Jenkins, H, et al. (2012) Spreadable Media.

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Analyzing the shifting relationships between producers and audiences, Jenkins, Ford and Green explore what constitute meaningful participation in a networked media environment where communication capacity has been expanded. What has changed and what has stayed the same in culture? They argue that many cultures are becoming more participatory than previous configurations of media power. Audience members and citizens have now more media power.

According to them audiences can participate in different ways such as evaluation, appraisal, critique, recirculation of material, and of course, media creation. Acts of debate and collective interpretation, of listening to and watching media produced by others are as important as technical acts of media production. As Jenkins et al. explain

"even those who are "just" reading, listening , or watching do so differently in a world where they recognize their potential to contribute to broader conversations about that content than in a world where they are locked our of meaningful participation." (154-155)

The authors understand audience participation as something that is fluid. A person cannot be described as active or passive across all domains. Activity and passivity are not permanent, and are not totalizing. Different frameworks have been developed in order to understand how audiences change in a networked communication environment:

  • audiences vs publics
  • hearing vs listening
  • consumers vs co-creators
  • participation vs collaboration

People participate in social collectivities and connectivities. (163) Institutions and practices of networked culture are giving people more opportunities of participation. New media participants have access to expanded communication capacity

Audiences vs publics

The oposition between audiences and publics situates the former as produced through acts of measurement and surveillance, as a aggregates of individuals or spectators. In contrast, publics are more than the sum of their parts, they are collectivities, ensembles characterized by shared sociability and shared identity.(Livingstone)

In order to illustrate the differences between audiences and publics, Jenkins et al. distinguish between individual "fans" and "fandoms" communities. Members of fandoms "consciously identify as part of a larger community to which they feel some degree of commitment and loyality" (166).

Sociability, connectivity, connectivity, and amplification.

According to them, the shared sociability and shared identity of fandoms are traits of publics. Since fandoms act as communities instead of as individuals, they are a collectivity. Furthermore, since they can access networked media their communication power is amplified.

Sharing "sociality" and "identity" and using networked communication tools, subcultural communities, activist groups and affinity groups can direct attention through their actions online. As Jenkins et al, argue, they develop forms of social experience and exert collective power over their communication environment.

The rise of digital platforms has "amplified and widened the scope of the activities" of participatory and networked audiences such as the ones of soup operas who have organized fan clubs and do gossip. As the authors explain, the soup opera text functions as a resource for creating relationships among audience members and to trigger debates about different topics such as social issues.

Fandoms complicate the notions of fans as passive audiences. "A media text becomes material that drives active community discussion and debate at the intersection between popular culture and civic discourse -conversations that might lead to community activism or social change."(168)

Networked publics, as connected collectives, can share information very fast among its dispersed members. Words, images, videos, and other media content spreads inside the members of the networked public.

Jessica Clark (2009) talks about "public media 2.0" as media that mobilizes and facilitates active publics, giving them greater control on how to circulate and curate media.

As Jenkins et al. explain, participation " is not just limited to media creation. The acts of curation, conversation, and circulation that help spread" messages and media are understood as a political process.

Participation vs Collaboration

What happen when commercial spaces are using for political gathering?

Although publics organize around common themes and topics, they can gather in spaces that are commercial and owned by private entities. Since the time of coffeehouses in the 18th century, publics have been meeting in spaces that are owned by companies and than sell things. Spaces offered by Web 2.0 companies are examples of this.

The commercial logic of some of this sites, generates unequal labor relationships where fans can be exploited and at the same time they can find personal satisfaction. As Jenkins et al. explain, "Indeed fan labor may be exploited for the profit of the 'owners,' even as fans also benefit from what they create. Such is the nature of collaboration in the belly of the media beast." (175)

It is important to be skeptic about the kind of participation that new structures and practice allow us to have. According to Jenkins et al., "The rapid expansion of participatory culture is an ongoing challenge: communities grow faster than their capacity to socialize their norms and expectations, and this accelerated scale makes it hard to maintain the intimacy and coherence of earlier forms of participatory culture. Members are tempted on all sides to embrace practices which don't necessarily align with their own interests; and yes, participation often involves some degree of imbrication into commercial logics."(175) However, the networked character of publics/audiences also allows them to exercise agency against companies and brands that affect community interests.

Hearing vs Listening

Commercial rhetoric of Web 2.0 mixes the role of traditional audiences with the practices of collaboration and public deliberation. the key question is whether Web2.0 companies value participation because all the data that is generated by the users or because the kind of content that is consciously submitted. As Jenkins et al. argue, there are differences between aggregation and deliberation.

The commercial logic of WEb 2.0 is illustrated in the essay of Oreilly and Battelle (2009) "Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On":

Collective intelligence applications depend on managing, understanding, and responding to massive amounts of user-generated data in real time. The "subsystems" of the emerging internet operating system are increasingly data subsystems: location, identity (of people, products, and places), and the skeins of meaning that tie them together. This leads to new levers of competitive advantage: Data is the "Intel Inside" of the next generation of computer applications. Today, we realize that these insights were not only directionally right, but are being applied in areas we only imagined in 2004. The smartphone revolution has moved the Web from our desks to our pockets. Collective intelligence applications are no longer being driven solely by humans typing on keyboards but, increasingly, by sensors. Our phones and cameras are being turned into eyes and ears for applications; motion and location sensors tell where we are, what we’re looking at, and how fast we’re moving. Data is being collected, presented, and acted upon in real time. The scale of participation has increased by orders of magnitude.

As Jenkins et al. notice the intelligence that emerges from data driven systems as the one described above is "machine intelligence" not "social intelligence" of participants. By emphasizing the passive collection of user preference Web 2.0 tries to turn active users into a passive audience that generates automatic data, similarly to the quantitative measurements done during the broadcasting era. Instead of engaging the users as cultural and social beings capable of transforming companies and platforms, this emphasis relies turns users into data sets (Andrejevic, 2007). Andrejevic calls this a new culture of surveillance.

The spreadable media model sees users as more than data, audience members collective discussions and deliberations, are understood as generative, as well as the circulation of content. Instead of hearing and simply gathering data, Jenkins et al. argue for listening as an active response that do something about what audiences demand.

Everyday Patterns of Co-Creation

Networked culture supports forms of co-creation and "produsage" that are transforming relationships between companies and audiences. "Produsage" is category of participation elaborated by Axel Bruns (2008) that merges "production" and "usage" in the actions of "produsers" that participate in collaborative processes of creation and recreation.

Built on technical affordances that encourage iterative approaches to tasks, fluid roles and a lack of hierarchy, shared rather than owned material, and granular approaches to problem solving, network society encourages collaboration on projects by a 'hiby community (1819). This community creates through an "ongoing, perpetually unfinished, iterative, and evolutionary process of gradual development of the informational resources shared by the community"(20).