The World Wide Web gives users
the power to create and share web content which previously was the reserve of
media producers and journalists. Formerly this would have been restricted,
quite closed off and heavily influenced by the government. However, journalists
receive specific legal training and come with a gatekeeper sense of authority
and authenticity. ‘Digital means of distributing words and images have robbed
newspapers of the coherence they formerly had, revealing the physical object of
the newspaper as a merely provisional solution…the permanently important question
is how society will be informed of the news of the day’ (Shirky, 2008: 60). The
expansion of digital technologies and services has defiantly facilitated public
participation over the last few decades. By the end of 1996 the web had 36
million users and the number will continue to rise year on year. 

(http://www.internetworldstats.com/emarketing.htm). ‘Now, once a user connects to
the internet, he has access to a platform that is at once global and free. It
is not just that our communications tools are cheaper; they are also better. In
particular, they are more favourable to innovative uses, because they are
considerably more flexible than our old ones’ (Shirky, 2008:77). Hand held
devices such as smart phones and tablets mean that users can participate in
online creative discourses at any given time from any location.

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The changes that have taken place
to the internet since it was invented in the early 90’s to how it is being used
can be divided into Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Web 1.0 is a static web model whereby
the user receives information only. Web 2.0 is a more active web platform from
which internet users can actively participate in and also create their own web
content. Computing book publisher Tim O’Reilly made the term ‘Web 2.0’ popular
in 1994. O’Reilly lists seven points which differentiate Web 1.0 from 2.0, with
point two being ‘harnessing collective intelligence’. ‘The central principle
behind the success of the giants born in the Web 1.0 era who have survived to
lead the Web 2.0 era appears to be this, that they have embraced the power of
the web to harness collective intelligence’ (O’Reilly, 2004:2). David Gauntlett
uses an allotment metaphor to describe Web 2.0 ‘Web 2.0 is like a collective
allotment Instead of individuals tending their own gardens, they come together
to work collaboratively in a shared space’ (Gauntlett, 2011: 5). Christopher Alexander
eloquently describes the design patterns of Web 2.0 in his book ‘The Pattern
Language’. ‘The Long Tail- small sites make up the bulk of the internet’s
content; narrow niches make up the bulk of internet’s the possible
applications. Therefore: Leverage customer-self-service and algorithmic data
management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the
centre, to the long tail and not just the head’ (O’Reilly, 2004:5). Chris
Anderson, writer and editor of Wired
magazine first coined the phrase ‘long tail’ in 2004.

The theory of the Long Tail is
that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a
relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets)
at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the
tail…When consumers are offered infinite choice, the true shape of demand is
revealed. And it turns out to be less hit-centric than we thought. People
gravitate towards niches because they satisfy narrow interests better, and in one
aspect of our life or another we all have some narrow interest (whether we
think of it that way or not) (Anderson,2004)

 

It is important to understand
modern theories of Web 2.0 like long tail to help us in understanding why our
participation on the web has changed and how we now use it creatively as a
result.

Our encounters with digital
technologies and our discussions with each other via the web are an important
part of our participation and creative freedom as without them there can no
open debate or way of sharing ideas rapidly. Myspace. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter,
Instagram, Blogs and YouTube allows internet users to easily create their own
personal web page from which they can share videos, photographs, news articles
and thoughts. Emails and instant messaging apps have allowed for us to contact
other app users from anywhere around the world in real time. Streams are the
never-ending lists of information generated predominantly from social media
sites from many users or sources from many devices all forming a Realtime
stream of information on the web. Interactivity used to be known as visiting
certain websites and being directed to certain predetermined paths but now
users can write their own content which opens up so many possible channels of
communication. In turn this means a larger and more diverse number of sites are
being accessed by web browsers and if enough users share the same information
it can start trending and become viral and viewed by many. ‘Blogs, social
networks, RSS feeds, Flickr feeds, Twitter messages, video clips…the data just
keeps growing and growing’ (Malik, 2008). Axel Bruns describes the
participation of users creating web content as ‘produsage’ (Bruns, 2017:2).

 

Produsage, then, can be roughly
defined as a mode of collaborative content creation which is led by users or at
least crucially involves users as producers – where, in other words, the user
acts as a hybrid user/producer, or produser, virtually throughout the
production process. Produsage demonstrates the changed content production value
chain model in collaborative online environments: in these environments, a
strict producer/consumer dichotomy no longer applies – instead, users are
almost always also able to be producers of content, and often necessarily so in
the very act of using it (Bruns, 2017: 3).

