced from this research are now available under Creative Commons licences. (I mentioned the release of Report 1 in a previous posting in June.)

All of this was in recognition of the fact - and to say this is not a dig specifically at the CRC's industry partners, but speaks to an almost industry-wide malaise - that social media and the communities which use them remain very poorly understood by the organisations which attempt to use them, which has led to a great many failures in working with social media. (For mine, the jury is still out on whether even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg actually gets social media.)

Indeed, it seems like these failures are now used by some corporate planners to argue against engaging with user communities altogether - 'social media' has become a dirty word for them, as ReadWriteWeb reports just today. It's unlikely that such a head-in-the-sand strategy is going to be successful in the long (or even the short) term, of course - much as the music industry has found with filesharers, social media communities aren't something you can contain by ignoring them, suing them, or quarantining them from your own content using paywalls or other protection mechanisms.

So, what our two reports for the Smart Services CRC aim to do instead is to provide an accessible, level-headed introduction to social media which draws substantially on produsage theory but tries to present those ideas in as simple and straightforward a manner as possible (without, hopefully, dumbing them down too much). I've even gone as far as avoiding to use the term 'produsage' itself all too much, in order not to scare any overanxious corporate strategists who might be frightened off by their encounter with new ideas...

Smart Services CRC "Social Media: State of the Art" Report Released

Over the past few months, I've been busy exploring the potential for sustainable corporate approaches to engaging with produsage - this is what I've discussed for example in my recent presentations at next09 (in English) and the Alcatel-Lucent Foundation / Hans-Bredow-Institut conference in Hamburg (in German), for example. Too many businesses still seem to believe that they can simply scoop the cream off the top of the various spaces for user-led content creation, without understanding the inevitable negative repercussions which result from any perception by users that they're just being exploited as cheap labour.

Quite a few of the ideas presented in those conference papers (and the associated interviews) draw substantially on my work with Mark Bahnisch in the Smart Services CRC, and so it's very timely that our first report for the CRC has now also been released. The report provides an overview of the state of the art in social media, and focusses especially on the dynamics of user community participation in social media sites; as part of this, we're also looking at a number of leading social media sites (and one or two 'interesting failures'), particularly in three key areas: news and views, products and places, and networking and dating.

Beyond Toffler, beyond the Prosumer

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.

Produsage Research - Further Plans, and Job Opportunities

I thought I'd post a quick summary here on one further direction that my research into produsage will take over the coming years. One issue that has interested me for some time (and that I touch on throughout the book) is the problem of finding ways for 'professionals' and 'amateurs' - as inadequate these terms are - to collaborate fruitfully, rather than stand in inherent opposition to one another.

The oppositional stance is visible for example in the still persistent dismissal of citizen journalists by professional journalists in the industry; in the overly defensive response of Britannica and its commercial competitors to the rise of Wikipedia; or in the lack of engagement with or outright banning of user-generated content by many educational institutions. Against this, we're seeing the emergence of what (following Leadbeater and Miller) we might describe as Pro-Am operations - OhmyNews is a good example here, but so is the harnessing of user-generated content by Amazon or Google.

Smart Services CRC Finally Launched

Smart Services CRC Company LogoI'm happy to report that the Smart Services Cooperative Research Centre has finally been launched. It's taken far too long to get to this point (initial Australian federal government approval for the CRC application was received shortly before Christmas, 2006), but after a lengthy process of negotiations between the twenty or so universities, government bodies, and industry partners involved in the CRC, the Centre has finally been launched by the federal minister responsible, Senator Kim Carr, on 3 July 2008.

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?

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