Folksonomies Social networking Web 2.0

More on prod-users, Wikipedia and the like

Excellent and wide-ranging perspectives and commentary at The Edge in response to Jaron Lanier’s essay of Digital Maoism.

Essential reading.

A short extract of the summary –

Projects like Wikipedia do not overthrow any elite at all, but merely replace one elite — in this case an academic one — with another: the interactive media elite.
— Douglas Rushkoff

Our new tool for communication and computation may take us away from distinct individualism, and towards something closer to the tender nuance of folk art or the animal energy of millenarianism.
— Quentin Hardy

Networked-based, distributed, social production, both individual and cooperative, offers a new system, alongside markets, firms, governments, and traditional non-profits, within which individuals can engage in information, knowledge, and cultural production. This new modality of production offers new challenges, and new opportunities. It is the polar opposite of Maoism.
— Yochai Benkler

The personal computer produced an incredible increase in the creative autonomy of the individual. The internet has made group forming ridiculously easy. Since social life involves a tension between individual freedom and group participation, the changes wrought by computers and networks are therefore in tension. To have a discussion about the plusses and minuses of various forms of group action, though, is going to require discussing the current tools and services as they exist, rather than discussing their caricatures or simply wishing that they would disappear.
— Clay Shirky

Wikipedia isn’t great because it’s like the Britannica. The Britannica is great at being authoritative, edited, expensive, and monolithic. Wikipedia is great at being free, brawling, universal, and instantaneous.
— Cory Doctorow

Folksonomies Interactive Media Web 2.0

Powerhouse Museum launches Web 2.0-styled collection search

Today we made live our ‘OPAC 2.0’ project.

OPAC 2.0 has been developed by the Powerhouse Museum’s Web Services team in conjunction with Registration and Curatorial Departments. OPAC 2.0, as the name might suggest, represents the next generation of online collection browsing.

Using technology developed in-house, OPAC 2.0 allows users to browse nearly 62,000 current object records from Emu. Whilst some of these were previously viewable on AMOL/CAN, OPAC 2.0 now makes these available through the Powerhouse’s own website – and keeps them current and updated.

Improving on previous collection search tools, OPAC 2.0 tracks and responds to user behaviour recommending ‘similar’ objects increase serendipitous discovery and encouraging browsing of our collection. It also keeps track of searches and dynamically ranks search results based on actual user interactions. Over time, this artificial intelligence will improve as it learns from users, and will allow for dynamic recommendations.

OPAC 2.0 also incorporates a folksonomy engine allowing users to tag objects for later recall by themselves or others.

In keeping with the nature of a collection database OPAC 2.0 is designed to be in a state of perpetual development with new features and tweaks being added periodically. As object records are edited, added or changed in our collection management system, Emu, OPAC 2.0 will periodically add them to its database. In early August the available images of each object will greatly improve as Emu is merged with our current image database FirstFoto.

Likewise, new features already planned to be added include exhibition locations, and the ability for teachers and educators to ‘bundle up’ personalised selections of object choices for use in teaching situations.

OPAC 2.0 would not have been possible without the hard work of the Web Services team, the registrars and curators at the Museum, and all the international beta testers who gave feedback on early versions from around the world.

Interactive Media

Are records . . . . dead?

Mutek is a Canadian electronic music and digital art festival that happens every May in Montreal. I spoke at Mutek 2003 and it was one of the most interesting and experimentally-oriented music event I’ve yet been to.

Inoveryourhead has recorded and offers as a podcast one of their expert/industry panels on ‘Are Records Dead?’. The podcast addresses issues of digital distribution and changes in media. It features speakers from Beatport (digital distributors), Forced Exposure (traditional distributors) artists and marketing managers.

This should be listened to in the context of some of the Future Of Music podcasts I blogged about last year.

Web 2.0

Museum blog aggregator

This should have been posted a while back but slipped through the net.

Ideum has set up a the rather sensibly titled which acts as a central aggregator for posts from a range of different museum blogs.

This is a very useful way of quickly finding out what is going on in the museum blogosphere all on the one page.

Aggregation is the core business of museums – we aggregate social, cultural and natural history for our respective communities. We aggregregate community knowledge around these histories and collections. Yet it is rare to hear of a museum talking about itself as a media conglomerate or even as a conversation facilitator – which is in many ways what museums are (or should be).

Social networking Web 2.0 Young people & museums

More thoughts on prod-users/pro-sumers, engagement, interactivity & media literacy

[some slightly muddled late night thoughts that will be expanded in coming weeks]

Nicholas Carr issues one of his familiar missives railing against the almost automatic discarding of the old [books] in praise of ‘new media’ and ‘interactive fiction/writing’.

[A friend] describes a visit to an internet company where he watched a demo of a new web service that allows people to create mashups of movies, combining scenes from various films. “Until now,” his host blathers, “watching a movie has been an entirely passive experience.” Gomes comments: “Watching a good movie is ‘passive’ in the same way that looking at a great painting is ‘passive’ – which is, not very; you’re quite actively lost in thought. For my friend, though, the only activity that seemed ‘active,’ and thus worthwhile, was when a person sitting at a PC engaged in digital busy work of some kind.”

