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Annotated Digital Culture Links: January 1st 2009

Links for December 30th 2008 through January 1st 2009:

  • Principles for a New Media Literacy by Dan Gillmor, 27 December 2008 [Center for Citizen Media] – “Principles of Media Creation: 1. Do your homework, and then do some more. … 2. Get it right, every time. … 3. Be fair to everyone. … 4. Think independently, especially of your own biases. … 5. Practice and demand transparency.””We are doing a poor job of ensuring that consumers and producers of media in a digital age are equipped for these tasks. This is a job for parents and schools. (Of course, a teacher who teaches critical thinking in much of the United States risks being attacked as a dangerous radical.) Do they have the resources — including time — that they need? But this much is clear: If we really believe that democracy requires an educated populace, we’re starting from a deficit. Are we ready to take the risk of being activist media users, for the right reasons? A lot rides on the answer.”
  • Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies by Howard Rheingold [Freesouls, ed. Joi Ito] – “Literacy−access to the codes and communities of vernacular video, microblogging, social bookmarking, wiki collaboration−is what is required to use that infrastructure to create a participatory culture. A population with broadband infrastructure and ubiquitous computing could be a captive audience for a cultural monopoly, given enough bad laws and judicial rulings. A population that knows what to do with the tools at hand stands a better chance of resisting enclosure. The more people who know how to use participatory media to learn, inform, persuade, investigate, reveal, advocate and organize, the more likely the future infosphere will allow, enable and encourage liberty and participation. Such literacy can only make action possible, however−it is not in the technology, or even in the knowledge of how to use it, but in the ways people use knowledge and technology to create wealth, secure freedom, resist tyranny.
  • How to Do Everything with PDF Files [Adobe PDF Guide] – Pretty much anything you can imagine needing to do with PDF files, without needing to buy Acrobat!
  • The 100 Most Popular Photoshop Tutorials 2008 [Photoshop Lady] – Many useful photoshop tutorials from fancy fonts to montages and entirely new creations!
  • Israel posts video of Gaza air strikes on YouTube [Australian IT] – THE Israeli military has launched its own channel on video-sharing website YouTube, posting footage of air strikes and other attacks on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The spokesman’s office of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it created the channel — youtube.com/user/idfnadesk — on Monday to “help us bring our message to the world.” The channel currently has more than 2,000 subscribers and hosts 10 videos, some of which have been viewed more than 20,000 times. The black-and-white videos include aerial footage of Israeli Air Force attacks on what are described as rocket launching sites, weapons storage facilities, a Hamas government complex and smuggling tunnels. One video shows what is described as a Hamas patrol boat being destroyed by a rocket fired from an Israeli naval vessel.”
  • No terminating the Terminator … ever [ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)] – “Time will not be allowed to terminate The Terminator, the US Library of Congress said overnight. The low-budget 1984 action film, which spawned the popular catchphrase “I’ll be back”, was one of 25 movies listed for preservation by the library for their cultural, historic or aesthetic significance. Other titles included The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Deliverance (1972), A Face in the Crowd (1957), In Cold Blood (1967) and The Invisible Man (1933). The library said it selected The Terminator for preservation because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star-making performance as a cyborg assassin, and because the film stands out in the science fiction genre. “It’s withstood the test of time, like King Kong in a way, a film that endures because it’s so good,” Patrick Loughney, who runs the Library of Congress film vault, said.”
  • Webisodes Bridge Gaps in NBC Series [NYTimes.com] – Takes a look at the late 2008/early 2009 webisodes from NBC (particularly for Heroes and Battlestar Galactica) and the way these online stories are used to keep fans engaged with television series (or, really, television-spawned franchises) during breaks.
  • Nintendo to offer videos on Wii [WA Today] – “Nintendo will start offering videos through its blockbuster Wii game console, the latest new feature for the Japanese entertainment giant. Nintendo said it would develop original programming which Wii users could access via the internet and watch on their television. It is considering videos for both free and fees. The game giant teamed up with Japan’s leading advertising firm Dentsu to develop the service, which will begin in Japan next year, with an eye on future expansion into foreign markets.”

