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“Loser” generated content – and LL

There is something messy about the relationship between users and corporations. (Petersen, 2008:1)

This spring, together with a colleague,  I’ll be running a class on “Audio-visual and digital media as communication tools” for our 6th semester communication students. My perspective will be on the changed conditions for marketing, production, and consumption in relation to new media, and as part of this, I’ll be using a paper by Søren Mørk Petersen entitled “Loser Generated Content: From Participation to Exploitation” (2008). In this paper, Petersen offers a critical perspective on the pros and cons of user generated innovation and content creation, and his main point is summarized in the abstract:

For many years the Internet was considered an apt technology for subversion of capitalism by the Italian post–Marxists. What we have witnessed, however, is that the Internet functions as a double–edged sword; the infrastructure does foster democracy, participation, joy, creativity and sometimes creates zones of piracy. But, at the same time, it has become evident how this same infrastructure also enables companies easily to piggyback on user generated content. (Petersen, 2008:1)

What puzzles Petersen is how at the same time new, so-called participatory media enabling user generated content can cause both very positive and very negative user experiences, and Petersen finds some explanation in combining basic principles behind the technologies in question with the logic of capitalism. The paper is good in explaining how we, the users actually pay when using “free” services, technologies, media – something that always seems to surprise the majority of students.

In preparation for this course, I’ve collected case examples from different types of SNSs, external corporate blogging etc. such as Google and Facebook, who – involuntarily – keep feeding into these kinds of discussions. Sometimes I actually appreciate talking about other media than SL, and I had not planned to include it. However, then on February 7th Linden Lab (LL) posted a call for bloggers. The call spurred quite a controversy in the SL related Twitter- and blogsphere, and I think it’ll make a perfect example of the “messy relationship between users and corporations”. So, let’s first have a look on the call:


The blog call from LL.

Basically, LL invites bloggers to submit original posts with “exposure” as only the only payment. This marketing approach isn’t unusual in the Web 2.0 economy, but it soon resulted in some vey negative tweets among some of the SL users I follow, and if you take a look at the comments, people were not impressed by this initiative. Lack of payment was, however not the only reason why some SL users reacted so strongly. The guidelines for submission (depicted below) also caused concerns, and I also think that the history between LL and its users had an important impact on the (negative) reactions.


LL’s guidelines for submission.

Before returning to my own take on this, let me just mention some of the reactions that quickly came about in parts of the SL blogsphere. Besides these authors’ interesting and very different perspectives on this issue, the comments are equally worth reading. One of the first reactions, I noticed was actually a comment made by Crap Mariner on the call – LL decided to delete! the comment, but prior to this, he managed to photo document it. As you can tell, this was a prickly, but satirical comment as was this one posted by Botgirl Questi, which also was deleted! Evidently, any site owner has the prerogative to moderate and even delete comments, but there are better ways of handling the process, and I’ll return to that. Inara Pey’s post “LL calls on bloggers, bloggers call out LL” fits in the more negative category, as does Chestnut Rau’s “ LL says “Calling all bloggers“, and Hamlet Au’s “SL bloggers wonder about blogging for SL on an unpaid basis“. Prokofy Neva’s “What, the Lindens do an open call for bloggers instead of a closed fic thing and you’re bitching?!” was one of the first posts I read in favor of LL’s approach, and Gwyneth Llewelyn’s “Working for free for Linden Lab’s blog” was also quite positive. Though not wanting to contribute herself, Tateru Nino also applauds the initiative in “A good effort“, and even though I don’t agree completely, I agree that the idea was good, but very, very badly executed. As an academic, I’m not used to being payed (at least not directly) for writing, and I do “love to write about Second Life”, but I will not be contributing, and this mainly has to do with the guidelines and LL’s general approach to its users.

In terms of payment, I’m not so dismayed as other SL users. From a strictly economical point of view, I think the “exposure payment” is defensible, given that for some SL users, this could actually be of great interest. When Hamlet Au contacted LL for a comment on the lack of payment, the answer confirmed that LL thought such an arrangement would be “appealing” to some of its users. However, from a PR point of view, I do think LL (again) is out of touch with some of the more critical SL users and that paying even a small sum would have bought LL a priceless amount of good will.

