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Spreadable or Sell-able Media?

November 14, 2013

Image

Twitter staff applauding the do-nut towers consumed to mark their floatation

(From Campbell & Pow, 2013)

Last week saw Twitter being brought to the Market with a proposed listing value of $12.8bn as it’s shareholders looked cash in on the internet business probably most responsible for the growth of ‘spreadable media’. However, this idea of linking people up and bringing them together is a far-cry from the original thinking behind Twitter, which was developed as means to keep us online and spending money by “people with little sense of politics and even less of culture” (Appleyard, 2013). The people in question – Twitter’s key founders, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams – initially had different views on the purpose of their application, with Williams’ ideal of a general interest in the world (“What’s happening?”) contrasting with Dorsey’s vision of a more narcissistic stream of our own human conditions. Unsurprisingly this acorn of animosity between the two grew into an intense personal hatred as the company ballooned. After it’s inception in 2006 Twitter took time to get a foothold and it wasn’t until 2008 that it finally ‘arrived’ with 400m tweets being posted that year, 50m per day by 2010, and then 340m tweets per day coming from it’s 500m registered users in 2012 (Wikipedia, 2013). The result is what we know today: a hybrid of Dorsey’s and Williams’ vision blending one’s self and more importantly ‘News’ that – on it’s first day of trading – sold shares 73% up, implying that the business had been undervalued to the tune of $1bn (Chakrabortty, 2013). So, where does this astronomical valuation come from for a company that is yet to post a profit? I guess that the answer to that lies partly in the battleground for spreadable media, as corporate thinking and business models (like Web 2.0) attempt to ‘commodify’ the participatory culture of the Internet (MIT, 2013), and in particular social media.

Spreadable media is an all-encompassing term for content that spreads across the Internet via circulation as opposed to distribution. The latter – according to Jenkins, Ford and Green (MIT, 2013) – is a more (usually corporately) controlled and regulated ‘top down’ system. It is what ‘The Man’ wants to tell ‘Us’. Circulation is referred to as a ‘hybrid system’ which – while including original content – is predominantly regulated material which is then being freely shared across the internet at a grass-roots level… from the ‘bottom up’. This ‘unauthorized’ (often adulterated!) passing along of content is at the core of spreadable media, and while being both uncontrollable and unpredictable generates meaning and value in an internet-based culture. This is where the $billion’s come in. Remember that Twitter valuation?

So what exactly is spreadable media? Well, essentially anything in the digital domain of the Internet is spreadable, but – aside from top down marketed content which is initially distributed and then circulated – the types of spreadable media of most interest culturally are memes, remixes, mashups and Supercuts which via their virus-like proliferation allow circulators to “affirm their commonality” (Jenkins, et al 2009), give a sense of ‘community’ and in many cases give people access to news, ideas, movements, and politics that formerly they were not privy to. Most importantly, spreadable media is at the heart of participatory culture and ever burgeoning online communities, as it gives its’ users just that: a sense of community. It facilitates the making of social relationships where contacts (friends?) are made, creativity is sparked and a feeling of being part of ‘something bigger’ is nurtured. “Hacktivism” and the growth of the Anonymous movement is an example of this, where an initially small group of – let’s face it, Geeks – came together in a common cause, spreading media and information and growing collectively in opposition to the people out there who wanted to control and censor the Internet. Self-termed the “final boss of the Internet” these “nameless, faceless punks were having a geopolitical impact” (T3Combat, 2013). Their notoriety negates the need to tell their full story, but I would suggest watching this for a great overview of their meteoric rise and impact on the world – in particular their attack on Scientology, how they helped with the situation in Egypt and their orchestration of the ‘Occupy’ movement.

Political themes are a common driver in spreadable media, but others include news items, popular and contemporary culture and nearly always humour. Indeed, a formula for spreadability has been coined “S = C+L”, where ‘S’ is spreadbility and ‘C’ and ‘L’ are current affairs and ‘LOLz’ respectively. Jenkins et al (2009) state that spreadable media contains “absurd humour or parody” while at the same time expressing “themes of the community”.

Nearly all examples of spreadable media allow the content generators and sharers to express their creativity, whether by remixing an existing idea, mashing-up several, supercutting a body of work up to it’s ‘nth’ degree or creating a new idea in the case of memes. The last of these is interesting as they are perhaps the most virus-like (a la Dawkins), spreading from one person to the next, proliferating and then dying. Memes are quick to enjoy, easy to absorb and therefore very spreadable, becoming increasingly popular and recognizable. Collectively we’ve developed “a kind of meme literacy” (Termine, 2012).

