Diversity within FSEs and OPs: A Lesson From Google Corp. and Google+

We have been dealing with cultural totalities—a single FSEs here and its single OPs there. Perhaps at an earlier point such holism and universalism was plausible. Closer examinations of each entity under the same banner provides evidence that each FSE and OP is likely an accumulation of numerous micro-communities. If we are going to explore the cultural diversity in the FSE-OP dyad we might want to think of each localized entity as a polymorphous system.

For example, as I explore more fully in a different blog, Google Inc. is doing two things that may give us reason to look more closely at the diversification, internal to their forms, of FSEs and OPs: 1) In-house, Google, Inc. encourages its employees to develop ERGs or firm-based affinity moieties; 2) the new social media platform Google+ gives users options for how to categorize their “friends” into select Circles. These two observations have implications for the relationship between Google’s FSE and its OP and more generally the internal integrity of analytical categories such as FSEs and OPs. The internal mechanism for FSE and OP development are subject to the hording and cliquey practices the workers and social media users.

Three or Four Theories of Networked Activism

The social dynamics and genesis of inter-networked activist cultures are little understood and the focus of some of our research at UCLAs Part.Lab and a bunch of new business, activism, and pop theory books. Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics through Networked Progressive Media (New Press 2010) by Jessica Clark and Tracy Van Slyke is a strategy guide about how four levels of internet-enabled networks have an impact on progressive journalism, political commentary, and activist organizing: 1) networked users, 2) self-organized networks, 3) institutional networks, 4) networks of institutions. All but the first, networked users, articulate well with the categories and process we devised in Birds of the Internet Towards a Field Guide to the Organization and Governance of Participation to explain internet-based cultural behavior, namely, the self-generating or organized publics assisted in their construction by formal social enterprises. Like our 2011 publication, the book is a field guide designed to identify new species of networked culture, their interrelationships in the emergent media ecology, their diverse communicative practices, and the values they seek to reproduce throughout society. The power of this book lies in the elegance and utility of these network categories and in the suspenseful fast histories of netroots progressive movements.


What are progressives and netroots? Apparently a progressive is someone left of Democrats and liberals. They are “opposed to conservative philosophies that seek to maintain older systems of value and power.” Progressives are into “social change” (Clark and Van Slyke 2010: 3). While progressive values are variously but never concretely defined in this book I would quickly add social justice, social liberalism, civil society, and technoprogressivism. Progressives value “social justice,” or the promotion of the dignity of every human life; “social liberalism,” or the promotion of access, participation, diversity, and democracy; and “civil society”, a contested term that describes an arena for public discourse. Emphases on openness and public cultures overlap in social justice, social liberalism, and civil society. (In addition to the right to be heard and accounted for, the right to privacy is also a value of social justice.)

The progressive brand “Netroots,” a conflation of internet and grassroots, describes a politically coordinated and technology-enabled public. It can be considered synonymous with the progressive blogosphere, the internet-activated and discourse-constructed public sphere. Netroots express the value of technoprogressivism—a promotion of the positive role of technology in achieving progressive political objectives that has its historic roots in computer and countercultural notions of techno-cultural change. Netroots activists focus on the agencies provided by technology. Networks are seen as enabling not limiting factors. Beyond the Echo Chamber is designed to motivate not give a sociologically factual and balanced account of the promises and perils of networked political economy. Much of this idealism is identifiable in this self-interview between the authors. Importing a dose of critical pessimism, that is a focus on overcoming impediments, from the media reform movement might have made this book more believable to academics but not as inspirational to activists.

