Monday, February 26, 2007

beyond broadcast @ MIT

beyond broadcast took place saturday in frank gehry's wonderful strata building at MIT. it was organized by three entities - MIT's comparative media studies, harvard's berkman center for internet & society, and yale's information society project - and was sponsored by the center for social media. the conference was convened, according to the web site, to explore "how participatory culture is putting the tools of media creation and critique in the hands of citizens themselves." with over 400 people in attendance, ranging from media artists, media activists, academics, bloggers, and industry people, expectations were high.

conference keynote speaker henry jenkins got things started right. smart, engaging, energetic, and funny, jenkins is a joy to behold and when it comes to ideas, the guy is on fire. drawing from convergence culture as well as his career's worth of work on fan culture, jenkins bounced from big idea to big idea, reminding us - a bit too optimistically for my tastes - that the kids are alright.

the talk included the seemingly requisite feed into second life. however, in a very unparticipatory culture move, questions and comments from second lifers went largely ignored. it seems to me that if conference organizers are going to arrange feeds into second life, they really should design feeds out of second life. without such interaction, the second lifers become observers, not participants. for me, that's sort of creepy. for a conference on participatory democracy, that's just wrong.

john palfrey, executive director of the berkman center for internet and society, followed jenkins with a brief yet insightful overview of politics and the internet. this was, perhaps, the most traditionally academic segment of the conference, with palfrey offering ideas regarding participatory democracy, economic democracy, and semiotic democracy. (todd mundt provides an excellent overview of john's talk here.)

but then things dimmed. the first panel, "participatory culture," was dull at best. elizabeth osder, senior director of product development at yahoo, said little, if anything, besides reminding the audience that yahoo owns flickr, delicious, and now mybloglog. kenny miller, executive vp and creative director at MTV, said even less and said it in a much less organized way. fortunately, the third panelist, arin crumley, one half of the creative team behind the film four-eyed monster, saved the panel. fed through a stream from LA, arin recounted his and his partner susan buice's experiences with, on the one hand, the traditional film festival circuit, and, on the other hand, posting parts of the film to blogs and myspace. arin's energy and ideas woke up the crowd.

unfortunately, however, the excitement was short-lived as the panel moderator, reason magazine's jesse walker, largely shut out both the first life and second life audience from the Q and A and instead used the time to ask his own questions. the only exciting - not to mention telling - part of the Q and A was when an online participant's question made it to the stage: "how do panelists," the questioner asked more or less, "see the needs of advertisers matching the needs of users?" elizabeth either understood the question and deferred or did not understand the question and was mum; kenny said, "great question," and answered that ultimately it's up to users. ok. as a user who creates plenty of user-generated content, i've got an idea - how about not matching my content to advertising? how about letting me converse and create without constant reminders and nudges to consume? it was strange, and depressing, that a large auditorium filled with really smart people could not even conceive of an advertising-free participatory culture.

after a much needed coffee break (during which i met rick burnes, part of the team behind the terrific and free mapping tool atlas), we reconvened for the second panel which featured jennifer harris (from the center for digital democracy), tad hirsch (MIT media lab), and chuck defeo (e-campaign manager for bush/cheney 2004). jennifer offered a brief yet on target reminder that all the nastiness found in old media (consolidation, commercialization, consumerism) is found, naturally, in new media. tad provided an overview of some of the really interesting projects he's working on - sort of an annotated resume. and chuck explained the importance of social media in the political process in general and republican political process in particular. i had mixed feelings regarding chuck. on the one hand, it was great to have a conservative voice among a sea of traditional liberals; on the other hand, saying that people like bush and cheney want "conversations" and "feedback" and "user-generated content" is just plain false. the best part of the panel was near the end when jennifer, perhaps channelling the frustration felt by many of us, had enough of chuck and tore into his argument. finally, a little conversation.

the panel's moderator was drew clark, from the center for public integrity, and he did his best to give the speakers ample time, entertain questions from the physical audience, and integrate questions from the online participants. the most telling question was also the most disturbing - something like "all this activism is great and all, but what are the business models?"

can you stand it?

can you imagine asking a question like that to, oh, say, the brave people who took a stand at stonewall? can you imagine approaching the freedom riders and asking them, "um, what is your business model?" how about the abolitionists? or the suffragists?

since when did democratic movements require business models? and while we're here, since when did marketing gurus become our go-to guys for democracy? maybe we need less conferences about web 2.0 and more conferences about activism 1.0 - good old fashioned people-powered movements, in the streets not on our screens.

