The Lives they Loved is a moving project from the New York Times. Readers have posted a photo and commentary about someone close who has died this year. The simple statements and photos combined are very powerful.
Archive for the ‘UGC’ Category
Tags: 2011, New York TImes
Tags: "The Are You Happy Project", 18daysinegypt, Antoni Negri, Antoni Roig, Caroline Basset, Challenge for Change, David Evan Harris, ECREA, Elisenda Ardevol, Eric Raymond, Global Lives, Highrise, Isis Hjorth, Jon Dovey, Kat Cizek, Life in a Day, Mad V, Mapping Main Street, Millionth Tower, Mozilla Foundation, Nancy Thumim, one day on earth, perry bard, Semantic Documentary, The Johnny Cash Project, Trish Morgan, Video Nation, Wreckamovie
I’ve just been in Barcelona, at the ECREA (European Communication Research & Education Association) Digital Culture Workshop which looked at innovative practices and critical theories. It was a terrific gathering – small enough to get to know people, focussed enough to be productive – a great mix of conviviality and critical dialogue. (Thanks to the convenors, Caroline Basset and Elisenda Ardevol.)
I presented in the Creative Practices strand which was concerned with, “concepts of participation, co-creativity, co-design or co-innovation in creative processes involving audiences and independent creators in a wide spectrum of activities including art, photography, video, and videogames.” My paper offered a draft categorisation of the projects I write about here, according to the type of contribution made by the participants. I’ll give a brief summary of the four categories.
In “The Creative Crowd” model which covers work including Mad V’s The Message, and perry bard’s Man with a Movie Camera; the Global Remix, multiple participants contribute fragments to a highly templated whole, analogous to the separate panels within a quilt. The units of content may not make much sense on their own but value and meaning accrue as they come together producing a distinctive aesthetic that’s about energy and repetition. (Though not a documentary, The Johnny Cash Project is a prime example of this mode.)
In the second model, “The Participant Observers” are distributed filmmakers who each contribute to a work that’s concerned with contrasting experiences of place. The participants decide when and what they shoot and what story they want to tell, but their role in the final contextualisation of that content can vary dramatically. Participants may contribute rushes towards a linear whole that someone else edits, as in Life in a Day, or produce a stand-alone film, a considered narrative, for an interactive framework as in Mapping Main Street. Though filmed observation is as old as documentary I see the prevalence of these situated observers now as significant. What they bring is the potential for documentary “knowledge” that is grounded in experience – situated, embodied, affective. This mode is all about multiplicity, and when content is organised in a database the output can also be open-ended, produced through the interactive experience of the viewer / user.
The third mode I call “The Community of Purpose”. Here, a group of participants take part in a production with a shared objective around social change. They may be involved in making content but may have another role in the process, as the resident experts do in the Highrise project. These projects tend to be iterative rather than having a fixed trajectory. Global Lives and One Day on Earth are examples here. What’s fascinating in this category is that collaborative process – the dialogue and experiences involved in production - begin to be as important as product. There is a definite turn in this direction right now, though this way of working is not new in itself. Kat Cizek’s work at the National Film Board, in particular, is a deliberate re-working of Challenge for Change – the 1960s project which initiated Community Media. ( See earlier post on Cizek as Filmmaker in Residence.) For more on this group do take a look at my interviews with David Evan Harris (Global Lives) and Kat Cizek (Highrise). An open rights framework such as Global Lives has can then add another dimension of emergence as uses for the content can grow in a unrestricted way, driven by collaborators.
After I submitted the abstract for Barcelona I added a fourth category, which I call, The Traces of the Multitude. (Thanks to Jon Dovey for introducing me to Negri’s concept, here used somewhat ambiguously.) This category relates to “Semantic Documentary” - work that’s just emerging like the Highrise spin-off, One Millionth Tower, and 18DaysinEgypt. These projects introduce a new aspect to collaboration by drawing on social media content – linking to a multitude of, potentially anonymous, contributors. Here we can start to see documentary that is continually live and updating, with static video linked to live web data. (I’ve been working on an article with Jon Dovey about this work and the wider implications of the “Sea of Data” for documentary, in which I ponder my own experiments on the The Are you Happy? Project. I’ll write more about that here soon.)
It was lovely at ECREA to meet and hear from a number of scholars doing theoretical work on areas close to mine. I presented alongside Isis Hjorth, from the Oxford Internet Institute, whose PhD examines peer-production in the Wreckamovie community. Isis is asking whether accounts of peer-production have been over optimistic, and if these modes aren’t in fact closer to the managerial and bureaucratic modes of conventional production than has been suggested. The other panelist, Antoni Roig, is, with co-researchers Talia Leibovitz and Jordi Sanchez Navarro of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, examining the concepts and practices of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. Again, their interest is in getting behind assumptions about democratisation to understand the complexities of these practices.
