The importance of collective intelligence participation and Mike Birbiglia

Collective intelligence, though not an exclusively modern idea, is more tenable due to the globalizing potential of the internet. The internet transcends physical boundaries to allow more diverse groups of people to interact and collaborate. Wikipedia is maybe the most well known online application of collective intelligence, and it proves both the capacity for information sharing through digital media and the accompanying pitfalls of it.

Henry Jenkins explores Wikipedia’s unique place within digital media in his essay “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies” (Part One and Two). Jenkins makes the distinction that though Wikipedia compares itself to an encyclopedia, it is not one. Wikipedia’s existence in a fluctuating digital medium rather than on a static, printed piece of paper allows for flexibility that conventional encyclopedias could never match. Wikipedia is not a product, but rather and “ongoing process by which its community pools information, debates what knowledge matters, and vets competing truth claims” (Jenkins).

This characteristic obviously acknowledges that there must be people contributing to the page in order for the collaborative process to work. Spaces like Wikipedia rely entirely on people to bring it into existence. Collective intelligence, by definition, is the “ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others” (Jenkins) in order to work towards a shared goal. This not only encourages but also requires a diverse set of opinions. In order to explore the concept of collective intelligence on Wikipedia, I studied the page of the stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia. I expected to find a page that showcased the collaborative possibilities of Wikipedia, but instead his page proved the necessity of participation on a site like Wikipedia. Though he is a very popular comedian, his Wikipedia page is extremely bare. Over half of the page is just a list of his body of work, with very little explanation or discussion about what those works are. Only a few paragraphs explained his personal life and the effects of his success on his career. Wikipedia even acknowledges that it is trying to improve its coverage of those involved with comedy.

WikiProject Comedy

Wikipedia recognizes its lack of comedy coverage.

There is also not much activity going on to improve the quality of his page. The largest debate in the “talk” section of his page was over whether or not he was Italian, and the original question was not answered until almost a year later.

Mike Birbiglia heritage discussion.

The most exciting discussion on the “talk” tab of his page.

There was also a fair gap in the amount and frequency of edits. The two top editors made 40 and 37 edits each, while the third editor made only 13. The edits also have spikes of activity during 2008 and 2009, which is when Birbiglia’s very popular standup show “Sleepwalk with Me” was running on off-Broadway. There was another spike of activity in 2010. This seems to be when almost all of the references for the page were added, which makes me wonder how exactly the sources were credited previously…

Edits graph

Edits to the page peaked in 2008 and 2009.

References from 2010

Almost all of the references were compiled within several days.

Mike Birbiglia’s Wikipedia page proves the vital aspect of collective intelligence: people. In order for collective intelligence to be a fair and comprehensive collection of information, people must actually participate. They must actually pool their knowledge and take full advantage of Wikipedia’s fluidity by continuing to question what is true.

References:

Jenkins, H. (2007, June 26). “What Wikipedia Can Teach US About the New Media Literacies”. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Retrieved from: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/06/what_wikipedia_can_teach_us_ab.html

Jenkins, H. (2007, June 26). “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies (Part Two)”. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Retrieved from: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/06/what_wikipedia_can_teach_us_ab_1.html

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The Tardisodes of Doctor Who

Though the show Doctor Who is relatively old (it originally ran from 1963 – 1989), it has made a point to modernize itself and forge a context in modern television since its re-launch in 2005. Doctor Who has consistently experimented with transmedia storytelling, and the series of “Tardisodes” released along with Series 2 of the show in 2006 is a great example of this.

These Tardisodes (TARDIS + episodes) were short 1-2 minute videos that were released a week before the new full episode aired and were either sent to your phone or released online. Even though they were offered both online and via cell phone, the main intention of the Tardisodes was for viewers to download them to their phones. However, they were not nearly as successful on mobile phones as the producers expected. There were only about 40,000 downloads total (about 3,000 per week) versus the 2.6 million online users. Therefore, the producers considered the episodes to be a failure. However, I think that the Tardisodes demonstrated transmedia storytelling’s power through the internet.

The formula of each Tardisode is very similar. They are mainly used to set up the following episode or provide its backstory. They often leave the viewer in suspense and have no resolution, which creates excitement about the next episode. This is what Geoffrey Long refers to as negative capability. The poet John Keats originally created the term negative capability to describe something that is mysterious or uncertain. But when used to describe storytelling, it is the concept of building gaps into a story “to evoke a delicious sense of ‘uncertainty, Mystery, or doubt’ in the audience” (Long, 53). This allows viewers to hypothesize/imagine what they think might have happened, and it compels them to watch the following episode in hopes of having their questions answered.

Ood, Tardisode 8

As the man in Tardisode 8 walks out of the room, an ood simply says, “And the Beast shall rise from the pit.” Mysterious statements about the Beast continue in the episode, but no questions are answered about who the Beast is.

Computer text, Tardisode 9

This statement appears on a computer screen in Tardisode 9. Finally, in the following episode (“The Satan Pit”), The Doctor meets and faces the Beast.

