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Henry Jenkins – notes from CCI ‘Creating Value Between Commons and Commerce’ conference, Brisbane, 2008

I’ve been in Brisbane the last few days – presenting the Powerhouse Museum’s Creative Commons and public domain projects and also managed attend one day of the CCI’s conference ‘Creating Value Between Commons and Commerce‘. In amongst some truly awful examples of how not to use Powerpoint, there were some interesting presentations and papers.

Here’s the first of a set of notes scribed during the main sessions.

The morning opened with a keynote from Henry Jenkins of Convergence Culture fame. Jenkins’ paper “What was before YouTube” stressed that what is special about YouTube isn’t that all this media content is produced, but how it is distributed; that what matters is that YouTube acts as an enabling technology – for identity production, peer learning, etc – and, referencing Zittrain, that YouTube’s adoption by (sub)cultures is far more important and interesting than its technologies.

Outlining the difference or the shift in how content operates pre-YouTube and post-YouTube, Jenkins proposes the older notion of sticky media as oppositional to spreadable media.

Sticky media

– aims to attract and hold the attention of consumers
– relies on concentration
– provides a unified experience
– features one way interactivity
– individualises use
– marketed to consumers
– is inherently a pull medium
– makes a clear distinction between marketers and consumers
– has finite channel for communication

Spreadable media

– aims to motivate circulation
– relies of wide dispersion
– provides a diversified experiences
– focuses on participation
– encourages social network use
– consumers become grassroots brand advocates
– is inherently a push medium
– encourages a blurring and collaboration between marketers and consumers
– is localised, temporary and multi-channelled

In short, Jenkins says – “if it doesn’t spread, it is dead”.

But not everyone or everything benefits from being spread.

Jenkins discussed the case of video art and slash fan videos (emerging from slash fan fiction) arguing that the slash community and video art, amongst many others, has been hesitant to upload their material to places like YouTube where it can be taken out of context, ridiculed, and draw unwanted attention from Copyright holders. The argue that less attention is certainly better for them.

Other communities are actively excluded from YouTube (for example amateur porn) and it is important to remember that ‘particpatory culture’ is not necessarily democratic nor is it necessarily diverse. Even if not actively excluded ‘minoritarian’ group content is not visible and requires counter measures to ensure balance and access – the tail of the long tail requires active promotion to challenge the head).

Drawing on Lewis Hyde, who, incidentally I am reading on my way to and from work at the moment, Jenkins also mentioned the nature of a ‘gift economy’ where the value lies in the social relationship and reciprocity, far more than the object itself. This certainly applies to some content on YouTube – and was reiterated later in the day in a presentation by Jean Burgess.