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Consumption Practices And Uses Of Social Tagging By Last.Fms Brazilian Users - IR10

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    Consumption Practices And Uses Of Social Tagging By Last.Fms Brazilian Users - IR10 Consumption Practices And Uses Of Social Tagging By Last.Fms Brazilian Users - IR10 Document Transcript

    • PANEL ON LAST.FM – FRIENDSHIP, RECOMMENDATION AND CONSUMPTION ON A MUSIC-BASED SOCIAL NETWORK SITE Consumption Practices and Uses of Social Tagging by Last.fm´s Brazilian Users Adriana Amaral Professor of Tuiuti University of Parana (UTP-PR) PhD & MA Program of Communication & Languages adriamaral@yahoo.com Introduction: In this paper we analyze the consumption practices and uses of user-generated music content by Brazilian users at Last.fm, a social plataform of distribution, categorization, recommendation e release of online music. The core of this paper is the relationship between folksonomy and social tagging practices and the visualization of consumption in this niche SNS. At first, we´ve investigated conceptual and historic definitions and scholarship of this kind of Music- Based Social Network Site, with authors such as Amaral e Aquino (2008), Leão e Prado (2007), Baym & Ledbetter (2008). Secondly, we´ve described the characteristics and communicational flows of user's practices through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies such as participant- observation analysis and a survey with Brazilian users conducted by Google Docs with questions about their practices of tagging and its relationship with their cultural notion of the musical genres (70 survey respondents – 69% male and 31% female from all regions of Brazil) and also exploratory interviews throughout Last.fm´s shoutbox and messages and twitts at microblog plataform Twitter. In recent studies, Amaral & Aquino (2008) have considered that due to its segmented context focused only in musical genres and artists, Last.fm´s folksonomy is of a narrow type, as pointed out by Quintarelli (2005), "Narrow folksonomies are the result of a smaller number of individuals tagging (using one or more tags) items for later personal retrieval or for their own convenience". This observation becomes interesting when we relate it to the fact that 72% of the survey respondents say they use solely tags recommended by the plataform, and also that 79% say they use tags for an individual and personal use and not for the benefit of others in the system. From that point on, some categories emerged for the analysis such as the role of recommendation and categorization of musical genres; the reflexiveness of self-conscience of niche or subcultural audiences and the construction of reputation through their musical profiles (e.g in the act of choosing a tag offered by the system or in the act of turning off the audioscrobbler in order to
    • not present some track that they consider no appropriate for the style of the music profile and avatar). Traces of identity of the profile avatar are mainly focused on music badges and charts that can be embbeded in other plataforms (such as blogs); the tagclouds with favorite genres and also updates of favorite tunes and comparisons between other profiles. The consumption process is constituted by collecting and organizing music database and information as a kind of knowledge legitimization in the creative process of tagging tunes. 1. Musical Consumption and lifestyles through online profiles in SNS Studies about the relations between circulation and media consumption in the context of life styles have highlighted the effects of this huge field of symbolic goods and material culture available nowadays. The process of everyday life “aesthetization” have began since, at least the XVII century, is more visible through the mass communication in the XXth century and is still configurating identity patterns through consumption profiles, whteher it be on a context of leisure, enterteinment, fashion, symbolic goods; whether it is in an specific scope of the niches, groups or subcultures that are interconnect to them. Inside the domain of the internet studies this phenomenons happen throughout the practices of construction of online profiles inside social networking sites. This subjectivity and consumption processes are inside a macro contexto of contemporary practices of sociability. In earlier studies we´ve indicated some communicational and social practices throughout the construction of specific profiles related to a scene and musical genre at MySpace (2007b). We also have described subcultural practices as historic