The discussion after the panel circled around what is going on in the dynamics of participation. As Trish Morgan asked in a Tweet, “Who has final editorial say in a collaborative, crowdsourced, peer-produced work?” The answer varies, and the discussion made me realise that I need to tease this out and make some of my working assumptions more explicit. When I speak about collaboration I assume that the types of contributions people make, and the control they have, will be uneven; that not everyone will have the same stake or involvement, though the terms certainly need to be clear at the start. I think of collaboration as a relationship that can be productive even if it’s asymmetrical. This perspective comes from experiences in production going back to Video Nation, where the BBC provided production expertise, cameras, training, editing, and the BBC platform, and the participants brought their everyday life experiences, community contexts, their time, thought and their recordings. The co-creative relationship that existed in the first stage of the VN project (94-2000) – which was founded on participants right of veto over what was broadcast – produced documentary insights that were valuable to the audience – based on reviews and audience feedback – and, by various accounts, to the participants – see Nancy Thumim‘s research at the time. Though it is worth saying that Nancy produced a more critical commentary on institutional mediation in her later research which looked at Digital Storytelling including the Capture Wales project I was part of at that time, which will be reflected in her forthcoming book, Self-Representation and Digital Culture. (I do apologise for referring to the VN example so often, but it’s so relevant here. For another take on VN, and a substantial overview of this field, see Nico Carpentier’s Media & Participation, published earlier this year.)
Video Nation, and many of the projects I describe on this blog, are initiated and structured by professional producers. This is not to say that participants don’t make substantial contributions to meaning. But that’s another discussion… The producers are “context providers” but only sometimes “content providers”. They can be seen as “benevolent dictators” as Eric Raymond has described it, referring to the dominant mode of organisation in Open-Source Software development. Even the exceptional Global Lives, which as David Evan Harris describes in his recent interview is now run as a collective, is still substantially influenced by Harris’ orginal vision.
Isis Hjorth mentioned the idea that there is often a charismatic individual behind crowd-sourced projects. It’s an interesting suggestion and isn’t at odds with the producer model I’m describing. You need to be motivated to take part as a volunteer in a collaborative project, and Cizek and Harris, for example, are certainly inspirational figures. The idea makes sense in a particular way in the projects described in the Creative Crowd model above. Those examples come close to Fandom. They are not necessarily led by, but they each involve an iconic figure – Mad V, Johnny Cash – or an iconic work – Man with a Movie Camera. [If anyone isn't sure of the iconic status of Mad V- pictured above - I can assure you that the interview with him on this blog has consistently been the most viewed page - years after he bowed out of You Tube.] These are works of homage. Thinking of them in this way underlines how the dynamics of participation inter-relate with structures of feeling that are not new, and not necessarily egalitarian. (For a nice catalogue of organisational models see the slide below – from a session I recently attended at the Mozilla Festival – where structures for open working were under discussion.)
So the Barcelona workshop raised some important and engaging questions for me. Being there made me realise that I need to unpack some of my starting points, and consider my assumptions. Those four categories may prove productive in that thinking, and they may not. I suspect now that they try and capture too much, conflating production, participation and aspects of form which need disentangling. Another outcome from the workshop for me was that I want to think more about how value is distributed in these projects – about money and surplus value, yes, but also reputational value, the value of taking part, audience value, public value. Some ethnographic work on particular projects is really needed right now. So the ECREA workshop was productive, as well as fun. And there was lots of interesting work under discussion that I haven’t mentioned here. Do take a look at the abstracts, which are all available on the website.
Tags: BBC, Charlotte Moore, Chris Mohr, Global Lives, Highrise, Life in a Day, Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remix, Morgan Matthews, Video Nation
Saturday was filming day for Britain in a Day, the UK version of Life in a Day which is being produced for the BBC by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free company, and directed by Morgan Matthews. Like Life in a Day the project will be made from content shot by the public drawn in through You Tube. The idea is to create, “the definitive self-portrait of Britain today, filmed by you”, which will be broadcast just prior to the 2012 Olympics. According to commissioner Charlotte Moore, all the content uploaded to You Tube will be kept as an archive, a time capsule of Britain 2012.
The BBC has worked with the public in a number of content collaborations designed to capture everyday life over the years. In 1986 over a million volunteers contributed to a snapshot of Britain for the Domesday project, recently revisited as Domesday Reloaded. As Charlotte Moore explains on the BBC blog Britain in a Day has a direct precedent in the BBC’s Video Nation,(the project I co-founded and produced for BBC 2 with Chris Mohr between 1993-2000, and which then continued on BBC online in various guises until March this year.) Looking further back both Video Nation and Life in a Day / Britain in a Day owe a debt to a much earlier British collaborative self-portrait, the remarkable Mass Observation, which began in 1937, and, among many other activities, undertook a number of day surveys,.