Networks of Users and Institutions

The four networks go from the most abstract and loose to the most concrete and institutionalized. The first is “networked users” which include “tens of millions of individuals” and analogous to the “networked public sphere.” “Users” is deployed deliberately to define the confluence of “audience member and participant” (Clark and Van Slyke 2010: 34). I like this simple term “user” better than the clumsy neologism “produser” but the authors do not define the “networked public sphere” other than inferring that it is public, big, free, semi-communal, and potentially political and creative. If you hear some of the cyber-utopianism of Yochai Benkler, Henry Jenkins, Don Tabscott, and Clay Shirky in these notions then you are correct, they are cited throughout. Where the authors fail in describing these users is by ignoring the fact that they are networked not by some neutral, natural, or publically-owned infrastructure but by privately-owned or non-profit platforms with their own set of affordances, prejudices, values, and persuasions that limit and provoke certain types of networks that are not simply user-driven but semi-hierarchical, striated, partitioned, unbalanced, and more often then not governed to maximize capital. In their calculation there is an amorphous mass of politically minded people organized but unorganized. In a way, this is like people without culture, without an internalized self-governing structuration.

We cannot understand users without their correlating structuring principles. On the internet this means looking to cultures of production and collaboration that aggregate around issues, tools, and practices–these can be named by brands or parties–but the point is they can be named. And that is what indeed the authors do as they provide several examples of networked users by referencing the users of the brands YouTube, progressive television Link TV, ethnic magazine Colorlines, citizen video journalism nonprofit The UpTake, etc. So what they are really referring to when they discuss “networked users” is not the unincorporated masses, which doesn’t exist, but their second category, self-organized networks.

If our research or disciplinary paradigm as anthropologists and sociologists cannot affirm the existence of “user networks” we do however observe evidence of the remaining three categories. These include self-organized networks, which we call organized publics or OPs. Organized publics develop without the formal economic or infrastructural assistance of institutions or what we call formal social enterprises. Jenkins is key to assisting the authors’ speciation of these self-organizing networks by providing them the concepts of pools, webs, and hubs. Self-organized network form pools around common projects, create webs around social communities, and aggregate around brands or hubs. Clark and Van Slyke’s concept of self-organizing networks is an excellent example of the formation of organized publics in the realm of progressive media. In our research we’ve gone a step further by adding a temporal input to the concept of the self-organized network or organized public by showing that in all likelihood such organized publics become institutions through time. This brings us to their third category.

The third category also coordinates with our analytical distinctions. The author’s concept of the “network organized by institutions” is akin to the relationship between the formal social enterprise, or what they simply call an “institution” and the organized public, or what they call “self-organized networks.” Institutions such as the Sierra Club, National Organization for Woken, and the ACLU provide internet infrastructure to publics in order to seed activism. They did not spend much ink on “network organized by institutions” but with the examples provides by Clark and Van Slyke we can reasonably conclude that within the progressive media sector the FSE-OP relationship is present.

Finally, the forth category is one Ive written about before in regards to progressive media organizing and I would like to expand upon. I am not sure if it falls exactly within the rubric we’ve set out to test at Part.Lab, that is, the development of OPs and the relationships between FSEs-OPs, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to isolate FSEs from other FSEs. Clark and Van Slyke’s forth category, “networks of institutions,” explores the lateral relationships between institutions, or what I previously called, collaborations. The key example comes from The Media Consortium, a 2005 journalism meta-organization both authors are intimately involved in that serves as a nexus for meetings, conference calls, and email lists that coordinate messaging and projects across a number of progressive groups.

The Media Reform Movement and Network Neutrality: A Case Study

How do these netroots networks synergistically interact and self-generate? Examples come from the rise of Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004, Ned Lamont’s 2006 primary victory over Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, and Virginia Senator George Allen’s 2006 resignation over the viral video of him calling an opponent’s aide “macaca.”  A more elaborated case comes from the media reform movement’s work on network neutrality. And yet based on their evidence I can recognize three distinct networks but not “networked users.” Clark and Van Slyke (2010) might argue that the 1.6 million people signing a petition for network neutrality is an example of networked users but weren’t these users’ signatures aggregated by institutions and thus an example of their term “institutional networks?” Or perhaps these publics constituted a self-organized network, also one of their categories? (In this movement there certainly was a strong “network of institutions” with 850 organizations constituting the SavetheInternet.com Coalition.) It may seem like a small point but to really concentrate on what I am vaguely calling publics or what Clark and Van Slyke call “user networks” means to begin to understand the origins of social motivation.

