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The Future Is User-Led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage

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In the emerging social software, ‘Web2.0’ environment, the production of ideas takes place in a collaborative, participatory mode which breaks down the boundaries between producers and consumers and instead enables all participants to be users as much as producers of information and knowledge, or what can be described as produsers. These produsers engage not in a traditional form of content production, but are instead involved in produsage – the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement. This paper examines the overall characteristics of produsers and produsage, and identifies key questions for the produsage model.
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The Future Is User-Led:
The Path towards Widespread Produsage
Dr Axel Bruns
Creative Industries Faculty
Queensland University of Technology
Z2-202, Creative Industries Precinct
Musk Ave, Kelvin Grove, Qld. 4059
+61 7 3138 5548
a.bruns@qut.edu.au
ABSTRACT
In the emerging social software, ‘Web2.0’ environment, the
production of ideas takes place in a collaborative, participatory
mode which breaks down the boundaries between producers and
consumers and instead enables all participants to be users as much
as producers of information and knowledge, or what can be
described as produsers. These produsers engage not in a
traditional form of content production, but are instead involved in
produsage – the collaborative and continuous building and
extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement.
This paper examines the overall characteristics of produsers and
produsage, and identifies key questions for the produsage model.
Keywords
Produsers, produsage, user-led content production, Web2.0,
collaboration, information, knowledge, social software.
1. INTRODUCTION: TOWARDS
PRODUSAGE
2005 and 2006 saw the popular recognition and commercial
embrace of a phenomenon which is set to deeply affect the
intellectual life of developed and developing nations for years to
come. Yahoo! bought Flickr. Google acquired YouTube. Rupert
Murdoch purchased MySpace, and declared the future of his
NewsCorp empire to lie in the user-led content creation spaces of
such social software Websites more than in its many newspapers,
broadcast channels, and other media interests [1]. Finally, TIME
broke with its long-standing tradition of nominating one
outstanding public figure as ‘person of the year’, and instead
selected ‘you’: all of us who are active in collaborative online
spaces [2].
However, the significance of the user-led phenomenon lies not in
such (ultimately hollow) honours, or even only in the central
spaces of YouTube and Flickr – instead, true to its underlying
principles (which will be further explored in this paper) it is found
dispersed across the World Wide Web; what is important about
the new phenomenon is not only the success of its most visible
exponents, but instead also the ‘long tail’ [3] of other user-led
spaces which have emerged at every juncture of cyberspace, and
are beginning to spread into offline worlds.
But it is not these spaces alone which have driven the rise of user-
led content creation approaches: just as crucial has been the
emergence of a new generation of users who have the skills,
abilities, and above all the interest and enthusiasm to use them.
PR industry watchdog Trendwatching.com has described this new
generation of users as ‘Generation C’ [4], following previous
constructs such as X and Y but adding its own unique attributes to
the mix. ‘C’, in this description, stands in the first instance for
‘content’ and ‘creativity’ – but as a result of the models of content
creation and content sharing employed by this new group of users
also contributes to the ‘casual collapse’ of established media and
other industry models (from Murdoch’s NewsCorp to the
proprietary software production models increasingly under threat
from open source projects, or to the bitter rear-guard action fought
by the Encyclopædia Britannica against its upstart rival Wikipedia
[5]). As old models decline, then, their absence presents
opportunities for Generation C to exercise their own ‘control’
over content, and gain ‘celebrity’, as well as – as Trendwatching
adds in a 2007 update to its original descriptions – generate ‘cash’
from its activities [6].
The social dimensions of the Generation C idea are mirrored on
the technological side by another recent buzzword – ‘Web2.0’ [7].
While accusations of boosterism may be levelled against both
terms, it is nonetheless true that like Generation C, Web2.0
describes the technological framework for a notable (if perhaps
more gradual than implied in the ‘2.0’ version numbering) shift
from static to dynamic content, from hierarchically managed to
collaboratively and continuously developed material, and from
user-as-consumer to user-as-contributor. Tim O’Reilly, originator
of the term, offers this definition for ‘Web2.0’:
Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer
industry caused by the move to the internet as platform,
and an attempt to understand the rules for success on
that new platform. Chief among those rules is this:
Build applications that harness network effects to get
better the more people use them. (This is what I've
elsewhere called "harnessing collective intelligence.")
[8]
Neither Web2.0 nor its chief users, Generation C, should be seen
as having emerged suddenly and without precedent. Instead, they
are in line with a long tradition of models which describe the
gradual rise of the informed and active consumer or user, a line
reaching back at least as far as Alvin Toffler’s work in the early
1970s on the ‘prosumer’ [9], who utilised the increased amount of
information and advice at their disposal to become an expert
consumer, and touching on Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller’s
description of the ‘pro-am’ phenomenon, which highlighted the
increased advice and feedback of consumers on the production of
goods and ideas [10], and John Hartley’s focus on the ‘citizen-
consumer’ [11] exercising their citizenship through the process of
active and informed (media) consumption. Most recently, the
work of Yochai Benkler on ‘commons-based peer production’
must be noted, which outlines in detail the environment in which
today’s Generation C participate in content creation [12].