 

 As an online tool for participation, the
problem is not in producing social media content, but managing it and this is
where software algorithms become paramount. Facebooks algorithms becomes
ethically questionable as you build a profile of yourself and the software then
gains knowledge about you from your friends, likes and groups, it then starts
showing you information on your personal stream that the algorithm thinks that
you would like to see. This in itself may not be bad but it does bring into
question issues of whom, or which businesses have ownership and control over
this information. The information provided by Facebook users could be used for
surveillance purposes by the government and already are used by police and
journalists when looking for information about an individual as part of their
investigations or research. In many countries full internet access is censored
or prohibited which limits its citizens freedom of speech and ability to
participate in online discourse or creativity. Lawrence Lessig suggests that web
users should be given the tools to be able to protect their privacy online.

 

We already have architectures
that deny individuals control over what others know about them…we must build
into the architecture a capacity to enable choice-not choice by humans but by
machines. The architecture must enable machine to-machine negotiations about
privacy so that individuals can instruct their machines about the privacy they
want to protect (Lessig, 2006:232).

 

Not only is information about us
gained, Eli Pariser believes that the algorithm software that is striving to
personalise what we see online is effectively limiting our individual
participation and creativity which he calls ‘the filter bubble’ (Paiser,2011).
If you use Google as a search engine tool the results it brings up for you will
quite possibly be very different from those that your friend will see. This is
because Google uses 57 signals which have been devised by its own team of
software engineers (such as your location, nationality age and gender) to
attempt to tailor the search results to you. (http://www.rene-pickhardt.de/google-uses-57-signals-to-filter/). This is an example of the ‘long tail’ theory being
deployed in shaping a user’s browsing experience. Other popular sites such as eBay
and Amazon also deploy embedded algorithm software to personalise user
experience.

 

Pariser believes that filtering
is designed to help us in sifting through information allowing us to find only
what is relevant to us. This could be seen as backfiring in that it is limiting
out creativity and abilities to seek out new and interesting things. (Pariser,
2011). Also, it is worth noting that Pariser mentions that an individual’s
Facebook page and likes may not be an accurate way of determining who a person
really is however this information could be used by businesses to create a
profile of an individual regardless ‘the companies we’re turning over this data
too have no legal obligation or keep it to themselves. In the wrong hands
persuasion profiling gives companies the ability to circumvent your rational
decision making, tap into your psychology, and draw out your compulsions’
(Pariser, 2011:123). Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, discusses the
problems with filtering web user’s content in this manner ‘The Web’s
universality leads to a thriving richness and diversity. If a company claims to
give access to the world of information, then presents a filtered view, the Web
loses its credibility’ (Berners-Lee, 1999: 143). Berners-Lee also states that
when search engines present biased information it should be clearly marked as
such with an icon or something to enable the web browser to maintain their
individuality or freedom of choice (Berners-Lee, 1999). Using free software and
routinely deleting all browser history could improve our creative experience of
digital platforms. ‘If all the software we use is free then we have control
over the computing we do on our own computers. You should reject any program
that isn’t free because if the user isn’t controlling the program, then the
program is controlling the user’ (Stallman. R, 2013).

 

The online digital technology
sites that we use are being continually updated and shaped by us. For example,
Facebook relies upon a never-ending stream of status updates to drive its
profits up from advertising. So, in as much as the sites are shaping what we see
we are also shaping the sites. ‘The networked public sphere is made up not of
tools, but of social production practices that these tools enable.’ (Benkler,
2006:219). The tools to create web space and content has allowed users to
express and discuss their own interests online. Yochai Benkler describes this
as ‘…the shift from an industrial to a networked information economy increases
the extent to which individuals can become active participants in producing
their own cultural environment. It opens the possibility of a more critical and
reflective culture’ (Benkler, 2006:130). Similarly, to Benkler, Jason Potts
suggests that the quality of information presented through social media
platforms are directed by the web user. ‘The creativity, and value of YouTube
is situated in the community of users’ (Potts et al., 2008:12). Some theorists
could argue that this is what the web was created to be used for, for people to
not only absorb information as it is presented but to also present their own
views and participate online. ‘I have always imagined the information space as
something to which everyone has immediate and intuitive access, and not just to
browse, but to create’ (Berners-Lee, 1999:169). Axel Bruns describes how Flickr
allows its users to develop their creativity.

Engage in the making of creative
content, because of their existing interest in exploring new technologies, as a
means of generating more interesting photography beyond personal snapshots, as
a means of exploring art outside of the traditional artistic scene, to explore
specific artistic aspects of photography, to break with the standard amateur
photography aesthetics, or to better explore the technical features of the
photographic technology they were using (Bruns, A, 2007).