the day's highlight was lunch - not because of the tasty sandwiches but because of my company: barbara abrash, director of public programs for the center for media, culture, and history at NYU and a member of the center for social media. at lunch, barbara told me about a project she's working on that examines documentary films and the communities that form around them. she mentioned one example - a documentary film about children with cancer. the filmmakers (and pbs?) got together with organizations like the lance armstrong foundation to foster dialogue. dialogue about america's number one taboo subject: death. dialogue about the grief experienced by the children, their families, and their friends. dialogue about early detection and prevention of cancer in general and cancer in children in particular. what barbara has been studying are the networks - online and offline - that form around such powerful films. having sat through a few hours of talks about technology, i was moved by barbara's discussion of people. talking to barbara made me think that perhaps in our mad dash towards everything 2.0, we've lost sight of the more human elements.

i'd never been to MIT, and i was growing impatient with the conference's level of discourse, so i skipped the afternoon working group sessions and walked aimlessly around campus. the best part was stumbling upon a huge auditorium packed with over 500 high school students competing in the harvard-mit math tournament! the kids were psyched to be there and i could literally feel their excitement. i stayed for a while - just to feed off of some of the buzz that was missing at my own conference.

about two hours later, the conference reconvened, this time to share the fruits of the working groups' collective intelligence. the ideas were good - some great, some inspired - but without any coherence or links between them.

the conference ended with a "wrap up" by david weinberger. as a leading proponent of everything-as-conversation, david surprised me by conversing very little about the ideas expressed in the conference. instead, he talked a lot about the complexity of the concept of "ours."

i have been attending conferences for the last twelve years and the majority are, unfortunately, uneventful and uninspired. i wanted beyond broadcast to be different. and, with heavy hitters like harvard, yale, and MIT as organizers, i expected it to be different.

i don't regret attending beyond broadcast and i hope the organizers, with help from the center for social media, will continue to plan future conferences. at the same time, i hope they think hard about what works and what doesn't, who attends and who doesn't, who participates and who doesn't. but perhaps more importantly, we - we who care about these issues, we who care about democracy - need to think hard about these questions. gone are the days when we turn to harvard, MIT, and yale for answers. these are the days when we turn to each other.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

arthur magazine folds

arthur, america's best and boldest magazine, folded on friday.

arthur launched in 2002 under the fearless leadership of jay babcock (one of my best friends from college). the concept was - and is - novel: long feature articles about art, culture, and politics written by some of today's best writers. oh, and the magazine was free.

back in 2003, as america crept towards war and americans kept silent, arthur published "arthur against empire," a loud and bombastic and fearless fuck you to the forces of war. as americans tuned out, arthur turned on, featuring articles about smoking pot, about shamanism, about transcendence. as americans spent more and more of their time logged on, arthur suggested logging off, and featured some of doug rushkoff's best work about technology and stepping away from it.

arthur told us about devendra banhart years ago, when most of us were like, "devandra what?" arthur put brightblack morning light on the cover followed by joanna newsom. arthur featured a 12,000 word essay (12,000!) by alan moore (v for vendetta, the watchmen) on 25,000 years of pornography. arthur featured articles about how to ciphon gas from SUVs, about the powers of almonds and sprigs of mint, and about how a significant portion of NBA players play stoned. arthur featured a hilarious and horrifying interview between jay and the lead singer of godsmack about the band's music being used for army recruitment.

arthur challenged almost everything horrific about our times - the war, the war machine, a violent everyday culture, capitalism run amok, the corporatization of everything, mass produced culture and mass produced imaginations, and the utter lack of curiosity that plagues our country. when faced with the horror of our times, arthur was something you could actually believe in. and did i mention it was free?

if you're in LA, consider attending arthur's wake. free giveaways and readings by molly frances, oliver hall, and peter relic. the wake goes down thursday, march 1, at 7:30, and takes place at the family bookstore at 436 n. fairfax ave (across the street from canter's deli).

in my world, the word visionary is used too often. these days, any kid running a that sells out to google for a bazillion dollars is called a visionary. but visionaries, true visionaries, have something to give, something that is deep and wonderful and scary and enlightening. true visionaries give us something that make us better people - a rare and special something that makes us more sensitive, wise, curious, and engaged. jay's a visionary and i'll be eager to see what kinds of visions he works on next. but in the meantime, it sure is sad to see this one fold.