However, it is arguable that none of these models fully and
sufficiently describe the collaborative content creation undertaken
by Generation C members in Web2.0 environments. The core
problem in this context is the persistence of a description of this
work as content production in a traditional, industrial-age sense;
the suggestion that this term may no longer be applicable is best
demonstrated using the example of open source software
development or of Generation C’s foremost achievement to date,
Wikipedia.
2. WIKIPEDIA IS NOT A PRODUCT
Indeed, it is useful to contrast the process of content production in
traditional encyclopaedias with the collaborative processes in
Wikipedia. While tracing their origins to pre-industrial times, the
former are firmly built on industrial-age approaches to the
production and distribution of goods, regardless of whether such
goods are physical or informational (that is, tangible or
intangible) in nature – a one-way value chain from production
through distribution to consumption which at best allows for
explicit (through direct responses) or implicit (as gathered through
market research) feedback from consumer to producer (fig. 1).
In this model, control over content rests squarely with the
producers: they decide upon the nature of the content itself,
including any changes or updates from previous versions of the
encyclopaedia, and upon its packaging as a complete product –
that is, the definition of discrete (annual, full, condensed) versions
of the product, the timing of version releases, and the nature of
their distribution to the buying public. (Distributors play a
subordinate role in this process – while able to choose whether or
not to carry the product, and how to promote its sales, they have
no direct influence on content and packaging itself.)
Much of this approach was established in direct response to the
need to distribute information efficiently in material form (in
print, or later also on physical carriers of digital information): in
particular, material distribution introduces a need for careful
versioning in order to avoid the unsustainably frequent
distribution of updates and additions to an existing product, or
(worse) costly product recalls to correct content errors. A key
downside of versioning, however, is the loss of immediacy: even
though the emergence of new information may demand
immediate changes to published content, such changes will have
to wait until the completion of the current product cycle (e.g.
through the exhaustion of existing stock), at which time a new
version of the encyclopaedia is released to the public.
The introduction of network-based product distribution channels
partially addresses such problems: with their help, content updates
can now be distributed to registered customers immediately. At
the same time, however, such inter-version updates (that is,
revisions) also undermine the version system the more often they
are offered: constant service updates both undermine consumer
confidence in the quality of the originally purchased product, and
introduce confusion over how exactly one revision is
distinguished from another. (Obviously, this applies just as much
in the field of software development, where the need for frequent
updates to products such as Windows has contributed to many
customers’ love/hate relationship with Microsoft.)
Further, increased networking also enables consumers to
coordinate more effectively. Where traditional distribution
networks were largely inaccessible to consumers other than as
‘end customers’, networks which are used for product distribution
and for open communication (such as the Internet) allow
consumers more visibly to highlight product shortcomings, lobby
for content changes or additions, or dispute the veracity of
specific content details, as well as speculate on the nature and
timing of future product versions and revisions. In the first
instance, this gradually strengthens the feedback loop from
consumers back to producers, and in the process undermines
producers’ control of the overall production value chain. But as
users take an ever more direct role in the development process,
we will see that it also has the potential of fundamentally shifting
the core business of producers away from the sale of copyrighted
products, and towards offering value-added services around these
products.
It is perhaps already obvious that the content creation model of
Wikipedia differs in a number of significant areas from the
traditional, industrial-age model of production and distribution
adhered to by traditional encyclopaedias. To begin with, the role
of the distributor has disappeared altogether – the Web and its
underlying carrier medium, the Internet, perform this function
now. But more importantly, the producer as a distinct category
and agent in the value chain has also been transformed – users
themselves are now also potentially producers of content in this
encyclopaedia (which is why we will soon describe this as a
hybrid produser role), and the value chain as experienced by each
user has been condensed to a single point (fig. 2), which connects
with the experiences of the other participants in the Wikipedia to
form a network of collaborative content creation.
The networked nature of users (and thus, potential producers) of
the Wikipedia also means that responses to content are further
amplified – and far from struggling to cope with such responses,
or actively discouraging them (as may have been the case under a
traditional industrial model of content production), Wikipedia has
of course introduced the (wiki-, and thus Web2.0-based) means
for users to themselves enact their responses and change, extend,
and correct existing content where this is perceived to be
Figure 1. Industrial Production Value Chain
Figure 2. The Produser as Hybrid Producer/Consumer
producer Î distributor Î consumer
(as producer)
produser
(as consumer)
content content
necessary, as well as to engage with fellow users to discuss and
coordinate these efforts.
This, then, fatally undermines what is perhaps one of the most
lasting assumptions of the industrial age – that products exist in
discreet versions and revisions, able to be controlled by their
producers. Constantly updated and revised, to apply the language
of versions and revisions to the Wikipedia makes virtually no
sense – what is immediately visible to visitors of any one entry in
this encyclopaedia is simply the latest edit of that page (with
previous edits also available for comparison), and this edit is
replaced immediately with the next once any further changes have
been made.
