Creativity, creation, communities of interest, and culture itself are at the heart of what social media is equipped to enable. We view this area as a system of technologies, but even further down the stack, so to speak, is the simple realization that we have rediscovered our inherent right to be creative and to participate in the creative experience.
Somewhere in the early 1900s in America, creative culture shifted from being strongly participatory (people got together to sing songs, reading off their most recent subscription of sheet music) to being a consumer experience (people gathered around the radio to hear bands perform). This gave rise to new opportunities for more people to hear better performers, but it also shifted our attention away from the two-way experience of people creating their own culture(at least in part).
Larry Lessig delivered an important talk about creativity and the law at the March 2007 TED Talks event. He highlighted how the advent of broadcasting technology led to the creation of ASCAP, who sold music licenses to radio networks. Between 1931-1938, ASCAP raised licensing fees to broadcasters 448%. These concepts, these constructs, were set in place over 70 years ago, and in that time, legal protection and safeguarding of the BUSINESS of creativity has ratcheted up again and again, until copyright in America is a broken experience, to say the least.
Read Write Culture
Lessig goes on to show some creative examples of the mash-up culture in action, where talented people create new works derived from existing media. Hip Hop showed how sampling other artists’ tracks could lead to derivative work that was unique in its new presentation, while building on cores of memory and shared awareness of other work.
What’s changed in recent years is that technology is much more readily available, simpler to use, and media is far more widely distributed. This means that you and I have the building blocks to make something new, something creative, something fun using parts of others’ works, as well as adding something new to the experience.
A Quick Sidebar About Creative Commons
If you are not yet familiar with the work of Creative Commons, please spend some time on this site. Learn about the work of Lessig an Colette Vogel, and many other talented individuals working to open up new structures for participation and collaboration. For the sake of this post, let me just state that Creative Commons is a legal licensing structure that enables creative works to be used in much more flexible ways than a traditional copyright, and that should you be interested in participating in social media, please consider applying Creative Commons licensing to your work in place of standard copyright protection.
In a Culture of Participation
The media we create, our blogs, podcasts, photos, art, and music, are creative works until themselves, but as we consider social media, we might think about how we can work well with others. Somehow, as I’m writing this, it seems dry and legal or business-y. But that’s not my goal. Instead, I’m saying that creative culture is empowered by social media and Creative Commons such that we can be much more playful and have more fun with our media.
I’ve seen countless Flickr projects where people post an interesting photo or set of photos, and then others form groups and projects around the original works, sometimes replicating, sometimes building on a theme, and other times deriving new works through collage and other mash-up methods. But that’s built right into the platform of Flickr. It’s not an accidental experience.
If You Make Software
Consider that, if you make software for a living. Consider the fact that Flickr built participation into the core functionality of their product. And it’s showing up in places that you might not normally expect to offer such things.
Mint is a personal finance web application that uses some interesting sharing methods to model a group’s general spending and investing habits. Users are anonymous in that regard (when sharing their investment choices, for instance), but because of the sharing function, people get to better understand personal finance, at least through observing the behavior of other users.
Sites like YouTube are â€œstickyâ€ because people can comment in video and text form. They can subscribe, rate, share, and discover works on the site.
Some more thoughts for software makers:
- Use and release APIs. Make your site as compatible to other media sites as possible.
- Make data portable, or at least some part of the data.
- Consider using the OpenID standard for login information.
- Realize that we, the users, are using tons of sites and applications, so don’t make it too tricky or involved for us to use your site too.
If You Make Media
Newspapers and other media sources are learning to integrate â€œcitizen journalismâ€ into their traditional hierarchical structures. Quality reporting doesn’t always come from within, as evidenced by great projects like Alive in Baghdad. In this new world, people (or we might say â€œenabled and equipped peopleâ€) are the important piece of the puzzle. Larger news organizations need to learn how to integrate with a project like Brian Conley’s Alive in Baghdad, such that the news generated by average people on the streets in Iraq is mixed into the â€œprofessionalâ€ journalistic product, with little to no distinction between sources.
Think about that for a moment. If you are a media company, it is no longer good enough to make a little playground for your â€œfansâ€ to â€œhave their say.â€ We are media makers now. WE are the media, too. And as such, it is no longer acceptable to enable commenting. Nice start, but you’ve got to learn how to build your business with us in mind these days.
Media Makers aren’t always trained journalists. I’m definitely not. But we can contribute to the larger story, work with editors and curators (you’ll learn that â€œcurationâ€ and â€œeditingâ€ become two very important skills on the social media landscape), and feel more connected to the ultimate work generated by this in the long run.
Some quick tips for media organizations:
- Treat independent producers like professionals.
- Empower two-way promotion of creative pieces, instead of just having a â€œfan area.â€
- Consider ways to modularize and/or Creative Commons license portions of your work.
- Seek ways to engage independent producers.
If You Are An Independent Producer
I spent a good part of 2007 meeting with independent audio and video producers: talented and driven people with excellent shows and content. Some were re-creating television for this new age. Others pushed formats out entirely and simply lived life online. Others used the various outlets to have conversations using social media tools. In all cases, these people were empowered (and felt empowered) simply because they had the tools and the opportunity to produce and release works of their own creation.
Some of the best of these producers made participation a cornerstone of their show from the beginning. They worked to incorporate other creators. They empowered their audience base to be a core functionality of the show. They enabled their audience to share their show, helped to point out other producers’ works that might complement what they were doing, and did a lot to raise up their interactions with their audience as a wholly participatory experience.
Ways to Foster Participation
If you want to build strong participation into your social media projects, try to incorporate some of the following into your repertoire:
- License your content under an appropriate Creative Commons license. Make sure you are explicit about how you want to see your work used or shared by others.
- Enable (and participate in) commenting for your media.
- Consider building your content in modular fashion, or in ways it can be integrated, mashed up, or remixed. (Bands like The Barenaked Ladies have taken to releasing their digital masters to others to mix. Is there an analogous experience you can offer your audience?)
- Look for software and platforms that promote sharing, such as using Blip.tv to host your videoblogging projects.
- Support organizations and media makers who promote sharing and participation.
- Engage your audience such that they’d want to participate. Hold contests. Ask for their opinions and incorporate some of it from time to time.
- Turn the spotlight on your audience and point the microphone at them, as often as you can. Make sure they know how valuable they are to you.
- Seems weird to put here, but, be honest and trustworthy. It’s pretty easy to break trust with your audience, and it’s really hard to win it back.
This was a rather long post, but I felt it important to cover the mindset of participation as a core element of social media. It’s a strong portion of the â€œsocialâ€ in social media. You probably have ways of participating that I haven’t listed here. Let’s have a discussion in the comment section and see what else we can do to empower participation.
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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