update: for a taste of the inside scoop, check out the village voice's coverage.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

the heart of campus is its library

digital journalism continues to grow and the students continue to impress me. things feel significantly ramped up - we have a group blog, students are blogging independently, and students (and others!) are leaving interesting comments here and there. and today one student, eva, asked if she and others can blog about stuff i didn't assign. my answer, in two simple words, was: hell yes!

our domain is USF campus. so ... imagine a google map of a college campus spread over a few blocks in the middle of san francisco. now imagine pins stuck on various campus buildings, green areas, residence halls, recreational facilities, and spaces for reflection. finally, imagine each of these pins being clickable so that users are hyperlinked to student designed and written blog posts, flickr sets, and video about particular portions of campus.

can't imagine it? well, i can. but, much more importantly - i think my students can imagine it. for the most part, i am impressed with my students' ability to keep up with weekly readings, lesson plans, and new media tasks while simultaneously being able to think about the bigger picture, the bigger vision, of the course. i suspect that my students understand that once we learn some basic tools we can create cool stuff. now if only they would stop arriving late to class ...

we began with the heart of campus - gleeson library. fortunately for us, gleeson library currently features an outstanding exhibit on graphic novels curated by USF librarians kathy woo and debbie benrubi. as a class, we visited the library, took pictures with our digital cameras and cellphones, and interviewed librarians involved in the exhibit. (students enrolled in digital journalism have already taken journalism 1, either with teresa moore or michael robertson, so they already have basic reporting, interviewing, and writing skills.) finally, before leaving they were required to select at least one graphic novel and check it out from the library.

the assignment that followed was simple: blog about the exhibit in gleeson library. i asked my students to cover a particular angle of the exhibit, to make their blog posts fascinating, and to include at least one image, one hyperlink, and a bunch of tags. finally, i asked them to integrate - somehow, someway - their graphic novel into their blog posts.

true journalists, my students posted their blog entries minutes before deadline. we spent today talking about and critiquing each others' blog posts. my students are nice and polite and directed most of their time towards what they liked, not disliked, about their fellow students' blog posts. but when critiques did arise students were really receptive and took them in.

the semester is still young but so far i remain impressed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

usf event: wise fool community arts showcase and discussion

members of wise fool community arts create and use giant, beautiful puppets for community celebrations and protests. there's nothing quite like being part of a march or demonstration and finding yourself next to people and puppets like this:

next week, members of wise fools community arts, based in berkeley, will be on campus discussing and sharing how they use art and theater as vehicles for community building, self-determination, and social and political change. the event is the first of three in the "'we must be the change': a performance and social justice speaker series," organized by eve shapiro, that brings local political art and performance groups to the USF campus during spring 2007.

just the facts:

date: monday, february 26, 12:15-2:15pm
location: mclaren 252
cost: free of charge and open to all!

"we must be the change" is co-sponsored by the davies forum, gender and sexuality studies, latin american studies, the mccarthy center, media studies, performance and social justice, politics, sociology, and visual arts.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

what is feevy?

i've been thinking and playing with feevy for the last few days and am trying to answer what should be an easy question: what is feevy?

1. blogroll: at the most simple level, feevy replaces the blogroll. feevy is a list, a public list, of some of the blogs i read.

2. RSS reader: feevy serves as a RSS reader. (what's RSS? read lee lefever's "RSS in plain english.") since i've had feevy, i have stopped using bloglines.

3. visiting voices: so much of blogging is narcissistic - here are my daily observations! here, via flickr, are my daily photos! here, via, are my favorite songs! here, via library thing, are the books i read! through feevy, other bloggers, their words, and their pictures become part of my blog. to a certain extent, the me! me! evolves, a little, to me! me! we! we! we! and that's cool. i really like how, with feevy's help, a significant portion of the words on this page are written by people who are not me.

4. blog portal: feevy is not exactly a blog portal but it makes creating blog portals very, very easy. david has been pointing many bloggers to one example - - a portal of spanish representatives who have blogs. excellent! someone interested in the US 08 presidential race should create some similar blog roll with democratic candidates on the left and republican candidates on the right - and with easy scalability to allow for alternatives to the two party machine. with about an hour of work, you would have an easy way to track blog posts from 2008 US prez blogs.

there's more. there's much more deeper considerations like the way feevy changes blog reading. it's one thing to read blogs from bookmarks, it's another thing to read blogs via RSS. well, it's yet another thing to read blogs via feevy. there's deeper considerations like the way feevy changes our tracking of blog visitors. anyone who has used feevy plus some kind of tracker like statcounter knows exactly what i am talking about. and then there's deeper cultural considerations like the fact that feevy was developed not in silicon valley but in spain and that its original base community is spanish speaking.