Beyond the Echo Chamber confirms our suspicion that networked environment can incubate organized publics and facilitate the interactions between institutions and those publics. The book also wrestles with but ultimately misunderstands that earliest and vaguest moment of genesis of networked users. This is understandable; we don’t quite get it either, hence the research into it. The difficulty is understandable; within convergence culture clear lines demarcating consumers from producers and this networks from that network are difficult to define. We have at our disposal excellent examples of organized publics developing out of Wikipedia, open source software development, and the anti-corporate globalization movement. But if such radically transformative events such as the Arab Spring are to be ethnographically and historically understood then we may begin to grasp the transformation of isolation to belonging and apathy to activism.

Rules and Restrictions in Social Media Journalism

Sivek, S. C. (2010). Social media under social control: Regulating social media and the future of socialization. Electronic News, 4(3), 146-164.

Susan Currie Sivek has written an article that bears attention for Part.Lab’s focus on internet-enabled participation, and in particular its use in political television. A new generation of young new media journalists are being socialized in the era/practice I am calling convergence capitalism–the market/mission and producer/consumer conflated period dictated by internet/television business/social projects. With its print demise, the invasion of PR, its utter necessity for democracy, and the transmedia liquidity of its practices, journalism is a great place to look at convergence capitalism. Sivek throws us great lines about the socialization of new media journalists: “Convergence, to them, won’t even merit its own name as a trend” (Civek 2010: XXXX) The article brings up an issue Part.Lab might address–Rules and Restrictions.

Every company is grasping for ways to monetize or incorporate the social graph that constellates around them. News services immediately both saw and felt the threat and possibility of social media. For all the negative criticism it gets for begging its audience to Tweet and for the consistent joke around the idea of the Wolfster tweeting, CNN has a relatively open social media policy for its journalists. Consider the options. Australia’s Sydney Star Observer and Johannesburg’s The Star have “blocked all access to Twitter for their offices. ESPN also prohibits its employees from having personal websites or social media accounts…” (Civek 2010: 154-155). The Washington Post, BBC, and Wall Street Journal all have strict restrictions that fit between these above and the subjects of my work who are extremely liberal in their encouragement of engagement between their journalists and audiences. Al Jazeera English’s The Stream has the most porous membrane separating the audience from the producer. They want us to give them ideas for the show and send them messages for inclusion in the programming. Conversely, the producers freely tweet and Facebook with their audiences. They are encouraged to do so by their higher-ups. The absence of rules and restrictions undoubtedly impacts the relationship between the firm and its productive audience.

Civek clearly thinks Al Jazeera English as seen on The Stream is the future. The strict policies at the Post and BBC are draconian and express the death throes of legacy journalism. For Civek the younger generation’s socialization into social media will eventually overcome the managerial logic of the strict control over social media use. For one, survival in this gutted knowledge industry requires adroit networking savvy by which the personal journalist’s brand trumps their business affinity. This may compel these new media reporters to ignore the rules against social media that are a necessary tool for self-promotion in a precarious workworld where they might get pink-slipped tomorrow. This is likely related to the neoliberal capitalization of the self that is discussed by my colleague Sasha David in reference to the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood actors. Regardless, Civek believe the restriction prone news firms are on the losing side of history.

I am not sure if social media policies of openness and “independent” personal branding are going to win out. And I am not sure if I want it to. The freelancing of the journalistic workforce is not applaudable. It is a strange world in which young freelancing journalists are more concerned with gaming SEO and writing re-tweetable quips than facts, investigative depth, editorial responsibility, peer review, and transparency. The inflated price of AOL’s purchase of the Huffington Post is evidence of the hysteria around impressions to the loss of quality. Journalism is a job driven by passion, politics, and position, what might be called civic republicanism or a mix of economic and social liberalism. These new media journalists also express some inherited cultural or economic capital that helps to propel them through the lulls in political media employment. Independence and freelancing means to be able to tweet whatever you want and also means financial insecurity. Independence and freelancing means to be able to tweet whatever you want and also means financial insecurity.