In other words, then, a description of Wikipedia (or even of any of
its pages) as a ‘product’ in the traditional sense is no longer
appropriate, if by product we understand a distinct, defined, fixed
entity which is packaged and distributed to its users as we have
discussed it above. Instead, Wikipedia pages and the
encyclopaedia in its entirety are at any one moment simply
artefacts of their continuing and continuous content development
processes, temporary outcomes which are likely to be revised
again soon. It is no more appropriate to describe these artefacts as
products than it is to describe a single television image as a
complete programme. At the same time, however, in spite of its
continuing provision of content over time, Wikipedia content is
also not a service similar to broadcast content, since the
temporary artefacts of the continuing Wikipedia content
development processes can be used in much the same way as the
products of traditional encyclopaedia production. Thus, Wikipedia
content constitutes a continuing process just as much as, when
isolated from the process and thus frozen in time, a product-like
artefact. Wikipedia content development itself is therefore neither
production nor service provision, then, but a hybrid process which
– as it is carried out by users who are also producers – can be
described as produsage.
3. PRODUSAGE
Very similar observations to those made in the context of
Wikipedia apply also to informational content creation and
development processes in a number of other key areas, ranging
from open source software development through to multi-user
online games. Indeed, it is possible to outline four fundamental
characteristics of informational produsage as distinct from
industrial production.
1
3.1 Community-Based
Produsage is based on the collaborative engagement of (ideally,
large) communities of participants in a shared project. This
represents an important shift from industrial production which
mainly relies on the existence of dedicated individuals and teams
as content developers. Whether in open source software
development, citizen journalism, or creative projects, produsage
assumes that the community as a whole, if sufficiently large and
varied, will be able to contribute more than a closed team of
producers, however qualified. This combines the logic of both
Eric Raymond’s appeal to the power of eyeballs in open source
software development and debugging [14], and Chris Anderson’s
1
These characteristics represent a further extension and
clarification of the key characteristics first outlined in [13].
‘long tail’ of diverse knowledge, abilities, and interests outside of
a narrow recognised mainstream of knowledge workers [3]. The
success of this approach can be seen, for example, both in the
strong performance of open source software over past years, and
in the turnaround from the failure of Wikipedia predecessor
Nupedia to the success of Wikipedia itself once its operators
abandoned their expert-based small-group quality assurance
approach [15].
Basing produsage on community does not preclude the
participation of corporate or other institutional interests, however
– as is obvious from the existence of commercial operators in the
open source market (and indeed from the existence of an open
source market in the first place). However, to ensure the
sustainability of produsage environments requires non-community
participants to accept and respect the rules imposed by the
community – protracted and significant infringement of these
rules is likely to undermine both the organisation’s standing with
the community, and even the long-term survival of the
community itself.
3.2 Fluid Roles
The reliance of produsage on (often unpaid) community
involvement also creates the necessity to allow for a relatively
fluid movement of individual produsers between different roles
within the community and the produsage project. Such movement
is also predicated by the nature of the produser as a hybrid
user/producer in themselves, of course. Ideally, produsers in a
community of produsage participate as is appropriate to their
personal skills, interests, and knowledges; such participation
further changes as current points of focus for the produsage
project change. Active content contributors on one aspect of a
project may participate in quality assurance processes on another,
or may at times act ‘only’ as users (yet returning to active duty as
produsers if in the course of their usage they identify the need or
potential for further improvement or extension). Indeed, the very
act of usage itself may also make an active contribution to the
ongoing produsage project, for example where access statistics
are gathered and evaluated in order to draw automatic connections
between related content items. (In this sense, users of Amazon or
Google act as co-produsers of these services even without having
chosen to do so, as their usage generates information which helps
to further refine the performance of these sites.)
Importantly, then, the community structures upon which
produsage is based are usually heterarchical rather than
hierarchical – while leaders may exist for aspects of the overall
project, or even for the project itself, due to the project’s
dependence on the community their power is strictly limited, and
their roles may themselves shift as project work continues.
Produsage is based in the first instance on collaboration and
consensus, and rules are generally enforced by the community
rather than by individual leaders. Communities are also highly
permeable for newcomers with appropriate skills and interests (as
long as they are prepared to accept the community’s overall rules
and values).
Again, any offence against these principles of openness and
consensus is likely to undermine the standing of the offender in
the community, and even the sustainability of the produsage
community itself. Community leaders who attempt a too
autocratic approach to leadership, or community members who
actively work against the established values of the community,
are usually ousted very quickly, or (in a number of cases) have
led to communities abandoning existing projects to start afresh.
3.3 Unfinished Artefacts
As noted above, the artefacts of produsage are no longer products
in a traditional, industrial-age sense. Instead, they are thoroughly
well suited to an informational age in which distribution is instant
and operates on an on-demand, content-pull basis – a model
which in the current technological context finds its basis in the
database-driven online environments of Web2.0.
