Spreadable Media

Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green

Studying Memes

Monday, November 17, 2014   9:00

Several new research projects focused on memes draw on Spreadable Media from a range of different angles:

  • In their May 2014 New Media & Society piece, “Memes as Genre: A Structurational Analysis of the Memescape,” Bradley E. Wiggins and Bret G. Bowers draw on the white paper that was part of the Spreadable Media project—challenging the white paper’s definition of the term “meme” in purely biological terms and reappropriating the phrase “spreadable media” to refer to original content that is circulating by audiences, as opposed mimetic content, which modifies the content from the original iteration.
  • Limor Shifman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Communication and Journalism draws on the original whitepaper from the Spreadable Media project in “Anatomy of a YouTube Meme” for New Media & Society in 2012, using the whitepaper’s argument for the audience’s agency in circulation—calling for retaining the language of “viral” and “meme” but arguing for giving them more nuance and definition.
  • Ryan Milner’s 2012 University of Kansas Communication Studies dissertation, The World Made Meme: Discourse and Identity in Participatory Media, draws on Spreadable Media’s critique of the biological metaphors “meme” and “viral” to describe how cultural texts circulate, distinguishing between the two terms and arguing for retaining the term “meme,” especially in how it has been redefined over time.
  • In his 2012 honors thesis for the University of Pittsburgh, entitled “LOLs, Lulz, and ROFL: The Culture, Fun, and Serious Business of Internet Memes,” Noah David Levinson includes some consideration of Spreadable Media’s characterization of spreadability.

Understanding the Spreadable Media Environment

Monday, November 10, 2014   9:00

We’ve been excited to see our book pop up in relation to a variety of pieces which help provide a better understanding of key concepts surrounding the cultural landscape we describe in Spreadable Media. No matter what angle has brought you to the book and our site, we recommend you add the following to your reading list:

  • In their 2013 piece for Media and Communication, “Understanding Social Media Logic,” the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Mediastudies’ José van Dijck and Thomas Poell consider and make a distinction between the concept of “spreadability” and concepts of “connectivity” in relation to social media platforms.
  • In evoking “the scale at which people who never had access to broadcast media are now doing so on an everyday basis and the conscious strategic appropriate of media tools in this process,” Nancy Baym and danah boyd’s 2012 Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media piece, “Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction,” references Spreadable Media—particularly in making the point that it’s not the few “viral hits” but rather the many moderately spread videos that are truly changing the media landscape.
  • In their 2014 piece for Convergence, entitled “Charting and Challenging Digital Media Convergence Practice and Rhetoric through Longitudinal Media Population Surveys,” Anna Westerståhl Stenport, Elias Markstedt, and Matthew Crain reference Spreadable Media in the trajectory of co-author Henry Jenkins’ work about how “new forms of participatory media culture (are) enabled by media convergence” and draw on the book to argue that such tools/forms’ ability to be a “power generator” is “highly contextual and never absolute.”
  • In March 2014, the Universidad de La Sabana (in Colombia)’s Palabra Clave published a “brief reflection” entitled “Integrated?” arguing against technological determinism and looking at the ways human communication and culture pre-date and shape online communication. In the process, the piece references Spreadable Media and a range of other contemporary work in the communication field on digital culture.
  • Maria Clara Aquino Bittencourt opens her 2013 piece for the Brazilian journal GEMInIS (in Portuguese), entitled “Interatividade como Categoria de Análise sobre Convergência entre Televisão e Web,” by evoking Spreadable Media in a call for studying how both the media industries and cultural practices are evolving in an environment where media texts are circulating, both bottom-up and top-down. Her study looks at interactivity, and in particular at processes of participation and sharing “to understand technical, social and cultural exchanges established in production, circulation and consumption of television and web.”
  • In her early draft published on Cultural Digitally, the University of Arkansas’s Stephanie Ricker Schulte shares her piece on “Personalization,” which will be published in Ben Peters’ forthcoming Digital Keywords project. Schulte writes about the origin of the term, the ways new technology presumably increase “pleasure, autonomy, ease, and agency” for users, and also “how human and institutional interactions shape the meaning of these news gadgets.” The draft draws on Spreadable Media as an example of scholarship focusing on the potentials of new technologies to increase agency and participation.
  • Back in October 2013, co-author Henry Jenkins published the work of one of the students in his Public Intellectuals class at USC, David Jeong, on “Information Darwinism.” In it, Jeong argues for the type of information people are more likely to engage with and draws on the concept of “spreadable media” to argue that, in an era of an overabundance of available info, “the information that survives is information that garners our collective attention, that captivates the collective consciousness.”

