Week 10 – Helen De Michiel – Combinatorial Thinking

I began this quarter with a post about combinatorial storytelling. I’ll complete it with a post about combinatorial thinking. I feel that together we have engaged in an amazingly rich exchange among twenty-four highly creative and insightful authors and thinkers.

I have been so impressed at the way each of you – through your own particular vantage points and in your own fully-flavored voices, have taken on the challenge to dive into the issues — both visible and invisible — of the digital sphere.

Every week I noticed how your questions became more nuanced and harder to answer with simple platitudes. I watched how your vocabulary for a dynamic relationship to digital culture expanded and deepened. I stood by as you challenged conventional wisdom, and figured out ways to absorb the lessons of combinatorial storytelling and “spreadability” through the experience of making and circulating your curated web-based multimedia projects.

A few More Questions on Ethics

Last week, I read with avid interest your posts on the ethics of this medium. In a short blog piece I wrote, “Engaging Ethics and Social Media,” I identified three of the same issues you’ve touched upon – yet entering into it from the perspective of an artist-filmmaker. From a practical working perspective, these are some of the situational questions I consider as I work on projects.

1. As we make films that connect with expanding stakeholder groups, what are my obligations to them and the community? To negotiating conflict that may arise? Or are we unwittingly echoing their agendas and claims? Or the outcome desires of the funders? Neutrality is not always an option – loyalties shift over time.

2. What and where are the limits to the filmmaker’s freedom to express a truth she sees? Especially without a large media organization behind you supporting your work? Another angle on this would be how does the filmmaker negotiate autonomy within the community frame?

3. How do we create a safe space for open dialogue about conflict and misunderstanding that is neither absolute (“you are with us or you are not”) nor completely relative (“everyone has a right to eat Hot Cheetos whenever they want”).

*  *  *

To be sure, from today’s “solutions,” tomorrow’s questions will proliferate in new guises. As so many of you realized, working in the digital media environment is both exhilarating and intriguing as well as scary and uncontrollable. The ability to exercise combinatorial thinking, where we are in continual dialogue with one another is one of the most powerful aspects of this environment. To think together, to iterate ideas, to change perspectives. Nothing remains stagnant.

From all that you have written and shared here, I have no doubts that you will make, permeate and circulate extraordinary media throughout the digital culture of the future.




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Sam Ford on Spreadable Media Strategies

Sam Ford is one of the co-authors, along with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.

Instructor Helen De Michiel and a group of graduate students from this course met for a video conference call with Sam to discuss the book, which the class was reading this quarter in this course, “Participatory Media and Social Practice.”

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Week 10 public – Final project reflection – Natalie Bennon

Our class project, Portland Picks, was fun to work on, and I learned a lot. I learned that I can use WIX to make a simple website if I have no budget to hire a professional. I learned a lot about Twitter, and  was encouraged to realize very few people in class knew any more than I did. And I learned that personal contact and relationships are important in outreach. This is consistent with what I’m noticing generally about public relations: no matter the technology employed, be it high, low or no tech, the goal is always a personal connection of some sort.

The challenges were a lack of time needed to develop those relationships, suboptimal website design, the name of the site, and a lack of clarity about best use of social media. I needed more time to reach out to the hostels and cultivate the relationship to get them more engaged, and to listen to them and learn what they would need if they were going to really use the site. Our site also would have had more traffic if we had had the time and foresight to cultivate relationships with the featured businesses, and listen to them and see what would meet their needs so the relationships would be mutually beneficial.

We set a goal from the beginning of driving traffic to the site and getting visitors to create itineraries. Yet, the website design only had itineraries at the top, and the majority of the page was categories and photos. Changing it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, so we lived with it.

Thanks to Lauren, we had decent success reaching local businesses via Twitter. However, we failed to realize that if indeed website traffic and itinerary creation was our goal, then the Twitter tool, and also Instagram, should be driving people to our website (and I do think the goal was appropriate; simply having Twitter followers doesn’t get you much for our project; if this was a business, the ads would be on the website, and we would need people to visit the site to see the ads). So it was only at the end that we realized we should push the actual website in the tweets, and maybe ditch the hashtag. In general, this is also something of a fault in Twitter: When presented with links, you have to click them, which takes you out of Twitter to view the link (unless you use another platform to view Twitter, like Flipboard, which is a bit more seamless but not totally). When I use Twitter, this is rarely something I take the time to do. I would click on them more if I could get the full content within Twitter, without waiting for a new page to load. Sometimes, news sources and others seem to have more info if you click on their tweets, like a preview, which is useful and I would like to learn how to create that.