Final Battlestar Webisodes

As the countdown to the final (half) season of Battlestar Galactica ticks down in the US, SciFi are in the middle of a final run of webisodes (‘The Face of the Enemy’) which, as usual, are getting good press both on their own terms and as models of successful webisode content in relation to existing franchises.  The New York Times, for example:

“The Face of the Enemy,” on the other hand, could serve as a model of the Webisode genre. It’s not something you need to watch if you’re not already a “Battlestar Galactica” fan, but those who are will appreciate the serious treatment this minidrama has received, the same kind of care taken with the cult-favorite series itself. The lead writer of “Enemy” was Jane Espenson, a “Galactica” co-executive producer and television veteran with “Gilmore Girls” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on her résumé, and its performers include series regulars like Grace Park, Alessandro Juliani and Michael Hogan.

The Webisodes, which will conclude on Jan. 12, just before the television series returns, are a self-contained murder mystery set aboard a small spacecraft that has been separated from the fleet. But they also expand on the “Galactica” mythology, through flashbacks, and flesh out major characters. Fans who had wondered whether Lieutenant Gaeta (Mr. Juliani) was gay found out in Episode 1 of “Enemy.” Or they thought they did, until his close encounter with a Cylon 8 (Ms. Park) a few episodes later clouded matters.

Along with the regular Webisodes the Sci Fi Channel is providing “enhanced” versions featuring commentary by Ms. Espenson. They’re a revelation in their own right. While commentary tracks on movies or even television episodes tend to get boring or crazy-making long before the show is over, commentary tracks on four- or five-minute Webisodes can actually be entertaining.

Ms. Espenson describes the chaotic, and poignant, circumstances in which the Web serial was filmed: with the television series’s final season already completed, the “Enemy” scenes were often the last things filmed on the “Galactica” sets. After a scene was completed, its set would be torn down for good.

Other tidbits — Ms. Park plays two parts in “Enemy” because the “Galactica” star Tricia Helfer turned out not to be available after the story had already been developed — might seem like too much information to have while the serial is still unfolding. But it’s really just a sign that NBC Universal is getting at least one thing right. In a world where the possibilities for elaborating your shows online are endless, the true fan wants to see and hear everything.

As per usual, the webisodes aren’t accessible for those living on the wrong end of the tyranny of digital distance (outside the US), but other avenues are readily available for those willing to look, and the webisodes certainly aren’t shying away from interesting and timely issues.  Until it gets pulled, here’s the first webisode on YouTube:

(You can catch the same webisode with Jane Espenson’s audio commentary, too.)

Annotated Digital Culture Links: December 24th 2008

Links for December 23rd 2008 through December 24th 2008:

  • Top 10 Most Pirated TV-Shows of 2008 [TorrentFreak] – ” Lost is without a doubt the most downloaded TV-show, with over 5 million downloads for one single episode. TV-shows are getting increasingly more popular on BitTorrent. Most TV-broadcasters won’t be happy to hear this, but one could argue that BitTorrent has actually helped TV-shows to build a stronger, broader, and more involved fanbase. Perhaps even more importantly, the rise of unauthorized downloading of TV-shows is a signal that customers want something that is not available through other channels. Availability seems to be the key issue why people turn to BitTorrent.” (In order: Lost, Heroes, Prison Break, Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Desperate Housewives, Stargate Atlantis, Dexter, House, Grey’s Anatomy, & Smallville.)
  • Making the Intangible Tangible, the Economic Contribution of Australia’s Copyright Industries IP Down Under [PricewaterhouseCoopers report] – “PricewaterhouseCoopers, for the Australian Copyright Council, has released its report Making the Intangible Tangible, the Economic Contribution of Australia’s Copyright Industries, which has found that Australia’s copyright industries in 2007:
    • employed more than 837,000 people (8 percent of the nation’s workforce) – up 21 percent since 1996;
    • generated $97.7 billion in economic activity (10.3 percent of GDP) – up 66 percent since 1996; and
    • accounted for $6.8 billion in exports (4.1 percent of all exports) – up 6.3 percent since 1996.” [Via Terry Flew]
  • Aussie ‘Doctor Who’ Fans Set to Time Travel With BitTorrent [TorrentFreak] – “Australia has been the focus of much tech news recently, as the country struggles with its Internet piracy ‘problem’. Thanks to the infinite wisdom of ABC, Aussie Doctor Who fans are left with a tough decision – wait until mid-January to watch the show’s pivotal ‘Christmas Special’ – or pirate it with BitTorrent.”
  • WoW! How The Guild beat the system [Media | The Guardian] – “The Guild was written as an hour-long TV pilot but was rejected by a number of studios. “We were fighting against the stereotype of online gamers as pickly-faced teenagers living in their basements,” she recalls. In the end, Day and her co-producer, Kim Evie, funded the first episodes themselves and spent eight hours a day emailing bloggers about the show and marketing it through the Buffy and WoW communities. The next seven episodes were funded through donations collected via a PayPal button on their website and donors were credited at the end of each show. … The Guild has been a masterclass in direct marketing of content to a niche peer group. “The web is an amazing opportunity for people who want to tell stories but aren’t permitted because they aren’t the mainstream,” says Day.” (Profile of The Guild as a rags to riches webisode series now it has been picked up by Microsoft.)
  • Net music theory ends up a tall tale [Australian IT] – “The internet was supposed to bring vast choice for customers, access to obscure and forgotten products and a fortune for sellers who focused on niche markets. But a study of digital music sales has posed the first big challenge to this “long tail” theory: more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year. The idea that niche markets were the key to the future for internet sellers was described as one of the most important economic models of the 21st century when it was spelt out by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail in 2006. But a study by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, a not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits. It found that for the online singles market, 80 per cent of all revenue came from about 52,000 tracks. For albums … 1.23million available, only 173,000 were ever bought”

BSG, the last webisodes, and being gay in the rag-tag fleet

As a dedicated Battlestar Galactica fan I can’t wait for the final episodes to start in January and I’m already enjoying the countdown webisode series, ‘The Face of the Enemy’ which features Felix Gaeta, two Cylon Eights (Sharon’s model) and a few very desperate, very lost, BSG crew.  The first webisode went live today and sets up an pretty engaging storyline. It also featured one other bit of story that’s sure to get a reaction:


On his way off the Galactica, to catch a raptor to another ship of a bit of leave, Felix Gaeta says goodbye to Hoshi and they lock lips which is the first visible and openly gay male relationship in the series.  (There are other mentions of gay couples, although the most notable lesbian relationship was between Admiral Cain and the poor Six who eventually turns up horribly tortured on the Pegasus; this left more than a few questionable readings possible about the consequences of non-heterosexual relationships!) I’m very much in two minds about the outing of Gaeta; I’m delighted that his sexuality is basically treated as completely normal – the big issue is Hoshi smuggling some painkillers to Gaeta, while their relationship seems normalised (or as normal as anything gets on the rag tag fleet).  That said, I wonder if Ron Moore and the producers are playing it too safe leaving this sort of material for the webisodes?  Their nature as online add-ons might just mean that the writers are allowed to push boundaries they can’t during the actual episodes (and kudos to Jane Espenson and Seamus Kevin Fahey for writing this webisode series), but for this to be a powerful and clear statement about the normalisation of same sex relationships in the world of Galactica, I’d really like to see this thread continue into the final episodes and actually screened on television, not just pushed to one side on the web.

For international viewers, we’re once again victims of the tyranny of digital distance as the webisode are geo-locked and only visible to those with US IP addresses; there will be lots of workarounds, no doubt, but for a short time until it’s pulled, the first webisode is available on YouTube.

Update: Apparently in the run of webisodes we find out Gaeta is bisexual, not gay; I’m not sure if this depletes the overall message or not … probably not.

