Visualizing Nine Inch Nails

The other day I was encouraging fans to figure out ways to upload information to the social visualization site Many Eyes. Searching around on there today, I found a few compelling examples. Take, for instance, this tag cloud and bubble diagram of the songs Nine Inch Nails played on their 2007 tour (click the images to go to the database and see how interactive it really is — on Macs, it works best with Safari):



Or did you want that in pie chart form? (you can pull out the slices!)


So just think what you could do if it weren’t just one tour, but all the tours… Makes my fannish heart go pitter patter.

To get a real sense of the potential for instant insight, have a look at this tag cloud of more than 600 William Butler Yeats poems:


How those phrases leap! Hundred years! Years ago! Clock Tower! Long ago! Thousand years! Methinks I sense a motif … Paging Jane Austen fans!

There’s more fan stuff on there, including several very neat social network maps of tv shows and movies (and literature and the Bible, though I’m not sure the latter ought to be cast as fandom). But there ought to be a whole lot more, so start making those databases import-friendly now.

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,, 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.

Digital Doesn’t Compete

Does the internet compete with “real life”? This has been one of the (most annoying and) most repeated concerns for about twenty years now, and the answer still seems to be “no.” Digital media are changing our patterns of behavior in important ways, but they are not leaving a decimated trail of old ways in their wake. Some activities we used to do in old ways (watching TV?) may get replaced with an online version (YouTube?), but other things — like having face-to-face conversations and phone calls, hanging out with friends, and taking advantage of community resources like museums and concerts — seem to be either unaffected or slightly increased by online versions of the same.

Now it seems we can add listening to digital radio to the list of online activities that don’t threaten their offline counterparts. According to a study reported in the New York Times:

As a group, fans of digital radio do not listen to traditional radio less than everyone else. In fact, they listen to slightly more, according to a study recently released by Arbitron and Edison Media Research.

The study was conducted through random telephone interviews with 1,925 Arbitron diary keepers, and it lumped together satellite subscribers, recent Internet-radio listeners and anyone who had ever downloaded a podcast.

The data suggest that, generally speaking, fans of digital radio are seeking to supplement, not replace, traditional radio. “Heavy users of digital media don’t think, ‘If I’m doing this more, I’m doing the other thing less,’ ” said Bill Rose, an executive with Arbitron.

This is such a neat parallel to the findings regarding interpersonal communication. And music downloading.

The message I take from this is: Digital radio is traditional radio’s FRIEND, not its enemy. Hurt one, and you may damage the other. Look to work the synergy instead of shutting down the new. Is it too much to hope that this could inform the future of the digital radio licensing fees debacle that seems poised to pull the rug out from under Pandora and every other online radio broadcasting in the U.S.?

Bragging Break

I don’t often get to do this, so I want to brag on three of my graduate students who successfully defended wonderful new media theses this week:

Andrew Ledbetter defended his Ph.D. thesis in which he developed a scale to assess people’s attitudes toward using the internet as an interpersonal medium and compared the roles of face-to-face and online communication in relational (friendship) maintenance. A lot of complicated findings, but one important takeaway is that the internet is clearly not a substitute for face-to-face communication, and its use in relational maintenance did not damage (or help) relational strength (at least not with U.S. college students). Andrew is joining the faculty at Ohio University next fall, lucky them.

Kiley Larson defended her M.A. thesis. She interviewed rural Kansas in order to better understand how they understand and talk about the internet, particularly in terms of its social utility. Again, many interesting findings. Perhaps the most striking is that the women are the ones who know how to use it and to whom the men all defer when they need something from the internet. Also interesting was their strong stigmatization of the internet as an appropriate means of conducting local communication or seeking new relationships — this is a theme we see in lots of populations, but she’s got a compelling argument that it may be enhanced in the rural context.

Sun Kyong (Sunny) Lee defended her M.A. thesis which compared American and Korean college students’ mobile phone usage pattens and their motivations for using them. She found many similarities in use and motivations, some differences in usage that could be explained by looking at the contexts of these students’ lives (live on campus or at home?) or the payment plans available to them . But she also found some different motivational structures, which suggest that there are cultural influences or, perhaps, that the Koreans are in a more advanced stage of technological adaption than the Americans.

Anyhow, all three students were so great to work with, I learned so much from them, and all three theses are fascinating and well done. Plus Andrew and Kiley got honors! So it’s been a great week for Advisor Nancy.

Potter fan sites go mainstream

Harry Potter fan sites got some wide spread news coverage this weekend in an article that traces the development and breadth of the sites. It (rightly) frames the fan sites as an integral part of the Harry Potter phenomenon, with quotes like this one from a publisher:

“The Potter sites set the standard,” says Anthony Ziccardi, vice president and deputy publisher for rival Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that releases “Star Trek” paperbacks.

“The thing about the Potter phenomenon is that it has a huge, active fan base, both young and old, with a lot of teenagers. The ’Star Trek’ fan sites are a little bit older – most of the fans are 25 and older. The Potter sites really stand out – they’re like a marketing machine in and of themselves.”

and this one from Warner Brothers:

“When we have brought representatives from some of the key fan sites and showed them the details for the film sets, even if some of them were disappointed that we had left out certain elements from the books, they respected what we were trying to do,” says Diane Nelson, Warner Bros.’ executive vice president for global brand management.”We’re not naive enough to think we’re going to avoid criticism, but bringing the fan sites into the process is what we feel is really important.”

The article also touches on the challenges of running a fan website. Very nice to see an article that recognizes online fans as important participants in the production and promotion processes rather than lifeless losers in parental basements.