With digital tools and the web the early 2000s saw a variety of participatory initiatives at the BBC, projects like Blast, Audio Diaries and the Capture Wales/Cipolwg ar Gymru Digital Storytelling project that I oversaw. Then the mood changed and questions arose about why the BBC should get involved in these initiatives. The projects might be powerful for participants but how did they serve the wider audience? What was the BBC’s role in quality and editorial control in so-called “user-generated content”? More pragmatically, why should the BBC invest in what You Tube seemed to be taking care of?
In the face of these issues, and with commercial criticism that the BBC was doing too much across too many spheres, there was a retreat in the later 2000′s from investment in participatory work. BBC programme makers have gradually become fluent at drawing on social media for audience input and comment, but apart from as witnesses to news events, the BBC seemed to lose sight of its audience as content creators.
So I welcome Britain in a Day as a sign of a renewed curiosity about what might be possible when the BBC and the public work together in documentary. Saturday Nov 12th was an interesting day in an interesting year – the Remembrance commemorations coinciding with the leak about Armed Forces redundancies, with ex-soldiers at Occupy London, a gloomy economic picture contrasting with sublime Autumn weather. Having shown in making The Fallen how he can build a powerful whole from multiple stories, Matthews is just the director to work with the video material that people will have generated.
Putting audience created content into the hands of a professional director is one response to the possibilities of participatory culture for documentary. Projects like Highrise, Man with a Movie Camera; the Global Remix and Global Lives offer alternative approaches and show how collaborative and participatory modes can lead to new forms of documentary experience. I look forward to seeing Britain in a Day. Meanwhile I hope that this commission heralds more experimentation with participatory documentary by the BBC, including non-linear work which can compare with what the National Film Board has been doing in Canada, or Arte in France.
Tags: Brett Gaylor, Data Mining, Global Lives, Henry Jenkins, HTML5, Katerina Cizek, Kevin Macdonald, Life in a Day, Man with a Movie Camera, Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remix, one day on earth, Out my Window, perry bard, Quilts, Ridley Scott, The Johnny Cash Project, Trebor Scholz, YouTube
Happy New Year. I’m kicking off the year with some thoughts and questions prompted by looking back on 2010.
I’ve noted a flurry of global projects this past year as producers have taken advantage of participatory video and the online network to reflect daily life. The most interesting to me is the ongoing Global Lives project which attempts to counter a lack of global coverage in North America with a detailed reflection of 24 hours in some typical daily lives around the world (posts in July and November). I’ll be interviewing David Evan Harris, founder of Global Lives, for this blog later this week. Two other projects underway are attempting to synthesise crowd-sourced content shot around the world in a single day into linear documentaries. The blockbuster You Tube based feature documentary Life in a Day, being made by Oscar winners Kevin MacDonald and Ridley Scott, (posts in July and October ) chose July for filming, while the NGO sponsored One Day on Earth on Vimeo (post in October) opted for 10:10:10. The jury’s out on these as neither is yet complete though Life in a Day is nearly there and will be released in January.
In the most recent in a series of videos promoting Life in a Day, director Kevin Macdonald and editor Joe Walker talk about the process of making sense of the more than 5,000 hours of user generated video that their call to action generated. Despite the challenge presented by the sheer quantity of material MacDonald says that working with You Tube content has been great, giving them unusual artistic freedom to shape the work as they choose, a “purity of motivation” as he calls it, without a financier pushing for a product that will recoup his investment. It’s an enviable position for a documentary maker to be in. But as the participatory mode starts to get established in the industry we are going to have to think about the economics of these projects and ask at what point volunteer effort becomes unpaid labour, collaboration becomes exploitation. As Trebor Scholz puts it, in his trenchant criticism of what he calls “Playbour” (Play + Labour) in the digital economy, “free comes at a price”.
Scholz’s thought resonates for me in thinking about another of the year’s creative themes – the use of Data Mining to personalise the user experience in music videos. Arcade Fire’s video for “We Used to Wait”, The Wilderness Downtown (September post) made well-judged use of this affordance incorporating footage of the viewer’s own family home – courtesy of Google Maps and Street View – to create a moving exploration of growing up, memory and identity. In December, the Japanese band Sour followed up their 2009 hit Hibi No Nieiro, with its virtuoso use of crowd-sourced webcams, with Mirror, which features data-mined content. The interactive video was produced by Masashi Kawamura, who was also behind the 2009 video, in less than a month, with $5,000 raised on the mass funding platform for creative projects Kickstarter (the success of which is itself a noteworthy story of 2010).
Mirror combines band footage with content drawn in (with permission) from the users social networks, along with other material that’s freely available. Try it here. It’s a cleverly realised piece that’s been much admired (“absolutely wild“,”very cool“) but it backfired for me. Seeing my photos, content about me found through search, and even routes I’d walked when visiting friends and family on holiday (revealed by my phone location) woven into the video gave me a distinctly queasy feeling, as it graphically illustrated just how accessible all that personal information is. Here’s one person’s version:
There’s a gathering disquiet about the implications of all the data we’ve been giving away more and less unwittingly in our dealings online, data which is being monetised and potentially scrutinised. Data Mining and Dataveillance are emerging as major political issues for the next decade. Yet all this material is also a rich creative resource. I’m sure we’ll see an immediate explosion of projects imitating Mirror and The Wilderness Downtown, but I can imagine a backlash too, with personal content becoming a no-go area.
