Mark Cuban is planning on uniting digital film production, development, and distribution in one company. He’s still thinking too big—$1,000,000 to $25,000,000 per film—but he’s on the right track. I especially like his reference to open source: “[W]e want to become more like a Linux.” Here’s hoping he really means that. What would it mean for Mark’s digital conglomerate to “be like Linux?” Well first of all, he would want all of the content produced to be licensed in a manner which encouraged re-use. Then he would want tools for fans to reshape his products at will. Movie-goers of the future won’t be content with simply buying the DVD on their way out of the theater—they’ll want to remix the film and post it to their website too.
Re-use of video content is making some progress in the advertsing world:
Kevin Schaff recycles ads that cost anywhere from $50,000 to more than $1 million to produce, pitching them on the cheap to small businesses that can’t afford the costly brainstorming, writing, filming, actors and editing that original productions require.
He’s just reselling entire ads right now, removing references to the original clients and replacing them with the references to the new clients. I’d imagine that if Mr. Schaff had software that could recombine individual pieces of the original ads to create new ads, he’d be able to serve a lot more customers.
Of course the lawyers are already licking their lips:
Anytime anyone has copyrighted material someone else uses without their full knowledge and sign-off, you have a problem.
A new generation of “wakefulness drugs” promises to deliver the holy grail of grad students everywhere: painless all-nighters. Give me a bottle of these and a handful of KGB anti-hangover pills, and I’m good to go. Better living through chemistry indeed.
MythTV is an open-source PVR (Personal Video Recorder) that runs on Linux. I ‘m thinking of using it as a base for building the video cookbook, now officially known as Video Skillet. Projects like this really get me excited: what if media software were as open as Internet software?
The Portland Pattern Repository (PPR) went public in 1995. It was the first instance of a type of collaborative Web site that would come to be known as a Wiki or CoWeb (short for collaborative web). A Wiki site is distinguished from an ordinary Web site by the fact that any visitor to the site can edit its pages using an ordinary web browser. The PPR has since grown to over 25,000 unique pages as of November 2003, collectively authored by over 3500 known authors and an unknown number of anonymous authors. It is widely read by software developers in the patten-based programming and Extreme Programming communities, although recently it is more often consulted as a definitive source of information on Wiki itself and collaborative software in general.
The content of the PPR may be of little interest to those outside the software development community, but the way in which the content was generated is of widespread interest. The original Wiki software has spawned dozens of clones in several different programming languages, and Wikis are used on the Internet and on intranets by individuals, special-interest groups, academic communities, and corporate teams for a variety of purposes from project planning to blogging. It is impossible to come to any sort of understanding about “how Wikis are used,” because the the specific ways in which people collaborate (or fail to collaborate) using Wikis vary from setting to setting. Thus this paper will focus solely on the original PPR and the ways in which it is used.
The PPR enables cooperation among widely dispersed members of the software development community who have the common goal of achieving consensus on certain issues of importance to that community. These issues often involve new approaches or techniques that are not widely accepted in the software development community as a whole. A common impression of consensus on these matters is thus important to users of the PPR as reassurance that these approaches and techniques are valid. Due to the open architecture of the Wiki and the importance placed on openness in “Wiki culture,” control of authors and readers is difficult, so etiquette and decorum become issues of primary importance. Community members also take advantage of the Wiki setting to control who participates in the community without violating the core value of “open access.”
Several concepts defined by Erving Goffman will help to explain the behavior of the PPR community. First is the idea of “team performances.” Goffman is concerned with the ways in which we communicate information about ourselves to others, not only through the literal meaning of the words we say or write, but through the impressions we give to others with our non-verbal behavior. He refers to the former as “expressions given” and the latter as “expressions given off.” Goffman uses metaphors from the theater to organize his study of “expressions given off” and suggests that managing these involves a sort of performance by the communicator. He goes on to note that performances of this type often involve multiple people working together to foster a commonly desired impression. In these performances individuals work together as would the cast of a play. This paper will argue that the users of the PPR are engaged in a team performance of this kind.