Open to the input of users as produsers of content, content
artefacts in produsage projects are continually under
development, and therefore always unfinished; their development
does not follow the discrete versioning and revisioning processes
of traditional content production, but instead proceeds along
evolutionary, iterative paths (often also involving trial and error
processes where new iterations are made available – as alpha or
beta versions – for community testing and feedback, and are
further revised or even revert back to previous iterations if such
testing produces unfavourable results). Content produsage,
therefore, is palimpsestic – content artefacts (with their ancillary
change histories and community discussions on how further to
develop them) resemble the repeatedly overwritten, erased,
restored and further overwritten pages of ancient texts which hold
both the latest (and most complete) version of the artefact, and the
history of examination, discussion, and alteration of the artefact
which has led to the present point.
Such artefacts, then, require not so much a different approach by
their user – after all, the products of traditional production
processes should also be seen as unfinished, temporary
approximations of the ultimate goal of content development
(whatever it may be), even though industrial producers do their
best to avoid this perception of imperfection at least until the next
version of their products becomes available. Instead, they simply
make visible and accountable the content development processes
which have led to the present artefact, enabling the user to review
the choices made by the produser community in the process, and
inviting them to participate in the continued further development
of the artefact. This is an extension of open source philosophy to
areas other than software development.
3.4 Common Property, Individual Merit
The community-based development of any form of content
necessarily requires members of the produsage community to
adopt more permissive approaches to legal and moral rights in
intellectual property than is the norm in traditional, corporate
content production. While content producers by legal default hold
copyright in their work, this is not feasible for content produsers,
who after all are participating in a collaborative, ongoing, and
iterative process of content development which explicitly requires
its participants to work on the content already contributed by their
predecessors.
In other words, a palimpsest cannot be created on the basis of
existing, standard copyright law, unless extensive permissions for
re-use and redevelopment are granted by each participant. In most
produsage environments, such permissions are instead handled on
a generic basis through the adoption of open source- or creative
commons-based licence schemes which explicitly allow the
unlimited use, development, and further alteration of each user’s
individual contribution to the communal project. Often,
contributors in such environments give away the rights to non-
commercial use of their intellectual property, yet retain the rights
to direct commercial exploitation, and the right to be attributed as
the originator of a specific contribution.
As we will see, such schemes are not in place in all environments
which could otherwise be said to operate under the principles of
produsage, however. In some environments, intellectual property
rights remain largely ignored, raising a risk of potential legal
action in the future; in others, the operators of the produsage
environment have instituted blanket licence agreements which
explicitly or implicitly require participants to sign away their
rights well beyond what is required for produsage itself, thus
opening a pathway to the commercial exploitation of intellectual
property without remunerating or otherwise acknowledging the
produsers who contributed to it. Neither model is likely to be
sustainable in the long term, and Second Life operator Linden
Lab’s decision to break with standard industry practice in
allowing its community to retain copyright over its contributions
is a first sign that such issues are beginning to be recognised.
Where intellectual property rights have been sufficiently
addressed, on the other hand, the community model generally
operates on the basis of merit rather than remuneration: users’
motivation to participate as produsers is found in the community
recognition of individual participants (sometimes explicitly
calculated in user statistics or ‘karma’ scores) more than in the
generation of income through participation in produsage.
However, especially in those produsage projects which are by
now well-established, recognised contributors have now also
managed to generate income from merit by offering their skills
and knowledge, as developed through long-time participation and
documented by their merit scores, to commercial clients. Where
such commercial activity does not otherwise infringe against
community rules and values, it should be seen as benign – and
indeed, such indirect income from produsage participation can
now also be seen to subsidise the produsage communities
themselves.
4. A PRODUSAGE VALUE CHAIN?
In spite of the community-based, open source-inspired principles
of produsage, the ability to develop commercial activity around
produsage projects is nonetheless likely to be an important factor
in ensuring the long-term viability of such projects. Indeed, the
emergence of an open source software industry even in spite of
the fact that open source is of course freely available to users and
developers clearly shows that produsage and commercial activity
are by no means mutually exclusive; at the same time, however,
the nature of possible commercial activity will necessarily also
depend on the object of the specific produsage project. It is useful,
therefore, to examine the produsage ‘value chain’ once again in
some more detail. In the first instance, it is important to
distinguish between the value chain as it may be experienced by
the individual produser, and a value chain which recognises the
produsage environment as a whole. As noted above, for the
individual participant, the traditional value chain of producer-
distributor-consumer has condensed to a singular point, the
produser, interacting with and potentially enhancing existing
content (fig. 2). A multitude of these individual produsers,
however, combine to drive the overall produsage process,
interacting with one another in fluid roles as described in the
previous section; for this overall process, a different value chain
with a variety of potential inputs into and outputs from the
produsage environment can be described (fig. 3). This value
‘chain’ does not necessarily substitute directly for the traditional
production value chain; indeed, in some cases its internal
processes may well be sufficient to sustain the produsage
community without a need for the existence of prior or
subsequent links in the chain at all.