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My own current research is neither funny nor featuring in world news or current affairs, so creating directly related spreadable media to promote it is difficult. However, driving traffic to my blog by generating random content (which includes my blog and twitter details) could be used as a tool to draw people in to the more serious side of my internet presence. Therefore I’ve been trying my arm at different approaches and creating a variety of content with the ultimate aim of getting people to read my blog. I’ve tried a cat-based “I can has” meme (which are hugely popular) on a previous post, tweeted a more political/mildly funny meme of the deputy Prime Minister (above), posted a remix of his boss on YouTube, done a few ‘sympathy tweets’ trying raise awareness and support for Typhoon victims in The Philippines (tapping into a growing consciousness in “virtual kindness”), and most recently had a stab at supercutting the most popular TV show on BBC2. After the laborious task of downloading and converting the source clips, this was followed by the painstaking task of trawling through them all and editing out the bits I wanted, which were then rendered in a completely random order. The video was uploaded to YouTube, and links were tweeted, retweeted, posted to the supercut website and onto Reddit. Over the weekend I’ll get somebody to post it on Facebook (I’m a conscientious objector) and then hopefully in a month or so I can look at how far it spreads.

Finally, let’s get back to the Twitter valuation. In the documentation produced for its’ floatation it claims, “Our success depends on our ability to provide users of our products and services with valuable content, which in turn depends on the content contributed by our users”. What Twitter recognizes is that without ‘us’ it amounts to very little, and by selling us to us it’s founders become billionaires and many of it’s staff millionaires…

References:

Appleyard, B. 2013. The tricks and the tweets. The Sunday Times Culture, 10th November 2013, p.38.

Campbell, P & Pow, H. 2013. The Mail [Online]. Retrieved 13th Nove,ber 2013, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2489994/Twitter-HQ-celebrates-faux-Cronuts-day-trading-ends-44-90-share-making-founders-multi-millionaires-valuing-company-31-billion.html

Chakrabortty, A. 2013. The Guardian [online]. Retrieved, 13th November 2013, from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/twitter-ipo-wrong-people-money

Jenkins, H. Li, X. Krauskopf, A.D. Green, J. 2009. If it doesn’t spread it’s dead: Creating value in a spreadable marketplace. Retrieved 12th November 2013, from http://convergenceculture.org/research/Spreadability_doublesidedprint_final_063009.pdf

MIT. 2013. Spreadable Media: Creating Value in a Networked Society. Retrieved 11th November 2013, from http://video.mit.edu/watch/spreadable-media-creating-value-and-meaning-in-a-networked-society-8705/

T3Combat. 2013. Anonymous: How Hackers changed the world. Retrieved 14th November 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-d5TDHa8jw

Wikipedia. 2013. Twitter. Retrieved 12th November 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter

Termine, R. 2012. What makes a meme? Retrieved 14th November 2013, from http://www.salon.com/2012/10/28/what_makes_a_meme/

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From → spreadable media

5 Comments
  1. Mark McGuire permalink

    Hi Paul. Terrific video, which I caught via a tweet by ‏@heloukee recently. If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead (well, not really, but it makes a good slogan). Is it the content, or the conversation it enables that is most important? Content is visible, but human relationships are much harder to see, track, quantify and value. It’s not the wood, or even the fire that attracts us. It’s the opportunity to join in and sing around the camp fire.

    p.s. Although I’m not a musician, I’m keen on acoustic ecology and soundscape design.

    • The content is a means to and end: I think conversation is the key! Thanks for the positive feedback. Saw your tweet earlier about “Selfies” making it into the oxford english dictionary! How long before wordpress realises this and doesn’t highlight as a spelling error…???

      • Mark McGuire permalink

        I depend on software to correct, or at least highlight, my spelling mistakes. Hopefully, WordPress is trying to keep up. I just checked my default (Mac) dictionary application — it doesn’t recognise “selfie” either. I guess these updates take time.

  2. Great blog Paul, very well written and informative. you are similar to me in the spreadable media ideas. I am not one for LOLz generally, much more serious (perhaps my undoing, perhaps not). It is hard to know where to go with it sometimes but really enjoyed your post anyway and shall be looking at your links today.

  3. Glad you found our work helpful to draw on here, Paul. One thing I’ll note about what I think is an especially important distinction between “virality” and “spreadability.” Virality implies that success only comes in some widespread sharing, for which everything becomes like a Mashable or Buzzfeed headline…while we hoped to differentiate spreadability, among other ways, as not implying that success is only achieved through the scale of the spreading. In other words, the spreadability of some content might be of high value if it results in deep discussion and engagement among a particular niche community. This is important as we talk about engagement of particular hyper-local communities, particular minority groups, particular professional sectors, etc., and not just what equals the most generalized content that the widest swath of people will want to share.

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