Gomes hits on one of the more annoying characteristics of the web philistine-utopians: they’re need to create false dichotomies about the products of creative work. In this case, the false dichotomy is between “passive” and “active.” If you’re not “actively” fiddling around with something, you’re being “passive,” and passive is, of course, bad. But as Gomes points out, there’s nothing passive about reading a good book or watching a good movie or sitting down with a good newspaper. If someone feels that watching a good movie is a passive experience, that says more about his shortcomings than the work’s.

The other popular false dichotomy is between “static” and “dynamic.” A completed work of art or craft – a book, a painting, a movie, an encyclopedia entry – is “static,” and static, like passive, is bad. A work is only “dynamic” if it’s some kind of open-ended group production – art by committee. Again, though, these terms are fake. A good book is anything but static – it gives to the active reader a wealth of meanings and connections. It’s the mashed-up products of committee culture that tend to feel static. The more a mob messes with something, the flatter, more one-dimensional it becomes. When it comes to creative work, the individual mind is more interesting – more dynamic – than the mob mind.

What’s particularly sad, and dangerous, is that these false dichotomies are infecting mainstream thought and discourse. They’re becoming an accepted way of looking at culture. A recent Library Journal featured an interview with Ben Vershbow, a fellow of the Institute for the Future of the Book, which is connected to the Annenberg Center for Communication and is funded in part by the MacArthur and Mellon foundations. Vershbow sees books as being static, and the reading of them as passive. He believes that the promise of books will only be fulfilled when they come to have “social lives.” “Soon,” he says, “books will literally have discussions inside of them, both live chats and asynchronous exchanges through comments and social annotation. You will be able to see who else out there is reading that book and be able to open up a dialog with them.” The model is Wikipedia, which, Vershbow says, “is never static, always growing.” [emphasis mine]

Carr’s points echo a lot of what I have been considering in relation to music criticism. Simon Reynolds, in discussing the race-to-the-bottom struggle in music journalism and blog circles between rockism and popism addresses the problems with the kind of cultural relatvism that has rendered critics unable to criticise – which seems pertinent in looking at Web 2.0/digital natives/wisdom of crowds type thinking.

As the original title of Frith’s book makes clear, Cultural Studies came out of sociology, and a large aspect of the discipline was the pursuit of value-free understanding of popular leisure—a human science, its research aimed to increase the sum of human knowledge. But, distorting the value-free element significantly, Cultural Studies also came out of socialism—all of the CCCS theorists were left-wing and many were Marxists. Gramsci, mediated by Stuart Hall, was a particularly strong influence. The working class youth subcultures were understood to be unconscious expressions of anti-hegemonic resistance through rituals, attempts to escape class destiny through the symbolic victory of style. As cult-studs broadened its scope, it soon began scanning the entirety of popular culture for buried or encrypted expressions of resistance or utopianism—hence the much-ridiculed micro-discipline of Madonna-ology, the studies of Trekkies, the TV semiologist Fisk who thought that MTV was an explosion of jouissance and carnivalesque energy, a form of anti-repressive desublimation, etc etc.

This approach was based in a left-wing populism that wanted to believe that anything popular must have something good about it—because “the people”, in their heart of hearts, are good. Left wing populists have to believe that the People are (or would be if only they’d listen to “us”) progressive/anti-authoritarian/tolerant/etc. Well, I’d like to believe that as well, but when you look at the world there’s a lot of evidence that people do/like/believe in/behave in all sorts of pernicious things/ways . . . One of the things to acknowledge is that popular culture is where a lot of this non-virtuousness manifests itself—and that, confusing things immeasurably, a lot of what makes pop culture work, makes it good (aesthetically), comes out of nasty stuff, the stuff that is ruining the world—aggression, ego, vanity, status, competitiveness, extravagance, not thinking about tomorrow. Rap and metal are two genres that can’t be properly understood without registering the roles of appetite-for-destruction and destructive appetites. And it goes beyond music of course: porn, junk food, and almost anything that can be described as “junk __” or “the new porn” etc etc. The cultural studies belief that there must be something good about anything that’s popular seems naïve and sentimental. A lot of popular things are reprehensible, or just lame.

The major legacy of cultural studies (which chunters on in academe with a well-past-its-day wan feel about it) as it filtered into rock/pop writing, is the critical sensibility of populist generalism. And one of tics of this sensibility is a squeamishness about the idea of aesthetic vanguardism, which is felt to be elitist, and an accompanying reluctance to describe anything as trash or middlebrow. The pervasiveness of this attitude is pretty unique to pop criticism—you might get a glint of slumming/inverted snobbery/populism idea here and there in film reviewing or literary criticism, but it’s pretty rare, and in other arts it’s non-existent. Outside arts & entertainment, it’s less than non-existent. Few people in our little world would have a problem with the idea that in politics certain ideas/values/policies are more progressive or enlightened than others.