 

Similarly, so Flickr, YouTube is
a digital technology platform which encourages users to participate and create
content. ‘YouTube’s functionality encourages much more than ere individualised
‘look at me’ self-exhibition. It actively encourages users to make comments, to
subscribe…to give star ratings, to add friends and send messages, and to make
videos responding to other videos’ (Gauntlett, 2011:93).

 

In contrast, Andrew Keen does not
write favourably of digital technology sites and its users. He sees it as
damaging to existing media channels content as well as diminishing advertiser’s
profits (Keen, 2007). Keen is dismissive of the credibility of social media
users and describes bloggers as merely monkeys. ‘The monkeys take over. Say
good-bye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers our reporters, news
anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios. In today’s cult
of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show. With their infinite
typewriters, they are authoring the future’ (Keen, 2007:9). Keen does raise
fears that the content shared on social media sites may be poorly produced or
incorrect and poses the potent question of who really owns all of the content
that bloggers and social media users post online. (Keen, 2007:23). Keen
describes Wikipedia as ‘a million penguins…a democratic literary experiment
sponsored by the British publisher Penguin, which invites anyone to contribute
to a collective online novel’ (Keen,2007:26). Again, Keen has a dim view of
Wikipedia as a media platform and sees it as a loss of revenue to well
researched book publishers (Keen, 2017). He does make a good point about the
‘Wild West-style Internet economy’ (Keen,2007:41) in that anyone could publish
something online which is false or lie about their knowledge and credentials.
Keen uses the example of “Essjay” a Wikipedia contributor who claimed to have
the credentials of a long-standing professor but who in reality was a young
graduate named Ryan Jordan who had no academic training or professional
knowledge of any kind (Keen,2007:41). Similar to Keen, Clay Shirky does not approve
of the content that most bloggers post online:

In a world where publishing is
effortless, the decision to publish something isn’t terribly momentous. Just as
movable type raised the value of being able to read and write even as it
destroyed the scribal tradition, globally free publishing is making public
speech and action more valuable, even as its absolute abundance diminishes the
specialness of professional publishing (Shirky, 2008:79).

 

Shirky comments on the content of
much social media that is published by users ‘surely it is as bad to gorge on
junk as to starve?’ (Shirky, 2008:83). Shirky describes the use of digital
technologies such as social network sites almost like a grave mistake that the
wold made that cannot be changed now ‘the rise of group-forming networks is
best viewed not as an invention but as an event, a thing that happened to the
world that can’t be undone’ (Shirky, 2008:73).

While social media sites develop
and grow as directed by company decisions and by web users input, ‘atomized
individuals, consuming media in their homes, do not comprise a public …
democracy resides, ultimately, with citizens who engage in talk with each
other’ (Dahlgren, 2005:149). Similarly, Jaron Lanier believes that social media
platforms are detrimental to our interpersonal communications to have our
friendships reduced to contents and links with in an online database.
‘Separation anxiety is assuaged by constant connection. Young people announce every
detail of their lives on services like Twitter not to show off, but to avoid
the closed door at bedtime, the empty room, the screaming vacuum of an isolated
mind’ (Lanier, 2010:180). Lanier believes that individuality and humanity are
in danger of being mechanised due to the widespread of social media in forming
our communications and sense of self. It is true that as humans we do need to
remain social creatures and work on our face to face or interpersonal
interactions with each other more than we need to create a presence online.

 

Steven Johnson coined the term
‘Sleeper Curve’ (Johnson, 2005:9) to describe the change in the way we as users
of technology have changed and developed and that it is for the benefit of our
cognitive and social development. Johnson writes ‘I believe that the Sleeper
Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of
young people today, and I believe it is largely a force of good, enhancing our
cognitive facilities, not dumbing them down’ (Johnson, 2005:12). He credits the
internet for enhancing our knowledge by giving us a platform to learn new
communication tools and interactive software’s. ‘The rise of the Internet has
challenged our minds in three fundamental and related ways: by virtue of being
participatory, by forcing users to learn new interfaces, and by creating new
channels for social interaction. Almost all forms of online activity sustained
are participatory in nature…..Steve Jobs likes to describe the difference
between television and the Web as the difference between lean-back and
sit-forward media’ (Johnson, 2005:117-118). Johnson praises the internet for
how it has developed the ‘tube’ in a positive way and allows for videos to be
broadcasted onto a platform which was made for the sharing of information
(Johnson, 2005: 120). Both Johnson and Shirky do agree that online
communications can offer individuals important outlets to share advice and to
offer each other support through online communities. Shirky uses the example of
PatientsLikeMe.com, a website on which patients who suffer from long term
chronic health conditions can share information.