As an academic, I’m used to “submission guidelines”, but when reading LL’s Community Participation Guidelines, there’s a lack of transparence in terms of by whom and based on what criteria, potential submissions would be assessed. Even though this blog mainly is a manifestation of my personal views, I do try to follow general academic practice, and furthermore I try to maintain my academic integrity. Part of being an academic means providing a critical perspective on given phenomena, and I would seriously doubt that LL would accept posts pointing to some of the more critical issues concerning the use of SL. Since, the LL initiative clearly is a marketing effort, and that LL, in my opinion, suffers from a rather severe “fear of critique”, as they so clearly demonstrated by deleting Crap and Botgirl’s comments, my concern would be that LL would only want “Hollywood pretty painting pictures” – just as their marketing material in general. The great irony being that if LL admitted to certain critical issues, new users of SL probably would be better prepared for the SL experience and maybe wouldn’t leave so quickly due to unmet expectations. LL rightfully reserves the right to review and edit, and that is normal procedure when you pay somebody, however since LL doesn’t, a more sympathetic approach would be to do this in collaboration with the author(s), and an additional benefit would be that LL actually could learn something from this experience by connecting with its users.

Sadly, I’m no longer convinced that LL really wants to connect with its users, and what really sickens me is the way LL has handled this affair. Moderating posts is ok, but deleting posts that have already “aired”, and ignoring criticism only gets the opposite effect of what was wanted. It exposes a company afraid of critique and in desperate need of a PR person, and in general it adds to a very unprofessional image. I’ve been in SL for almost five years now, because despite all its shortcomings, I still consider it to be an amazing platform for all sorts of purposes. Nonetheless, I’m still surprised when LL repeatedly fails to communicate and connect with its users. LL really needs to hire someone to come and clean up this “mess” to avoid further feelings of exploitation – someone who’d genuinely appreciate the beauty and potentials of user generated innovation and content creation!

/Mariis

The Purpose of Education, Human Rights, and New Media

Recently, a really interesting initiative about the purpose of education was launched by UK educators Doug Belshaw and Andy Stewart in the social media sphere. Their plan is to facilitate a critical mass of people all talking about the purpose(s) of education, starting with 500-word blog posts and Twitter campaigns, and culminating, with simultaneous large meetings/conferences further down the line. As I understand it, this initiative has been inspired by a UK election decisive for education set to take place in 3 year’s time, but Belshaw and Stewart are aiming for an international debate, and have set an ambitious goal:

From the website: Purpos/ed

The blog initiative was kick-started on February 1st on the Purpos/ed website, and so far a number of bloggers have contributed in raising their voices and joining the debate. Some of these contributions can be found in the archive, while others may be located by following the hashtags #purposed, and #500words. Furthermore is is possible to connect through a Facebook page. If you have an interest in education this is definitely an initiative worth following.

As for my own take on the purpose of education, I’ve always been inspired by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in particular article §26, (1,2);

Everyone has the right to education. (…) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Education may be a human right, but for many different reasons becoming educated within the existing educational system is sadly not a given. Stephen Downes highlights this in his contribution with reference to his own educational path, and Lou McGill points to the challenges for kids with special needs. Unsurprisingly, many of the purpos/ed contributions echo thoughts similar to those in the declaration, the tricky part is of course how to promote, facilitate, and obtain these goals. Several authors point to new media as a means to broaden the scope of education and to tear down walls whiter these are mental, physical, or virtual. Dean Groom advocates the idea that education should extend beyond the idea of schools/institutions as being the sole places for education, whereas Fred Garnett calls for education aimed at participation.