Finally, I experienced firsthand the value of a name, and search engine optimization. Several other Portland Picks exist. And when you google Portland Picks, ours doesn’t even show up. That was a lesson! In future, I will be more careful about choosing a name, and I will integrate search engine optimization from the start.

This was a really valuable project. I learned a lot by doing and trying. I learned from the successes and the mistakes. I know that this was the first time the Turnbull Center has experimented in a hybrid online/in-person class, and I sincerely hope they find it to be a success. I found your approach incredibly valuable, and I learned things I didn’t even know I needed to know. I expected to learn something, but I learned unexpected things. You opened my horizons. I hope that they continue to offer this class, taught by you, to future students because I really do think it offered a lot of value (and I said as much in my evaluation). Thank you!

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Week 9 Private Post: Joel Arellano

Canzo Empyrean and the Economy of Intrigue

The relationships between people and media described in Spreadable Media seemed fresh as well as consonant with my own experience. While Gere explored the history and system trends in the progress of digital culture, Jenkins et al did more to frame and describe our daily engagement with commercial media. I was most intrigued by Spreadable Media’s description of an extended media universe, and I’m glad they used the example of the Matrix website (offline now; caches available via webarchive.org). The site, initially hosted at whatisthematrix.com, was my first experience with an extended media universe, and I found it fascinating. I spend hours scouring out all the easter eggs on the site, mostly by searching the internet for info left by others who’d done the same- a process very similar to that depicted in the first film as Neo tries to answer the site’s eponymous question. The site slowly made more and more information available, which rewarded diligent followers of the site with content that wouldn’t be commercially available to the public for more than a year. This raises an important point, since increasing the depth of a media universe raises the requisite need for cognition among audiences who will access that content, and narrowing the public for whom the media is available diminishes the degree to which extended universe content is directly available to the public. For these reasons, I think it’s fair to say that the media of extended universes is semi-public– there are no firm barriers to direct public engagement, but access requires work.

The reintroduction of work to digital content reverses the digital trend of information coming quickly and easily. Similarly, it also reverses the devaluation of information so gained. Adam Smith posited that value is imbued in a product by mixing work with it, and this is very much the case with extended media universes. Easter eggs, the precursor of extended media universes, are smaller instances of the same principle- they consist of extra content hidden in video games and digital movies, which is only accessible to viewers who know where to look, what to do, and when to do it. But the value of extra content can’t be understood solely in the economic terms of work and scarcity. Extended content is valuable for a more fundamental reason- we want to hear the rest of the story. Humans long to comprehend. We long for conclusion, finality, and completeness. Our desire to systematize and make sense of the world around us drives our every advancement. It is the seed of both religion and rationalism. Even before Cervantes contended with imposters’ false sequels to the first book of Don Quixote, there was the 1,001 Nights. There are the gnostic books of the Bible, and myriad variations on the lives of Greek gods born out in plays. And only by locating our impulse to know at this essential level of our being can we appreciate the scope and immutability of the extended story.

Sequels, remixes, reimagined content, and supplementary material satisfy our thirst for knowledge as well as our pleasure at the enchanting suspension of disbelief when we don’t want the ride to end. They offer meaning and value to consumers in any medium, from fan fiction to the exploding Marvel Universe (the latter of which, by exploiting every conceivable medium, offers an archetype for the future of commercial entertainment). The tenacity of this human characteristic is evident in Canzo Empyrean (SFW, subsequent links on this page NSFW), a transmedia phenomenon based on a film inspired by a cartoon based on a toy. Virtually no one on earth has seen the film Canzo Empyrean (NSFW) since copies are scarce, yet the richness of the digital world of Canzo Empyrean has raised it to cult status. The Canzo extended media universe is still live online half a decade after the original film was released, and it’s just as intriguing as the Warner Bros.-funded Matrix site. Lesson? Intrigue is the most underrated, powerful, and essential tool available in strategic communication, precisely because it lurks under the radar of marketing bean-counters’ metrics. Widely exposed, objects of intrigue become commonplace and evaporate. The enchanting power of intrigue is derived from its guarded status, apprehended through work by those dedicated enough to pursue it. Canzo Empyrean is emblematic of the new economy of digital culture- it preserves value by maintaining obscurity amid cheap noise.

