Thursday, May 1, 2008

Commercial production, community produsage and the ways in which the two intersect...

Since the development of Web 2.0, it is becoming increasingly difficult to define the differences between commercial production and community produsage. As demonstrated in my previous post, the introduction of new media technologies that emerged with Web 2.0 allowed the roles of media producers and users to mesh and share responsibilities, with many users or fans producing and altering content, and many traditional media producers becoming fans or users of this content. Production is now collaborative and participatory, enabling all participants to become users and/or producers of information and technology. Axel Bruns describes this new hybrid of people as produsers, those who “engage not in a traditional form of content production, but are instead involved in produsage – the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement”. This collaboration between users and producers has blurred the differences between commercial production and community produsage; however there are still key differences between the two.

Traditionally, consumers had very little, if any, influence over commercial production. Content and distribution was solely controlled by producers and distributors, not necessarily adhering to consumers’ desires. Furthermore, content was produced and copyrighted in discrete versions, which were not to be altered by third parties and released at the decision of producers (
Bruns, 2007). Generally, the main focus of commercial production is to make money. It is usually produced for a mass audience and created in a professional environment, developed and edited only by those directly involved in the production. Commercial production often involves an “all-controlling, coordinating hierarchy”, and has predetermined alliances with specific companies, social communities and audiences (Bruns, 2008).

Alternatively, community produsage is far more social and with very little boundaries. Community produsage is often driven by enjoyment and recreational factors, rather than industrial, money-making factors. Much community produsage takes place in social networking and open source environments such as YouTube, Wikipedia and MySpace. As mentioned earlier,
Bruns describes produsage as “the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement”. Those partaking in community produsage alter, edit and contribute to existing content, collaborating with others in an online environment to create new and original content.

However, as commercial producers are beginning to recognise the growth in popularity and benefits of embracing community produsage, the two concepts are beginning to merge, developing user-led content ‘production’ (
Bruns, 2008). User-led content ‘production’ is “built on iterative, evolutionary development models in which often very large communities of participants make a number of usually very small, incremental changes to the established knowledge base, thereby enabling a gradual improvement in quality which— under the right conditions—can nonetheless outpace the speed of product development in the conventional, industrial model” (Bruns, 2008).

Commercial production is now being influenced by community produsage, whether it be through fandom (as mentioned in my previous post) or through collaborative, user-generated productions such as
A Swarm of Angels. Thought of as ‘Cinema 2.0’ or ‘Open source cinema’, A Swarm of Angels aims to bring filmmaker and fan together into entertainment communities, making a film based on artistic choices rather than marketing ones. It combines the concepts of traditional filmmaking and user-generated content, allowing anyone to contribute and influence the creation of a professional $1.8 million feature film. Using the flexible digital-age copyright of Creative Commons, the project encourages people to download, share and remix the feature film and all original media created for the project. The project is gathering a community of 50,000 people to assist in the funding and making of the film, and pushes traditional boundaries, refusing all offline media.

Although there are still key differences and separation between commercial production and community produsage, we are increasingly seeing projects emerging which combine the two concepts to create user-generated productions. As Web 2.0 and new media technologies continue to develop, we can only expect to see more collaboration between the two concepts, for both commercial and recreational purposes. As the two concepts begin to blur, it makes me wonder whether many of these productions are still ultimately about making money, or whether the idea of community produsage is used to embrace the wide variety of creativity it encourages? Is it about business figures, or quality of production and creativity?

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