Thinking Critically about the Nature of Spreadability

Monday, November 3, 2014   9:00

For those looking to think critically about the social, cultural, political, and economic environment shaping the ways in which people are sharing media texts, here are a few pieces we highly recommend you check out and which have engaged with ides from our book:

  • In his 2014 piece for Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies entitled “Frictionless Sharing and Digital Promiscuity,” American University of Paris Global Communications Profesor Robert Payne looks at the rise of “frictionless sharing” as a concept and the monetization efforts focused on normalizing and making as easy as possible the circulation of media texts. Payne asks, “If the new rhetoric of ‘sharing’ erases the riskiness of circulation previously encoded in dominant images of vitality, notably behaviors associated with HIV, then what is the relationship of the projected potential of ‘frictionless sharing’ to existing normative frames of ethics and morality?” In the process, Payne refers to Spreadable Media and looks to complicate binaries in understanding user agency and in moving beyond the language of vitality.
  • This piece draws from Robert Payne’s 2013 piece for Cultural Studies, entitled “Virality 2.0: Networked Promiscuity and the Sharing Subject,” which reacts to material related to the Spreadable Media project by stating that “as transmission has been rebranded as ‘sharing,’ questions of personal and moral responsibility attendant to transmission and infection have been erased in favor of a bland ideology of interactivity.” The piece posits that such language “stabilize(s) and fetishise(s) the active ‘sharing subject’ in neoliberal and heteronormative terms.”
  • In her 2014 New Media & Society piece, “The Interface as Discourse: The Production of Norms through Web Design,” Mel Stanfill draws on Spreadable Media’s designation between stickiness and spreadability in examining the various technological functions in place on media producers’ official sites that limit the portability of content, makes audiences more “measurable,” and eliminates the opportunity to remix media texts in ways that she argues “ignores fair use.”
  • Andrew Hoskins’ provocative 2013 piece for Memory Studies, “The End of Decay Time,” draws on Spreadable Media in its consideration of how “permanently” archived material might easily spread in an environment where the physical decay of most archived media is no longer an issue. In particular, Hoskins explores the potential for “instant decay: corruption, disconnection and deletion” and a “ressentiment of the post-scarcity age: a loss of the confidence of steady decay time exposes memory to less certain prospects for erasure and for forgetting.”
  • Jason Pridmore and Daniel Trottier’s essay “Extending the Audience: Social Media Marketing, Technologies and the Construction of Markets,” for Lee McGuigan and Vincent Manzerolle’s The Audience Commodity in a Digital Age: Revisiting a Critical Theory of Commercial Media, draws on Spreadable Media’s consideration of Dallas Smythe’s work on audience activity as labor as it explores social media users’ ambivalence to how their participation is shaped and commoditized via social network sites.
  • In her work on describing the “infosaturation” involved in giving people recommended content based on their profiles and previous behavior, Patrícia Dias of the Research Center on Communication and Culture at the Catholic University of Portugal draws on Spreadable Media’s argument for the more active agency of people in engaging and circulating content. Her research, which looks at “the cognitive and relational effects of digital immersion” as new personalization technologies arise, is published at “From ‘Infoxication’ to ‘Infosaturation’: A Theoretical Overview of the Cognitive and Social Effects of Digital Immersion” in Ámbitos: Revista Internacional de Comunicación.
  • In their 2013 Swedish media and communication studies thesis for Uppsala University’s Department of Informatics and Media, “Google ser Dig: En Kvalitativ Studie av Internetanvändares Medvetenhet och Åsikter om Filterbubblor” (which translates to “Google Is Watching You: A Qualitative Study of Internet Users’ Awareness and Opinions on Filter Bubbles”), Carl Hallvarsson & Jessica Norén draw on Spreadable Media to demonstrate a greater expectation of trust from audiences/users. Based on focus group group research, Hallvarsson and Norén argue that the “empowered audiences” Spreadable Media advocates for are often not possible when it comes to digital companies like Google, where audiences are grossly unaware of the design of the platform and how the data they create is being used.
  • The University of Michigan’s Lisa Nakamura spoke to content/“memes” that we want to die and some of the negative cultural attributes that make things spreadable—including racism, hate, and other issues, challenging any unabashed celebration of spreadability on its own right. Her comments were part of a panel on “Identity Work and Identity Play Online” at the American Studies Association in Washington DC in December 2013 alongside NYU’s Laura Portwood-Stacer, UCLA’s Anne Cong-Huyen, and USC’s Tara McPherson. See Dan Greene’s write-up here.