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Week 9: Joel Arellano

Authentic Games

There is an important distinction between gaming and interactivity, and we must clearly define it before we can discuss either term as a means to re-engage audiences. Interactivity is simply bidirectional action and effect; gaming is more complex and subtle to define. Put simply, games are bounded, competitive activities willingly engaged in for the intrinsic entertainment they provide, such as sports and token games (where values and roles are abstractly represented and manipulated to achieve a desired outcome). Games are not work- though they may be productive and even played professionally, the virtue of games is that they entertain through a combination of strategy, competition, and chance. This is poignantly captured by the phrase ‘for the love of the game,’ which expresses the intrinsically rewarding nature of games and articulates the most virtuous purpose for playing them. If one plays for a lesser reason, such as self-interested gain, the entertainment value is lost and one encounters absurdity of the taking the arbitrary bounds of the game seriously, since games are, by their very contrivance, unserious; the enchantment of the game is shattered. Any purpose for playing other than to enjoy the pursuit of the game entails a rational approach, when the charm of games lies in players’ willfully submitting to irrational bounds. If you don’t follow the rules, games lose their charm and purpose, ceasing to be games properly so called- they become theater, an inauthentic performance, and we properly despise cheaters for their inauthenticity.

What is the lesson here for media strategists who would consider gaming as a means to engage audiences? That we can never make games of a purposive (rational) nature over and above the intrinsic value of their performance. In fact, it may even be misleading talk about games as a ‘means to’ [engage] anyone, since this transitive construction emphasizes an objective view of participants rather than their freedom to enter or not enter the game. Proposing to ‘gamify’ otherwise mundane activities is therefore an objectifying enterprise, since it aims to encourage actions that are not otherwise desirable. For example, consider a recent proposal to ‘gamifying’ chores, where participants compete to earn greater rewards. This cannot properly be considered a game, since there is no intrinsic meaning or value in the actions performed. Compelling unwanted action by a material reward is gaming aped, since it divests games of content and focuses only on outcomes. It is the rationalization of games, the exploitation of the game as form, and, taken to an extreme, it opens the door to addictive abuse (i.e., gambling). It is the objectification of participants, which is why such ‘games’ will ultimately be rejected by audiences rather than be promoted to the pantheon of true, ‘timeless’ games. True games never grow old, because their purpose is never exhausted.

This is not to say that an enterprising media strategist shouldn’t ‘gamify’ activities to achieve a commercial purpose; I only make the distinction between authentic and inauthentic games to preserve the integrity of the term.

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Week 10–Allyson Woodard

A message from Spreadable Media that I remember finding particularly compelling was the authors’ assertion that phenomena like music piracy are not new, but simply made more visible due to digital media. I think this is true of many things, and contributes to the discomfort many people feel over social media–human interactions which once were ephemeral and private are now permanent and public. That is: we were swearing and drinking before the Internet, but we also didn’t hand our boss evidence of it the next morning. I wonder if this isn’t offering us a novel choice between conformity of the actual, lived kind, and public nonconformity. Such a choice is obviously uncomfortable individually, but might it society-wide prime us to better accept each others’ eccentricities? Just a thought.

Something I’m also curious to watch develop is how capitalist interests continue to engage with the Internet. I appreciated Spreadable Media‘s insight that hysteria over music piracy may in part reflect a break-down of corporations’ previous sense of control over how music is spread. Interactions which used to function quietly below the market and the law are now public, so, we have the choice: do we change the way we judge such situations publicly, or do we try to try to force them to conform? I kind of doubt the second option is possible.

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Week 9 – Jerry Makare – Interdisciplinary

Interdisciplinary is one of the many synonyms for transmedia, cross-media (x-media), multimedia, etc. Simply put it means utilizing many different forms to engage and communicate ideas to an audience, and by using as multiple forms of media you are increasing your ability to reach and engage with people outside of a singular sphere of influence/interest. At the leading (bleeding) edge of using gamifacation (a word that has been picking up pace amongst marketing circles) is Games for Change (G4C). G4C realized early that games are a way to draw interest to a cause in an interactive, and enjoyable format, and their success has be predicated on the simple fact that the type of engagement that is being used via gaming is one that can drive shareabililty, spreadability and retention.

A trend that is being embraced by a large amount of people online is the use of lists. The success of Buzzfeed, which is nothing more than a list generator, aggregator, curator and sharing platform is a great example of how audiences are reacting to listing as a tool to drive information. Notice that gamification is taking place with lists (as has been the case for awhile, but it is picking up steam again) on sites like ListChallenge. Expect to see both charitable organizations and publicly traded companies using this platform to tell their “stories” very soon, if they haven’t already.