In the first place, then, produsage takes place simply and
obviously within the produsage environment itself, according to
the principles outlined in the preceding section. This describes the
inner workings of the Wikipedia as much as it does the open
source software development communities from Linux to Firefox,
the community discussions, deliberations, and publications of
Slashdot, Kuro5hin, and many sections of the blogosphere [16], or
even the collaborative storytelling and virtual reality development
of many multi-user online gamespaces.
At the same time, however, such produsage environments are also
embedded in a wider context of intellectual and commercial
(including non-profit) activity: some projects build upon existing
intellectual property (such as original content, or the
technological framework for their produsage spaces), and from
this basis generate intellectual property of their own, adding value
to these original inputs. Other projects generate content from
scratch, which can itself be directly or indirectly commercialised,
and may even give rise to further value-add produsage projects
(and between these two points lies a continuum of mixed
approaches).
4.1 Value-Adding Produsage Projects
Even the Wikipedia is based in part on legacy encyclopaedia
content from the late 19th and early 20th century which had
already fallen into the public domain; to the extent that its
participants have extended and updated such content even
Wikipedia could be said to perform a value-adding function.
However, better examples of produsage as value-addition can be
found in a number of other cases. So, for example, some 90% of
content in The Sims has been produced by its users, rather than by
game publisher Maxis [17] – this can be seen as a clear instance
of produsers adding a significant amount of value to the
underlying Sims game platform, which without such produser
activity indeed would likely have been far less successful.
A further example is provided by NowPublic, which enables its
users to highlight news articles from anywhere on the Web which
are then listed, with user commentary, keyword tags, and other
additions, on its own pages [18]. One of the most distinctive
features of the site could be described as ‘citizen photojournalism’
functionality: here, users extend highlighted articles by adding
explanative photo, audio, and video galleries related to the topic
of the articles. Indeed, the content for such galleries is in good
part also drawn from produsage environments including Flickr
and YouTube, and so NowPublic’s activity could be seen as
adding value to each of the content sources it combines and
interweaves on its own pages.
What remains questionable in this context, however, is the extent
to which such value addition is desired by the original content
sources, or is indeed legal. While clearly invited by The Sims
producer Maxis, in the case of NowPublic the situation is less
obvious, and the site may well operate in a legal grey area at least
according to some applicable legislative frameworks – its addition
of value to content from produsage environments like Flickr may
be acceptable under the content licences applied to their content
Figure 3. The Produsage Value ‘Chain’
content
development space
set up by
community or
company to
harbour produsage
(e.g. Wikimedia
Foundation; Google)
commercial / non-profit
harvesting of user-
generated content
(e.g. The Sims)
commercial / non-profit
services to support
content development
(e.g. Red Hat,
SourceForge)
commercial activities by users
themselves, harnessing the hive
(e.g. support services,
consultancies, content sales)
initial IP
contributions from
public domain or
commercial sources
collaborative, iterative, evolutionary, palimpsestic
user-led content development
valuable, often
commercial-grade
content is created
Produsage Environment
(containing produsers)
by Flickr participants, but the same may well not be true where
the site deals with articles from the mainstream (online) media.
4.2 Value Creation and Commercialisation
Where produsage projects rely solely on the content created by
their own participants, without prior input from commercial or
other sources, such considerations clearly do not arise. However,
here the question of how the outputs of produsage projects are
further utilised, and potentially even commercialised, gains
greater importance.
As examples from Wikipedia to open source software to the
collaborative, folksonomic Web filter del.icio.us show, produsage
projects can generate significant and valuable intellectual
property in their own right. Such material remains subject to the
content licences employed during its development, of course, but
this does not necessarily preclude it from being commercially
exploited.
While some such exploitation is benign, and may even lead to
greater exposure for the produsage project, and hence to
subsequent growth of the community in numbers and abilities, the
extent to which such exploitation is compatible with the
underlying characteristics and principles of produsage as outlined
in previous sections will ultimately determine its impact on the
produsage community and project. Produsers must continue to
feel in control of their participation, and in control as participants
in the wider community; any perception of undue influence of
commercial interests on the produsage project is likely to
undermine it.
5. EXPLOITING PRODUSAGE
In an extension and partial reconfiguration of JC Herz’s work on
The Sims [17], it is possible to identify a number of key models
for the commercial (including non-profit) engagement with
produsage environments. Each model necessarily exists in a
number of variations to account for the specific characteristics of
individual produsage communities, but important lessons can
nonetheless be learnt from each approach. Any further
development and proliferation of produsage approaches across all
fields of information and knowledge production will necessarily
require commercial organisations to choose amongst these models
of engagement – and the future development of produsage
ultimately depends to significant extent on choices which are in
keeping with the underlying principles of produsage as we have
encountered them here.
