Archive for November, 2009

Transmedia as Archontic texts: Multiplicity, Subjectivity, and Social Change

Posted in thinking on transmedia on November 20th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

In lieu of a typical weekly round-up, I want to just encourage people to read through the #FOE4 tweets from the Futures of Entertainment conference today and tomorrow. Plenty of great insights that will shift your thinking on everything from transmedia metrics to how puppets are awesome (hint: they’re really awesome).

On that front, I’ve been thinking on transmedia a lot lately, and Henry Jenkins’ keynote this morning, along with the first panel on Producting Transmedia Experiences has inspired some synapse-firing on my part.

This is a drive-by posting, disorganized, thinkiness without rigor:

Multiplicity has been transformed into quite the buzzword this morning. Henry featured the concept of multiple and conceptually-varied versions of popular franchises — Indian versions of Spiderman, for instance, or the story told by Mary Jane — as one of his 7 key concepts for transmedia. In short, re-imaginings or re-visions of existing texts that both challenge and compliment one another. In traditional media, the emphasis was on continuity and control, ensuring that stories maintained consistency through controlled authorship. In transmedia storytelling, however, the emphasis is on multiplicity, the emergence of multiple authors telling or re-tellings in order to build a rich, varied story world.

This ties into another of Henry’s 7 concepts. Subjectivity. In short, transmedia provides the opportunity to tell stories from different viewpoints, to include in the narrative voices that are typically not heard. This notion is politically provocative, since it suggests transmedia’s very narrative structures makes room for the production of unheard or background subjects and perspectives. In other words, it allows for the telling of stories and experience and character voices that would not otherwise be told.

This begins to sound not unlike a tool for political activism — a narrative structure and a production form that give voice to those who would otherwise be voiceless, to those often silenced or relegated to the background.

This (along with a brief twitter conversation with Faris Yakob and Sam Ford about paratexts and metatexts in transmedia — seriously, everyone should be following the #FOE4 hash tag) made me think of C3 Consulting Researcher Gail de Kosnik‘s idea of fan production as archontic literature. The concept of “archontic” texts suggests that texts based upon or referring to other texts aren’t derivative or subordinate, but rather build an archive that expands the textual world. The archontic allows for infinite (and indefinite) re-tellings, but not just in terms of telling again, but rather telling more. Not just repeating, but adding to, building out, expanding, and drilling down.

Moreover, Gail talks about the archontic as “literatures of the subordinate.” In other words, the stories of those who aren’t always permitted to speak and tell their stories and perspectives. In that light, the multiplicity in transmedia storytelling makes stories more elastic — with every additional telling, the world expands, encompassing new viewpoints and subjectivities. And all of this begins to take on a distinctly political potential.

Going into the Transmedia for Social Change panel this afternoon, I can’t help but wonder: is transmedia a form that is particularly useful for communicating and enacting social change at a structural level? Does transmedia as a narrative strategy have not only formal implications, but also ignites some political ones?

Weekly round-up [11/06/09]: Post-broadcast TV, piracy from porn to academia, and finally a manual for google wave

Posted in weekly round-up on November 6th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

A quick scattershot of readings this week. First, two pieces that discuss the shifting role of television in a post-broadcast era:

  • Over at Politico, Michael Calderone and Daniel Libit report that people are turning to Twitter over Cable TV for up-to-the-minute political coverage, especially for election updates.
  • Tim Jones over at the Electronic Frontier Foundation maps the evolving relationship between DVR and the TV industry as a case of how some knee-jerk efforts to “fight piracy” against developing technologies have often hurt, rather than helped, the entertainment industry.
  • That piece comes as a response to a recent article by Bill Carter in The New York Times that reveals studies to show that DVR helps live ratings.
  • Speaking of piracy, The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Ben Terris reports that it’s not only music, film, software, and TV that are being pirated. Unauthorized distribution of academic journals is also on the rise.
  • Future Perfect has a piece on the pirate marketplace for pornography in Afghanistan, and its cultural and strategic implications.
  • A new project, Threatened Voices, is tracking the suppression of speech online.
  • The Dachi Group has an interview with Bruce Nussbaum where he discusses crowdsourcing, innovation, and participatory culture and its business implications with David Armano.
  • And on the sheer utility front, The Complete Guide to Google Wave by Gina Trapani with Adam Pash. If you’re like me, you’ve been spending the past several weeks since you got your google wave invite going “oh hey, you have it too! So let’s . . . wave something? Or . . . yeah.”

Control Issues: YouTube’s new blocking features

Posted in media on November 5th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – 2 Comments

TechCrunch reported this morning that YouTube has added two new video-blocking features to their arsenal for sponsoring partners.

Youtubes new blocking features

Youtube's new blocking features

The first is a button that allows to easy blocking of duplicate content. By selecting it, partners can automatically block other users from uploading another version of the same content. The second is a geo-blocking tool that effectively allows partners to choose where each video can and can’t be seen based on geopolitical borders (or, more importantly, geographic markets).

While I understand that the move is meant to appease anxious copyright holders, the whole thing still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. These new features might make who has access to content and the context of viewing much easier to control, but doesn’t address the question of what the control is good for in the first place.

The entire point of posting content on YouTube is to get it viewed, linked to, circulated. To generate buzz, conversation, to insert it into popular cultural discourse and make it spreadable. And, simply put, things can’t become spreadable if you don’t let people spread it.

In the paper If it Doesn’t Spread, it’s Dead which I co-wrote with Henry Jenkins and my C3 colleagues Ana Domb and Joshua Green, we explained that content doesn’t spread itself like a virus. Rather, people pass it to one another to communicate things, and in doing so, often have to replicate, repurpose, and reframe the content. However,

Such repurposing doesn’t necessarily blunt or distort the goals of the original communicator. Rather, it may allow the message to reach new constituencies where it would otherwise have gone unheard. C3 affiliated researcher Grant McCracken (2005) points towards such a model when he suggests that the word consumer should be replaced by a new term, multiplier, to reflect the fact consumers expand the potential meanings that get attached to a brand by inserting it into a range of unpredicted contexts of use.

By blocking duplicate versions, content creators are in fact potentially subverting their own interests, blocking out the potential for new markets and constituencies and hindering enthusiastic content promoters that could help broaden their audience.

Moreover, as I found in my research on the rich online circulation community around East Asian TV dramas, with the sheer scope and volume of content available online, even in a niche subject, sites of third-party aggregation and curation are crucial nodes in the circulation process. With the amount of content available, consumers need these site to help filter and organize content according to their interests, and copyright holders can’t always anticipate what the affinity categories might be. By not allowing people to duplicate and curate content, they’re crippling a key activity that helps promote their content.

And finally, nothing makes less sense than geo-blocking. Timed releases into international markets is an invitation for rich unauthorized markets to rise. The transnational flow of media is more and more in hands of audiences. People are coming together to select, reproduce, and distribute the not only collective, but radically collaborative imaginaries that they inhabit. And it’s changing the way media control works, and no one-click feature is going to stop that.