In today’s information society, if a song/film/book isn’t “spread” by the community, it results in inevitable commercial failure. “Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong” looks at how fan communities, copyright holders, and advertisers behave in the new Web 2.0 sharing environment, often pitted against one another. Henry Jenkins, who earned his PhD in Communications from UW-Madison, is currently a communications professor at University of Southern Carolina. He has authored five books which explore the effects of new technologies on marketing, media, and culture. His most recent work “Spreadable Media” explores the new Web 2.0 paradigm.
First, Jenkins examines the conflict between fans and copyright holders: The copyright holders believe that their audience are stealing content (thus reducing both their compensation & incentive to work) while fan communities argue that they are using media within fair use doctrine and are actually supporting the artists through word of mouth. To protect their content, producers and record labels have begun leveraging YouTube copyright claims against users. Since early 2008, YouTube has implemented automated technology (named “contentID”) to analyze copyrighted material ‘fingerprints’ commonly found in background music on videos uploaded to the site. This technology issues an automatic audio takedown to the user who uploaded the flagged material, which critics claim leaves a “chilling effect” on the site’s creative talent. On the complete other end of the spectrum, the streaming site Crunchyroll.com took an entirely different approach by allowing users to upload potentially copyrighted videos, choosing to collect ad revenues while offloading legal liabilities onto the site’s users.
So why do users take the time to upload these videos, expending effort and exposing themselves to the potential risk of lawsuit by copyright holders? To answer this question, Jenkins discusses the psychology behind the “moral economy”. Traditionally, we exchange our labor for monetary compensation, such as being employed at jobs or pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors. Rather than seeking cash in exchange for their labor, many Web 2.0 users invest their time in “gifting” their labor to the community. In this example, users value societal approval more than any sort of wages. They also feel that they owe this time back to the community, similar to motivations behind traditional gift-giving or an old-fashioned barn raising.
Web 1.0 was a platform where users simply interacted with a website, while Web 2.0 also includes users interacting with other users. So where did this all “Go Wrong”? Jenkins believes that the problem lies within the inherent conflict of motivations between producers and online communities. Producers (and media platforms) seek to monetize/constrict fan’s contributions, while audiences view these activities as beneficial appreciation for the media. Advertising companies take this one step further with “astroturfing’: creating phony grassroots movements to market a product, in a blatant attempt to mislead consumers for profit. Jenkins views these actions as toxic and exploitative of online communities.
I found this article’s take on the “moral economy” fascinating. I never fully understood the motivation behind why internet users spent so much time uploading illegally pirated media for others. Why spend all this time and effort only to possibly be sued by the RIAA? After reading the article, it makes perfect sense. These individuals are attempting to pay back the community for the same reasons that Amish farmers help their neighbors raise their barns: they feel the need to pay back the community who helped them raise their own.