and conceputal elements on the birth of the digital culture and how they have regained importance throughout the popularization of Social Network Sites (2008). Liu (2007) talks about this profiles/lifestyles in terms of taste performances. One of the newest stages for online textual performance of self is the Social Network Profile (SNP). The virtual materials of this performance are cultural signs—a user's self-described favorite books, music, movies, television interests, and so forth—composed together into a taste statement that is "performed" through the profile. By utilizing the medium of social network sites for taste performance, users can display their status and distinction to an audience comprised of friends, co-workers, potential love interests, and the Web public. (LIU, 2007: Online) When we talk about “musical taste”1 we have to think about all the connections and streams that are involved in this convergent process such as mass media (newspapers, radio, magazines, etc), word to mouth, friends, community, family and other social spaces like record stores. In this context, online profiles in SNS have showed its potency and efficiency in the sense of a constitution
    • of a consumption database, musical memory, social organization around music, collectionism (Jennings, 2007) musical critique and genre classification, reputation acquired through the discussions and knowledge in participating of a community and also subcultural capital (Thornton, 1999). When all this elements co-exist with a powerful recommendation system, that is the case of Last.fm, all this possibilities “outrun the limites of the field of information retrieval (…) because the recommendation per se is the result of a social process that has an influence on the social bonds stablished throughout the way of the human acts in this process” (Figueira Filho, Geus e Albuquerque, 2008) Our emphasis on this paper is on the relations of the Last.fm´s own materiality (Zielinsky, 2006, Felinto, 2007) in the context of uses and appropriations of its users as a plataform for entertainment and dissemination of musical information. We consider the production and the classification of content by its users (artists/fans) as an element of information index for musical memory and as a process of colecionism, the self-counciousness of a niche audience as much important as the act of sharing playlists to a specific fandom. 2. Digital Musical Plataforms – historic, definitions and scholarship Social networks, a very old and pervasive mechanism for mediating distal interactions among people, have become prevalent in the age of the Web. With interfaces that allow people to follow the lives of friends, acquaintances and families, the number of people on social networks has grown exponentially since the turn of this century. (HUBERMAN, ROMERO e WU, 2008) Due to the intense growth and popularization of SNS, one of the appropriation trends was the segmentation of the sites in niches of “taste” ans lifestyles. “Many newer social network sites are highly specialized, targeting specific user groups such as Christians, the elderly, knitters, or movie fans” (Baym & Ledbetter, 2008). Nowadays, there are lots of emergent networks trying to be helpful to the demands of music fans and musicians like MyStrands, Pandora, Ilike, Spotify, Imeen, and Musicovery, among others. The first two online music plataforms were Last.fm and MySpace (even though MySpace were not solely used for music, in Brazil the early adopters were all musical producers, musicians and musical fans), that were launched in 2003 (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Last.fm was funded in 2002 at UK, even though its official release was in 2003. It´s available in 12 languages, with more than 65 millions of music in its catalog and 21 millions of monthly users, besides an additional estimated contingent of 19 millions of users through applications in other plataforms such as widgets (SCHÄEFER, 2008). On May, 30th, 2007, Last.fm was sold to CBS Interactive for U$ 280 millions. Donath (2004), Recuero (2005), and Boyd (2006), among others, have been studying SNS