Secondly, I fear independence is on its way out as conglomeration and vertical integration are on the increase in internet business and particularly in video entrepreneurship–which is one area of growth in downward trending news firms. I’m watching several news firms experiment with liberal social media policies. Current TV, in its 2005-2009 heyday, thrived on the ethos and vision of community engagement with a very open social media policy, only to minimize community involvement and amateur impact in favor of the professional creed by 2011.

Part.Lab has developed a positive theory of the tasks and resources that firms, organizations, or well-resourced publics grant to their friends and others publics for the production of useful objects. Ours is a generative model for an era of cognitive surplus and creative excess. Civek documents how news firms limit, restrict, and negate the ways their journalists engage with their co-producing audiences. Our category regarding the availability of the resource is a close fit but not as precise as it could be. Again, resource restrictions for who? Civek’s work looks at how the enterprise curtails access by its employees to its resources for community development. An analysis of tasks and resources paired with a study of rules and restrictions might help us to recognize the mounting professionalization of this field of internet-enabled participation.

Resources and Partnerships in Participatory Video

Pilfering the good ideas of my Part.Lab colleagues, I intend to get into the question of multiple resources, perspectivalism, and partnerships through an analysis of two species of participatory video: citizen journalism and entertainment talent networks. For those not in the Lab, FSEs, or formal social enterprises, are the video firms and OPs, or organized publics, are the audiences. As you will see below and in MSNBC’s recent rebranding exercise around the slogan “lean forward,” some efforts have been made to transform the passive audience into active participants. This post looks at the resources FSEs and OPs provide to each other in their co-production.

In our recent paper we wrote:

“For every FSE/OP there is at least one resource at stake. By resource we mean whatever is produced that is most valued by both the FSE and the OP” (p. 167, my italics). We focus on “resource[s] at stake” but for whom?

Each FSE and OP has resources 1) it can offer and 2) resources it needs. As we have defined it, resources are those process or objects that both FSEs and OPs value. Like goals and tasks, resources fuse the two entities. However, we’ve yet to account for how the FSE and the OP perceive resources differently.

Below I will discuss how both OPs and FSEs have distinct resource offerings. Point 2 above, resource needs, that are sated not only from the specific FSE/OP relationship but from other partnerships, FSEs, OPs, and resource ecologies I will briefly address in the conclusion.

To illustrate this I quickly analyze two species of participatory video FSEs/OPs we’ve investigated that speciate into two FSE/OP dyads: citizen journalism and entertainment talent networks. The resources I will focus on in both species of video FSEs and OPs include people (talent) and content (video code). Continue Reading →

Good News… our first paper is finally published!

Fish, A., Murillo, L. F. R., Nguyen, L., Panofsky, A. & Kelty, C. M. (2011). BIRDS OF THE INTERNET — Towards a field guide to the organization and governance of participation. Journal of Cultural Economy, 4(2), 157-187.

Prosumption digital divide

Jen Schradie, a grad student at Berkeley Sociology, has just published an article on the digital divide in user-production on the internet. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2011.02.003

It enters the digital democracy debate not along the lines we’ve been accessing it (democratic participation vs. exploitation) but in terms of inclusion (democratic participation vs. unequal access/exclusion). She comes down on the exclusion side suggesting that even for those already online there is an extra class gap between those who use the internet for consumption and those who use it for productive activities. She links this to class inequality in two basic factors, control of internet tools (having a good connection at home and a bunch of gadgets) and endowment with a “Internet-in-practice and high-status information habitus” (to coin a phrase). She demonstrates this with data from a large Pew internet use survey.

The overall results aren’t that surprising, and I won’t get into the details very far. There were a couple of curious things; for example, the racial inequality picture is complex or maybe muddled–whites are more likely than other groups to post pictures and videos but less likely to have websites and blogs (actually differences are only significant for whites vs. blacks). Hispanics are more likely than nonhispanics to have websites and post videos. Etc.