5.1 Harnessing the Hive
While Herz describes The Sims as a case of ‘harnessing the hive’
[17], more appropriate examples for this form of utilising of
produsage may be found elsewhere. Overall, it describes the non-
commercial or commercial use of produsage artefacts by
organisations inside and outside the produsage community, while
respecting applicable content licences and cooperating with the
community.
Because of the care for community concerns implied in this
description, such harnessing of the produsage ‘hive mind’ is
usually benign in nature; it includes, for example, the increasing
utilisation of Linux and other open source software in mission-
critical environments. Organisations engaged in such projects
often also interface with the produsage community directly, even
becoming (or allowing individual employees to become) part of
the community themselves.
The reciprocal nature of such arrangements therefore tends to
benefit both community and company. In some cases, indeed,
organisations may even find that due to the strong performance of
produsage communities as content producers, their own core
business slides further towards the provision of services rather
than of products; this has been observed for example by software
companies operating increasingly with open source software
(here, installation, maintenance, and customisation services often
become more lucrative options than the development of
proprietary software in competition with open source packages).
A related example can be found in the comparison of the
Wikimedia Foundation, publisher of Wikipedia, with
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. – any opening out of the
Britannica editorial process to the participation of users as
produsers would likely also lead to a gradual shift of that
company’s core business away from the distribution of contents in
various physical and digital formats, and towards the provision of
an online space for produsage, much as is already the case with
the Wikimedia Foundation.
5.2 Harvesting the Hive
Closely related to the idea of harnessing the hive is the process of
harvesting it: here, the content developed by produsers is
collected by a commercial organisation in order to distribute it
further to non-participants in the produsage environment. Such
approaches are found for example where companies such as Red
Hat bundle a number of open source projects for distribution on
CD- or DVD-ROM, or where content from the Wikipedia or other
collaborative knowledge management sites is gathered for topical
information packages in online or offline versions. In this
approach, produsage is used to replace the production stage of
traditional industrial value chains.
Pace Herz, The Sims can also be included in this category, to the
extent that Maxis selects the best of user-contributed content for
games extension packs or related products. Similarly, the
activities of NowPublic which we have described above can
clearly be seen as a form of harvesting the hive (even though this
harvesting process is itself again reliant on produser labour). The
process of harvesting almost always constitutes an activity which
adds value to the artefacts of produsage, often through the very
process of harvesting and ordering them for further distribution
outside the original produsage environment.
However, a consideration of applicable content licences and any
other conditions for content re-use established by the originating
produsage community becomes crucial here, as well as – beyond
such explicit conditions – of their moral rights and of the ethics of
content re-use. So, for example, many common content licences
in produsage environments preclude commercial utilisation
without express permission from the copyright holders; while an
argument can be made that, if sold at low cost, ‘best of’
compilations of prodused content raise revenue not from the
content itself, but only from the service of packaging content in a
convenient format, questions over the acceptability of such
justifications remain especially if the resulting product is
distributed in large numbers.
Any sense that their moral and legal rights are systematically
infringed, however, is likely to lead participants in produsage
projects to be less enthusiastic about their participation, and may
well undermine the projects overall – harvesters should therefore
take great care to work with the community as much as they are
working with the community’s content.
5.3 Harbouring the Hive
While entirely decentralised or itinerant produsage communities
do exist (the blogosphere itself can be seen as engaged in
produsage, for example; open source software projects may utilise
multiple community sites to organise their work), many if not
most produsage projects depend on the existence of a central
space for community coordination and engagement, and for the
development and display of its artefacts. Depending in part on
what form of content is the object of the produsage process, and
in part on the technology used for the produsage environment,
such spaces frequently cannot be interchanged without causing
massive disruption to produsage community and project itself;
this bestows a significant deal of responsibility and power on the
operators of the environment, or in other words, on the entities
harbouring the hive.
So, although the wiki system and even the current content of the
Wikipedia are readily available to any Web user, for example,
enabling them to set up a mirror Wikipedia site virtually within
minutes, to do so would do nothing to duplicate the community of
Wikipedia produsers as well – and without that community, any
mirror site would remain only a rapidly outdated snapshot of the
encyclopaedia at a random moment in time. By contrast, while it
is conceivable – perhaps even likely – that competitors to Flickr
and YouTube will offer extended features and additional tools, the
amount of content stored on such sites by many users will serve
as a strong deterrent against moving to a rival site: to move
hundreds of images and gigabytes of videos between such sites
would consume a significant amount of time and effort. Other
produsage projects have a lighter content footprint, and more
mobile communities, but even here, the disruption caused by a
change in location may be considerable.
5.4 Hijacking the Hive
Harbouring the hive is therefore a critical activity, and produsers
(and produser communities) would be well-advised to check
closely the credentials and track record of any potential
harbouring service. Where such harbouring services abuse the
trust placed in them, we may describe them as hijacking the hive:
exploiting the lock-in of content and/or community to extract a
continuing rent of one form or another.
Such tendencies were seen by some for example in recent
controversies surrounding the YouTube end-user licence
agreement (EULA), which appeared to grant YouTube the rights
to commercially exploit the content uploaded by its users, without
a need for remuneration [19]; they exist in an even more
pronounced fashion in the realm of multi-user online gaming.