    • with distinctive theoretical approaches and methods. “Scholars from disparate fields have examined SNSs in order to understand the practices, implications, culture, and meaning of the sites, as well as users' engagement with them” (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Despite this growing importance of the studies about it, there are still a few ones that deal with the specificities of musical plataforms or the ones who relate them to the musical consumption. Amaral (2007a, 2007b e 2009), Amaral e Aquino (2008), Leão e Prado (2007), Jennings (2007), Accoutier & Pachet (2007), Baym & Ledbetter (2008), Schäefer (2008), Sá (2009) are the ones that grounds this paper. The definitions about this kind of site are multiple but also can be found among different disciplines. From the point of view of the social computing studies, Accoutier & Pachet (2007) talk about them as public sites of shared music database or as musical data mechanisms that function due to collaborative tagging. Turbnull, Barrignton e Lanckriet (2008) describe them as sites of music discovery as also as hybrid systems of discovery, recommendation and musical visualization. Leão & Prado (2007, p.71) choose another way to defining it, that approaches the sites to the radiophonic language: “sites that simulate radio stations and offer the possibility to listen to music in a streming way”. Despite the aspects of simulation of radiostation language such as charts that are indicated in the sites by Leão & Prado, in the production of “dynamic charts that show the more listened songs of some artist” (Leão & Prado, 2007, p. 71), we believe that this notion, do not covers de complexity of communicative flows and connections that these social network sites allow their users to make and do not talks about two other important features that are visualization of data and also folksonomy. The radiophonic language as a particular form of communication presents itself as only one of the mains characteristics that constructs a musical profile. However, it is complementar to other cultural practices like social tagging (Amaral & Aquino, 2008), or even the practice of turning the audioscrobbling off while listening to some track that the users consider not appropriated to their online profile or playlist at Last.fm, as we´ve notice before, (Amaral, 2007) this specific practice shows a notion about their self-counciousness of their own public audience. 2.1 Last.fm Data Visualization Another important feature of Last.fm is the relation between monitoring, visualizing and mapping musical data that are fed by its users, as in two different research projects that we summarize below:
    • Nepusz (2008) project, Reconstructing the structure of the world-wide musical scene with last.fm2 is an interactive map that “graphically represents more than 4 million similarity relations among artists that are on the database of this social network. The circles represent the artists, bands or musicians that can be found on the music section of the site. The lines connect the artists because of their sound proximities, due to the musical habits of its users. Each musical genre is represented by one colour, considering the tags gave to them by its audience.” (Caetano, 2008). According to Nepusz (2008), “Vertex colors encode information about music genres. The genre of a given artist was inferred from the tags attached to that artist using a very simple algorithm. I sticked to the following mapping between tags and categories such as rock, pop, metal, hip-hop and rap, jazz, country, folk and world music, classical music, reggae and ska”. The map was generated from Last.fm´s the open application and allow us to discover and find the localization of favorite artists inside a musical genre categorization by typing artist´s name or screen user name that is already on the site. Another interesting project is Monitoring and visualizing Last.fm3 (Adjei & Holland-Cunz, 2008) that poses questions to the system to monitor and to visualize musical consumption, related to the fan communities. “Our project consists of four parts: 01 »Comparing Fan-Groups«, 02 »Fluctuation of Fans«, 03 »Album-Release« and 04 »Cumulation of Genres«. Within these scopes, we can present most interesting results gained from our observations. All visualizations were realized by using the programming language and integrated development environment processing”. These projects show us how important are the graphic and the visualization of music from the Last.fm database and how it help us to understand different notions and concepts of musical consumption on this kind of social network site, creating a synestesic experience that goes beyond music itself with the shared playlists and artists showed through maps that can be constructed by the fan community. Because of this kind of social ties and wide communicational sense – that includes implicit and explicit aspects of participation such as visualization and folksonomy - we´ve chosen to call Last.fm an online plataform rather than a music discovery site, a radiophonic simulated site or a recommendation system solely.
