Participatory Media in Practice

by Kate Brodock on 2 February 2009

Posted in: From the Field

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This past Wednesday, I attended the Harvard-MIT-Yale Cyberscholars workgroup held at MIT.  The topic (generally speaking) was participatory media, and specifically how each of the three presenters used it and analyzed it.

Many of us know what participatory media is, but just in case, Wikipedia says:

Participatory Media include (but are not limited to) blogs, wikis, RSS, tagging and social bookmarking, music-photo-video sharing, mashups, podcasts, participatory video projects and videoblogs.”

They clarify, rightly so, that these “distinctly different media” share three common characteristics:

  • Every person connected to the network can broadcast and receive data (unlike the structure of pre-digital technology).
  • The value and power comes from active participation of many people.
  • The information dissemination qualities allow for faster, broader and lower cost coordination of activities.

The three speakers were:

Andrés Monroy-Hernández – “Youth Online: designing for participation and collaboration,” speaking about his involvement in the Scratch online community for kids (they can produce online games using a variety of features on the Scratch platform).

Danielle Martin – “Participatory Media for Youth and Community Development,” describing her role in MIT@Lawrence as part of her dissertation research.

Stephan Wilmarth – “Bringing Participatory Media and Learning to Ethnically Diverse Populations in Northwest China,” describing his role as President & Managing Director of the New Student School Ambassadors and its projects in Northwest China.

On a humanitarian level, all of these projects were very interesting.  From a disciplinary perspective, I found Andrés’ findings from Scratch particularly notable.  They include:

  • The kids using Scratch had formed networks very similar to what we’ve seen on a much larger, “adult” scale.  This includes collaboration on projects, “remixing” (literally enhancing or modifying other members’ games into a new product), freedom of expression (more on that), copyright issues, comments, and even the development of a kid-run production company.
  • There were several instances when the remixing process gave way to issues of “who’s work is who’s.”  The homepage displays work as follows:

Scratch homepage

So the kids who produced the original game that got remixed started to get wary when another kid’s game, remixed from their own) garnered a top spot.

  • Freedom of expression: the community developed various ways in which to “check” the games produced (comments, forums, etc).
  • I asked about any sort of reputation tools or trends they had seen, and they’re looking into it.  It seems that there are some users who a real power houses within the community, and other members have tried to leverage that position to their advantage.

Several questions they’re addressing now:

How can the collaboration be built on?

How do you get enough people to make a viable and worthwhile community?  Especially one that requires constant content production as opposed to just interaction?

How do you maintain the momentum once you get that critical mass?

All really neat stuff happening all around.  I’m looking forward to the next go-around.

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  • andresmh

    Thanks for the comments and the nice summary of my presentation. The reputation is a very challenging one. I wonder if you have seen any online or offline communities with a reputation system that is fair and useful.

  • http://www.othersidegroup.com/adcomments Kate Brodock

    I think it's a big issue right now, people are trying to figure out legitimate measurement tools. It tends to be a system that can 1) easily manipulated (lack of “checks” when measuring) and 2) easily abused (what you do once your reputation is developed). I've heard of a few products that have based reputation on a variety of different technical things (for instance, combo of blog comments+posts+RSS+”engagement level”+ etc etc). Definitely still being perfected!

  • http://www.mit.edu/~amonroy/ andresmh

    Thanks for the comments and the nice summary of my presentation. The reputation is a very challenging one. I wonder if you have seen any online or offline communities with a reputation system that is fair and useful.

  • http://www.katebrodock.com Kate Brodock

    I think it's a big issue right now, people are trying to figure out legitimate measurement tools. It tends to be a system that can 1) easily manipulated (lack of “checks” when measuring) and 2) easily abused (what you do once your reputation is developed). I've heard of a few products that have based reputation on a variety of different technical things (for instance, combo of blog comments+posts+RSS+”engagement level”+ etc etc). Definitely still being perfected!

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