Thinking Further about Spreadability

Monday, October 27, 2014   9:00

Several great pieces have been published which draws on Spreadable Media in some way in looking further at how stories spread in a digital age:

  • The January 2014 International Journal of Cultural Studies piece “Constructing a Digital Storycircle: Digital Infrastructure and Mutual Recognition,” authored by Nick Couldry, Richard MacDonald, Hilde Stephansen, Wilma Clark, Luke Dickens, and Aristea Fotopoulou, examines the community setting in which stories are shared online. In their analysis, the authors draw on Spreadable Media’s “reflections on the limits of participatory culture around commercial media” and questions about the potential dangers posed to political institutions by spreadability but primarily focus on “the positive possibilities” for narrative exchange in an online setting.
  • John Hartley includes Spreadable Media among his references for his 2013 piece in Journal of Cultural Science, entitled “A Trojan Horse in the Citadel of Stories?” In the piece, Hartley examines the “scaling up” from self-expression to self-marketing/representation and how storytelling connects with “the evolution of the polity.” Ultimately, via a case study of connections between Australia and Turkey, Hartley argues that there needs to be “new guides to storytelling action, not the old (Trojan) warhorses of mainstream media.”
  • In their introduction to the 2014 inaugural issue of Asiascape: Digital Asia, entitled “Revisiting the Emancipatory Potential of Digital Media in Asia,” Leiden University’s Florian Schneider and Chris Goto-Jonesdraw on Spreadable Media in talking about co-author Henry Jenkins’ contention that “social sharing and the ‘remixing’ of culture allows users to develop a sense of self-worth and of community.”
  • Pip Shea’s 2013 Journal of Cultural Science piece, entitled “Co-Creating Knowledge Online: Approaches for Community Artists,” focuses on the concepts of co-creation and participatory culture in the community arts field, and particularly looking at “the making of new knowledge.” The piece evokes Spreadable Media in referring to a booklet Shea made and focuses the analysis around, entitled Co-creating Knowledge Online, which was made available for free online distribution.
  • University of Southern California’s Kathi Inman Berens (now researching as part of the Digital Culture Research Group at Norway’s University of Bergen) is currently doing work on “OccupyMLA,” a “hoax” that took place at the Modern Language Association’s 2013 conference. Her work includes using concepts from Spreadable Media to examine the wide circulation of the project beyond its original context and beyond the creators’ own distribution. More on her work from her proposal for a 2015 session at the MLA’s national conference, as part of a larger panel on “Authenticity in Distributed Networks.”
  • In his 2013 University of Texas-Austin Master’s thesis, entitled “Characteristics of Content and Social Spread Strategy on the Indiegogo Crowdfunding Platform,” Joseph S. Stern references Spreadable Media’s consideration of how people appraise media content.
  • In his 2012 political science thesis for the Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali “Guido Carli” (LUISS University of Rome), entitled “Influenza, Reputazione e Visibilità su Twitter. Un’analisi Semiotica.” Gian Mario Bachetti draws on Spreadable Media’s reference to a networked culture where people maintain much more frequent connections with a wider range of their network via online communication tools in his semiotic study of the activity of “influencers” on Twitter.
  • Recent George Washington University School of Business grad Alex Smolen looks at the cultural drivers behind various highly spread online videos, drawing on Spreadable Media and other media studies/journalism texts at her blog, The Mind of Alex Smolen.