Continuing the theatrical metaphor, Goffman distinguishes between “front stage” and “backstage” regions, front stage being the place in which performers carefully regulate their behavior to convey the intended impressions, and back stage being the place where performers behave in a more familiar manner, confident that the audience cannot see them. He argues that rules regarding politeness and decorum serve as standards for regulating front stage behavior in order to ensure a successful performance. This paper will show that the rules of style and etiquette espoused on the PPR are indeed used in this way, although front stage and backstage regions are not as easily defined as they are in physical space.
Finally, Goffman argues that just as in the theater, “settings” and “stage props” such as certain furniture, decoration, layout of rooms, clothing and tools are essential to the success of a performance. The setting serves to set the expectations audience members have about the kind of performance they will see. This paper will suggest that the Wiki setting, though not as richly textured as a physical space, nevertheless is important to PPR users not only for the impressions it creates, but for the role it plays in controlling who become members of the PPR “audience” and “cast.”
Goffman recognizes that the theatrical metaphor has its limitations. In particular, determining who are the performers and who is the audience is not always straightforward. This is particularly problematic for asynchronous computer-mediated communication mediums like Wikis. One might attempt to call “central users” the performers and “peripheral users” the audience. But it may be more useful to view the Wiki as Goffman views the funerals conducted for mental hospital patients with no known kin. Although there is no separate audience there to witness the performance, the performers put on the show anyway to reassure themselves that they are maintaining civilized standards. The PPR can be viewed as a case of performers performing for themselves to reassure themselves that their community is maintaining a coherent consensus.
Most of the participants in the PPR are proponents of software development methodologies which face considerable resistance in the workplace. Many pages in the PPR focus on how to “sell” these methodologies to coworkers and managers. An impression of consensus among practitioners is important for validating these participants’ beliefs that their methodologies are sound. Thus there is a constant insistence that “Wiki pages represent nothing but discussion and consensus.” Though Goffman points to the importance of a “working consensus” in a successful performance, it is important to note that in the PPR consensus is not just a means by which impressions are successfully conveyed but is itself the desired impression.
One feature of a team performance is that any one member can disrupt the performance and thus disillusion the audience. Goffman suggests that this actually contributes to team cohesion: “Each teammate is forced to rely on the good conduct and behavior of his fellows, and they, in turn, are forced to rely on him.” This is particular true in the PPR, where any casual browser of the site can “join the team” and begin deleting or vandalizing pages. Users claim that this vulnerability results in “a high level of mutual trust… between users.” Visitors who add content to the site become stakeholders and have an interest in preventing disruptions of this sort.
Disruptions can be minimized by the use of rules of etiquette. Goffman, quoting Hughes, refers to etiquette as “a body of ritual which grows up informally to preserve… the common front.” Preservation of the common front is evidently of great importance to the PPR community, given the number of pages with titles such as “Wiki Social Norms,” “Welcome to Wiki Please Be Polite,” “Good Wiki Citizen,” and “Good Style.” Leuf and Cunningham go as far as to say that “the totally open Wiki concept is based on the idea that people can be polite and well mannered.” Among the most commonly emphasized norms are the use of real names, proper style, and conventions regarding deletion and editing.
PPR users are strongly encouraged to use their real names and to sign their contributions to the Wiki. By doing so, a user creates a “home page” on the Wiki with back-links to all pages to which he or she has contributed. This allows other users to form impressions of that user based on his or her past activity. Most PPR users recognize this function of their home pages and add supplementary information such as pictures, short resumes or biographies, and links to blogs or other home pages. An individual’s home page is his “appearance” on the Wiki and thus represents one of the few opportunities for individual impression management. This is an example of how one team member may “perform” for his fellow teammates.
Writing style is also regulated by social norms: “There is… a certain pressure to conform to existing styles.” There are two predominant styles of writing on the PPR: thread style and document style. Thread style is distinguished by long pages of often heated discussion. Contributions are written in the first person and are always signed. Threaded pages are an example of what Goffman calls “an interaction… purposely set up… for voicing differences in opinion.” He notes that such interactions still have carefully agreed upon rules of etiquette regarding how the differences will be voiced, and the PPR is no exception. “How to Write and Edit Thread Mode” lists several rules of order for threaded discussions on the Wiki, including “use separate posts for separate subjects,” “quote and respond,” and “use horizontal lines to delimit threads.”
Because threaded discussions often highlight a lack of consensus, they are not well-liked by most PPR members. Threaded pages are often subject to “refactoring,” editing aimed at pulling consensus from a messy discussion. Converting thread-style pages to document-style pages is considered the ultimate refactoring. One PPR page claims that “when it’s done well and in context it provides one of the highest quality forms of information found on Wiki.” Document-style pages are written in the third person and are unsigned, in keeping with the desired impression that these pages represent “the voice of the community.”
According to Goffman, rules of etiquette are intended to regulate “front stage” behavior. Thus one might logically ask, “Where is the backstage?” This is a difficult question. Despite Ward Cunningham’s claim that “a Wiki is like an open cocktail party,” unlike real cocktail parties Wikis do not have clear clusters of interaction in which we can discern “front stage” or “backstage” behavior. The best answer might be that “back stage” is off the Wiki. This is supported by the fact that Wiki users are encouraged to move discussions in which consensus seems very unlikely to other mediums such as email, where they won’t disturb the illusion of consensus-building.
Although rules of etiquette are the primary tools PPR members use to manage impressions of the community, setting plays a role as well. Many users believe that the appearance and structure of the Wiki itself enforce good team behavior. As one user puts it, “Wiki is a pain to use and it’s ugly. This encourages you to simplify your thoughts and focus on communicating them clearly.” Moreover, although there are no formal access controls in place that might allow team members to selectively allow new members to join, the Wiki software helps to ensure that only the desired type of people will end up participating: “It’s an intelligence test of sorts to be able to edit a Wiki page… [Wiki users] are by nature a pedantic, ornery, and unreasonable bunch.” This echoes Goffman’s assertion that “only individuals of a certain kind are likely to be found in a given social setting.”
Goffman’s notion of team performance and the quasi-theatrical devices which are used to sustain it are very useful for analyzing the behavior of the PPR community. Although Goffman was primarily concerned with synchronous, face-to-face, embodied communication, his ideas translate rather well to the asynchronous, disembodied space of the Wiki. Much of the seemingly obsessive behavior of the Wiki users makes a lot more sense when viewed as an attempt to project an impression of consensus among members of a totally open and relatively diverse community. But it would be a mistake to take this analysis to mean that the PPR community is engaged in self-delusion. Actual consensus on the issues at stake is truly important to the participants in this community—otherwise they wouldn’t spend so much time there. But in order to keep this real struggle toward consensus going, they must act as if consensus has already been achieved. In the words of Goffman, they must become “practiced in the ways of the stage.”
Interesting brainstorming session last night with members of my Multimedia Information class, as we tried to come up with ideas for our final project. The conversation ranged from video cookbooks to machinima to photographic scavenger hunts to cellphone RPGs to video mashups to fanfilms to p2p tv, with lots of interesting digressions inbeteween. I think I’m leaning toward the video cookbook idea myself–it seems to have the right combination of interesting yet doable. Basically the idea is to build an archive of cooking shows, parse them into segments that correspond to recipe steps, and build an interface for searching by ingredient, technique, etc. This might also enable the recombination of segments to create instructional videos for new recipes. Existing research indicates that parsing video content (like cooking shows) with the aid of related textual content (like recipes) is possible. Plus it might give me a chance to finally play with a Tivo, since that seems like a logical way to get some content…
Danny O’Brien laments the loss of private space on the Internet, claiming that the shades of public, private, and secret life we enjoy in meatspace have been replaced by the binary public/secret world of the web. He makes an interesting point, but I don’t know if I buy his distinction between the private register and the secret register–I’m inclined to go with Goffman and call it all “backstage.” The real issue is not that we’ve lost a middle register, but that we haven’t yet learned how to structure netspace as well as we do real space–we don’t have the virtual equivalent of cubicles, or soundproof glass, or curtains, or corridors. As a result it’s harder to exclude people from our audiences and easier to intrude on performances not meant for us.
One will rarely find a foreign resident of Tokyo without his or her mobile phone. Like the native residents of that city, most expatriates consider mobile phones to be a necessity of life. But the needs and desires of the various subsets of the foreign community in Tokyo are often quite different, and the factors that make mobile phone ownership obligatory vary accordingly. The expatriate population is a particularly interesting domain for SCOT analysis because of its marginal status. Although there are almost 350,000 registered foreign residents of Tokyo (and quite a few more unregistered ones), this is still less than 3% of the total Tokyo population. It is safe to say that the major mobile phone manufacturers are not developing their products with the foreign population in mind. Thus this analysis will be a test of the claim that SCOT can be successfully applied to groups involved purely in using, as opposed to designing or developing, a technology.
Foreigners come to Tokyo for a variety of reasons. The following list of groups is not exhaustive but is intended to illustrate this variety. As the heart of the world’s second-largest economy, Tokyo hosts branches of most of the world’s multinational corporations, and thus many foreign businesspeople make their home there. These high-paid executives usually live in wealthy enclaves jokingly known as gaijin ghettos (gaijin being a pejorative term for foreigner). The Korean, Chinese, and Southeast Asians who make up the largest segment of the foreign population live in ghettos of a different sort, but their economic motivations for going to Tokyo are similar to those of the businesspeople. Exact statistics are hard to come by, but a significant portion of these immigrants are young women working as domestic help or as “entertainers.” Western women working as strippers, hostesses, or models are also lumped into this category, although they are more often motivated by a thirst for adventure and exotic experience than by raw financial need. This is true as well of the young travelers and fresh college graduates who go to Tokyo to work as English teachers. Finally there is the large group of foreign engineers, which includes not only many of the aforementioned Asians but also Western engineers drawn to Japan by its reputation for advanced technology.
This sort of classification of foreigners by occupation and country of origin is common, but for the purposes of this analysis it may be more useful to look at the sorts of problems faced by foreigners in Tokyo. The particular problems faced by a certain group help to determine whether that group views mobile phones as cheap, personal, convenient, advanced, small, or some combination of these qualities.
All of the groups named above face the problem of friends and families living overseas with whom they want to keep in touch. Until very recently land lines in Tokyo were extremely expensive, putting them out of reach of domestic helpers, entertainers, and English teachers. For these groups, mobile phones were a cheaper alternative to installing a land line. PHS (Personal Handyphone System) phones were particularly attractive, as they were even cheaper than standard cellular phones. Unfortunately many PHS phones do not allow international calling, making them useless for foreigners.
Even now that the prices of land lines have started to fall, many foreigners opt not to install them. For the entertainers and English teachers who often share “gaijin houses” with several roommates, having their own personal mobile phone solves the problems posed by a shared land line. Engineers, who can usually afford land lines as well as their own apartments, also prize the personal quality of the mobile phone. Although most companies insist on having a home phone number, they rarely require employees to disclose their mobile numbers. Engineers will often take advantage of mobile phones to keep in touch with friends and family but not give their mobile numbers to employers, so as to avoid being called to the office on weekends for “emergencies.”
Businesspeople want to keep in touch with friends and family as well, but unlike engineers, they want to stay maximally available to their employers. Since their jobs often involve extensive time out of the office and away from home, they are willing to pay more for more advanced phones that ensure reception anywhere and everywhere. Business users rejected PHS phones because the reception area was limited to major cities. For businesspeople mobile phones are not cheaper or more personal land-line substitutes, but are tools of convenience intended to be used where land-lines are unavailable.
Engineers are also concerned with power and reception, but for different reasons. Engineers in Tokyo often carry mobile phones for their geek chic, priding themselves on having the latest models with the most cutting-edge features. They revel in the fact that they can try out new technologies a year or two ahead of their contemporaries at home. In addition to having a wider range of reception, they want faster data transfer rates for using features like email and web browsing. Businesspeople are not as interested in the technology itself but see the value of using email and the web to keep up with work. This development has caused them to re-evaluate PHS technology, as it has faster data rates than cellular despite its narrower coverage. Many businesspeople now carry one cellular phone for voice communications and another PHS phone to use as a wireless modem.
But the interest in Internet functionality is not limited to engineers and businesspeople. The Internet, and email in particular, is for many foreigners the primary means of communication with home. Besides being cheaper than international phone calls, email has the added benefit of being asynchronous, thus avoiding the problems posed by distant time zones. Although Internet caf�s are plentiful in Tokyo, having a mobile phone with email is more convenient and far cheaper than buying a computer. For the less wealthy members of the foreign community, the mobile phone is once again a cheaper substitute for an alternative technology.
Reading and writing emails and browsing the web requires screen space. The rise of the mobile phone as an Internet access device has seen screen sizes and phone sizes increase dramatically. This is particularly interesting because in preceding years the trend was for smaller and smaller phones. Businesspeople in pursuit of convenience wanted very small, lightweight phones, which could fit in their suit pockets while traveling. Engineers in pursuit of bleeding-edge technology wanted marvels of miniaturization. Entertainers wanted fashionably slim phones, which fit into handbags and looked good in nightclubs. But as some groups of users began using mobile phones more for data and less for voice, those fashionably small screens became unfashionably inconvenient.
Screen size is just the most dramatic example of the tension between different groups of users and their views of what makes a mobile phone useful. To English teachers and Filipino maids for whom a mobile phone represents cheap personal communication, a �60,000 gadget with a Java applet for 3D gaming is useless. To businesspeople who need reception on the bullet train, a �10 PHS phone is useless (though a �10 wireless modem is very useful). Moreover, what counts as a necessary feature of this necessary device is constantly changing. When mobile phones were used primary for voice communication, most foreigners didn’t care if their phone had multilingual menus. Now that there is increased interest in advanced functionality, this is a crucial feature for foreigners who can’t read Japanese well.
Mobile phone technology is still in its early stages, and it might be argued that attitudes about what makes it useful and necessary will converge once the technology stops developing so rapidly. Yet even after the development stage, it seems unlikely that Chinese immigrants planning on making a life for themselves in Tokyo will buy and use mobile phones for the same reasons as backpackers teaching English for the summer before heading to Goa, or Fortune 500 execs running the Tokyo office before they make their move to corporate headquarters. Though they may end up purchasing the same physical device, each of these user groups will view different aspects of that device as essential.
The SCOT concepts of relevant social groups and interpretive flexibility do appear to be useful for investigating the meanings of technology even among user groups considered marginal by designers and developers. The technique of determining the relevant social groups and then iterating the problems faced by these groups and the ways in which different aspects of mobile phone technology are interpreted as solutions (or non-solutions) to these problems, uncovers a much richer web of interconnections than one might expect for the relatively constrained domain of “Tokyo expatriates.” While this is excellent for exploring possible paths along which these meanings may continue to evolve, this web of possibilities has a tendency to spiral out of control. For older technologies this tendency may be counteracted by the countervailing forces of stabilization and closure, but for mobile phones, which have no closure in sight, the number of possible meanings has the potential to grow unmanageable. As a result, SCOT analysis might not be helpful for observers who are examining attitudes toward new technologies for specific trends or conclusions, rather than simply surveying the landscape.