Both the Arcade Fire and Sour videos are made possible by HTML5, the latest version of the hypertext coding language, which integrates video into web pages rather than show it from a separate media player. These two experiments suggest how HTML5 is going to have a profound effect on video online – transforming it in the context of the emerging Semantic Web from a media which has been isolated from other web elements into an integrated part of the web – “semantic video” or ”hypervideo” as it’s been called.
Brett Gaylor and his associates in the open source Web Made Movies project at Mozilla have been busy experimenting with semantic video in 2010. (Posts in September and October ) They’ve created the popcorn.js library and a number of rapid fire demos exploring popcorn’s potential for web documentary. In early 2011 they’ll be adding Butter to Popcorn as Gaylor explains on Tumblr. Butter is a graphical interface that allows filmmakers to create popcorn pages linking their video to other web content. Meanwhile further work on popcorn.js is underway to make it more open and useable. You can keep track of developments at Web Made Movies.
Two of my favourite pieces of the year – The Johnny Cash Project (August and November) and Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake (October) – show us what a crowd-sourced aesthetic can be. In an interview when she was nominated for the You Tube Play awards, artist Perry Bard explains how she abandoned her original idea to remake Vertov’s seminal 1929 documentary herself shot by shot as “truly boring”. Man with a Movie Camera is such an inventive, energetic, ecstatic piece – a celebration of the city, modernity and the potential of cinema itself – that it is hard to imagine how one individual could dream up a remake that wouldn’t look dull in comparison. So Bard, an experienced producer of collaborative public art, threw that thought out in favour of the unpredictable strategy of crowd-sourcing. She didn’t know what would come of it, but she committed herself to an open approach, with rules never to upload anything herself, and never to get rid of anything. Her leap of faith was richly rewarded with the submission of hundreds of Vertov-inspired contributions, ”a collision course of one-night stands, people from all over the world, Bangkok next to Beirut” as she says, which turn out to be the perfect match for the heady rush of the original.
In a similar way, the aggregated frames of The Johnny Cash Project (August and November posts), each drawn by a devoted fan, collectively make a big enough statement to memorialise the epic talent of “The Man in Black”. Again, one person’s homage might have been nice, but there’s a pitch of energy that the crowd brings, when each participant has committed themselves creatively to their own contribution. These projects work artistically as a quilt does, where an accumulation of contrast becomes a pattern with an aesthetic coherence of its own.
Quilting’s been on my mind this year as a metaphor and precursor of digital collaborative work and the excellent Quilts exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum was one of my cultural highlights (July). Henry Jenkins drew my attention to another contemporary characteristic of quilting in November, when he memorably kicked off his opening remarks at the DIY Citizenship Conference in Toronto; “My grandmother was a Remix artist…”
Finally, I think online documentary came of age this year, with Katerina Cizek’s “Out My Window” (November) which brought us first person insights into the lives of suburban highrise dwellers – with form and content working together just right.
There’s no reason to think developments in 2011 will be any less interesting. I’m looking forward to it.
Tags: Kevin Macdonald, Life in a Day, one day on earth, Ridley Scott, Vimeo, YouTube
Today sees the filming of a global collaborative project; One Day on Earth, which the organisers are describing as the “largest participatory media event in history”. It’s hot on the heels of Life in a Day, the Ridley Scott, Kevin Macdonald project that I wrote about back in July for which You Tubers were invited to record on July 24th, and at first glance seems barely distinguishable from that initiative.
“ Together, we will showcase the amazing diversity, conflict, tragedy, and triumph that occur in one day,” the promo explains,” If you believe in something, if you have one message you can put in the world’s time capsule, one story you can put in the record of history, we hope that you will be inspired, and really go out and find it, and put it in the capsule, put it in the document, put it in our film.”
Sounds familiar, but where the focus of the call to action for Life in a Day was “compelling and distinctive” content and directorial point of view, One Day on Earth has a social purpose, or a number of purposes, as the Friends and Causes pages on the website makes clear. In particular many of today’s recordings will have a sustainability theme as 10:10:10 (10th October 2010) is a day of action for a number of organisations addressing climate change including 350.org, a partner in One Day on Earth. Another interesting feature of One Day on Earth’s mission statement is that the content created today will become a user created shareable documentary archive. That’s a major piece of work to deliver, but could be of immense value. Additionally, with one project on You Tube and the other on Vimeo it will be fascinating to see how the raw content and the edited films from the two projects compare.