PatientsLikeMe uses the word community to denote group of patients
who share a specific condition, and for good reason: like any community of practice,
they share information and ideas, and they produce cultural norms and support
for one another. They offer a degree of moral support that the current medical
system rarely offers, and that turns out to be a critical feature of treatment (Shirky,
2010:156) 

 

When the internet is being used
as such a way for participation which serves to enhance people’s lives and
sense of community this can only be seen as a positive creative output of
Web.02. The idea of patients sharing information freely online and offering
each other advice and emotional support has the potential of benefiting the NHS
and the range of services offered to patients. Johnson dismisses the argument
that the internet poses a threat to our abilities to interact socially and
believes that the internet can harness our social interactions.

Online personals, social business
network sites such as Friendster, the Meetup.com…the many tools designed to
enhance conversation between bloggers- not to mention all the handheld devices
that we now use to coordinate new kinds of real-world encounters…Some of these
tools create new modes of communication that are entirely digital in nature
(the cross-linked conversations of bloggers). Others use the networked computer
to facilitate a face-to-face encounter (as in Meetup) (Johnson, 2005:124).

 

It may be the case that digital
technologies have changed the way that we participate with each other online
and face-to-face. This change can be seen as positive and be highly beneficial
to people who could otherwise feel isolated and unable to participate
physically with others. Humans are social creatures by nature and will respond
well to likeminded individuals online and offline. ‘Humans are fundamentally
individual, but we are also fundamentally social. Ever one of us has a rational
mind; we can make individual assessments and decisions. We also have an
emotional mind; we can enter into deep bonds with other people that transcend
our individual intellects’ (Shirky, 2010: 163).

 

This assignment has looked at the
change from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and at how contemporary commentators theorise the
expansion of participation and creativity offered by digital technologies and
services. Many theorists have opposing views as Web 2.0 as technology platforms
and outputs have changed so drastically over the last few decades. ‘Some see a
world without gatekeepers, others a world where gatekeepers have unprecedented
power’ (Jenkins, 2008: 18). There is no doubt that digital technologies and
platforms have changed the way that we create information and interact with
each other and this could be seen as a very positive thing. ‘Collective
intelligence refers to the ability of virtual communities to leverage the
combined expertise of their members. What we cannot know or do on our own, we
may be able to do collectively’ (Jenkins, 2008:27). That is not to say that
digital technologies have superseded traditional forms of media such as
newspaper and television, but they have indeed changed the way we view information,
create our own online spaces and how we participate with each other via online
platforms. The Internet is arguably not a perfect space for users to have a
meaningful political debate, but it certainly does play an important role in
the expansion of participation and user creativity using digital technologies.
Evgeny Morozov describes online political action as “slacktivism” (Morozov,
2009).

 

feel good online activism that
has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in
“slactivist” campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world
without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group… “Slackivism” is
the ideal type of activism for a lazy generation: why bother with sit-ins and
the risk of arrest, police brutality, or torture if one can be as loud
campaigning in the virtual space (Fuchs, 2013: 188).

 

This could be viewed as the
natural progression in our interactions with technological advancements and
with each other as a result of the digital revolution. ‘People create their own
networks and experiences around the process of making things, because they like
to see and to share the whole fruits of their own creativity, and to feel part
of meaningful, productive social processes which have a past and a future’
(Gauntlett, 2011: 184). With this in mind it appears that the internet has
given us a technological platform from which we can collaborate with each
other, create content and find like-minded individuals with which to discuss
our hobbies and interests in an unrestricted environment. ‘Mass amateurization
is a result of the radical spread of expressive capabilities, and the most
obvious precedent is the one that gave birth to the modern world: the spread of
the printing press five centuries ago’ (Shirky, 2008: 66). This is also how the
World Wide Web came into creation by bringing like-minded individuals together
who had the same vison to connect people with one another on a global scale. The
future expansion of participation and creativity offered by digital
technologies and services is unknown but growing at such a rate that even the contemporary
commentators cannot predict it. Whether these technologies are being used to
their full potential is open to debate and maybe says more about human nature
than the digital services themselves. ‘Allowing consumers to interact with
media under controlled circumstances is one thing; allowing them to participate
in the production and distribution of cultural goods – on their own terms- is
something else altogether’ (Jenkins, 2008:133). This change in itself is
exciting and should be seen as an important milestone in the expansion of
digital technologies and how we use them with the potential to be platforms for
creativity which aid our communications and participation.