Anyway, there are a couple things that might be valuable to us. One is the dataset and analysis that might give us some background information on the demographics of participation as we move forward.

Another thing is that this study, and most like it, pitch the debate at the individual level–the “public” as an inchoate mass of individuals. We’re interested in organized publics but most of the literature is implicitly concerned with THE disorganized public (in the singular).

So here’s at least one question in our different approach. Are the OPs we’re considering all already selecting from the productive, or prosumptive, “elite”? Does everyone already have the “information habitus”? Or do OPs ever draw people from the less “elite”, more ostensibly “passive”, segments of the internet population? Do OPs ever inculcate habitus in participants? Are there differences of habitus in different FSE/OP combinations or is it all just people who are “facile at doing crap on the internet” (to coin a phrase)?

Oracle and its Social Media Participation Policy

Sometimes when you are searching for something, you find what you were looking for but it still surprises you. Such as Oracle’s Social Media Participation Policy.

What makes this particularly diagnostic of participation is that it is an internal policy (though posted publicly!) for a classical bureaucratic entity which attempts to govern participation in supposedly non-bureacratic non-organizations (social media) and therefore has to work out the contradictions of being a non-employee of (perhaps many) organized publics.

So for instance, the policy covers basically any mention of Oracle by an employee in any media either at work or at home. Oracle asserts its right to control its employees: Oracle employees are still expected to be loyal members of the “team”–and especially brand representatives of the organization. (Oracle as enlightened Despot?)

Even if your social media activities take place completely outside of work, as your personal activities should, what you say can have an influence on your ability to conduct your job responsibilities, your teammates’ abilities to do their jobs, and Oracle’s business interests.

Most of it is reasonable: don’t publish Oracle’s confidential information. Some of it is weird: “you may not publish (nor should you possess) our competitors’ proprietary or confidential information.” Huh?
Continue Reading →

Cooperation with the Corporation?

Kperogi, Farooq A. 2011. Cooperation with the corporation? CNN and the hegemonic cooptation of citizen journalism through iReport.com, New Media & Society, 13: 314-329 http://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/13/2/314 (Accessed April 3, 2011).

Can user-generated content, promoted and contained by a corporation, constitute an alternative or resistance to mainstream media? This is Kperogi’s timely question. Its asking portends a new era of realistic criticism of the once ballyhooed liberatory capacities of “peer production” and “participatory culture.” Kperogi’s answer is a resounding no. CNN’s iReport project to stimulate and aggregate user-generated news is not the threat to mainstream news but instead plays into the economic and hegemonic designs of the non-fiction industrial complex. In this argument Kperogi goes too far, failing to problematize his primary distinctions between mainstream and alternative journalism, ignoring the agency of iReporters, audiences, and UGC producers, and forgets to discuss the particular affordances of video and internet systems. Continue Reading →

Participation, Collaboration, and Mergers

I work here at UCLA’s Part.Public.Part.Lab where we investigate new modes of co-production and participation facilitated by networked technologies. Internet-enabled citizen journalism such as Current TV, public science like PatientsLikeMe, and free and open software development like Wikipedia are key foci. In the lab I investigate the vitality or closure of a moment of freedom and openness within cable television, news production, and internet video when the amateur and the alternative disrupted the professional and the mainstream. What are the promises and perils of social justice video in the age of internet/television convergence? Will internet video become as inaccessible, vapid, and homogenous as cable television? In our recent paper, Birds of the Internet: Towards a field guide to the organization and governance of participation, we draft a guide to identify two species flourishing in the internet ecology: what we call “formal social enterprises,” which include firms and non-profits, as well as the “organized publics” the enterprises foster or from which they emerge. These two types share a vertical or inverted relationship, power comes down from visionary CEOs and charismatic NGO directors to provoke rabid social media production, or a viable movement foments amongst grassroots makers that percolates upwards towards the formation of semi-elitist institutions. In light of this research and with a discreet fieldwork experience to think through I would like to clarify and address three types of social interaction: participation, collaboration, and mergers. Continue Reading →


Entrenched hierarchy within open communities