Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage
Author: Axel Bruns
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2008
Review Published: November 2009
Coining new terms is always a dangerous strategy, and so I'm very grateful to the RCCS reviewers for their detailed and very positive comments on Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond. Constructing the framework for the book, and working through the diverse array of produsage projects and communities which it covers, was a significant challenge, and it is gratifying to see that the work has been received in the spirit in which it was offered. But Alan Razee is right when he notes in his review that the book itself can only be the starting point in a much longer conversation about produsage, and that that conversation itself should be conducted according to the rules of produsage: as an open-ended, collaborative, and constructive discussion. I'm acutely aware of the irony that the opening statement in that conversation has come in the form of a printed book, of course -- a quintessential product if ever there was one, far removed from the changeable artefacts generated by produsage processes themselves.
The three reviewers also point to a number of avenues that are worthy of further exploration from here. Erin Stark is right to note the produsage aspects of blogging well beyond the news and current affairs field discussed in the book: indeed it is high time to examine again in greater detail what is prodused by each of the many different communities of bloggers which now exist, and by those who engage in related activities on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. The various blogging genres which Joanne Jacobs and I catalogued in our 2006 collection Uses of Blogs have matured further since then, and many others have emerged more recently; Stark notes arts and crafts blogs, for example, where I would point not least to the knitting blogs as well as related online communities like Ravelry as key spaces for produsage that ought to be studied in greater depth (see e.g. Humphreys, 2009).
Verena Laschinger highlights especially the transformational potential of produsage which is perhaps best encapsulated in Trendwatching.com's not entirely unproblematic concept of the new "Generation C," where "C" stands not least also for the impending "casual collapse" of established commercial models. But it is important here also to question the extent to which the so-called "digital natives" which are seen to constitute "Generation C" do indeed possess the systematic understanding of social media spaces which would be required to realise the potential of the new models; recent research into the capacities of younger users indicates that the abilities required to engage effectively and competently in produsage may be less evenly distributed than the digital native concept would appear to suggest.
And Alan Razee usefully connects the pragmatics of participation in produsage, which the book aims to outline, to relevant deeper philosophical frameworks for which there was no space in the book itself. I would thoroughly welcome an exploration of produsage and related concepts through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari or other applicable frameworks; this may also move us beyond some of the more limited current debates around user-led content creation as a mere mechanism for exploiting voluntary labour, which often remain mired in that very traditional model of producer/consumer relations which produsage as a concept is designed to overcome.
And no doubt there's even more here which should be investigated -- the logic of Web 2.0 and social media is being applied to ever more unexpected domains, after all, from NASA's Clickworkers through the establishment of open source-style Open Biology research processes all the way to the realisation of humanity's age-old dream of Free Beer, and the principles of produsage can be observed at work in many such efforts. I explore produsage in the book by focussing on a range of now well-established examples, from open source to Wikipedia, but examining what happens at the cutting edge is just as worthwhile -- indeed, since I completed the book at least one new service, Twitter, has achieved its popular breakthrough as an important further tool for produsers. Similarly, the three reviewers each especially note the necessarily more speculative final chapters of the book, which apply produsage principles to education and the political process -- today, some 18 months after the book was released, it has become possible to move beyond speculation and explore how, for example, produsage principles may be reflected in the successful use of social media tools by the 2008 Obama campaign, and how this experience may be translated into greater citizen involvement in the day-to-day business of government.
Where we might -- collectively -- take this idea of produsage, then, is up to all of us; I claim authorship, but not ownership of the term, and would be delighted to see the concepts to which it refers be spread and put to good use. And personal gratification aside, even whether the term produsage itself survives is ultimately unimportant: what matters is that we question the assumptions which remain deeply embedded in the language we use to describe the collaborative content creation practices which are today associated most closely with Web 2.0 and social media, but are beginning to infiltrate other areas of intellectual work as well; what matters is that we challenge the perception that a producer/distributor/consumer trichotomy which we inherited from the heyday of the industrial age is still necessarily the most appropriate way of describing the various roles of participants in content creation and exchange online. If I've made a contribution to that exploration of new ideas, of new ways of seeing the world, then the book has served its purpose.
Humphreys, Sal. (2009). "The Economies within an Online Social Network Market: A Case Study of Ravelry." Proceedings of ANZCA '09: Communication, Creativity and Global Citizenship, 8-10 July 2009. Brisbane: QUT.
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