Archive for September, 2009

Fan production and transmedia audienceships?

Posted in thinking on transmedia on September 28th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – 1 Comment

I typically don’t post such not-remotely-developed thoughts, but questions of the “transmedia audience” and how it is related to fan production have been prodding at me and part of me thinks that it may be worthwhile to at least verbalizing the question, if not offering any actual answers.

The comments in my last post on transmedia and the multiplicity principle made me realize that though I posed the question of why some types of stories — namely genre fiction — seemed to lend themselves to transmedia development, one of the implicit hypotheses was that they don’t. Or, rather, it’s not only that genre stories lend themselves to transmedia, but that genre audiences are highly receptive to it.

The multiplicity principle isn’t merely dependent on an archive of shared meaning between multiple texts — it’s relies on a sophisticated audience who has developed a strong knowledge of these multiple texts. In short, multiplicity is dependent on fannish behavior.

Transmedia creators seem to understand this instinctively. Take, for example, the Purefold project which not only develops content based on audience input through the FriendFeed group, but also licenses all the content under Creative Commons for participants to further develop and remix the work. Based off themes from Bladerunner, Purefold aims to let brands and fans alike have an equal go at asserting their ideas into the stories. It should prove to be an interesting test case on transmedia audience relations, but also brings a key question to the fore: what is the relationship between fan production and transmedia?

Or, perhaps more to the point, might we consider fan production a form of transmedia?

Fans production such as fan fiction or fanvids have long been developing stories across multiple platforms, forms, and genres. Projects like Purefold seem to be a way to acknowledge what fans have always known: that stories don’t have to be part of an official canon to influence how we encounter them, especially now that the new media landscape is making the boundaries between audience and producer increasingly fuzzy. Transmedia is about decentering stories, destabilizing the authorial power of any single text or narrative tributary. Fans have been collaborating and building out their favorite story worlds in this way for decades, through fiction, vidding, meta, role playing and cosplay.

So much of how we talk about transmedia centers around production, but so much of what makes transmedia what it is happens through new practices of reception and participation. Given that, I guess my question is: what does a transmedia audienceship look like? How is transmedia shaping how audiences form and interact, how they identify themselves and their cultural stakes? And conversely, how are the increasingly visible and explicit narrative interventions on the part of audiences shaping how we think about the way stories are told as they move across platforms, cultural spaces, borders of all manner?

weekly round-up [9/25/09]: Wharton on the Long Tail, transmedia and the future of tv, Mittel on lostpedia

Posted in Uncategorized on September 25th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

One of my biggest complaints about the blog-o-sphere is that the trade-off of being able to write more casually and toss out ideas that are just beginning to brew is that there sometimes isn’t enough attention paid to citation/reference/attribution. This isn’t so much a problem of credit where credit is due (though that can also be a problem at times). The problem is that it makes it robs us of a valuable research tool: namely, getting a big list of what people you’re reading are themselves reading.

I don’t make a ton of direct references, so adding a list of citations to my posts Grant McCracken style won’t be of much help. Instead I thought I’d start doing a weekly round-up of some highlights from what I’m reading, since I tend to read pretty widely across a number of different fields, all of which influences my thinking directly or indirectly one way or another.

  • Wharton Business School announced new research that challenges Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory (Download full pdf at the bottom of the article). Their data-bolstered work looks at the limitations in how the long tail defines “hit” and “niche” products only in absolute terms (ie, top 10) rather than relative metrics (top 10%). An interesting read overall, and I’m always all about talking about ambiguities in definitions.
  • Henry Jenkins has a piece in the Huffington Post this week about The Future of TV where he talks about post-network television, transmedia, and the role of social media in the consumption of TV content. Anyone familiar with Henry’s work will have heard him talk about many of the examples he mentions elsewhere, but the article is a good, quick rundown of some of the key points and cases that recur in his presentations. (I have to admit, seeing “my students at University of Southern California” instead of “my students at MIT” was momentarily jarring.)
  • In a similar TV/Fans/Participatory Media vein is Jason Mittell’s study of Lostpedia in the current issues of Transformative Works and Cultures. I’m had mixed feelings in the past about that journal for fandom-related reasons, but there’s been interesting work being published (and more importantly, made openly accessible).
  • Following a couple of interesting new transmedia cases: Flash Forward and Dragons v Robots.
  • On the transmedia front, I’ve been reading a lot things scattered here and there. Gunther Sonnenfeld has a piece on transmedia as marketing strategy. I have to admit that I would’ve like more depth and specific discussion given the length of the piece, but overall it makes for a decent primer for those new to the concept. Even better though is that it led me to former MIT CMS/C3 alum Ivan Askwith’s not-so-recent-but-highly-relevant resource list post on transmedia and advertising cases and research. Tons of great links and case descriptions that runs down all the greatest hits as well as a few lesser known examples and perspectives. And finally, there’s some great discussion going on between Scott Walker and Erek Tinker in the comments of my last post.

