Coffee and the Case for Collective Intelligence

The complex production, rich history, and culture surrounding coffee has been the object of my obsession for the past year, and will be the subject of this analysis of the successes of collective intelligence on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia platform lends itself well to articles on topics such as coffee because it requires in depth knowledge of a wide variety of subject matters from ancient history to chemistry.

Henry Jenkins defines collective intelligence, the thing that allows Wikipedia to be such a powerful tool, as, “the ability to pool Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 4.47.47 PMknowledge and compare notes with others towards a common goal.” A quick look at the table of contents of the article on coffee highlights the diversity of knowledge necessary to flesh out a page of this nature. While the current state of the page is well structured and relatively stable, that wasn’t always the case. The diverse history of coffee has led to conflicting definitions, different versions of history, and a surprisingly opinionated group of coffee drinkers. The product of the passionate differing of opinions is, “vigorous debates about what counts as reliable evidence” (Jenkins). For example, the “Etymology” section offers many possible explanations and the “History” section is broad and comprehensive, covering multiple regions. The differing facts and multiple histories have resulted in an article that, in the end, is well balanced and represents all opinions and facts in a neutral way.

There are downsides of collective intelligence which are also demonstrated in the coffee article. The section labeled “Health and Pharmacology” has a warning at the top due to there being a lack of proper Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 4.49.17 PMsources for verification because many of the new health claims in regards to coffee, while numerous, are largely unsubstantiated. In addition, the article can be confusing at times because coffee was developed in many regions and there are many names for a single thing or many things that share one name. While the confusion with nomenclature is not a problem with collective intelligence, dealing with that problem through collective intelligence can be problematic and confusing.

The beauty of Wikipedia, and the concept of collective intelligence in general, is that such broad and deep topics like coffee can be written about by many individuals. The specialized subsections can be expanded upon by, “…someone who cares deeply about a subject […] and others who share her interests may also contribute” (Jenkins). While I see myself knowledgeable on the chemistry and brewing of coffee, and would even consider adding to those sections on the Wikipedia page, I know very little about roasting and cultivation and the article is a wonderful resource to learn more about those topics. Despite its flaws, collective intelligence allows for broad and complex topics, like coffee, to have resources that address all aspects of that subject.

Jenkins, Henry. “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies (Part One).Confessions of an AcaFan. Henry Jenkins, n.d.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee

Transmedia: Dunder Mifflin, Shrute Space, & More

The comedy, The Office, an adaptation of the BBC series of the same name, gained a huge viewership and is a prime example of television overflow. Of the many transmedia extensions in The Office universe I will be focusing on the character blogs and company websites, and how they evolved alongside the plot of the series. While these sites may not have been visited by casual viewers, “…a diehard fan who lives the experience of a show rather than merely watching it,” can use them as sources to further understand the universe of the show and the characters they love (Brooker 470).

The character blogs from The Office have a unique authenticity because of the way the show was made. Actors would sit at their desks while other characters were being filmed and update their blogs while in character and on set. As a result, the blog posts seem to be an accurate extension of their character and allow for passionate fans to learn more about each member of Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 10.41.42 AMDunder Mifflin Scranton in a very real way. The character blogs are engaging because of the ensemble cast which is, “…based not on individual characters or specific plots but rather complex fictional world which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories” (Jenkins). One of the most popular character blogs, “Shrute Space,” belongs to one of the fans’s favorite characters of the show Dwight Shrute. On this blog Dwight writes lengthy conspiracy theories and complains in usual Dwight hyperbole about the people in in the office, which provides added depth to the character and allows for his fans to understand him. In addition to Dwight, Meredith and Creed have blogs, and Creed even had his blog mentioned on the show.

 

Websites within The Office universe also was a large of the series’s online transmedia. The paper company they worked for, Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.19.48 AMDunder Mifflin had a website that evolved and changed as the company went through mergers and changes in management. In the beginning the website looked exactly as one would expect. When Ryan takes over and tries to rebrand with a younger look and new website the fans got “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” an interactive site for the fans where they could complete challenges, earn “Shrute Bucks.” Finally, when Dunder Mifflin was bought by Sabre the website underwent a final change to a slightly different looking but similar website under the Sabre name.

The opportunity for fans of the show to read articles written by their favorite characters is something quite special. When I first watched the series I saw all the characters as real and each episode a glimpse into the lives of the people I was growing to love. As Jenkins says in his essay on transmedia, “We are drawn to master what can be known about a world which always expands beyond our grasp,” and while to some that may seem daunting, to the hardcore fans its an exciting fact that means there is always more to find out about The Office.

Sources:

Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. N.p., 22 Mar. 2007. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html&gt;.

Brooker W (2001) Living on Dawson’s Creek: teen viewers, cultural convergence, and television overflow. International Journal of Cultural Studies 4(4): 456–472.

Spotify: Your Everyday Celestial Jukebox

Soptify poster_00000

If one takes a step back to take a fresh look at the technology we have today it is amazing that we barely give it a second thought. This assimilation of technology into everyday routine is explored in Tom Gunning’s essay “Renewing Old Technology.” In considering this topic in relation to my own life I immediately thought of the computer and phone application Spotify, a music service that provides nearly every song from every artist of any time period legally and immediately.

There are two types of Spotify service: the free one supported by advertisements, and a paid subscription that allows for offline listening, among other benefits. Upon its 2008 release, Spotify was only available in the United Kingdom. By 2010 the platform’s popularity had skyrocketed to ten million users and its library of music had reached ten million tracks, and this was still before the United States release. The US release of Spotify was delayed for a few years because of the lack of major label cooperation, but in 2012 Spotify became available to US listeners with only a few extra restrictions. Spotify now has 15 million paying users, 45 million free users, and a library size of over 30 million.

Having almost every song available has affected the music consuming community.

“People now consume a lot more music by a bigger diversity of artists, and the reason they do that is because they no longer discover music from a radio station. They discover music from their friends.” -Daniel Ek, CEO Spotify

Since subscribing to Spotify I have discovered new music from genres like Blues and Old School Hip-Hop that I never would have found if not for Spotify and its many modes of music discovery.

An effect of this level of accessibility is that users now expect to be able to find whatever song they want.When a song is not a part of Spotify’s library some might be driven to other methods of obtaining that track. My initial wonder at being able to discover new music, listen to my favorites, and see what my friends are listening to—all without the risk of paying for a song that I end up not liking—has dulled over time to an expectation of always being able to do so. It wasn’t until I forgot to pay my subscription and had a three-hour car trip without the music I had come to expect that I came to fully appreciate how amazing of an application Spotify truly is.

“Spotify was exactly what music fans had been waiting for, fulfilling the long sought dream of a “celestial jukebox” — a service that makes every song always available, freely and legally.” – Neal Pollack, Wired

 

Sources:

Gunning, Tom. Re-Knewing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of- the-Century. PDF.

Pollack, Neal. “Spotify’s Celestial Jukebox.” Wired. 7 Jan. 2011. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/02/start/spotify-celestial-jukebox&gt;.

Mcormick, Niel. “Make Way for Spotify: A Big Digital Jukebox in the Ether.” The Telegraph. 4 Feb. 2009. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/neil-mccormick/4800152/Make-way-for-Spotify-a-big-digital-jukebox-in-the-ether.html&gt;.