… [snip] …

Obviously these are real evils with stark implications, whereas “bad” culture is not pernicious in any easily proved way or obviously direct way. An example that lies somewhere in between the two extremes and may be slightly illuminating: food. Few with any firsthand experience of school meals in the UK or America would disagree that they are shit, nutritionally and in terms of taste. Yet kids love that shit. I’ve got a six year old, if left to his own devices Kieran would eat nothing but chicken nuggets and fizzy soda. And you can see why the stuff appeals to unsophisticated palates: they’re salty and fatty and tasty in a very narrow sense, the sugary sodas give a “loud”, effective rush. And yet this kind of food is really bad for kids both in the short term (mega-constipative–some kids go two weeks without a shit; affects ability to concentrate in school, moodswings) and long-term (early death). When Jamie Oliver during the series based on his School Lunch project showed the kids what nuggets and Turkey Twizzlers (if you don’t know, you don’t want to know–oh go on then, take a peek) are made from-–a pink gloop of mechanically evacuated meat-mush, chicken lips and turkey perineum—they were uniformly turned off; knowledge made them more discriminating about what they put in their bellies. And having the crap struck off the menu in the school cafeteria forced them to educate their dulled palates and they soon learned to tolerate, then actively prefer, Jamie’s fare.

Now none of this necessarily means I (or Reynolds, or indeed Carr) is advocating a return to some kind of class system of knowledge – hierarchies of access with only a few doing production/writing for the many.

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, in his seminal work on cultural taste, social hierachies and class, Distinction, is misread if one simply uses him to neutralise any difference between fine wine and cheap wine, fine dining and fast food (yes, these are in part socially constructed judgements of taste) and render impossible any criticism of either. Bourdieu, instead, needs to be understood as revealing the social construction of aesthetic and cultural value – so as to be better able to critique.

Thus it may be better to conceive of Web/Media 2.0, Wikipedia, prod-users and the like as expanding the concept of ‘the few’ – the few who we know were in positions of power/control because of structural inequalities. And ‘the many’ splintering into a long tail of niche readers/listeners/viewers, who themselves may be producers in the same or another niche.

This allows us to simultaneously critique reality TV, acknowledge some of the problems of Wikipedia, take issue with the business model of MySpace, and bemoan some video games, student films and over the top pop music – but at the same time examine the real social benefits of social production, audience co-creation and the like as described by people like Yochai Benkler without needing to, as some commentators do, totalise it to some sense of the future ‘of media’ or ‘of education’.

Digital storytelling Web 2.0

New public facing blog at Powerhouse Museum

Photo by Brendan Fletcher.

In conjunction with our upcoming Great Wall of China exhibition the Powerhouse Museum has launched a new public-facing blog called Walking The Wall.

The Walking the Wall blog is an online travel diary being written over the next 6 months as Brendan Fletcher and Emma Nicholas walk the 3000 kilometres of the Great Wall. Using a mobile phone connection to the internet, Brendan and Emma will be posting images and diary entries every few days as they progress. In regions with little or no coverage they will use other technologies to connect and write.

The blog allows readers to send them comments and ask questions along the journey.

It is also proposed that it will be available in the gallery during the exhibition for physical visitors to browse through their journey and communicate with them as well.

It is envisaged that the blog will not only give readers an insight into the the experience of the Wall right now, but also drive interest in the exhibition by reaching Great Wall and China enthusiasts who may not otherwise be reached through traditional channels.

Add it to your RSS feeds and keep up with the travels along the Wall.

Interactive Media Web 2.0

Savings and technology. Sign of the times

We’ve all had a play with Google maps. It’s fun to zoom around the globe and try to locate your own house. But the developers at Yahoo have managed to adapt their map technology to interact with current fuel prices and help you shop around for the cheapest service station in your area.

Pretty cool.

Interactive Media Web 2.0

Browser in browser in browser in browser

This is a very nifty little thing – Bitty . . . I’m already thinking of the possibilities of ‘web feedback’ . . . . like the old 70s video feedback.

Seriously, though, this could be implemented in so many nifty ways.

Interactive Media

New fonts from Microsoft

So, finally, Microsoft have realised that the world needs a better selection of fonts than Arial (which is not the same as Helvetica however much you might argue it is) and Verdana and Times New Roman.

Even more so now that we are all spending a lot more time reading screens rather than printed paper.

Poynter have some interesting, but brief, discussion of the various pros and cons of these new typefaces.

Folksonomies Interactive Media Social networking Web 2.0

Wikimapia (Wiki + Google Maps)

WikiMapia is a project to describe the whole planet Earth. The developers have combined a wiki with Google Maps to create this amazing resource that allows you to highlight any spot on earth and describe it in your own words. You can even tag these locations so people can find them using keywords. Try doing a search for “Powerhouse”.