While many or most recent games have moved away from the
provision of strong quest-based narratives and instead allow user
communities to produse their own narrative content, users
generally do not gain any benefits from this shift – instead, while
their labour has thus become even more central to the success of
the game, they continue to have to pay a monthly subscription fee
for the privilege to contribute such unpaid labour. Further, the
EULAs of some games also prevent users to on-sell the ‘tangible’
(in the realm of the game) outcomes of their labour through third-
party services like eBay [20].
The logic of this approach is obvious, then: produsers are drawn
into the produsage hive by the quality of content and community,
and develop strong relationships with both, investing significant
amounts of labour in their maintenance; this investment is
hijacked by the provider of the hive space by locking it into that
specific space, enabling the provider to extract continuing access
fees from the produser community. Though perhaps legally
acceptable, the morality of this model must be questioned in
strong terms.
6. PATHWAYS TO PRODUSAGE
In the face of such potential disruption from deliberate
exploitation or misunderstood attention, then, it becomes
particularly important to examine some of the key issues for
produsage, and to outline what are the most important
conventions to be observed by produsers, produsage communities,
and those who engage with them (possibly for commercial or
other gain) from the outside.
To begin with, it is particularly important for organisations
working with produsage communities to understand and respect
the characteristics, principles, and conventions which apply to
produsage processes, as they have been outlined here. While some
of the fundamental aspects of produsage make short-term
exploitation of produsage processes possible and perhaps even
attractive and lucrative, it is important to understand that to
engage in such actions must eventually have negative
consequences in the long term – both for produsage communities
and content, which are discouraged and undermined by such
interference, and for the offending parties themselves, whose
actions are likely to become well known throughout produsage
communities (quick damage control by the likes of Microsoft,
Sony, and YouTube in response to various controversies with their
produsage communities is instructive here).
But produsage communities themselves must also strive to better
understand the processes by which they operate, and by which
they generate content. While open source has begun to theorise its
software development processes, Wikipedia has developed
detailed guidelines on content creation and editing, and a number
of others have instituted strong intellectual property management
mechanisms, such normative projects have yet to be generalised
across the wider realm of produsage environments; especially in
more recent produsage projects, the very act of participation in
collaborative content creation remains critically under-theorised.
This, then, is also a crucial task for individual produsers
themselves, who must develop a better understanding of what,
how, and why they contribute as individuals to produsage
projects, as well as of how and why such projects operate on a
larger scale. The growth of Web2.0 as a general model will
certainly help generate a broader technical understanding of how
Web-based produsage environments work, and those produsers
who are already members of Generation C are likely to have a
working understanding of the motivations for Web2.0 and
produsage environments in opposition or as an alternative to
Web1.0 and traditional industrial content production. However, if
communal produsage is indeed seen as a worthy alternative to
industrial production, the aim must be to encourage more
participants to become deliberate – not just accidental – members
of Generation C. (The very question of whether produsage should
be encouraged, and whether participation in produsage
environments creates tangible beneficial outcomes both for the
community at large and for individual participants, also remains
open for debate, of course: however, convincing arguments from
both social – Lessig [21], Jenkins [22] – and economic
perspectives – Benkler [12], von Hippel [23] – which indicate the
benefits of engagement in produsage are now readily available.)
6.1 Educating Produsers
Much as they have played a crucial role in preparing citizens for
their participation in the post-industrial economy by developing
their technology and information literacy skills, then, educational
institutions must now also take up the challenge of developing
produsage skills. This requires a focus on what can be described
as the C4C [24]: the capacities of graduates to be
creative – gaining the ability to act as collaborative co-
creators in flexible roles, participating as one amongst a
number of creative produsers rather than as a self-
sufficient creative producer;
collaborative – being able to collaborate effectively and
understand the implications and consequences of
collaboration;
critical – maintaining a critical stance both towards
potential collaborators and their work as well as towards
one’s own creative and collaborative abilities and
existing work portfolio;
communicative – engaging in effective and successful
communication between produsage participants, and of
ideas generated in the exercise of one’s capacities as a
produser.
To develop such capacities in their graduates, educators and
educational institutions must necessarily themselves embrace
produsage, for example by simulating real-life produsage
environments or by participating in existing produsage projects.
(In this context it is worth noting that produsage-style educational
projects need not run into the same problems with rewarding
contributions and avoiding freeloading as have past forms of
student group work: some of the key tools of produsage in online
environments, such as the wiki, also provide detailed information
on the contributions made by each student, enabling a very direct
assessment of individual work even within a collaborative
context; see [25] for a practical example. This, of course, is
simply a reflection of the ‘common property, individual merit’
principle outlined above: that principle necessarily requires
produsage environments to provide the means of assessing the
merit of individual contributions and contributors, and wiki
spaces, for example, do so by providing page edit histories which
make visible the individual contribution of each produser.)
