The Summer Research Life

It’s a busy time for little old Nancy these days. In addition to extended vacationing in Colorado, I’m working on several research projects. I don’t usually dwell too much on my researcher persona on this blog, but I thought some of you might be interested to hear what I’m up to, so here goes:

I’m about to collect data for two research projects that touch directly on fandom. First, I’m conducting a survey about the meaning of “friending” on Last.fm. I’ve long been intrigued by the use of the term “friend” in social network sites and the complexities of relationships that the term may mask. The topic’s been addressed to a small extent in Friendster, MySpace, and LiveJournal, but as far as I can tell, no one has looked at it in a site devoted specifically to fan-based activity. If you use last.fm, or know people who do, your participation is welcome, whether you have any Last.fm friends or not. The survey is posted here. The Last.fm office crew have been very supportive of this project and I want to thank them for that.

I’m also getting ready to conduct interviews for a study about the role(s) of online fans in Swedish indie music fandom. Obviously, this is a fandom with which I strongly identify (click on the last.fm radio button on the lower right to hear some of the music involved) and I’m very curious about how active online fans are carving out new roles for themselves in distributing, publicizing, (re)releasing, and other things I hope to discover before long. If you’re involved with that fandom as active fan, blogger, label person, musician, or otherwise, and are willing to be interviewed, please shoot me a message!

And then there’s the little matter of the book I’m writing for Polity Press, called Personal Connections in a Digital Age that’s part of their new Digital Media and Society series. They publish some amazing authors and books and I’m honored that I’ll be in that kind of company. For the last several years I’ve been teaching a class called Communication and the Internet, and last fall I taught a graduate seminar called Personal Relationships and Communication Technologies (click for course syllabi). This book will pull together the topics covered in those courses and serve as a one-stop-shop for people who want to know more about how people use the internet and mobile phones in personal relationships and what social consequences their uses may have. It’s aimed at students, scholars, and general readers who are more interested in what the research shows than in polemics. The book is not about fandom, but that will certainly rear its head, especially in the chapters on online community and social networks. It won’t be done for several months yet, and likely won’t see publication until late 2008 or even early 2009.

So right now, for whatever reasons, I find myself very motivated to work on these, and a bit less motivated to work on this blog. I’ll certainly keep posting here, but the daily stuff is going to subside for a while. If you’ve got tips to send on things I should cover, though, please keep sending them along! I’ll leave you with this (mirror image) shot of the well-situated scholar at work. What can I say? Someone’s gotta use that deck* :)

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* my sister calls it “Baymwood: A pretentious patio restaurant in Aspen.”

Greetings From Colorado

Independence Pass

Regular readers can expect lighter posting for the next few weeks. Or maybe this will just become a photoblog for my Rocky Mountain fandom ;-}

Visualizing Music, take 200

Jean at Clicknoise beats me to covering the NYT article about Andrew Kuo, artist and hardcore Bright Eyes fan, who has taken visualization of his obsessions to new heights. At his blog, Emo + Beer = Busted Career, you can browse through page after page of visualization of his fascination with music.

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Visualizing listening and other rock and roll related information has been a recent theme in this blog (see here, here, and here). Kuo’s stuff is cool, for sure, as are the last.fm visualization charts.

The REAL next step, though, is not individuals generating charts for their own self-representation, or even individuals generating images for group representations.

The next step is social visualization, where as in the site Martin and Fernanda at Many Eyes have built, everyone can generate visualizations, no special expertise or artistic talents necessary. Last.fm fans have been figuring out ways to automate generating their own and others’ visualizations, as RocketSurgeon lists here.

And then things will REALLY get interesting when we have ways to do it automatically. I should be able to click on a button and generate visualizations from any Web 2.0 site that’s got tons of data stored about me without having to import, export, and traverse sites. I should be able to visually compare myself to others. I should be able to explore network charts of our connections, bubble charts of our overlapping tastes and interest, time lines of our common experiences. All these sites (Last.fm, MySpace, Facebook, del.icio.us, digg, etc) are about amassing data and making connections. They make us lists, they make us charts. They make lists and charts out of the data of crowds. Why don’t they make us pictures?

It will really get exciting when we can all play with the same visualizations so that we can compare our selves in a common image. We should be able to visualize not just the Bright Eyes concerts Kuo has been to, we should be able to visualize all of them together, and we should be able to mark which ones we’ve been to so we can compare our own attendance records, favorite song performances, and other things that get fans all hot and bothered. I’d love to see a visualization of all R.E.M. concerts — with setlists — and have embedded within it the concert attendance records of everyone who participates in Murmurs.com, for instance. Many Eyes enables this (see the comments on the Library Things Top 50 Books visualization for an example), but it’s far from automated and even further from mainstream.

Map of Online Community

This is making the rounds, but I dreaded the thought that any of you might not see it, so if you haven’t, here it is:

Evidently, I live in the Southern Hemisphere…You?

Spread or Die?

At the end of a long and interesting post, Henry Jenkins writes:

C3 research associate Joshua Green and I have begun exploring what we call “spreadable media.” Our core argument is that we are moving from an era when stickiness was the highest virtue because the goal of pull media was to attract consumers to your site and hold them there as long as possible, not unlike, say, a roach hotel. Instead, we argue that in the era of convergence culture, what media producers need to develop spreadable media. Spreadable content is designed to be circulated by grassroots intermediaries who pass it along to their friends or circulate it through larger communities (whether a fandom or a brand tribe). It is through this process of spreading that the content gains greater resonance in the culture, taking on new meanings, finding new audiences, attracting new markets, and generating new values. In a world of spreadable media, we are going to see more and more media producers openly embrace fan practices, encouraging us to take media in our own hands, and do our part to insure the long term viability of media we like.

Indeed, our new mantra is that if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.

I agree completely that the spreadability of media is essential to its resonance and “long term viability” in pop culture. This struck me as interesting in light of a phenomenon I spoke about at the Cornell/Microsoft Symposium a few weeks ago, which is that online fan groups are becoming less and less place (url/group/mailinglist) based and more and more distributed and nomadic. I used the example of the Swedish indie music fans, who can be found clustering in varied interlinked locations on the net — Its A Trap, SwedesPlease, MySpace, Last.fm, YouTube, and elsewhere. If online fans are not to be found in one or two key spots (MySpace, anyone?), then it’s not just that the media themselves have to come in spreadable pieces, it’s that they have to get into the hands of audiences who are themselves widely spread and often loosely linked through networks of online spaces.

I am not sure about the term “spreadable” which sounds like a highly-processed peanut butter descriptor. Better than “viral,” I guess.