but it's a long weekend and i'm in santa cruz so family and fun calls.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


usfblogtastic, our blog for digital journalism, is up and running. this semester, i learned from barbara ganley and delayed the launch of the course blog so we could spend the first few weeks getting to know one another. now, as week four comes to an end, my students are uploading, blogging, tagging, and commenting. i expect great things to come from this.

usf event: media studies colloquium featuring andrew goodwin

dissertation fellow john kim continues to organize our excellent media studies colloquium and the spring line-up looks awesome.

andrew goodwin, professor of media studies and author of dancing in the distraction factory, is up first and will be reading passages from his recent novel. (curious? check out his recent short story, "the afternoon of the living dead.") here's the facts:

who? Andrew Goodwin, Department of Media Studies

what? "Let Me Take You On A Trip: On Trying To Write Fiction (Whilst Not Jumping The Shark) In The Era Of Postmodern Media

say what? A reading of passages from Andrew's recent novel and a
Q&A with the author

where and when? February 21, 2007, 4:30 - 6:00 pm, UC 419

the media studies colloquium runs through spring and also includes the following talks and screenings:

March 6, 2007, 4:15 - 5:45 pm, UC 419
Bill Brown, Filmmaker and USF Department of Media Studies
"The Next Best Place: Road Movies with Bill Brown"

March 21, 2007, 4 - 6 pm, Maraschi Room, Fromm Hall
Eric Byler, Director of Charlotte Sometimes and Americanese
"Asian Pacific Americans in 2006-2008: Art, Media Representation, and Social Responsibility"
(Co-sponsored by Asian American Studies and the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival 2007)

stay tuned here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

congratulations kelly quinn

this fall, kelly quinn becomes assistant professor of american studies at miami university. of all the professors i know, and i know a lot, kelly quinn's the best. congratulations miami university. congratulations q dawg.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


feevy - a free blogging tool from spain

feevy is a new and free blog tool developed by david de ugarte and the sociedad de las indias electrónicas. feevy replaces boring, static blogrolls with more personalized, dynamic blog bits. by incorporating RSS, feevy feeds the right column of my blog with fresh content from bloggers i read. plus, it's extremely easy to use. sweet.

i imagine feevy can be used quite easily to set up some kind of blog portal. for example, with a relatively small university like USF (around 8,000 students), it would be interesting to try to aggregate all USF student, faculty, and staff bloggers and, using feevy, make a one-stop page for quick and easy USF blog reading.

one night in 2003, in prague, david shared with me his many, many theories, experiments, and actions in contemporary activism and cyberactivism. the metaphor he returned to over and over again was ivy. ivy, david said, has shallow but distributed roots, stays close to the ground, and grows quickly and collectively. plus, he said, it's really difficult to get rid of. feevy, i believe, stands for feed the ivy. nice.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

usf journalism blog

way back in august, 2005, my media studies colleague and fellow blogger, michael robertson, launched the USF journalism blog where, according to the blog, “USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities.” more than two years later, the blog is thriving and growing in interesting directions.

what is it?

first and foremost, the blog serves as a virtual space where any USF student, past student, or faculty member can post ideas, essays, and images about journalism. second, the blog collects and aggregates various journalism and new media course offerings from the department of media studies. third, the blog keeps track of USF media studies graduates - the left column of the blog includes nearly three dozen students and links to where they are currently working. fourth, michael encourages USF graduates to post any advice they have for current students and any jobs their company may have available. in this way, the blog serves as a job/internship board for and by USF journalism students.

in other words, what michael has done with the USF journalism blog is to encourage students and faculty to discuss the future of journalism and to be a part of that future. what i really like about the blog, though, is this: michael has created an online community that includes both current and past USF students. in essence, the blog is an online learning community with students teaching students - not to mention students teaching their professors, too.

too often, college students graduate and leave - physically and intellectually - their campus. the USF journalism blog is an effective vehicle that allows past students to converge with current students. the former students become teachers and mentor all of us about what today and tomorrow's journalism looks like, about what kinds of skills are required, and about what kinds of tools and skills students should learn today to be an effective journalist tomorrow.

through interactions on the blog our current students have tapped our past students in order to land jobs and internships. more importantly, though, the blog has helped foster a learning community, one that gets smarter and more interesting the larger it gets.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

davies forum: gender, sexuality and media: representations and realities

the davies forum is a unique opportunity for USF students and faculty. the davies forum consists of an undergraduate class that focuses on values in public life taught by the davies professor and filled with USF students chosen as davies scholars. the forum also includes guest lectures by leaders in a particular field; the guest lectures are open, i believe, to the whole USF community.