This is the essence of interdisciplinary media. Taking different forms, whether it is video, audio, stills, games, writing, and incorporating them into multiple formats to drive engagement, and action.

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Omar Aldakheel _ Media Ethics

The problem with ethics is that they differ from one society to another and even from one person to another. The red line has being always moving throughout the years when it comes to ethics. There are several Issues in Journalism nowadays that I think are the most problematic. One of them is telling journalism in a sensational way just to make money and grab more viewers as opposed to do what journalism is all about that is being fair and accurate. So, you see a lot of time while reading or viewing that news channels exaggerate or focus on a minor issue and forgot the most important ones just to get more ratings. This also bring the issue of “Authenticity” where media care more about what can achieve their goal regardless of how much real that is. We see in “Engage Media” the authenticity of the project but you see in other projects that they have been staged and not true. Some other networks may not stage anything to get more ratings but they will fall into another problematic issue that is “privacy”. They will invade some people’s privacy in the name of telling the hidden truth and changing society but at the same time they skip what that person the story is about might face after using him/her.

Honestly, it is also really hard to tell journalists to be ethical and not cover stories for the sake of ratings and selling while we all know how journalist are so underpaid and not getting any privileges nowadays. It’s tough!

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Week 10 – Derek Yoshikane

The ethical issue I am always concerned myself with is the right to privacy.  It seems as if you have to give that up if you want your information to be accessible to others.  You could create an online persona, like many people do.  I make my posts with caution and often filter my initial thoughts. I know what I am saying is archived in cyberspace forever.  The posts I make are open for many people to read.  Maybe this filter is my personal ethical thought process.  Many people that make posts online do not think or care whom they offend or hurt.  Should there be a better policing of the media that is online or would that be censorship?  Maybe a rating system for browsers would be helpful, especially for educators and parents of young children.

I have a 4-year-old daughter that browses on YouTube for Peter Pan videos.  She already pointed out an inappropriate image in a posted video that appeared under the Peter Pan search.  What if she ventured onto something totally inappropriate like the Boston marathon bombing videos?  I already know of too many parents that allow their younger kids to roam freely on Ipads and Iphones.  Would their kids share their findings with their parents like my daughter did?

These multimedia devices have become the new babysitter for parents (that can afford it).  Should parents be teaching technological literacy?  In the high school that I teach at, no training or instruction is required prior to using computers or the internet.  The rules are explained in the beginning of each school year.  Students are expected to follow them.  Is this the best way to create productive participants of the digital world?

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Week 10: Lindsey Newkirk

I have a slightly different consideration about ethics that came up for me as I wrapped up Spreadable Media and was thinking about the wide variety of content that I interact with on web 2.0.  I’ve been talking recently with friends about our increasingly limited capacity to deal with negative media.  I’m a true believer that the way in which we choose to see the world, the filters by which we allow information to penetrate our psyches, is what creates our realities.  When I engage heavily with negative news sources, I feel hopeless, cynical, overwhelmed. On the one hand I think that new media is a tremendous opportunity to expose hidden truths that have been hidden from the masses in order to give rise to social justice and democracy.  I think it’s important to keep abreast of important issues that affect our people and our planet so that we can be informed and engaged citizens.  For my own well-being, however I choose to interact mostly with positive sources of media while limiting my negative information.  I’ve been recently curious what the trends are for most participants in our digital culture; does content tend to be more negative or more positive and what does that do to how they see the world?

So my questions around ethics: According to a report in Psychology Today “not only are negatively balanced news broadcasts likely to make you sadder and more anxious, they are also likely to exacerbate your own personal worries and anxieties” (Psychology Today 2012).  If negatively balanced media has adverse results on the wellbeing of our society, do we, as communicators and participators, have an ethical duty to balance the scales in the emotional weight of our content?  To me it’s quite similar to companies that produce cigarettes and fast food for instance.  Their products are killing us.  Sure, we can say that it is the consumer’s responsibility to make informed decisions around what they consume. It can also be looked at as an business ethics issue?

Maybe this isn’t an industry ethical consideration; I’m just playing around with this idea.  It is however, definitely a personal ethics issue for myself as I think that the communication focused on inspiring stories, celebrating successes and creating new visions is what we need to cultivate as we navigate the collective co-creation of a better world.

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