A couple of things that I’d read before but recently revisited that are worth a mention:

  • Susan Fournier and Lara Lee’s great article in the Harvard Business Review on Getting Brand Communities Right lays out some key principles about community behaviors, motivations, and organizational structures in a really clear, smart, market-relevant way. Absolutely required reading for anyone thinking about brands and community courting, online and off.
  • Television Melodrama (links directly to pdf, requires MIT certificate to access), the article by Prof. David Thorburn that inspired my post on Transmedia and multiplicity is definitely worth reading. Don’t let the “melodrama” deter you — this article has proven really fruitful in shaping my thinking on many things that don’t fall under the heading of television melodrama. For those without MIT access, it can also be found in the collection Television: The Critical View

Offline, I’m hitting up a few books I’ve been meaning to get around to:

  • On the academic front, I’m finally cracking Fault Lines: Cultural Memory and Japanese Surrealism by Miryam Sas, in hopes that some older examples of transnational/transcultural movement of expressive forms and genres will shape some of my further research in the online circulation of content.
  • Also started reading Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, the first in the Takeshi Kovacs novels, and really my first foray into Sci-Fi/Genre fiction.

Transmedia as intertext and multiplicity: why some types of stories lend themselves to transmedia

Posted in thinking on transmedia on September 23rd, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – 21 Comments

With FOE this year being heavily transmedia-centric, I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot lately about transmedia — about what there is to say now that we’re past the phase of describing what it is and moving into thinking more deeply about what it does and how.

A recent interview at Narrative Design Exploratorium with Starlight Runner CEO (and past FOE panelist) Jeff Gomez got me thinking about the relationship of transmedia to “genre fiction,” or stories written with distinct formal conventions such as mystery, horror, sci-fi/fantasty, and romance.

In the interview, Jeff maintains that

“You don’t need a science fiction or fantasy story to spark up a transmedia narrative. Our main criteria at Starlight Runner is that the story, brand or message lends itself to a rich world, real or imagined. The world needs to have a past and future, it must be populated with engaging characters, and there has to be something about it that makes us want to be a part of it . . . you can easily take a soap opera scenario, a high school scenario, the building of a new model of car or home and blast away”

While I wholeheartedly agree that no specific genre is required for that transmedia spark, it does seem that transmedia efforts tend to skew towards Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and other stories that follow certain genre conventions. Similarly, as evidenced by the way the “cult media” panel at FOE 2 veered quickly into a transmedia discussion, genre fiction seems to have an affinity for transmedia as well.

comics archetype times table by Jacob Borshard

Transmedia and the Multiplicity Principle

Jeff’s comment about soap operas and high school scenarios being just as easy to extend into transmedia points to one possible explanation — what television scholar David Thorburn calls the multiplicity principle of tv melodrama, where the audience’s familiarity with the thematic or character conventions of a genre can help fill in and add nuance. Rather than flatten characters into stereotypes, however, the multiplicity principle in fact allow for deeper and more complex developments because they give these stories the freedom to render characters and themese more suggestively rather than spelling everything out.

As Thorburn explains:

“The familiar character-types and situations thus become more suggestive and less imprisoning. There is no pretense that a given character has been wholly ‘explained’ by the plot, and the formula has the liberating effect of creating a premise or base on which the actor is free to build”

Or, as in the case of transmedia narratives, it gives the audience a rich base to generates deeper curiousity and an exploratory instinct, which drives them to develop and expand the story further outside of the initial point of contact with the narrative.

Transmedia as Intertext

Through this multiplicity, genre fiction has the freedom to create rich, nuanced characters and themes that are still broadly rendered enough to leave room for the audience to speculate, contribute, and pursue the story further. This is one possible reason for the overlap between genre fiction lends and transmedia, since further pursuit of the story is precisely what leads people to engage with narrative expansions elsewhere. In other words, both genre fiction such as sci-fi or melodrama and transmedia narratives require the existence of multiple texts and stories, as well as  open invitations to curious, sophisticated audiences built into the narrative structure.

Perhaps then one of the deep affordances of transmedia stories is that they operate just not as a collection of texts, but as an intertext, a text that is produced within the interaction between multiple texts. This is part of what differentiates transmedia, media that moves across and between forms and platforms, from static multimedia nodes. Transmedia isn’t just about multiple stories or versions, but about creating a rich in-between space, an archive of shared meaning in-between different parts of the story. In short, a universe.

The Future is coming (again)

Posted in media on September 2nd, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

As the summer winds down, it’s time again to start gearing up for the Convergence Culture Consortium (C3)’s annual Futures of Entertainment Conference. This November 20th and 21st will be the 4th installment of our biggest and most public event, featuring key thinkers from across industry and academia, hashing it out on a range of pressing topics about our shifting media landscape and where it’s headed (and why, and how, and what we can do when we get there).

This time around, we’re cycling back to a featured topic from our first ever Futures of Entertainment (and a much-beloved subject of C3 in general): Transmedia.

Since our first conference in 2006, transmedia has gone from an emerging form to an industry buzzword. The term and the form have both inspired significant developments, expansions, and confusion. Given that, we decided to devote an entire day to discussing various aspects beyond simply defining it. He hope both to dig deep into the nuts and bolts of how to build and sustain transmedia experiences as well as pull up and reexamine some of the larger implications of the form, how it has changed and grown, and what it’s value is now and in the future.

Our second day will cover other topics that are part of the Consortium’s core interests, such as fan activism, new media business models, and the ever-changing relationship between platforms, communities, users, consumers, producers, and brands.

Be sure to check out the official website for updates and details, and follow as at Futuresof on twitter.

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to join us before, be sure to check out videos, liveblogs, and panel descriptions from the previous years: FOE1, FOE2, FOE3 and at the C3 Blog.