Writing back in July I thought that, with the producers’ star names and the lure of a trip to the Sundance Film Festival for a lucky few, Kevin Macdonald and the Life in a Day team would receive a lot of content. I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that they would be trawling through 80,000 contributions from 197 countries. That’s an awesome shooting ratio. The editor, Joe Walker, explains how they’re processing that material on the Life in a Day channel.
Tags: Michael Wesch, Aaron Koblin, Brett Gaylor, HTML5, Creative Commons, Mozilla, Open Video Conference, Open Video Alliance, Scott Draves, Casey Pugh, Jamie Wilkinson, LucasFilm, Arts, Video, Ben Moskowitz, Kaltura, Vincent Moon, Intelligent Television, Star Wars: Uncut, Star Wars: A New Hope, popcorn.js, Susan Crawford, Ushahidi, Eric Whiteacre, Virtual Choir, Dove, Onslaught, Shawn Ahmed, Uncultured Project, Adam Chodikoff, The Yes Men, Eyebeam
Having worked in TV and then for a decade in “new” media I’ve felt acutely aware of inhabiting distinct cultures in my professional life. It’s perhaps been most apparent when I’ve been involved in cross-platform projects. Linear and non-linear production structures and processes don’t easily mesh, and I’ve been in situations with good creative people from different sides of the fence regarding each other as if they’re aliens. This can be about a lack of understanding of each others’ processes, but it’s also about underlying values.
Openness, in particular, is written into the infrastructure of the web and it’s a core principle for many who work on that platform. For producers in the one-to-many world of broadcasting, editorial control is a raison d’etre (in the BBC’s case it’s interesting to note that corporation control is a requirement of the Charter) and there’s still a widespread assumption that closed processes are key to quality. People interested in widening participation have therefore tended to work from the margins of broadcasting – in independent film, community video and access TV. So it was a real treat for me to attend the Open Video Conference in New York last weekend, a forum in which progressive currents in the two cultures come together.
‘Open video’ is about defending and extending the democratic potential of video on the web. It’s not just a technical issue, it encompasses rights, tools, platforms, methods and literacy, as Conference Director Ben Moskowitz explained in the programme;
“…we’re going to need to ensure that creativity is compensated; that the tools for making and watching video are accessible and widely distributed; that the network for delivering video is open to all producers, big and small; and that public policy supports the ability of mass numbers of people to participate in the video conversation. We are saturated with video—basic literacy now demands that it’s just as easy to make and share video as it is to consume it.”
The short film above, based on interviews with attendees at the first Open Video Conference in 2009 is a great introduction to the territory.
The conference, organised by the Open Video Alliance and sponsored by organisations including Mozilla (open source software foundation) and Kaltura (open source video platforms), ran for two days followed by a hackday on Sunday. There were over sixty sessions and hundreds of attendees – panels, showcases, practical discussions around new technologies – with three streams running much of the time. You can see the full programme here. Inevitably there was lots that I missed, but I saw and heard lots that was important and thought-provoking, and there was some inspiring content on show. Here are the CollabDocs highlights.
Vincent Moon, an artist new to me, talked to us from (a dimly lit room in) Paris via Skype. He described his approach – handheld, often single-take field recordings of musicians – as a deliberate reinvention of video for the web, with the camera a catalyst to bring people together. “My point is not to make movies but to make relationships – basically, to meet people, and I found a good pretext to do that.” His videos, which you can see on his own site, on Vimeo and You Tube, really deliver – by taking advantage of the haptic, go-anywhere qualities of the camcorder he creates a fluid, intimate form that feels live. Moon is a nice example of a documentarist who is unafraid of sharing his work under a Creative Commons license – you can read his thinking on that here. (If you want to know more about what Creative Commons means in practice you can hear from a range of producers in this video produced by Intelligent Television, a US organisation to promote cultural and educational video who were among the conference sponsors.)
A month after winning an Interactive Emmy for Star Wars: Uncut – their crowd-sourced fan remake of Star Wars: A New Hope – producers Casey Pugh and Jamie Wilkinson still seem pretty bemused at that turn of events. The project’s creator Pugh had been working at Vimeo, puzzling over how to get filmmakers to collaborate and had noticed Aaron Koblin’s projects in crowd sourcing – The Sheep Market, Bicycle Built for Two Thousand, and Ten Thousand Cents. Jamie Wilkinson was running Know Your Meme, a site which studies internet phenomena. Together they looked for a subject where fan enthusiasm would motivate participation. Star Wars was an obvious topic – a ‘gimme’ as Pugh put it. He was a fan, and in terms of online traffic Star Wars gets more hits than Jesus! (Similar thinking – that sci-fi fans were an online community with critical mass and with the passion and expertise to get involved – was behind My Science Fiction Life – the collective biography of British science fiction that we made at the BBC a few years back. It paid off – they are an exceptionally connected community.)