Beyond this, and as a further extension of this approach, it may
also be necessary to investigate the potential for a reconfiguration
of education itself along more strongly produsage-based lines – in
essence, transforming the overall system from teacher-led and
teacher-generated to user-led and user-generated education (see
[26] for a more extended discussion of this question).
On a smaller scale, produser education must also address a
number of other, more specific aspects of produsage processes.
Chief amongst these is the need to provide graduates with a strong
and nuanced understanding of intellectual property regimes:
graduates must be able to both track and where necessary defend
their own intellectual property, and respect the intellectual
property of others, as these become part of larger produsage
projects. They must also be able to identify and understand the
overall intellectual property schemes (if any) which are applied to
the content collaboratively developed by produsage communities,
and be able to make an informed choice on what content licencing
schemes to choose for their own work.
6.2 Intellectual Property
The question of intellectual property also raises more fundamental
problems, however. Modelled on physical property, intellectual
property legislation has long struggled to encompass digital
content which does not obey the laws of traditional physics (its
use is non-exclusive, and it is not depleted through consumption,
for example); many copyright amendments, and indeed the
alternative licencing schemes of open source and creative
commons (amongst others) have been developed to address such
problems.
However, for the most part, copyright law also continues to
assume the existence of a single originator of the work; where
copyright content is the result of a collaborative effort, common
solutions are the assignation of all contributors’ rights to a single
representative entity (such as corporate holdings or royalty
collection agencies), or the institution of licence contract schemes
which grow in complexity proportional to the number of
contributors. Copyright in a Western legal framework has no
means to deal with truly communal content ownership (in
Australia, this has been demonstrated repeatedly also by cases
dealing with the communal ownership of ancestral designs by
indigenous groups, for example).
Key to this problem is an equation of intellectual property with
intellectual products in copyright law. The idea of content as a
product no longer applies in the context of produsage, however,
as we have seen here – it may therefore be necessary to develop a
fundamentally different form of intellectual property legislation
able to cope with collaboratively prodused, always unfinished,
evolving and palimpsestic content. Such legislation would need to
be able to account for and balance the rights of individual
contributors and those of the overall community, assigning for
example the right to attribution to individuals while empowering
the community in toto to prevent or legally respond to the
unauthorised exploitation of its work.
6.3 Produsing Democracy
The balancing of individual and community rights in such a
revised model of intellectual property legislation has overtones of
the balancing of individual and societal interests in democratic
systems of governance, too. Indeed, this points to the potential
which produsage may have to revitalise democratic processes
overall.
The decline of popular participation in Western democracies has
been long lamented. As we have seen here, on the other hand,
public participation in other collaborative projects is growing, and
it is possible that this newfound enthusiasm for making an active
contribution to the common good can also translate to a
reinvigoration of political processes. However, this is likely to
lead to substantial changes to those processes as well.
A first glimpse of such changes may have been seen in the
campaign of Democrat candidate Howard Dean in the 2004 U.S.
primaries: Dean managed to generate a significant public
following through his blog campaign, with supporters produsing
the campaign as much as media advisors producing it. (Dean’s
subsequent demise also demonstrates the strong hold which
industrial production-style political models still exercise over U.S.
politics, however.) Other social movements, from the world-wide
opposition to the war in Iraq to the ‘Make Poverty History’
campaign, are now similarly harnessing and harvesting the
produsage hive, and some suggest that we are on the brink of the
emergence of a new ‘collective intelligence’ enabling the
introduction of more direct-democratic models [27]. As Pierre
Lévy describes it, this could constitute a shift
from democracy (from the Greek démos, people, and
cratein, to command) to a state of demodynamics
(Greek dunamis, force, strength). Demodynamics is
based on molecular politics. It comes into being from
the cycle of listening, expression, evaluation,
organization, lateral connection, and emerging vision.
… Demodynamics [implies] a strong people, one
perpetually engaged in the process of self-knowing and
self-creation, a people in labor, a people yet to come.
[27] p88
This is thus a people, as we might say, continually re-produsing
themselves and their democratic environment. Even in the
absence of truly fundamental changes in the immediate future,
however, it is very much possible to suggest that like other areas
dealing with content and ideas, politics too is shifting from an
industrial production to an informational produsage model. In the
age of mass media power, the political system was organised
along industrial production lines: politicians, media advisors, and
journalists produced the content of politics, which was distributed
to the masses by way of the media. In spite of standard rhetoric,
audiences as consumers of political content had little role other
than to consume – much as in other forms of industrial
production, the feedback loop back to the producers of politics
was relatively poorly formed.
This has changed with the rise of networked, peer-to-peer media,
however, which have enabled the consumers of politics to respond
to the producers at an unprecedented degree. As this trend
continues and the balance between mass and networked media
shifts further in favour of citizens, it is increasingly likely that the
traditional model of politics is no longer sustainable. Instead,
citizens now have a chance to claim a greater share of
participation – they have a renewed chance to become active
participants in the produsage of democracy.
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