Last modified on September 27, 2014, at 15:00

A cultural and political economy of Web 2.0

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A cultural and political economy of Web 2.0
Authors: Robert W. Gehl [edit item]
Citation: George Mason University  : . 2010 April.
Publication type: Thesis
Peer-reviewed: Yes
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Link(s): Paper link
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A cultural and political economy of Web 2.0 is a publication by Robert W. Gehl.


[edit] Abstract

In this dissertation, I explore Web 2.0, an umbrella term for Web-based software and services such as blogs, wikis, social networking, and media sharing sites. This range of Web sites is complex, but is tied together by one key feature: the users of these sites and services are expected to produce the content included in them. That is, users write and comment upon blogs, produce the material in wikis, make connections with one another in social networks, and produce videos in media sharing sites. This has two implications. First, the increase of user-led media production has led to proclamations that mass media, hierarchy, and authority are dead, and that we are entering into a time of democratic media production. Second, this mode of media production relies on users to supply what was traditionally paid labor. To illuminate this, I explore the popular media discourses which have defined Web 2.0 as a progressive, democratic development in media production. I consider the pleasures that users derive from these sites. I then examine the technical structure of Web 2.0. Despite the arguments that present Web 2.0 as a mass appropriation of the means of media production, I have found that Web 2.0 site owners have been able to exploit users' desires to create content and control media production. Site owners do this by deploying a dichotomous structure. In a typical Web 2.0 site, there is a surface, where users are free to produce content and make affective connections, and there is a hidden depth, where new media capitalists convert user-generated content into exchange-values. Web 2.0 sites seek to hide exploitation of free user labor by limiting access to this depth. This dichotomous structure is made clearer if it is compared to the one Web 2.0 site where users have largely taken control of the products of their labor: Wikipedia. Unlike many other sites, Wikipedia allows users to see into and determine the legal, technical, and cultural depths of that site. I conclude by pointing to the different cultural formations made possible by eliminating the barrier between surface and depth in Web software architecture.

[edit] Research questions

"how? That is, how has Web 2.0 contributed to what Andrejevic (2003) calls the "surveillance economy"? How has it encouraged users to produce content for free? Where is the line between the pleasure of users and their exploitation, and how is that line made technologically and socially feasible? Moreover, what are the politics of those empty frames that sumoto.iki drew her inspiration from?"

Research details

Topics: Culture and values of Wikipedia, Other collaboration topics, Policies and governance, Commercial aspects [edit item]
Domains: Economics, Political science, Sociology [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis, Explanation [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Case [edit item]
Theories: "Social construction of technology; Marxian political economy" [edit item]
Research design: Case study [edit item]
Data source: Websites [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: Longitudinal [edit item]
Unit of analysis: Website [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: Live Wikipedia [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: Article:talk, History, Other [edit item]
Wikipedia language: English, Spanish [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

""However, Wikipedia's model is in the process of being reformulated in the Web 2.0 forprofit mode. In fact, one of the leaders in this area is Jimmy Wales himself. In 2004, he and Angela Beesley founded Wikicities (now Wikia), a for-profit wiki service which, like most other Web 2.0 sites, provides the ""platform"" for users to create content. It uses Creative Commons licensing and has all the same features as Wikipedia. However, it sells advertising space. Wikia tends to focus on niches; its popular wikis include the Lostpedia (for fans of the show Lost), WoWWiki (for World of Warcraft gamers), the Academic Jobs Wiki (for beleaguered PhD students and postdocs engaged in academic job searches), and the Wookipedia (for Star Wars fans). Thus it is largely predicated on leveraging fan culture, contrasting with Wikipedia's universalist ideals of a compendium of all human knowledge. The profits of advertising go to Wikia. Jimmy Wales may have been thwarted in his attempt to build a for-profit company out of Wikipedia, but Wikia is achieving that goal. Despite this, Wikipedia still offers a model to all of us who are interested in the pleasures, joys, and value of contributing our ideas to collective projects without having those efforts be captured by capital. Because of the Spanish Fork labor strike, we have a nonprofit encyclopedia which to this day does not sell our ideas and pleasures to advertisers. Its users freely contribute without worrying about the exploitation of their labor. What if something similar happened in 2006 to Facebook? What if users revolted against Facebook by withdrawing and demanding that it become a nonprofit? What if today we logged onto Facebook.org and donated money to the nonprofit to keep its servers running? What if instead of central servers, Blogger and YouTube ran on a peerto- peer network architecture? What if all of these sites engaged in transparent decision making? The existence of Wikipedia makes possible these questions, because users of the site engaged in two key actions: gravitating towards the wiki structure and protesting against the commercialization of their voluntary labor.""

[edit] Comments

""Wikipedia still offers a model to all of us who are interested in the pleasures, joys, and value of contributing our ideas to collective projects without having those efforts be captured by capital" p.246"


Further notes[edit]