Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage
Author: Axel Bruns
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2008
Review Published: November 2009
Production, Axel Bruns argues, is no longer an appropriate term for the "creative, collaborative, and ad hoc engagement" (1) that characterises output and interaction in the late-Web 2.0, socially-aware online environment. Likewise, the term "consumer" no longer adequately illustrates the role of the Internet user, as they become increasingly involved in the production process, as well as the consumption of online artefacts. Instead, Bruns, currently a senior lecturer in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, offers the concept of produsage, to describe "the social, technological, and economic environment of user-led content creation" (2). Produsage refutes the traditional industrial form of production and consumption -- restrictive at best as it locks individuals into one role and companies into the other with little room for movement -- in favour of a schema wherein the producer-user hybrid is able to both use the available content and produce content (through collaboration and active participation in the online environment) for the use of others, without being limited to one role.
Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond picks up thematically on two of Bruns' previous volumes: his 2005 publication Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, and an edited collaboration with Joanne Jacobs from 2006, Uses of Blogs. Using the four key principles of produsage -- open participation, communal evaluation; fluid heterarchy, ad hoc meritocracy; unfinished artefacts, continuing process; and common property, individual rewards -- as a basis for the discussion of a number of online social media structures (Wikipedia, citizen journalism, the game Second Life, and open source software, amongst others), Bruns argues that the line between producer and user is becoming increasingly blurred. Knowledge communities are contributing to an online society that is more informed with a greater desire for involvement in the process that they employ on a daily basis; indeed, produsage, therefore, can be seen as a symptom of "the wider informationalization of all aspects of our everyday lives, our economy, our society" (323).
Bruns' model of produsage can be applied to a variety of situations online; it is fair to suggest that produsage may be read as a social system that has been developing for many years, but for which we have previously had no word. Closely related to Pierre Levy's notion of the "knowledge space" (which he called the "cosmopedia"), Bruns discusses the role of data mining, meta data, and folksonomies -- systems of categorisation and ordering such as links and tags that are established by the produsers as a way of sorting and knowing online content -- in the promotion of structures of knowledge, of which Wikipedia is another example. Further, with thanks to commenting, linking, and tagging, information becomes conversational and incomplete; news bloggers, for instance, may alert readers to a particular issue, but it is in the dialogue between users (both on the original post, and on their own blogs) that the true impact of the story is made. Likewise, Bruns discusses produsage in education and newsblogging as serious alternatives to traditional, "top down" ways of knowing. He contests that the way we learn, the way we experience information, must be applied to the new way of knowing that comes along with post-industrial, collective modes of intelligence and information dissemination.
A core element of produsage is the importance of community in the construction of collaborative settings; chapters on produsage in gaming (with examples such as, but not limited to, The Sims and more importantly Second Life) exemplify the key produsage principles of unfinished artefacts and communal evaluation, as users have the capability to develop the playing environment through the production of resources. Such communities, be they related to gaming, open-source software development, or even Wikipedia, form the basis of ad hoc meritocracy, wherein consistently valuable contribution to common property, rather than "official" verified expertise, leads to an individual's perceived level of authority online (as seen in the online news aggregator Slashdot). All users operate on a heterarchical "level playing field", and development,particularly in regards to open-source software such as Firefox, is granular, with "experts" working piece by piece to form an artefact that will never be complete, but that will only continue to develop as the produsage process goes on.
Bruns is to be praised for producing such a thorough and well-written text; it is evident that he feels passionately about the produsage model and is dedicated to applying it to everyday online scenarios. As such, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond would make a valuable contribution to the collection of anyone studying knowledge cultures, production/consumption trends, and social awareness in the context of the early twenty-first century online environment. Bruns covers the basics of the produsage concept without being too "simple"; the book is intelligently well-written yet with enough background information that the unfamiliar reader does not get lost with all the talk of folksonomies, metadata, and collaboration.
If there is a weakness of this book, it is that, at times, the text does become excessively dense and highly theoretical, with the potential to overwhelm the reader. Bruns has the tendency to occasionally use overly complex and ostentatious language to explain what should be straightforward concepts, and in doing so could easily lose the less advanced reader who may otherwise benefit from the theory within this text. However, having read the introductory chapters, it is quite feasible for the reader to concentrate on the subject matter most relevant to their interests -- that is to say that each chapter can be read independently of the other, although a more thorough comprehension of the overall themes of this text is obviously gained if the book is read in its entirety. Bruns is eloquent and his text thoroughly researched, and persistence is worth the effort. The only other criticism is that although the use of the word "blogs" in the title, the coverage of blogging is limited primarily to news blogging (or citizen journalism), despite the fact that many other blogs also operate under the umbrella of produsage. Indeed, one could argue that almost any blog that caters to a niche market could be said to employ the aforementioned key principles of produsage. My area of interest and research may contribute to bias in this respect, but why not consider the produsage potential of personal, cooking, craft, parenting, or educational blogs? A further development of this argument that reflected the immense scope of blogging would have been appreciated.
Bruns has successfully fashioned a comprehensive and expansive account of participatory culture and its political, economic, and social impact upon the post-industrial world in which we now live. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond will be of use to any student or researcher of online culture -- be it at undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral level -- who is keen to develop their knowledge of the collaborative content creation arrangements that are coming to dominate the landscape of the Internet.
Erin Stark is a PhD candidate in the School of Internet Studies at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. She is exploring such concepts as place-identity and the relationship between geography and the construction of self with particular focus upon online written narrative -- a topic particularly close to her heart as she has been ranting at erinstark.net for the past five years, but aims to keep her blogging and her work as detached as possible. <email@example.com>
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