Pugh & Wilkinson cut “Star Wars: A New Hope” up into 15 second segments, made a website that allowed users to choose which scene to work on, gave participants the structure of a deadline, and promoted the project – quite modestly – to their own networks. Within months fans had recreated the whole film, using all sorts of witty, inventive styles and approaches. LucasFilm were (wisely) cool with it, and keen that The Empire Strikes Back be given the same treatment, though apparently not interested in paying for it to be done. So Pugh has an Emmy but no job, meanwhile he and Wilkinson are wondering what other movies to treat the same way. Ideas to email@example.com
It was good to hear from Scott Draves, an early innovator in open-source digital art, who gave a lightning introduction to his beautiful distributed screen saver project Electric Sheep project, which is now ten years old. A “cyborg mind composed of 400,000 computers and people worldwide”, is how he described it, a collective work, “where all the computers running the software are working together to render animation and share the results.” A voting system introduces a Darwinian dimension with the ‘fittest’ designs growing stronger. There’s loads about Draves and his projects online, including this gem, a terrific extended interview with veteran Manhattan cable talk-show host Harold Channer .
HTML5 represents a turning point for video online, and there were a number of sessions devoted to it – showcasing HTML5 players, streaming solutions and cross-platform delivery. HTML5 makes video “of the web not on it” as rip! A Remix Manifesto producer Brett Gaylor put it, showing Mozilla’s experiment in semantic web – the popcorn.js demo – that I wrote about recently. To show the potential of popcorn Gaylor had created a new demo that updated Kuleshov‘s famous Soviet era demonstration of the effect of film montage – cute.
The conference wasn’t all good news though. Former Obama innovation adviser and legal scholar Susan Crawford used her keynote to warn against complacency in taking the current openness of the web for granted. She sees this Autumn as a potential tipping point for the open internet with the increasing consolidation of ISPs and two significant pieces of legislation in the pipeline in the US – one that could result in the preventative blocking of domain names suspected of actual or intended(!) copyright infringement (COICA), the other that could require new websites to comply with design guidelines so that the FBI can potentially access them which could mean needing a license in order to launch (CALEA). “Your voices are not heard in Washington”, she warned the gathering, urging the building of more powerful alliances between web advocacy bodies like the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation).
Media literacy was a major theme of the two days, and the cultural anthropologist and videographer Michael Wesch made this the subject of his talk, “Towards Open Video Culture; What’s at stake?” Though he cited a number of diverse projects as evidence of the maturing and achievements of online collaboration and creativity – the breakthrough crisis information crowdsourcing of Ushahidi, the musical virtuosity of Eric Whiteacre’s Virtual Choir and the political effectiveness of Greenpeace’s video riposte to Dove’s “Onslaught” online advert - Wesch’s talk was less up-beat about digital culture than in his often cited, must-see 2008 Library of Congress speech.
Wesch challenged the widespread assumption that the younger, ‘digital native’ generation are generally confident in navigating and making sense of the contemporary media landscape. He characterised his students as “meaning seekers”, who feel passive in the face of all the content that’s out there, and made an urgent case for the role of teachers in higher education in developing what he calls “participatory literacy” – the critical thinking and making that students need to become “meaning makers”.
He gave the example of Shawn Ahmed who, inspired by Jeffrey Sacks‘ (“The End of Poverty”,”Common Wealth”), dropped out of college at Notre Dame to start his Uncultured Project – “haphazardly trying to make the world a better place”. For Wesch, the role of the contemporary teacher is to collaborate with students in learning through engaging with just such real-life problems as those that Ahmed felt he could only pursue by leaving college.
There was lots of discussion at the Open Video Conference but it wasn’t just a talking shop. There were practical sessions, showcases of new technology, and panels that were well cast to create fruitful dialogue. A thread that exemplified the engaged and grounded quality of the proceedings was on Human Rights video. It began with “Cameras Everywhere: Human Rights and Web Video”, a panel introduced by Sam Gregory from Witness which set out the thorny and, in this context, potentially life and death issues around ’informed consent’, intentionality (how to maintain the original context in a video’s ongoing life online), and the tensions (due to the dangers of re-victimisation and retaliation) between privacy and freedom of expression. It was a lesson in just how entangled (new) media, message, and ethics are. But it didn’t end with the theory. The panel was followed by a workshop to define practical and technical responses to some of the challenges – approaches to anonymisation for instance, compression solutions to make video available in regions with low bandwidth etc. Then, at the hackday on Sunday, developers got stuck in, in dialogue with producers and advocates, to prototype technical solutions. A really worthwhile use of the assembled knowledge and talents.
All that, and I didn’t even get to see The Daily Show‘s video guru Adam Chodikoff, a mega session on the theory and practice of remix, or The Yes Men (but hey, this is the open web, I can still post the trailer from their new movie…) Happily the conference was recorded and I look forward to the videos being available so that I can catch up with some of what I missed. I’ll post a link then.