It also demonstrates the term “additive comprehension”, which Henry Jenkins describes in his article “Transmedia 101” as the way in which each text presents new information that makes you revise your understanding of the whole fiction. In the case of the Tardisodes, it means that those who have watched them may have a different understanding of the following episode because they have information the TV viewer doesn’t have. For example, I watched an episode of Series 2 (“The Girl in the Fireplace”) first, and then went back and watched the Tardisode. The episode features a broken clock in a little girl’s bedroom, which is never explained. However, the Tardisode shows a crew member of a ship being killed by something (which you find out in the episode is a clock-like android) and then the clock breaking.

Another component of these Tardisodes is the idea of worldbuilding. This is a common transmedia element which Jenkins explains in “Transmedia 101”. It is the idea that these transmedia stories take place within a complex fictional world that extends beyond just the characters or plots we are aware of, and this creates an “encyclopedic impulse” (Jenkins) for viewers to learn about the entire fictional world. These Tardisodes contribute to the worldbuilding of the Doctor Who universe because almost every Tardisode only features minor characters that will disappear after the next episode or after that Tardisode. Almost none of the main characters that viewers are familiar with appear in the Tardisodes. Doctor Who constantly brings in new characters to be introduced to the audience, and then throws them away after the episode and/or Tardisode are done. The transient nature of the majority of the characters, then, allows the viewer to understand that there is a larger, more complex world that the main characters of the show exist within.

I think that though the Tardisodes failed to receive as many views from mobile downloads as the creators had intended, the online support and interest in the Tardisodes proves that the internet is a powerful transmedia tool.

References:

Jenkins, H. (2007). Transmedia Storytelling 101. Retrieved from: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

Long, G. (2007). Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company. Available from MIT Comparative Media Studies database. Retrieved from: http://cmsw.mit.edu/transmedia-storytelling-jim-henson-company/

Bulkley, K. (2006, October). ‘Tardisode’ audience fails to materialize. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/oct/16/bbc.broadcasting

Instagram: Just what you were looking for?

Instagram retro poster

Immediately upon release, Instagram found a way to rise above the masses of photo-sharing apps. Within a week, they had 100,000 users [3], and continued to grow exponentially, now supporting over 300 million active users [1]. During the weeks of its initial launch, this left many people wondering what made Instagram so special [2,3,4]. Many websites argued that it was elements like its ability to connect multiple existing social media platforms, its charming filters, and its sense of community.

“A community of people who enjoy making and taking photos […] Everything about it feels intimate and personal” – Faruk Ates, tech reviewer

However, in the context of emergent media, these qualities are not new or original.

Tom Gunning [6] explains in his essay Renewing Old Technologies that there is often a feeling of the “uncanny” that comes with new technologies. There’s a sense of familiarity, but there is also an unavoidable alien quality to it – there is something new and different. This is part of the excitement of it. The vaguely uncanny quality is what energizes the public and makes them curious. It’s not a turn-off from the item, but rather the catalytic force that pushes it into public speculation.

At first, Instagram appears to not have these qualities. It seems that the initial success of Instagram was actually because of its abundance of familiarity and lack of uncanniness. Picture sharing had already become an integrated part of our culture. To do it digitally was culturally expected, as evidenced by Instagram’s competitors and predecesors such as Camera+ and Hipstamatic. Consumers were looking for a way to share mobile photos easily and conveniently, and Instagram filled this hole rather than carve out a new one. However, even during its very successful launch many people worried about its long-term use. I think this is because they could sense the familiarity of it and were afraid it would pass as only a fad.

 “The hardest think for Systom and Instagram to do will be to keep growing and to retain users.”

– Dan Frommer, Business Insider

Though I think that its familiarity helped it to gain success, I do not believe that that was what led to its long-term success. I think Gunning’s theory is right that uncanniness battles a new technology’s descent into de-familiarization. I think that Instagram’s uncanny qualities emerged later through the way mass culture applied the app, and this is what led to its lasting popularity.

Instagram represents a cultural fulfillment of our growing need to document and preserve moments [5]. Later, we can emotionally recycle them as we scroll through our galleries and timelines. It is uncanny how we are actively carving out our own memories and deciding how we want to relive the moment later. Wanting to preserve memories may be a normal human reaction, but how realistically we can now capture the present and stick it inside of a time capsule is what is unnatural. Instagram has helped to apply social pressure to become directors and artists of our own memories – by applying the perfect photo filter. This duality of the present that has stemmed from apps like Instagram solidifies its continued impact in present culture.

Works cited:

1. “Instagram.” Instagram. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.
2. “Faruk Ateş.” The Addictive Allure of Instagram, on FarukAt.eş. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2015.
3. “A Pivotal Pivot.” TechCrunch. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2015.
4. “Instagram Launches With The Hope Of Igniting Communication Through Images.” TechCrunch. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2015.
5. Riis, Jason. “Chapter 11.” Living, and Thinking about It: Two Perspectives on Life. By Daniel Kahneman. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N.
pag. Print.
6. Gunning, Tom. “Re-Newing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of-the-Century.”Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2003. 39-60. Print.