Web 2.0 Studies – Critical Internet Theory

The School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne is seeking applications from researchers who wish to take part in a two day methodologies workshop with Professor Geert Lovink (Director, Institute of Network Culture, Amsterdam). Participation is free but places are limited and will be restricted to participants who are engaged in research relating to the theme of Web 2.0 studies and critical Internet theory. More info can be found here. Applications close 21st of November. Swinburne media postgrads are encouraged to apply!

Personalised media flows

One of the most famous media scholars of our era, Raymond Williams, came up with the concept of ‘flow’ in the mid 70′s to describe the sequence of content on broadcast television (shows, trailers, advertisments, previews, movies, whatever else the station programmer throws in). Williams thought that the sequence should be understood as a composite, a distinct emotional and psychological experience, a ‘single irresponsible flow of images and feelings’ (Williams 2003, p.92). ‘Flow’ has since become one of the most powerful critical concepts in film and television studies. I think the idea is still useful to us, but that we have entered an era of content personalization; there is not one, but literally millions of media flows, assembled or aggregated for each individual. Increasingly, digital content is produced on demand based on your current location; it is shaped by your social network and what they are recommending; it is predicted based on your personal Google search history or what you’ve been writing about in your webmail account. This personalized flow is substantially different from the early web, where content did not change based on the user’s purchasing history or social network; personalization was confined to choosing which links to follow or what to download.I think we need a term to describe the fact that we are all consuming different content, and that this content is increasingly being assembled and delivered to us based on our personal preferences/browsing history/social network.

Mobile media – what makes it distinct?

What is it that makes mobile devices distinct from computers as a medium? Obviously there is a convergence of the two in the form of smartphones, but there is also a divergence: in the way that people use the devices, and also in the way that content is delivered. People use mobiles on the move: when they access web content they are after information ‘snacks’ – little pieces to consume on the train, at the bustop, in a boring meeting. Nobody reads a feature article on a mobile phone, and we don’t seem interested in watching TV either, as Robert Andrews observes on moconews. But I think there is another, deeper difference: it is much easier to personalise content on a mobile device. In fact I think this is the key difference between mobile and other mediums at present. Mobiles enable us to deliver content that is relevant to people based on where they are geographically, what they have been interested in previously, and what their friends may be doing. I see a future where content is entirely personalised on mobile devices, and not just advertising, as Paz Saavendra suggests in her article on mobile advertising and personalisation. The benefits of customising data extend far beyond advertising. If you only have two minutes on the bus to go online and grab some info about the place you are heading for, then the more customised and ‘smart’ the content delivered to you, the less effort is required on your part. What makes mobile media distinct? I think it has a lot to do with the potential for customisation, particularly to location.

Camera phones, perpetual surveillance and the ‘event’

My colleague at Swinburne Lisa Gye gave a presentation recently on citizen journalism and mobile camera phones. She pointed out that mobile photos have an aura of authenticity about them because they are taken on the run, a ‘moment captured’. In Australia as in many other parts of the world, most of the population carry mobile phones – so we have a situation where lots of people have cameras in their pocket now, ready to capture a news event. This makes me think about perpetual surveillance: does the fact that we have millions of citizens armed with cameras change the way we behave? Foucalt claimed that people change their behaviour when they know they are being observed. How does mobile photography change the event it captures? I have been wondering for a while how mobile phones might shape or change our behaviour.

There have been many stories in the press about events which were actually staged for a phone (I can only think of the recent dreadful example of the rape of a teenager). But I think that even ‘everyday’ events are quite often staged for a mobile phone: when you take a short video of a friend for example, it must be a short, simple grab; the actor must turn and address the lens, the message must be simplified for its recipient. This means the life events we record are (at least in part) produced by the mobile device.

Mobile devices also have material limits that influence the events they capture: for example, a mobile screen is necessarily small (between 1 and 3″ for phones, up to 4″ for PDAs and Pocket PC), and video is comparatively hard to compress and expensive to receive, even on high-end 3G devices. So the material limits of the phone impact the recording. Mnemotechnics are never innocent; they shape the event they capture.