the davies forum for spring 2007 is titled "gender, sexuality and media: representations and realities." it is taught by bernadette barker-plummer, a professor in media studies and the director of the gender and sexualities studies minor.

the lineup is impressive and the diversity of the topic is evident in the long list of co-sponsoring departments and units, including gender and sexualities studies, global women's rights forum, latin american studies, mccarthy center, media studies, performance and social justice, politics, psychology, sociology, and visual arts. bernadette is also collaborating with eve shapiro, in sociology, and eve's terrific series titled "we must be the change: a performance and social justice speaker series." i'm especially intrigued by the combination of academics, artists, and activists as forum speakers.

here's the plan:
    Tuesday, February 27, 1:30-3:30 pm, LM 365
    Straight Eye for the Queer Guy: Reality Television, Shopping, and the New Gay Visibility.
    Josh Gamson - Sociology, University of San Francisco

    Tuesday, March 6, 1:30-4:15 pm, LM 365
    New Gay Visibility on Television: Business or Politics?
    Katherine Sender - Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

    Monday, March 19, 6:30-9:00 pm, HRN 232
    Performing Gender
    Sean Dorsey and Shawna Virago, Fresh Meat Productions

    Monday, April 2, 6:30-8:30 pm, Maraschi Room, Fromm Hall
    Animating Revolt/Revolting Animation: Penguin Love, Doll Sex and the Spectacle of the Queer Non-Human
    Judith Halberstam – English, University of Southern California

    Tuesday, April 10, 1:30-4:15 pm, LM 365
    Bitch Magazine: Feminist Response to Pop Culture
    Andi Zeisler (Founder) and Rachel Fudge (Editor) of Bitch Magazine

    Monday, April 16, 6:30-9:00 pm, HRN 232
    (H)Errata, Woman, Art and Revolution
    Lynn Hershman - Feminist film maker/new media artist

    Monday April 23, 6:30-9:00 pm, HRN 232
    SheWrite: A Documentary Screening and Discussion with the Directors
    Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar - Center for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India

    Tuesday April 24, 2:00-4:00 p.m., LM 365
    Arts and Activism
    Valentin Aguirre – San Francisco LGBT activist and video maker
very cool. more info at

Monday, February 05, 2007

digital journalism - flickr project

after handing out project one today, i told my students that if they follow the directions it will be the easiest 10% of a course grade they've ever earned. then i reminded them that the main learning goal with this project is to learn how to learn new tools quickly. so far, the students have been pretty fearless - online and especially offline - so i'm eager to see what they create. i am also curious to see if they understand tagging and the potential of tagging. here's project one:

flickr project: Telling Stories through Images

For this project, you will be using flickr to design and share a story related to the physical campus of USF. Using a combination of pictures and words, tell a story about our campus. When reflecting upon a topic, take your time and choose one that is interesting. At the same time, keep in mind this project is due in two days.

o Read Lee Rainie’s “28% of Online Americans Have Used the Internet to Tag Content.”
o Take smart pictures. Take a lot of pictures so you have a large set from which to select your favorites. Select between 5-10 digital photographs of some aspect or aspects of USF campus and upload them to your flickr account.
o Make a flickr set. Be sure to title your set.
o Include a title, a description, and at least one tag on each of your images for this project. Keep in mind the article about tagging; select smart tags.

o To learn some early basics of flickr and visual storytelling.
o To learn about tagging in general and tagging images in particular.
o To learn how to learn new tools quickly and independently.

Your flickr set is due by the time class beings on Wednesday, February 7. No late work accepted. This assignment is worth 10% of your grade.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

new reviews in cyberculture studies (february 2007)

[via RCCS] a new set of book reviews for february 2007:

Information Politics on the Web

Author: Richard Rogers
MIT Press, 2004
Review 1: Adrienne Massanari

Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture
Author: T. L. Taylor
MIT Press, 2006
Review 1: Mark Chen
Author response: T.L. Taylor

Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database
Authors: Lev Manovich & Andreas Kratky
MIT Press, 2005
Review 1: Tico Romao
Author response: Lev Manovich

The Cinema Effect
Author: Sean Cubitt
MIT Press, 2005
Review 1: Anxo Cereijo Roibas
Author response: Sean Cubitt

there's lots more where that came from. enjoy.