    • “Last.fm provides several communication platforms for those interested in using the site socially, including writing publicly-visible messages on one another’s profiles in the “shoutbox”, sending one another private personal messages, and participating in site-wide discussion forums” (BAYM & LEDBETTER, 2008, p.6) Shäefer (2008) tells us that Last.fm colaborates for the comprehension of consumption, convergence and exchanges that happens inside this networks: It is an ecosystem where the creativity of developing communities meets the intellectual property of the music industry, but where emerging and independent artist can also promote their music, where event organizers can advertise, and retailers can sell their products, and it furthermore serves as a “third place” where users can meet. Moreover, Last.fm is not limited to the Last.fm website, but spreads out through the application programming interface to any other platform. (SCHÄEFER, 2008, p.281) 2.2 Folksonomy and Classification of musical genres One of the main emphasys on the researchs about music-based sites relies on the classifications of musical genres. Last.fm´s particularity to deal with tagging and indexing of musical styles4 narrows the vocabularies and content classifications at the same time that intensifies the collective and individual relations of recommendation (Amaral, 2007). The social tagging practices of the site have been appropriated by its users. The cultural practices of Last.fm users collaborate with the system as much as they increase the odds among its users, due to vocabulary ruptures or permanent ways of tagging genres, artists or songs in respect of consensual tag classifications. With the emergence of folksonomy (VANDER WAL, 2006), the problems of representation and information recovery and theDreyfus (2001) critique can be revaluated. Tagging practices rise as an alternative of information management at the moment that it allows any web user to represent and recover information throughout the tags freely created, based on the meaning of tagged data. Aquino (2007) questions if we could consider folksonomy as an uncontrolled vocabulary. This doesn´t mean a total disorder or chaos, but an open and collective process based on the significations seized by the information tagged by the users. These processes can have an individual intention or a collective one. She argues that folksonomy is a kind of native web process that opens new options to information search and discovery that are constructed by content fed and managed by the users. Vander Wal (2005), the creator of the term folksonomy defines it as:
    • Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrival. The tagging is done in a social environment (shared and open to others). The act of tagging is done by the person consuming the information. The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object as well as. The people are not so much categorizing as providing a means to connect items and to provide their meaning in their own understanding. Quintarelli (2005) distinguishes two typologies of folksonomies: broad and narrow ones. “A broad folksonomy (as the one of Del.icio.us) is the result of many people tagging the same item. Every user can tag the object in a different way following their own mental model, vocabulary and language. A narrow folksonomy (as the one of Flickr), on the other hand, is the result of a smaller number of individuals tagging (using one or more tags) items for later personal retrieval or for their own convenience. A narrow folksonomy provides various target audiences (maybe with a rather specific shared vocabulary) with the instrument to add tags in their own language. This property makes later retrieval fast, efficient and enjoyable”. Another folksonomy characteristic that is pointed out by Quintarelli (2005), Udell (2004) and Mathes (2004), is the immediate feedback, the intrinsic dynamic of creating a new tag everytime it is needed, or even the exchange for another tag that is more suitable or used by a number of users. For Mathes (2004) this demonstrates the assymetric communication that exists among folksonomy users, that have to deal the meanings of their tags with other users starting from an individual creation of tags. It´s a collective process, even though without dialogical contact between its participants but that even so reveals itself to be interactive through the negotiation of tag meanings. Mathes (2004) also explains that browsing inside folksonomyes and tag connections stablished by their users are positive due to the unexpected semantic material that can be found. Quintarelli (2005) says that “the power of folksonomy is connected to the act of aggregating, not simply to the creation of tags”, evoking the importance of the social ambient that aggregates their meaning, because without this ambient tags are only loose words without meaning for the community. As any other practice, folksonomy does not have only advantages. Problems such as tagspace (XU ET. AL, 2006), that happens when the users ad the same tag for different data; polysemy, when one word has multiple meanings related to it; synonymy, when different words have the same meaning (GOLDER E HUBERMAN apud MARLOW, 2006). Another problem is what we call “masked tags” (Amaral & Aquino, 2008), a kind of indexation that tags an object with a completely different meaning on purpose by their users. This raises difficulties on the search for information. This is a common practice among lots of brazilian users as we´ll see on the next section that
    • describes the plataforms and the cultural practices inside this ambient by brazilian users. 3. Last.fm and Brazilian Users Last.fm is a plataform based on musical sharing and recommendation that works with radiostations, forums, and tagging of musical files done by the users, construction a wide database about artists from very different musical genres and make them public on their users profiles. This “models of recommendation are based on the intersection of users contexts to estimate a recommendation, that are made due to semantic data or by analyzing social network sites” (FIGUEIRA FILHO, GEUS & ALBUQUERQUE, 2008, p.1) Because of its niche context that focus only in musical genres and artists, Last.fm´s folksonomy can be understood as a narrow typology (QUINTARELLI, 2005). The practice of tagging is so common between the brazilian users that in our survey, 72% of the interviwees says that they prefere the tags that are recommended for the system and 76% always uses the same tag for an specific genre or artist. Richard Jones, one of Last.fm´s co-founder and its actual CEO says in a recent interview for Read Write Web5 that “recommendation and discovery is key in this space now - and we've been working on this for 6 years, and every day we continue to refine the process”.(Jones in MacManus, 2008, Online) Last.fm´s have been defined as a socio-techinical ecossystem (Schäefer, 2008), a social- discursive musical space (Postill, 2008) and as plataform and ambient (Assis, 2008) of shared musical knowledge and memory (Oliveira, 2009) that also presents a proximity relation of tastes starting from the applications of comparing the artists or genres among the profiles. This proximity apparently would wider and amplify the friendship ties among the listeners, as indicated by Leão & Prado (2007). However, Baym & Ledbetter (2008) showed in their study that this plataforma doesn´t aggregate strong ties of friendship – this only happens when it´s use is integrated with other plataforms or SNS, or in Haythornthwaite (2005) terms, due to its multiplexity. The same happens in Brazil, usually the user adds a friend in Last.fm only to exchange musical comments and recommendations, but the core interactions happens through sites more popular like Orkut6 or Twitter. Another important aspect is personalization. Since it´s not possible to change the profile design, besides the picture and the option of red or black for the top of the page. There are a few traces besides playlists and the musical genre tagcloud. This material traces show us that the profile identity on Last.fm is related to collections and information organization. The construction of musical knowledge (Oliveira, 2009) is showed through this playlists and through the tagging system.
    • Even though the focus of this paper is not on the economic dimension of the site, it may be very important to further reflections, since May 2009 the webradio that is generated from the tags is charged for users outside U.S.A, Germany and UK, which has generated protests against the plataform. 3.1 Last.fm and brazilian users In Brazil, according to a research with heavy users conducted by IBOPE7 during Campus Party 2009 (a conference that has happened in São Paulo in January, 2009), it has indicated that 50% of the heavy users have already tagged a page or an object on the web8. Another important data comes from our survey, conducted specifically with Last.fm users indicates that the search for tags appears in the second place in their search preferences - 26% of the interviwees – far more superior than the search for radios. Last.fm in Brazil is a niche plataform for musicians, bands, producers, DJs and the community of music fans – specially Savants and Enthusiasts, to use Jennings (2007) categories of music fans and consumers. This two groups are also heavy users of internet and music. The research questions9 of the survey about the tagging practices of Last.fm users was produced by Amaral & Aquino (2008) and was made available online from January 19th, 2009 to February 05th, 2009. Last.fm itself was used to spread it, and also Twitter, blogs, specific mailing lists and so on. 68 people answered it. In spite of the importance of the two purposes of tagging, the personal and community one as pointed out by Jenning (2007), not all the brazilian users uses this feature. Several users only listen to the radios or use the visualization of playlists in order to find new music. This kind of use was indicated trough informal talks with users online at the plataform or for other ones such as e- mail. Jennings (2007) and Gouvêa, Loh & Garcia (2008) understand tagging as personal as also a collective intention. The collective intention is generated through a consense in the use of a word; the personal intention function as a subjective order for representation, search and retrieval of information or content that is important only to the person who has created it. At Last.fm we see these two kinds of purposes in tagging. Genres and subgenres are the majority of words related to the plataform, that enables a collective organization and subjective negotiations and appropriations on the user generated content Therefore, the possibilities of semantic relations between a musical file and the tag chosen also have modulations on the genre terms, including lifestyles and subcultural aspects. This negotiation is also a form o co-production of links (Forte, 2005). For example, the tag for electronic
    • or “eletrônica”– in portuguese – , house, soul, techno for the norwegian duo Röyksopp10 is indicated through a column of most popular tags for the track that appears at the user screen at the moment it is tagged. On the other column we see the tags for the user (adriamaral) and all the possibilities of choice. There´s a critique and semantique concern with the variety of collected tags used for categorization of musical genre that can contribuite to the analysys of uses and forms of online musical collecting trough social tagging. This discussion appears at Lamere (2008) and Turnbull, Barrington e Lanckriet (2008) – that talk in terms of “the effect of bias of popularity” in terms of most popular genres or songs (short-head) and less popular (long tail effect). Thus, there are inter-genre that perpetuates themselves on the flow of uses of the tag or for the social relations that are configured inside the system from the constituition of musical taste, as Baym & Ledbetter (2008) indicates, these relations also are incorporated for comparative measurers (applications made by the users) such as “tast-o-meter” or "mainstreamness" profile measurer. Inside scenes or specific subcultures we can also have the adding of two or more genres to create a new one such as explicit in the tag hellektro11, a composition of twosubgenre of electronic music. This kind of apps show the symbolic dynamic of Last.fm, that needs the production of content and tagging from its users in order to generate values, as Shirky (2008) indicates: “The surprise with tagging is that the aggregate judgement of the users provides a useful categorization of webpages without requering any professional catalogers”. Nevertheless, we have also to watch and to analyze the tags that incorporate a subjective side, because they can express users emotional or mood experiences, creating amplifications and dimensions on the vocabulary inside the plataform such as tagging the popstar “Paris Hilton” as “brutal death metal, or Madonna´s vogue as “the gayest music ever” (Figure 4) or using a brazilian example tagging “Engenheiros do Hawaii” or “Legião Urbana”12 as genious or gurus. The indexing practices through masked tags at Last.fm can keep away some potential users, because are tags that do not index directly to the artist or song. In this sense, we see a contradiction on the discourse practices of the way the brazilian users tag that can be understood from data gathered from the survey. When asked to about their preferences in using Last.fm recommended tags or to create their own tags, 71% says that they prefer tags that are already used on Last.fm (most popular tags); Due to the complexity in create categories for music genres, most of the users chooses for a wider number of tags: 39% of the users choose to use between 2 or 3 tags; 26% uses 1 or 2 tags; 24% 3 or more tags, while 11% use only 1 tag. In relation to the usage of masked tags, regardless the majority being opposed to this kind of
    • practice (57% of the interviwees) and to say that “they pollute or confuse the system”, when they answered one of the subjective questions of the survey, we perceive that many of them believe that this practice has a symbolic value that helps on the classifications of particular and collective musical memory (a feature also perceived by Oliveira (2009) and they also said that masked tags can help on the controversies of different musical fandoms, as one of the interviewees said: “I use masked tags in artists of genres I dislike such as pagode, funk carioca and forró13. Trough the tags I can demonstrate how much these genres sucks [lol]. But I have stopped doing that, because the artists stayed on my library and I don´t want them there” (Student, 18 years from São Paulo). Preliminary Conclusions: From theoretical perspectives about SNS and its music appropriations and the importance of folksonomy and empyrical data gathered trough a survey we have designed our first considerations about the brazilian users of Last.fm in its consumption profiles and social tagging practices. This was an exploratory paper that intends to amplify the discussions about categorization of music genres and folksonomy in music-based social networks that are constantly growing. Folksonomy can present a re-avaliation of representation and retrieval problems of the web trough its different tagging practices and appropriation as we´ve discussed in this paper, consenting powers of co-production of links (Forte, 2005) and management of information through different ways, generating alternative forms, other than search engines. In our analysis of social tagging inside Last.fm, these cultural practices help the users to construct a musical identity, besides constructing a complex database that, in a certain way, disruptes and also maintain the traditional patterns of music genre critics in its user categorization. We also have indicated that through these semantic practices we can also see what Jennings called as curator and collecting inside music fan economy that balances between collective memory and individual purposes. This initial explorations are an theoretical atempt to refine the definitons and analysis of these specific kind of plataform, whose logics operate, as a micromedia content as also niche media (Thornton, 1996) in which symbolic fights of subcultural capital and knowloedge – that are expressed through the act of tagging - demonstrates the fan economy and organization (Jenkins, 2006) of these wide database. Brazilian users show these kind of sense when they show their dicotomic consumption practices, uses and appropriations about the way they tag, that can be noticed in their difficult to use less than one tag or even in their anti or pro use of masked tags.
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    • carioca is a kind of brazilian appropriation of miami bass and forró is a folk nrtheast style of music from the countryside.