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Special Issue on Produsage

imageThe past few months have been incredibly busy with other projects (see here, for example), so I haven’t had a time to post the latest news from produsage world yet. Most importantly, the special issue of New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia that Jan Schmidt and I have co-edited is finally out now!

Clouds and Crowds: Tracking the Impact of Eyjafjallajökull from the Grassroots

One of the more interesting things to happen for me as a result of the air traffic turmoil caused by the volcanic ash clouds from Eyjafjallajökull - other than fretting about my chances of getting to Europe as planned at the start of May (I'm now cautiously optimistic, though hardly because of Qantas's handling of the situation) - was that I discovered the Flightradar24 site, through a link on my colleague Jo Jacobs's blog. What a powerful demonstration of the power of crowdsourced geodata mashups!

If you haven't seen this site yet - go there! It's the kind of user-generated information resource which only a few years ago we couldn't even have dreamt of, but which now relies on no more than the willingness of a few dozen users world-wide to invest a reasonably modest sum in hardware, and of a few hundred more (I'm guessing) to contribute their time to develop the system and curate the data it relies on.

Flightradar24 aims to track - mainly commercial - aircraft, live, as they fly their various routes around the world, and while its coverage to date is mainly focussed on Europe (with a few contributions from the Americas, South Asia, and Australia), for that continent it does exceptionally well. There's no unauthorised use of data involved here - in the first place, the site simply relies on commercially available devices that receive the transponder information (flight number, aircraft type, height, speed, position, etc.) which is constantly transmitted by commercial airliners - and a few others, such as the planes of the Australian Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany's (Future of Journalism 2009)

Axel Bruns. "Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany's" Paper presented at Future of Journalism, Cardiff, 9-10 Sep. 2009.

Much recent research into citizen journalism has focussed on its role in political debate and deliberation, especially in the context of recent general elections in the United States and elsewhere. Such research examines important questions about citizen participation in democratic processes - however, it perhaps places undue focus on only one area of journalistic coverage, and presents a challenge which only a small number of citizen journalism projects can realistically hope to meet.

A greater opportunity for broad-based citizen involvement in journalistic activities may lie outside of politics, in the coverage of everyday community life. A leading exponent of this approach is the German-based citizen journalism Website, which provides a nationwide platform for participants to contribute reports about events in their community. myHeimat takes a hyperlocal approach but also allows for content aggregation on specific topics across multiple local communities; Hannover-based newspaper publishing house Madsack has recently acquired a stake in the project.

myHeimat has been particularly successful in a number of rural and regional areas where strong offline community ties already exist; in several of its most active regions, myHeimat and its commercial partners now also produce monthly print magazines republishing the best of the user-generated content by local contributors, which are distributed to households free of charge or included as inserts in local newspapers. Additionally, the myHeimat publishing platform has also been utilised as the basis for a new 'participatory newspaper' project, independently of the myHeimat Website: since mid-September 2008, the Gießener Zeitung has been published as both a twice-weekly newspaper and a continuously updated news site which draws on both staff and citizen journalist contributors.

Drawing on extensive interviews with myHeimat CEO Martin Huber and Madsack newspaper editors Peter Taubald and Clemens Wlokas during October 2008, this paper analyses the myHeimat project and examines its applicability beyond rural and regional areas in Germany; it investigates the question of what role citizen journalism may play beyond the political realm.

Citizen Consultation from Above and Below: The Australian Perspective (EDEM 2009)

Axel Bruns and Jason Wilson. "Citizen Consultation from Above and Below: The Australian Perspective." Paper presented at EDEM 2009, Vienna, 7-8 Sep. 2009.

In Australia, a range of Federal Government services have been provided online for some time, but direct, online citizen consultation and involvement in processes of governance is relatively new. Moves towards more extensive citizen involvement in legislative processes are now being driven in a "top-down" fashion by government agencies, or in a "bottom-up" manner by individuals and third-sector organisations. This chapter focusses on one example from each of these categories, as well as discussing the presence of individual politicians in online social networking spaces. It argues that only a combination of these approaches can achieve effective consultation between citizens and policymakers. Existing at a remove from government sites and the frameworks for public communication which govern them, bottom-up consultation tools may provide a better chance for functioning, self-organising user communities to emerge, but they are also more easily ignored by governments not directly involved in their running. Top-down consultation tools, on the other hand, may seem to provide a more direct line of communication to relevant government officials, but for that reason are also more likely to be swamped by users who wish simply to register their dissent rather than engage in discussion. The challenge for governments, politicians, and user communities alike is to develop spaces in which productive and undisrupted exchanges between citizens and policymakers can take place.

Peer Governance in Wikipedia (in Spite of the Experts)

There's a nice series by Vasilis Kostakis on peer governance in Wikipedia over at the P2P Foundation blog at the moment, starting with a double interview with P2P Foundation founder Michel Bauwens and me. Parts two and three are here and here.

Much of this focusses on the interminable debate between 'inclusionists' and 'deletionists'. For the most part, I love Paul Hartzog's statement that they "strike me as if they were two rival groups of musicians, sneering at and insulting one another, while they pluck at their lyres as Wikipedia burns down all around them" - yes, the debate really couldn't matter much less, but at the same time I also really don't see much evidence of Rome/Wikipedia burning. Certainly compared to, say, Encarta...

Spore at 70

70 million user-generated content assets, that is. Readers of the produsage book will know that I'm very interested in Eric von Hippel's model in Democratizing Innovation of providing users with toolkits that enable them to participate in design and development processes. "Toolkits for users", he writes, "change the conditions potential innovators face. By making innovation cheaper and quicker for users, they can increase the volume of user innovation. They also can channel innovative effort into directions supported by toolkits" (147).

Collaborative Local Content Creation through edgeX: An Evaluation (AoIR 2008)

Sal Humphreys and Axel Bruns. "Collaborative Local Content Creation through edgeX: An Evaluation." Paper presented at the Association of Internet Researchers conference, Copenhagen, 17 Oct. 2008.

This paper presents research data and findings from the collaborative content creation project edgeX: Mapping the missing grassroots, which was reported on in the 2007 AoIRs conference (Authors). This project is based in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia and explores the potential for, geographically local communities to enhance their social ties and sense of communal identity through the integration of a Website into their communication ecologies. The Website,, allows local users to upload their own content in a variety of formats, and thereby (figuratively as well as literally) to put themselves and their work on the map; a Google Maps-driven geobrowsing interface is a centrepiece of the edgeX site. edgeX has most of the features available to the communities of Flickr, YouTube, and social networking sites, enabling users to publish and share their work and to interact with each other.

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."

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'?

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

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