Adventures in the Pacific Northwest

I am back, finally, from my week of adventures. First I stopped off in Redmond at Microsoft Research, where I gave a talk called I Heard It On the Network: Recent Developments in Music Fandom, in which I used the example of the Swedish indie scene to argue that in an age where people are bombarded by musical choices, bands and labels have a greater challenge in getting people’s attention. As a result, they need fans to serve as promoters more than ever, leading to shifts in the way fans are conceptualized and the powers that fans have. There is a video which is supposed to be posted on the net somewhere, so I hope to have a link to that soon.

Then I went on to Vancouver for the Association of Internet Researchers’ conference, which was, as always, a fantastic combination of food for thought and food with friends. For the first time there were many many papers about social network sites, including the roundtable I had organized. Some of the interesting points I took from the papers as a whole on this topic were:

  • people have no confusion between the term “friend” as used outside social network sites and as used on them. If you ask how many of their Facebook friends are “actual” friends, as Ellison, Steinfeld and Lampe did, you get fairly low percentages in response.

  • there are big cultural differences in how these sites are used and we really need more cross-cultural research.

  • the challenge to do work that is going to be relevant next month is higher than ever since these sites change so rapidly. Fortunately, little of the work I saw seemed particularly dated since they were very careful about how they framed their population.

  • While American scholars are obsessed with Facebook, other sites are getting very little analysis. I hadn’t even realized that the Danish youth are all about Arto, though I did, at least, know that the Swedish kids are into LunarStorm, Koreans into Cyworld, and Brazilians into Orkut. But how many other networks are out there with huge national followings that most of us have never even heard of?

There was almost no work on fandom and less than usual it seemed about intellectual property and digital rights. I did see a really nice paper by Hector Postigo who spent a summer interviewing people at the Electronic Freedom Foundation and was able to summarize the rhetoric they use in conceptualizing the issues, and another by Tarleton Gillespie, who talked about the simplistic and problematic ways in which the RIAA framed the issues in a set of educational materials they’ve created for use in high schools (for instance, the concept of “fair use” was completely absent). On fandom, I saw Stephanie Tuszynski compare the users of the Buffy fangroup she had studied to Daily Kos readers when they meet, which was interesting but not surprising, and Rhiannon Bury did a nice followup on five friendship pairs who had met years ago in X-File fandom and had remained close friends.

I also FINALLY got to sit down with Henry Jenkins, with whom I’ve corresponded for 15 years and whom I’d never met.

Henry and Me

The other highlight of the conference was that after 9 years of thinking about the association every single day (I was one of a very few founders, organized the first conference, was VP for 4 years, president for 2 and past-president for 2), at the General Meeting, the new executive committee took over and, for the first time in the association’s existence, I have NOTHING TO DO WITH running it! Well, except for being on the organizing committee of next year’s conference in Copenhagen, that is. Still, a big change for me, and a welcome one. It was particularly nice to be presented with a bottle of French champagne at the meeting and then smooched from all sides by AoIR presidents past and future (photo by Marj Kibby):


Nothing beats being appreciated :)

Now on to writing up the Swedish indie work, the work, the book, tomorrow’s class, and I don’t even want to think about all the other things!

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