What Dr Horrible Can Teach TV About Participatory Culture

Yesterday at the Social Networks stream of the conference attached to GO3 at the Perth Convention Centre I gave a fairly rough version of a new paper called “What Dr Horrible Can Teach TV About Participatory Culture.”  As readers of this blog will be well aware, one of my ongoing interests is the way that traditional media forms, especially television, engage with participatory culture and their immediate fan networks.  In my past writing on the Tyranny of Digital Distance I’ve looked at the way shows like Battlestar Galactica have harnessed a global fan network only to have that network turn sour as national media distributors insist on broadcasting shows at different times (implicitly encouraging fans to participate in peer-to-peer downloading of TV).  While Joss Whedon’s Dr Horrible had a few similar teething issues, it looks like a very promising model for web-based media that can actually be a fan favourite and make a decent profit in the process.  My thinking on this very much in process (as, indeed, is the ongoing story of Dr Horrible’s success), but my first stab at drawing a few ideas together was in this paper.  I didn’t get a chance to record my talk, but I’ve uploaded the presentation onto Slideshare if you’re interested.  There’s a fair bit not on the slides, but they should give you at least an outline of the argument:

Any questions, feedback or criticism would be most welcome!

Links for July 30th 2008

Interesting links for July 28th 2008 through July 30th 2008:

Links for July 26th 2008

Interesting links for July 25th 2008 through July 26th 2008:

Links for July 23rd 2008

Interesting links for July 23rd 2008:

Dr Horrible’s International Debut Debacle

302010nothing. That’s the experience fans outside of the US had earlier today when Joss Whedon’s web-based musical webisode experiment Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog went live using Hulu, a video-streaming service geo-locked to stream to US IP addresses only:

Now, it’s not unusual for content to be limited to US internet addresses, especially television, but Dr Horrible is a different kettle of fish. Joss Whedon has done an amazing job of courting the fans and getting them on side to view promote (and eventually buy) Dr Horrible’s adventures, so it came as something of a shock to most international fans (with whom Whedon usually has a pretty good rapport) when discovered they weren’t able to get the free stream of Dr Horrible’s first act (or even buy the episodes on iTunes).

On Whedonesque – the main Joss Whedon appreciation blog (to which Joss posts from time to time) – the thread initially celebrating Dr Horrible’s release was inundated with international fans lamenting the fact that they couldn’t view the new web-based show. Dr Horrible’s Facebook page and MySpace page similarly received a vitriolic helping of international fan dismay!

Now, if Dr Horrible was an NBC or Viacom property, that would be the end of the story. However, given Joss Whedon’s track record, it seems reasonable that the geo-blocking was unintentional or accidental. And now we can see that’s exactly right … on various forums Whedon’s team have posted that they’re trying to get a globally-viewable version up. It seems that this may very well be the case that the tools for online distribution simply aren’t quite up to the demands being put on them by content creators. Ironically, this experience might actually lead to more fans working out how to circumvent Hulu’s geo-restrictions as Whedon has sided with the fans once more and in the short term the official Dr Horrible Twitter feed has linked to instructions on how to circumvent Hulu! Indeed, for long-time Whedon fans this might be reminiscent of a moment in 1999 when Whedon encouraged Canadian viewers to “bootleg that puppy” after Fox postponed the season three finale due in the wake of the Columbine shootings.

For Dr Horrible, it has been a rough start, but Whedon’s track record and the excitement from US fans who’ve already enjoyed Dr Horrible leave the rest of us waiting eagerly, knowing that Whedon and his team are doing all they can and will surely learn a lot from this experience. (And thus, I should add, we can reasonably expect that acts two and three of Dr Horrible will, indeed, get a simultaneous global release!).

Update: Drs Horrible (aka Mutant Enemy) have risen to the challenge, and the first act of Dr Horrible is now viewable by everyone! Go watch Act One (’tis funny!).

Update 2: It seems that Dr Horrible’s first day had one more obstacle: popularity.  Dr Horrible’s servers were completely overloaded and the site diappeared for a while, but now they’ve moved onto “monster servers” so all should be good … or is that evil?

Links for July 15th 2008

Interesting links for July 9th 2008 through July 15th 2008: