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'Anyone Can Edit': Understanding the Produser


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Recent decades have seen the dual trend of growing digitization of content, and of increasing availability of sophisticated tools for creating, manipulating, publishing, and disseminating that content. Advertising campaigns openly encourage users to 'Rip. Mix. Burn.' and to share the fruits of their individual or collaborative efforts with the rest of the world. The Internet has smashed the distribution bottleneck of older media, and the dominance of the traditional producer > publisher > distributor value chain has weakened. Marshall McLuhan's dictum 'everyone's a publisher' is on the verge of becoming a reality - and more to the point, as the Wikipedia proudly proclaims, 'anyone can edit.'

The effect of these changes is not simply more (and more informed) consumption, however - we are not turning into Alvin Toffler's 'prosumers': consumers with an almost professional level of knowledge about what they consume, but consumers nonetheless. Instead, the networked and hypermediated persona that emerges is a very different beast: users are becoming active producers of content in a variety of open and collaborative environments. Whether it is as members of the distributed development and testing community for open source software projects, as authors, editors, and fact-checkers for one of the multi-lingual Wikipedia sites, as reporters, commentators, and pundits in open news publications ranging from South Korean citizen news site OhmyNews to tech-nerd haven Slashdot, or as global explorers and annotators for Google Earth, they are no longer producers or consumers, publishers or audiences, but both at the same time. They are not prosumers, but user-producers: produsers.

While born perhaps out of a collaborative, open source ideology, produsing is now increasingly recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity by business and governments alike. For example, the Sims range of games relies overwhelmingly on its users as content produsers - 90% of content in The Sims itself is contributed by user-produsers. Similarly, Brisbane-based games company Auran has established a community of produsers around its popular train simulator Trainz, with some 200,000 'assets' (locomotives, carriages, scenery and other elements) prodused so far. BBC News Online and other agencies now regularly call for their users to send in camera phone footage of unfolding events. And even sees a whole 'Generation C' of produsers emerging before our very eyes.

More broadly, the Chinese government is in the process of initiating a shift in its economic focus from 'made in China' to 'created in China', aiming to turn the country from the world's factory to the world's ideas generator. This shift, with its strong links to the recognition by European and Australian governments of the creative industries as a key economic driver, also builds on the move from users to produsers - it seeks to harness collaborative, grassroots creativity as a means of generating new ideas and new content (while at the same time attempting to maintain state control of the process).

So who are these produsers - and how will they fare in the light of increasing business and government involvement? As economic interests begin to explore ways to generate revenue from produsage, will they undermine its collaborative foundations, and will they reintroduce a regime of stricter intellectual property licensing? Or can the grassroots movement of produsers effect lasting change in our engagement with content, establishing a solid foothold for creative commons and other alternative IP licensing systems, and developing an equitable approach to relationships between the produser community and commercial partners?

Published in: Business, Technology

'Anyone Can Edit': Understanding the Produser

  1. 1. ‘ Anyone Can Edit’: Understanding the Produser The Mojtaba Saminejad Lecture Dr Axel Bruns Creative Industries Faculty Queensland University of Technology [email_address]
  2. 2. The Produser <ul><li>No, it’s not a typo… </li></ul><ul><li>Produsers are involved in: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>user -led content prod uction – produsage </li></ul></ul><ul><li>In a variety of environments </li></ul>
  3. 3. Who Is Mojtaba Saminejad? <ul><li>25-year-old Iranian blogger: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>accused of insulting the prophets, and insulting the Supreme Guide </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>avoided the death penalty, but sentenced to two years in prison </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>his offence: reporting the arrests of two other bloggers by Iranian authorities </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Produsing the News? <ul><li>Traditional news process: </li></ul><ul><li>(from Bruns, Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production , 2005) </li></ul>
  5. 5. Against Gatekeeping <ul><li>Gatekeeping is outdated: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>media scarcity no longer exists </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>too many gates to keep </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>journalists’ judgment can fail </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ all the news that’s fit to print’ is patronising </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fordist production model </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>citizens want to be active and involved </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Towards Gatewatching <ul><li>New form of collaborative news produsage: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>observing what news passes through the gates of news and other organisations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>highlighting those news items which are of relevance to the community </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>publicising rather than publishing the news </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>adding commentary, analysis, and discussion to the news </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>post-Fordist production model, involving users as produsers </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Produsing the News <ul><li>Gatewatcher news process: </li></ul><ul><li>(adapted from Bruns, Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production , 2005) </li></ul><ul><li>Variations on the process are possible </li></ul>
  8. 8. Gatewatching and the News <ul><li>Rise of alternative online news: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>in news-related blogs and collaborative online news sites </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>e.g. Indymedia , Slashdot , Kuro5hin , Plastic , OhmyNews </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>often in response to perceived shortcomings in the mainstream news media </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>creating a kind of open news </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>but not replacing the mainstream news media </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Gatewatching Effects <ul><li>Suggestion of a new role for open news: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>bottom-up rather than top-down news coverage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>multiperspectival news coverage (Herbert Gans) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>democratic, dialogic, deliberative journalism (Dan Gillmor: move from lecture to conversation) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Effects on mainstream journalism: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>bypassing journalists and editors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>offering corrective to, watchdog for mainstream news (Herbert Gans: a second tier of news organisations) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>breaking down producer/consumer dichotomies </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Open News and Open Source <ul><li>Open source approach to news: </li></ul><ul><li>The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the Software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing. We in the open source community have learned that this rapid evolutionary process produces better software than the traditional closed model, in which only a very few programmers can see the source and everybody else must blindly use an opaque block of bits. ( ) </li></ul>
  11. 11. Produsage <ul><li>Examples of produser-led content creation and collaboration: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>open news </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>open source </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>open content repositories – e.g. Wikipedia , ccMixter , Flickr </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>collaborative knowledge communities – e.g. Google Earth </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>produser communities around commercial products – e.g. The Sims , Trainz </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Harnessing the Hive <ul><li>Implications of produsage: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>emergent community structures? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>creative potential – grassroots, vernacular creativity? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(e-)democratic potential? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>sustainability of voluntary labour? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>commercial approaches (JC Herz: ‘harnessing the hive’) and exploitation (i.e. hijacking the hive)? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>intellectual property issues? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>trust, authority, responsibility, liability? </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Produser Economics <ul><li>Economic potential: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>cheap workforce for commercial producers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>but also post-Fordist production/produsage models </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>possible opposition to traditional business, and opportunity for new businesses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>increasing focus on creativity and innovation in international business development – e.g. move from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’ </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Intellectual Property <ul><li>Ambiguous relation of produsage to IP: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>innovative use of new IP licences (e.g. Creative Commons ) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>complex IP relationships in massively multi-produser environments (e.g. Wikipedia) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>conflicted response from established industries (“Rip. Mix. Burn.” vs. p2p persecution) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>potential stifling of produser innovation by heavy-handed IP legislation, with potential economic impact – China’s growth helped by lax IP enforcement </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Political Implications <ul><li>Towards post-Fordist politics? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>growing effect of produser news on political process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>towards more dialogue and deliberation, </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>or more argument and conflict? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>rear-guard battles by governments and news organisations against citizen journalists (e.g. Mojtaba Saminejad) – but not only in authoritarian regimes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>conflict between alternative and mainstream media coverage (e.g. Howard Dean campaign) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>digital divide opening between traditional audiences and new produser-citizens? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is it possible to harness produsage to support a move of citizens from being a passive audience for to being active produsers of democracy? </li></ul>