Tag Archives: new media

Week 3: Ranking Tactics and Virtual Communities

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?

The emergence of Web 2.0 and social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and WordPress has prompted many to discuss the impact of social interaction online upon traditional societies and social structures. The rise of virtual communities, communities based on shared interests via the Internet rather than geographical location, is often associated with a “move increasingly towards the creation of a global virtual society, which optimistically promises unlimited/uninterrupted democratic freedom of speech and self-expression, as well as the general revision and revival of the so-called public sphere” (Koskinas and Tsekiras, 2011: 41). While it is completely idealistic to say that they promise “unlimited democratic freedom of speech and self-expression”, it is often thought that those interacting and participating online promote cultural citizenship by being more involved in and aware of a global society (van Dijck, 2009: 44). However, it is much less straight forward than this.

Popular video sharing website YouTube is one website claiming to be for the sake of online communities. “It is your community! Each and every user of YouTube makes the site what it is, so don’t be afraid to dig in and get involved!”, the site claims. Though, YouTube is less passive than this implies. The website’s interface displays collections of videos suggested for certain genres, with links taking you to pages dedicated to comprehensively informing you of what is popular and ‘top of the charts’ regarding, say, music videos. Further, YouTube have created their own blog in order to update you on the latest trends for YouTube videos and search patterns.

Another example of a website that works to create a user generated content community is radio station Triple J’s Unearthed site. It states that it is “a music community open to musicians and public alike”, which allows unsigned artists to “upload and share their best tracks … with the ever growing community of music fans”. Its homepage, though, offers similar structures to that of YouTube, by presenting featured music and artist spotlights, alongside a selection of reviews, a list of recent uploads, and a chart listing the top 5 songs on the website.

The interfaces and, particularly, the ranking systems that these sites use play a role in “maneuvering individual users and communities” (van Dijck, 2009: 45). They are understandable; websites such as YouTube need to inspire any passive users they attract for financial reasons. Though they are an element of user generated content (UGC) websites that are not entirely considered when it is claimed that “new networked technologies lead to enhanced involvement of recipients as well as to active cultural citizenship” (van Dijck, 2009: 45). This assertion is generalized; there are many different variables, a significant one being ranking tactics, which aim to shape and mould the formation of online communities. Claims that an idealistic public sphere, a “citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communications network” (Rheingold cited in Koskinas and Tsekiras, 2011: 41), will inevitably be formed are premature; sites like YouTube have some degree power in forming these communities and controlling them. Though it is not obvious, ranking systems often direct us to forming communities on their basis and, therefore, sites controlling these systems have control over the creation of such networks.

References:

van Dijck, J. (2009), ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, in Media, Culture and Society, vol. 31 no. 1, pp 41-58.

Koskinas, K. and C. Tsekeris (2011), ‘General Reflections on Virtual Communities Research’, in China Media Research, vol. 7 no. 1, pp 39-47.

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Week 8: Web Design and Visual Metaphors

Alan Lui discusses the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design and argues that such metaphors “naturalize the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (Reader, page 228). Discuss while giving an example of a website.

The Internet is unpredictable. Its spatial form is dynamic, variable, and spontaneous. Though this flexibility implies greater diversity and a certain openness that allows for a multitude of design options, it is, as many amateur and professional web designers have discovered, limiting; or, rather, very hard to harness. Such is the nature of the Internet that every person, via his or her individual laptop, desktop, connection, or browser, has a unique experience of the same webpage.

Alan Lui explains that the frequent designs we see on the web that adopt the aesthetics of older media are created to compensate for, or hide, these limitations (2004: 228). He argues that these designs “recognize the spatiotemporal disturbances of the medium … [and] accommodate those disturbances through clever metaphors” (2004: 227). By recognizing the limitations of the Internet, and associating them with the limitations of older media, web designers allow users to understand the environment of the webpage more. This is not to say that when we visit The Age website we believe we are reading a newspaper, but that we understand and are more familiar with the limitations of a newspaper than the varying limitations of the Internet.

Generally, not only are the visual metaphors implemented in order to naturalize the “limitations of the new medium”, but also the content and nature of the site. The more obvious examples of this are newspaper websites; The Age, The Guardian, and the New York Times all utilize basic web designs that imitate the layout of the newspaper; an old medium.  They do so in order to familiarize their visitors with both the website as a whole and their content, which is news. The New York Times page contains the same newspaper header and tabled format that every user could associate with their printed format.

Sitotis.hr

Another example is Sitotis.hr (above), a Croatian company offering printing services. The content is displayed on an image of a personal organizer wallet. In doing so, the site organizes its information in a familiar way, and hides the limitations of the website within that of the organizer. Though we cannot, on the Internet, see two different web pages on the same site at the same time within the same window, Sitotis.hr hides this limitation by showing that, in an organizer like this, you also cannot see two pages at the one time; in order to see a different page, you need to click on the tab of the wallet (or flip to a certain page, if we are considering it physically).

In constructing web designs in this way and disguising new media limitations within that of old media, websites are able to familiarize their visitors with content and present it in a way that naturalizes the inefficiencies of the web and its spatiotemporal characteristics.

Reference:

Lui, A. (2004) ‘Information is Style’ pp.195-230 in Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

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