Washington Post on the value of fan-generated content

There’s a piece up in the Post about Fox’s digital division, which is home most notably to MySpace. The article discusses the meager revenues earned by this division relative to the others, but remarks that:

One upside for a corporate parent, Levinsohn said, is that much of this generation’s Web content is user-generated (see: YouTube.com), meaning payments to its creators are not required. For instance, in May, News Corp. bought online karaoke site kSolo.com, which lets users record their own versions of hit songs. The company will apply kSolo’s technology to Fox Interactive sites, allowing users to create free content for News Corp. that the company can use to sell advertising.

On the one hand, I am all for the celebration of fan creativity, and I certainly believe it’s in everyone’s best interest for even megacorporations to cooperate and nurture that creativity. On the other, I don’t like that fans are providing free labor so that Rupert Murdoch and the people who bring us FoxNews can make more money. It’s not like those people are just scraping by.

Where is the line between enabling fans’ talents and exploiting them?

Shout to Henry Jenkins’s readers

Hello to those of you following Henry’s link over here. Obviously, I was quite flattered to find such a lovely plug for this site on his blog and appreciate your clicking that link.

When I was writing my dissertation on the fan community rec.arts.tv.soaps circa 1992 someone (Steve Jones maybe?) told me to get ahold of Henry, who promptly sent me the page proofs for Textual Poachers, which instantly became one of my all time favorite reads. Anyone who would compare texts to my favorite children’s story, the Velveteen Rabbit, is a genius in my book. If you follow that link you can read it and even see the original illustrations! Make sure you have hankies handy. In case it doesn’t go without saying (how could it not?), if you don’t already read Henry’s blog and books and are interested in fandom, you’re missing out on the main course.

As he notes, I’m writing a lot about music fandom, which forms the bulk of my own active engagement with online fandom these days, but I’m keeping an eye on what’s getting buzz or should be getting buzz around other media as well. My hope is that this site will eventually hold particular appeal for fans and/or professionals who are working with online fans of anything.

Please don’t be shy about jumping in, making recommendations for things I should write about, or just saying hi.

A pair of nice reads on Snakes on a Plane and online fandom

Here is a somewhat-less-hypefilled-than-the-norm look at some of the questions raised by The Snakes on A Plane/Snakes on A Blog phenomenon:

Regardless of how the movie turns out, a line is being crossed here, and it raises questions that don’t have quick answers. Should audiences have a hand in how a movie is made, even an out-and-out crowd-pleaser? At what point does a director become part of the marketing team? Is this a bad thing or does it just rubber-stamp a practice increasingly part of the cost-conscious film industry? Can studios even hope to control the use of the blogosphere as a marketing tool? They’ll certainly try.

“I’ve gotten calls from filmmakers asking how we can do this again,” says www.Snakesonablog.com‘s Finkelstein.

“I’m sure you’ll see other movies with silly titles. The very smart thing New Line did, though, was to do nothing. No posters, no trailers. They recognised people were attracted to it on their own. And people, online especially, are very aware of what’s organic and what’s false, and if it’s false they shy away.”

For a sharp academic analysis, see Henry Jenkins’s take on how this phenomenon combines fan power, trash-media aesthetics, fan-made media, and a Hollywood that was game to play along.

Cultivating Music Fandom: MySpace vs. Pandora vs. Last.fm

While MySpace gets all the attention and Pandora builds ever-greater popular buzz, Last.fm, based in London, has been doing some innovative things connecting music fans with one another. It’s loaded with examples of what to do and what not to do, so I plan to write about it here now and then. I thought I’d start of with a quick comparison between last.fm and its more widely known counterparts.

MySpace is much broader than a music space, but it’s nonetheless an important space for musicians and music fans: bands put their music up for those who visit their profile, people describe themselves in terms of music by listing bands with which they like to be identified, and bands and fans can friend one another. I’ve heard complaints from people in bands about the time required to approve all the friend requests, since indie bands need all the friends they can get to have a credible presence. Famous bands have queues large enough to require professional handling. But people are clearly getting turned on to new music through that site all the time, and for any artist seeking new fans, having a presence there is simply required. For a fan, I don’t think that’s as true. Personally, I don’t care for MySpace. It is (famously) ugly, and I’m bothered by the visibility of its advertising (AdBlock has fixed that). I went there to hear a song by an obscure Swedish pop band called Peter, Bjorn and John and there was a banner ad for Paris Hilton. I thought “I will not go to a site that juxtaposes Peter Bjorn and John with Paris Hilton” [on that note, google just bought the right to manage the searching and advertising on MySpace for $900 million. Yes, that's $900,000,000.]. I do visit MySpace on rare occasion when friends recommend particular songs, but I don’t have a profile and haven’t felt particularly left out on account of it. And I hear that all the cool 20-something indie kids are suddenly done with MySpace.

Pandora has fine-tuned abilities to generate personalized radio streams of music you’re likely to like based on bands you say you already like. The selections are based on their own analysis of the music itself – they’ve developed a system for breaking down the sound of a song into components and finding others that share many of those qualities (e.g. lengthy guitar solos, emphasis on harmonies, fast tempo). Search blogs and you’ll find plenty of arguments over how well it really does, but a lot of people really like it. What Pandora doesn’t do at all is connect people who listen to similar artists to one another – it’s a personal site, but not a social one. I’ve tried Pandora a few times and haven’t been impressed. I realize that to truly reap its benefits you need to spend time with it, letting it know which songs you did and didn’t like so it can better learn your tastes. I found that although I could hear similarites amongst the songs it chose for me, they were still different in ways that made all the difference to me.

Last.fm takes a very different approach. When you play music on your computer, information about what you’re listening to is uploaded to your (public) profile on the site. Last.fm generates personal charts of your listening habits and, out of its enormous and ever-growing repository of over a million users’ actual listening habits, it recommends “neighbors” (an interesting metaphor) who have similar taste and makes music recommendations. Like Pandora, it incorporates personalized radio streaming, but it has many more ways to personalize it. Last.fm also offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of communicative possibilities for fans and for labels and artists seeking to reach fans – friending, shoutboxes, personal messaging, journaling, discussion forums, artist wikis, user groups. Like a true fan, I have a love/hate relationship with last.fm. To have a social networking site that is based on actual music listening habits is just great. It enables me to find people I’d never otherwise find who are interesting to have brief chats with and who are able to make some really great recommendations. I also enjoy that it offers a space for writing about music and I think it’s inherently interesting to see one’s own habits laid out so objectively over time. Each week I’m surprised at who made my weekly top 10. I discover I like some bands more than I thought and others less so. But I find the site a source of endless frustration as well – they are trying to do too much with too few people. There are often glitches (though it has been functioning far more smoothly since its recent upgrade), the organization of the site is far from user-friendly, I don’t like the aesthetics of the new design, and I am continuously frustrated by the communication between last.fm staff and users.

At any rate, it’s all happening on last.fm — direct fan-artist communication, web radio, artist/fan fan/fan artist/artist label/fan label/label etc networking, and anyone interested in the future of the music industry and online fandom ought to be keeping an eye on the site.

Shout to Madrugada fans

I’ve been getting a lot of visits lately via Reidar’s gracious write up on the Madrugada fan board, so HELLO to all of you and thanks for stopping by. I’ve written what amounts to a love letter list of reasons I love Madrugada here if you haven’t found enough to read about Madrugada on this site :)