DQ: Fandoms and Participation

In Chapter 4 from Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, amongst the topics discussed by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, are fandoms, and participatory culture, and the nature of the relationship between the fandom culture and the corporate culture that owns the base material. I’ve seen this personally through watching various fan communities.

Star Trek: Phase II Fan Series

One instance is the vast array of Star Trek fan series, made by fans, taking place within the Star Trek universe. Many are high quality and have high production values, the group above even recreated the bridge set from the Original Series. What is interesting is how the copyright holder, CBS, responded – it has allowed the proliferation of these series, as long as they do not make a profit from it, a sort of indirect approval, though not an engagement. However, stakeholders outside of the corporate sphere, such as some actors who had guest roles, or people involved in writing original stories have contributed their services, playing guest roles in some of the higher profile fan series, or even contributing a script that never made it to screen originally.

The Journey to Hawkthorne Video Game, inspired by an episode of Communtiy

Another example is the “Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne” video game, inspired by an animated episode of Community that was animated ala an early video game. Fans came together to develop the concept into an actual game, as a community. As a lurker on their reddit myself, I’ve been fascinated by the organization and interaction of the community members, and the ways in which they participate. They have systems of participation, with tasks for people with coding skills and those without, and just by playing the versions coming out and finding bugs, people are are consumers are also contributing to the community. Likewise, NBC and Sony, the copyright owners have not stopped the project (which is non profit), but neither have they directly approved it. Though some people involved with the show, like writer Megan Ganz, and several of the actors have mentioned the game and tweeted about it.

The question here, is how should media companies respond? They may be hampered by directly encouraging it for legal reasons, but they should use it in some way. Can this value be counted, even if it cannot be directly harnessed, or counted into ratings? How do and how can media companies take the depth of their fandoms into account when making business decisions?

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DQ: Search and Personalization

While reading Stalder and Mayer’s article on “The Second Index,” I realized that in my Information Science classes, when discussing search engines, we’ve learned a lot about how PageRank works, but not how personal information is factored in. Is this because those algorithms are proprietary, or do we just not focus on it due to the course material? Does focusing on PageRank make it easier to sidestep the messier social and privacy implications of factoring in personal information within the context of an engineering or programming class?

The other thing about personalized results is that sometimes I don’t want to see only what I want – the ability to metaphorically “browse the bookshelves” is becoming harder as more personalization occurs. There’s an argument that indivduals’ gain greater perspective, and that society gains a common discourse by having certain things in common. For instance, the original YouTube homepage would show the same featured videos to everyone, but now, when logged in, the homepage videos are highly personalized, and I find that they are often within the same little bubble of topics, and I am not recommended new videos outside my small sphere. Does this have economic implications as well as social and cultural ones? Might I be bored with my small circle of videos without seeing anything new and be tempted to leave the service?

DQ: “Endism,” Regulation, and Politics

The reading by Verhulst talks about the assumptions underneath media regulations, taking a soft technological determinist view to explain a technological paradigm shift, marked by convergence and a need for a new regulatory regime. Some of the assumptions that Verhulst dispels reminded me of the idea of “endism,” discussed in The Social Life of Information by John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid, a concept related to technological determinism, that new technology will end the press, end education, end intermediaries, end politics, end government, etc.

This seems similar to Verhulst’s discussion about differences between non-regulation and self-regulation, and the myth of having no intermediaries. Self-regulation still requires work, and communication between industry and government. And despite the end-to-end nature of the physical infrastructure of the internet, intermediaries do exist, whether they are search engines, ISPs, or other gateway actors.

What does it mean to build policy off of technological deterministic and  “endism” assumptions, versus a more nuanced view? What types of regulation regimes will take hold from these assumptions? Does it empower certain actors and stakeholders over others? What results may come about from Verhulst’s assumptions? How hidden are these practices that dispel the myths of technological determinism and the end of intermediaries, and what can be done to un-black-box them?

RB: Through the Monitor

When I use my computer in my room, I often hook it up to my Samsung SyncMaster B2230 Monitor. I purchased it from Amazon.com a few years ago, but besides that, I don’t know where it came from. Time to being investigating!

The monitor I use every day – but I have no idea where it comes from beyond Amazon.com

My goal was to find out more about how the technology was made – where, what factories, what materials, and more. My first thought was to look at the product description on the Samsung website. I didn’t find much here – although it did say that my monitor is ENERGY STAR(R) compliant, and EPEAT(R) Silver Standard, meaning that they are engineered or produced in ways that are at least partially environmentally friendly, or use less power. While that was good to know, it didn’t give me specifics.

I then turned to the corporate Samsung pages, and found a page about global procurement – there was some information on how to apply to become a supplier in Samsung’s global production chain, and information on business ethics, but it still didn’t give me the specifics I needed.

I turned to look at the monitor physically. Not finding anything about its production on the box, I turned to the back of the monitor, finding the ubiquitous “Made in China” label.

The label on the back of the monitor

Indeed it was made in China, in a place called Zhongshan. This gave me a few clues. I figured I try looking at the Chinese version of the Samsung site, and did a few Google searches, eventually finding a listing of sites from their global network. I found that in Zhongshan, there’s a factory or company which is a production subsidiary of Samsung called China Printed Board Assembly. This in turn is a part of Tianjin Samsung Electronics Display Co. Ltd., which created circuit boards, printed board assembly machines, and millions of monitors.  Beyond that, it was very hard to find specific information about the company. There were some possible maps of these sites, but the map pins didn’t seem too accurate. Even though I know the name of the subsidiary company or factory where my monitor was probably made, I don’t really know much else. There were several sites that listed the companies as subsidiaries of Samsung. There were some phone numbers to these companies in some of the official Samsung documents, and I suppose given enough time, and someone to translate Chinese, I would be able to dig deeper into this.

From here, I couldn’t follow the path any further back – it would have been a great opportunity if I had been able to get all the way down the supply chain to the actual resources, metals , and plastics used in the making of the monitor. Though I would imagine after its manufacturing, it would go on a ship across the Pacific to the west cost, where it would be shipped by truck or railroad to an Amazon warehouse, who then ship it to me when I order it.

In general, supply chains are very much blackboxed – whether it is concerning the origins and manufacturing of hamburger meat, my clothing, or my monitor. By using subsidiaries, or contracting with various suppliers, as it seems that Samsung and many other companies do, the information becomes more disparate and harder to find. In one sense, this is a complication of increasing globalized supply chains, but in another sense it makes it easier for businesses to lessen consumers’ abilities to find “sausage making” information. Perhaps the valuable metals used to make the inside of the monitor cause conflict in Africa, or the factories that make the monitor may contribute to coal pollution. While the blackboxing of supply chains makes it much easier for us to act as consumers, not knowing what’s really inside also separates us from the social and environmental impact that our consumer decisions have. Especially the physical environmental effects – while I know that the monitor is Energy Star certified, I don’t often think about the environmental impact about the truck that delivered the monitor to me, the ship that brought it from China, the energy used by the factory, or the environmental harm by mining the metals and making the plastics for the monitor.

Back to what Samsung did show me on their website, the Energy Star and EPEAT certificates, is a way of unblackboxing these supply chains to some extent –  various certification programs by 3rd party groups provide a window into the manufacturing and business practices. It is not directly sharing the information, but rather I have to trust their judgement and rating process to get an aggregate rating – a system that still blackboxes much of the actual realities of the supply chain. Though it is still not the same as having all the information, it is a positive step for consumers’ ability to make more informed decisions by knowing more about how the products they buy get made.