Finally, a big thanks to the Open Video Conference for travel support.
Tags: Capture Wales, Center for Digital Storytelling, Clay Shirky, Guillermo del Toro, Henry Jenkins, Joe Lambert, Kurt Rheinhard, Pan's Labyrinth, storytelling, transmedia, transmedia storytelling
Gosh, there’s a buzz about transmedia storytelling at the moment. It seems like some kind of tipping point’s been reached in terms of a recognition of just how significant non-linear storytelling is going to be. Here for example is Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, talking at the Toronto Film Festival last week;
“…I want to learn animation, I want to learn video games… I want to learn book publishing and I want to learn TV. Why? Because, as a storyteller, I’m convinced that in the next five to ten years, we’re going to need to know all of that… People talk about transmedia, and then some people are very radical and say “That’s not possible,” or “That would be the end of civilization.” I think it’s going to happen. I don’t think it’s going to happen for all things, I think there will be films that will be films, and games that will be games, and so on and so forth. But more and more, things are going to be permeable.”
If you’re interested in transmedia and the wider implications of the web and emerging technologies for storytelling then check out the Storytelling series of videos recently released on Vimeo. Created by Kurt Rheinhard from the Institut fur Theorie in Applied Arts & Sciences at Zurich University they’re based on interviews with a small group of key US commentators including Henry Jenkins – MIT, Clay Shirky – New York University and Joe Lambert – Center for Digital Storytelling (& mentor and friend to us on the BBC’s Capture Wales project).
The ten videos break this big topic down into themes - Games, Transmedia, Potential & Risks of Social Media etc – and offer contrasting perspectives and plenty of food for thought. They’re all worth watching. I’m embedding the videos that are particularly pertinent to the CollabDocs project.
Tags: 6 Billion Others. Global Lives, Dictionary of Man, Global Lives, Kevin Macdonald, Life in a Day, Ridley Scott
The You Tube Collab gets the Hollywood treatment in a project just announced. Oscar winning filmmakers Ridley Scott and Kevin Macdonald have joined forces with You Tube and the Sundance Institute for a “historic global experiment to create a user-generated feature shot in a single day.” Through a multi-versioned promo available in 20 languages they’re inviting You Tubers around the world to video on July 24th for “Life in a Day”, to create a portrait of 24 hours on earth. Macdonald will cut selected contributions into a feature documentary which will premiere at the Sundance Festival and on You Tube in January 2011.
As well as working with existing You Tubers, the team behind “Life in a Day” are responding to the unevenness of digital inclusion by, according to the Wall Street Journal article, “distributing 400 to 500 cameras to NGOs and non-profits in 20 different countries and areas “on the wrong side of the digital divide” so that as many voices as possible will have the opportunity to be heard.”
“Life in a Day” is the latest in a spate of ‘life on earth’ projects which have been shaped by the affordances of digital video and participation. These include Yann Arthus Bertrand’s epic 6 Billion Others for which he and his team travelled the world shooting over 5,000 interviews, Bob Geldof’s forthcoming Dictionary of Man, and the Global Lives project, the latter providing a particularly interesting contrast to “Life in a Day”.
The mission of “Global Lives” is “to collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.” To do this the US producers recruited 500+ volunteers who have between them recorded 24 hours in the everyday life of ten individuals selected to “roughly represent the diversity of humanity” so that, for example, six of the ten are Asians, and six are under thirty. The ten twenty four hour films they have made have been combined to produce an immersive installation which ran from February to June this year at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and heads to Europe in July. An online library will follow.
While “Life in a Day” encourages You Tubers to be auteurs, offering a strong point of view, Global Lives producers worked to a format designed to suggest a lack of mediation, effacing the distance between the subject and the viewer. As the producers describe it, there is “no narrative other than that which is found in the composition of everyday life…we invite audiences to confer close attention onto other worlds, and simultaneously reflect upon their own.”
In Ridley Scott’s You Tube interview about “Life in a Day” he promotes taking part as a chance to become a filmmaker, like him – “if you want to do what I do, go out, get a camera, get some buddies…Just do it.” You Tubers whose footage is selected for the finished film will be credited as co-directors, and twenty of them will be flown to Utah to attend the Sundance Festival premiere. The project announcement has already provoked a buzz on the “Life in a Day” comments section, with mixed responses – people saying they plan to take part, and are thinking about what they’ll record, and others questioning Hollywood “cashing in” on user content, and asking what the chances really are getting selected. But with front page promotion on You Tube, and the potential reward of credit on a feature documentary, the team can expect a lot of submissions, and though only a tiny proportion can possibly make it into the final cut, all of them will be available to view on the “Life in a Day” Channel.
