Media Types

Previously, when discussing the law and policy aspects of virtual worlds, I heavily referenced Lawrence Lessig’s ideas about Read/Only and Read/Write culture.  I’m revisiting those ideas, but my focus is more directed toward analyzing the cultural implications than potential policy. In Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, the authors discuss the difference between “sticky” media and “spreadable” media. “Stickiness” refers to a content provider or advertiser seeking to reach out to an audience, whereas if something is “spreadable”, it is more malleable and promotes open-ended participation from users. This is a very basic distinction, and the authors don’t put the ideas opposite one another.  Rather, they suggest that aspects of both are at work in how content is distributed in our culture.

One example toward the beginning of the book is the singer, Susan Boyle’s “Britain’s got Talent” video. They discuss the implications of the video being shared to such an extent, saying that “The spread of Susan Boyle demonstrates how content not designed to circulate beyond a contained market or timed for rapid growth distribution can gain much greater visibility than ever before” (31). Looking at sharing from a broader perspective, the authors claim that “In this networked culture, we cannot identify a single cause for why people spread material. People make a series of socially embedded decisions when they choose to spread any media text” (29). This ties in with some of the ideas they discussed about “viral media”. I found it interesting that the authors called for a reconsideration of the term “viral” and the accompanying assumptions, particularly how human agency tends to be overlooked. Calling something “viral” implies that it is self replicating, but the context can change the meaning. The authors touch on this, claiming that “As people listen, read, or view shared content they think not only – often, not even primarily – about what the producers might have meant but about what the person who shared it was trying to communicate” (30).

The authors promote the concept of community and social structure as represented through the sharing of different types of media. They also look into the economics of spreadable media, beginning with what they claim is the failure of Web 2.0 due to its attempts to “harness participatory culture for businesses’ own economic gain” (61). Economics not quite meshing up with social structures is an idea most people have, but seeing how they fit together and the direction the combination is heading can be fascinating.