Shifting perspective to my own current research within the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL), I see a huge potential in using this particular kind of edtech to tear down several “walls”. Ever since I first logged into SL back in the spring of 2007 one of the aspects I’ve come to appreciate most about this virtual world is the participatory affordances enabling both me and my PD-students to connect, communicate, and collaborate with people in general, and educators in particular from all over the physical world. We have been given the opportunity to meet, and discuss cross-cultural differences in education, and to interact with a variety of educational designs – all of this contributing to new perspectives on education, teaching, and learning. Informal encounters and spontaneous activities are other very positive aspects of SL, and as it is the case in many other new media, the users of SL quickly respond to current affairs – something that recently could be witnessed during the Egypt crisis. Having heard of activities on the Egyptian island I went in to have a look on Friday February 11th shortly before it was announced that Pres. Mubarak would step down.


Protesters on the Egyptian Island, Friday February 11th 2011

Hamlet Au of the New World Notes blog and Rik Riel of the “Betterverse: Nonprofits in the Virtual World” blog have covered several of these activities on the Egyptian island, and Chantal Harvey has captured some of the ambience after Pres. Mubarak’s resignation in this short machinima:

Virtual worlds have previously been used in protesting, expressing thoughts and hopes of freedom, and in general just to direct attention towards different causes as reported in Mashable by Rita J. King co-director of the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project. What’s interesting here is the role not only Virtual Worlds, but new media in general play in distributing and sharing knowledge, something that also Pres. Obama noted in his remark on Egypt ; “a new generation emerge – a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears; a government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations.

In a very interesting article on the correlation between social media and political changes, Charlie Beckett asks how this new media landscape could/should change the way journalists “report on revolution and feed into the post-revolutionary politics and general political communications”. As an educator I could ask similar questions about new media’s influence. I’m currently experiencing the way new media change the way we think and practice education, and I must say that I’m overall optimistic. New media bring along affordances of participation, collaboration, and ultimately of empowerment. Most importantly new media force us to rethink, reframe, and reform – and this current Purpos/ed initiative is one of many interesting ways to get involved …

/Mariis

Conference on IT and Innovative Learning Environments

Thursday/Friday his week I’ll be attending a conference/workshop on “It and innovative learning environments” at university level organized by the Danish Ministry of Science in Copenhagen.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing the two keynote speakers:

  • Phillip D. Long, Ph.D. Professor of Innovation and Educational Technology and Founding Director, Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology, University of Queensland, Australia.
  • Renate Fruchter, Ph.D. Founding Director of Project Based Learning Laboratory and Senior Research Engineer, Department of Civil Engineering, Stanford University, USA

I’ve never met Professor Long, but I’ve read a some of his publications concerning design of learning spaces (i.e. Trends in Learning Space Design), and I think he has some pretty interesting takes on educational design. He is scheduled to talk about Open Scholarship and Learning, which should be interesting too!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Professor Fruchter a couple of times during my recent research stay in the Bay Area. She’s a very energetic and positive woman, and I think it’ll be fun to reconnect with her. During this research stay a bunch of my colleagues from 5 different Danish universities and I attended a 2-day workshop at Stanford exploring the future of e-learning, and since this conference is kind of a follow-up event I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with them and the organizers from Innovation Center Denmark in Silicon Valley.

I’m also interested in hearing the Danish Minister of Science, Charlotte Sahl-Madsen’s thoughts on innovative learning and the future of our universities … On Friday I’ll be attending different workshops, and here I’m especially looking forward to hearing what colleagues from the Danish School of Education, Tina Bering Keiding & Morten Misfeldt have to say on the alignment between learning and physical space – not least since this is a topic I normally don’t pay much attention to due to my explicit focus on virtual space/place in my PhD-project.

Dan Gilbert, Learner Designer Technologist, Learning Innovations Inc. will facilitate a workshop entitled Innovative Tools and Techniques to Enhance Creativity in Your Classes: Connecting Design Thinking with Teaching and Learning”, and this should be interesting too. I’ve previously attended a workshop by Dan and it was inspirational and great fun!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to seeing how conference participants will be using Twitter #itlearning. This will be my first Danish conference organized with the explicit goal of using Twitter and I have no idea how this will be received – but I am expecting a lot of fun :-)

/Mariis