One of the more sceptical comments suggests that what Scott and Macdonald propose to create is in a sense what You Tube already provides everyday – a snapshot of the world via a kaleidoscope of videos perspectives. It’s a valid point. And as we can each navigate our own routes through that participatory content, search and view by theme, browse and encounter the unexpected, and make our own assessments of what we find, there are legitimate questions about whose perspective is served and what kind of value is added in turning that into a linear experience. It will be interesting to see if “Life in a Day” presents any convincing answers.
Tags: Anne Heppermann, BBC, Berkman Center, Capitol of Punk, James Burns, Jesse Shapins, Kara Oehler, Main Street, Mapping Main Street, Media and Place Productions, National Public radio, NPR, Sinclair Lewis, UnionDocs, Voices, Yellow Arrow, Zeega
“When politicians and the media mention Main Street, they evoke one people and one place. But there are over 10,466 streets named Main in the United States… Mapping Main Street is a collaborative documentary media project that creates a new map of the United States through stories, photos, and videos recorded on actual Main Streets.”
Back in April I wrote about visiting UnionDocs in Brooklyn and mentioned an independent project created by the Co-Directors of the UnionDocs Collaborative - Mapping Main Street. I’m an admirer of this collaborative documentary project which has set out to reflect the diverse realities of Main Street America, unsettle assumptions, and foster dialogue in and about community life.
The four creators of MMS are a transdisciplinary group. Kara Oehler and Anne Heppermann are public radio producers, multimedia journalists and sound artists. Jesse Shapins is an urban media artist and theorist. James Burns is an economist, photographer, mathematician, who created the information architecture and data engine of the MMS website. Together they have significant experience and expertise in media production and public participation, informed by a conceptual framework that sees media as public domain and art as a tool for engaging “matters of common concern”. Jesse was one of the creators of the influential Yellow Arrow public art project, and Kara and he first worked together on the Yellow Arrow offshoot “Capitol of Punk”, a non-linear documentary mapping Washington’s music scene.
Mapping Main Street was created as a response to the way that politicians were invoking Main Street to stand for “ordinary America” during the 2009 election campaign. This is hardly a new story, as Jesse noted in an article for “Writing Cities”, since the publication of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street in 1920, “Main Street has been a highly contested shifting metaphor for what constitutes traditional American values and the “average” American experience.” MMS was designed as an intervention in this story through the co-creation and sharing of multiple representations of “these corridors of commerce and community” as seen from the streets themselves.
The project kicked off in May 2009 with a 12,000 mile journey across the country to visit Main Streets and gather material, followed by promotion to the team’s networks and, through a National Public Radio series, to the wider public. Audio stories with stills made by the team act as seed content to inspire and encourage contributions that are posted on Flickr and Vimeo, and drawn in to the MMS website using public APIs. The aspiration is to document all of the streets named Main in the USA, and to date there’s content from 591.
I’ve been keen to talk to the MMS team and recently hooked up with Jesse and Kara on skype for a phone interview which you can read here. The interview covers important fundamentals of collaborative participatory work – the role of the producer in “designing frameworks that have very specific constraints” (my italics – I think this is key), the relationship between professionally produced and citizen content, the challenge of how to structure a good user-experience from a “gigantic database”- a challenge met by the MMS team through what they call, ”algorithmic curation”.
An attitude to the database as a creative opportunity for reflecting a non-linear, multi-vocal aesthetic is an exciting aspect of the thinking behind MMS. “What the database enables in the context of public media arts is open-ended, indeterminacy. Instead of simply representing a singular thesis, the database allows for multiplicity… a framework that brings together multiple voices and multiple media formats. “ (From a presentation by Jesse & Kara to the Northeastern School of Architecture Feb’10). The team plans to share this approach through the development of Zeega, an open-source toolkit for the creation of API-driven interactive documentaries, which is high on the agenda of a new organisation they’ve set up, the non-profit Media And Place (MAP) Productions.
Something we didn’t touch on in the interview is the appeal of Main Street as subject matter. In a presentation by Kara, James and Jesse at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard (which is well worth watching), Kara says that when she records vox pops on the street usually only one in three people will be prepared to talk, but on this theme everyone wants to talk! This reminded me of how eager people were to talk about Voices, a project about accent and dialogue that I was involved in at the BBC, and it’s interesting to think about why some topics engage in that way. On Voices it seemed that people had a confidence, a sense of ownership of the subject - we are all, after all, experts in our own linguistic usage. Many also wanted to weigh in about the issues of class and power that play out around language (at least in the UK). The subject was also emotionally resonant – it seemed to me because language is so linked to where we have come from – both geographically, but also in the oedipal sense. Main Street is similarly resonant, layered and contested thematic territory, and as such fertile ground for participation and debate.
Getting the subject matter right is clearly important to any media project but it’s critical for a participatory project which needs to matter and to be accessible for people to want to get involved. That’s happening on MMS, with educators in particular picking up the topic and facilitating local initiatives around it. Main Street is a great subject, and Mapping Main Street is doing important work with it – engaging a dialogue about the lived experience of this site of “common concern”.