Spreadable Media and Rethinking Pedagogical Approaches

Monday, October 20, 2014   9:00

A range of thinkers working on changing pedagogical practices throughout all forms of education have been engaging with—and providing useful extensions to—many of the ideas in Spreadable Media. Learn about a few of these projects—and how they engage with the book—in the following places:

  • A group called “The 21st Century Collective” published a collection in 2013 called Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies: A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer Teaching and Learning, available via the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC). The co-authors of the second chapter (entitled “From Open Programming to Open Learning: The Cathedral, the Bazaar, and the Open Classroom”), Barry Peddycord III and Elizabeth A. Pitts, write that Spreadable Media “eloquently” describes the shift from one-way models of producing and distributing messages to a more collaborator model where audiences can “create, remix and share information.”
  • In Joanne Larson’s Radical Equality in Education: Starting Over in U.S. Schooling, she draws on Spreadable Media to evoke the shift “into many-to-many participation structures in which the social relations between production and consumption are blurred, if not erased” and emphasizes that “children and youth are not ‘playing’ at something they will grow out of; these are the language, literacy, and knowledge production practices now.”
  • In her presentation at the Networked Learning Conference in Edinburgh, UK, in April 2014, entitled “Taming Social Media in Higher Education Classrooms,” Ryerson University School of Professional Communication’s Wendy Freeman uses Spreadable Media to help set the landscape for communication in today’s society before launching into the results of a study based on in-depth interviews with postsecondary educators and how they use social media as part of their pedagogical approach.
  • Stefano Bonometti of the Università degli Studi del Molise in Italy draws on Spreadable Media to help explain the current online environment of “sharing and participation” which is driving some experimentation with online multimedia learning. See his short paper, entitled “A Cross-Media Environment for Teacher Training,” published as part of the proceedings for the Interaction Design in Educational Environments (IDEE) workshop in June 2014 in Albacete, Spain.
  • In her 2013 dissertation for Pennsylvania State University’s College of Education, entitled Tensions of Teaching Media Literacy in Teacher Education, Nalova Elaine Ngomba-Westbrook references Spreadable Media as an example of a media literacy study that takes a “process focus,” looking at “the democratizing opportunities inherent” in the potential spreadability of media texts.

Spreadable Media in the Classroom

Monday, October 13, 2014   9:00

We are excited to see instructors using Spreadable Media in the classroom across a wide range of subjects, disciplinary approaches, and countries. Below are some of the latest appearances we’ve seen for Spreadable Media on university syllabi:

  • Drake University Law School’s Peter K. Yu lists Spreadable Media among his Reference Works for his Fall 2014 course, IP in the Internet Age.
  • Georgia State University Department of Communication’s Ted Friedman used Spreadable Media as one of the textbooks for his Fall 2013 senior seminar on “Convergence Culture.”
  • The University of Turin Department for the Study of Culture, Politics, and Society’s Cristopher Cepernich is using Spreadable Media as a core text for his upcoming course, Media Systems and ICT.
  • The University of Greenland’s Language, Literature, and Media’s course catalog lists Spreadable Media among the texts used/covered in its classes.
  • Charles Sturt University School of Information Studies course director Judy O’Connell includes Spreadable Media on her book list for students to review for her Concept & Practices in a Digital Age course.
  • Spreadable Media is one of the core texts for Renira Rampazzo Gambarato’s Transmedia Storytelling II course at the Tallinn University Baltic Film and Media School.
  • Spreadable Media is also a required textbook for Liberty University’s communication course “The Transmedia Organization.”
  • Spreadable Media is listed as a key “New Media/Multi-Platform” resource for the Rights & Creative Industries module in Creative & Culture Industries at the University of the West of Scotland, coordinated by Jason Robertson.
  • Darryl Woodford has been using material surrounding the Spreadable Media project for his “New Media: Internet, Self and Beyond” course at the Queensland University of Technology.
  • Prof. Leonardo Flores in the English Department at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus uses Spreadable Media’s introduction and first chapter to help his Literature in Digital Media students think through how Hamlet has been remixed and spread. A write-up on the class is available here.
  • Gary Hink of University of Colorado-Boulder’s Program for Writing & Rhetoric used the white paper that was part of the Spreadable Media project for his Summer 2014 Technology & American Culture course.
  • Chloe Smolarski’s Digital Storytelling Spring 2014 course for York College Communication Technology launches with William Uricchio’s “The History of Spreadable Media,” which is one of the essays that are part of the enhanced Spreadable Media book available online.
  • Finally, in her use of Spreadable Media in her Marylhurt University literature course, entitled “Digital Humanities and New Media: An Introduction,” Prof. Kathi Inman Berens posted two videos with her reflections, here and here.

Interesting Student Projects in Response to Spreadable Media

Monday, October 6, 2014   9:00

Some uses of Spreadable Media in the classroom has generated interesting work from students in response. Below, we highlight three of those projects:

  • Diane Daly’s University of Arizona course on Collaborating in Online Communities has created a Spreadable Media study guide/companion.
  • To demonstrate their mastery of the concepts in Melanie Kohnen’s Spring 2014 “Intro to Digital Media” class at NYU, students Alinah Zamir, Ella Ribas, and Da Suel Kim presented their understanding and thinking via the creation of a website for their “hybrid-marketing agency,” DigitaliaSpreadable Media was one of the texts for their class, and they draw on the book in various places for the material they present on the site.
  • Students in Prof. Shayla Thiel Stern’s New Media & Culture Class in Spring 2014 did a frame-by-frame remake of the “Makmende” video used as a case study in Spreadable Media and, in particular, in Ethan Zuckerman’s essay for the project.

Co-Authors Spreading the Word

Monday, September 29, 2014   9:00

Over the past several months, the Spreadable Media team has remained active in further developing, challenging, and…spreading…their work surrounding the book. Check out some of their recent speaking appearances here:

  • Co-author Sam Ford joined Spreadable Media project contributors Xiaochang LiAbigail De KosnikTed Hovet, and Sharon Marie Ross in March 2014 for a workshop discussion entitled “Rethinking Networked Culture, Media Audiences, and Media Content through Spreadable Media,” at the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. The discussion was largely a follow-up to the recent Cinema Journal roundtable about the Spreadable Media book.
  • Co-author Sam Ford spoke about Spreadable Media’s concepts and structure as a project itself as part of The Essay in Public  a one-day symposium on “how to better bring longform and dense content to general audiences,” at Brown University in April 2014.
  • In his Spring 2014 MIT Communications Forum, co-author Henry Jenkins spoke on a range of issues, including Spreadable Media’s exploration of the tension between the market logic of the media industries and the non-market logic governing the actions of active audiences.
  • The 2014 Innovation Cities Tour, from Innovation Excellence, cites Spreadable Media as an inspiration. Also, co-author Sam Ford spoke as part of the tour’s Boston event at the IBM Innovation Center.
  • In his May 2014 talk as part of the University of California-Davis’ Chancellor’s Colloquium Distinguished Speaker Series, co-author Henry Jenkins spoke on “Democracy and Diversity in the Era of Spreadable Media.”
  • Ford participated in the Southern Kentucky Book Festival this April in Bowling Green, KY, where he spoke as part of a panel of Western Kentucky University-related authors about their various book projects.

Interviews with Spreadable Media Co-Authors

Monday, September 22, 2014   9:00

Spreadable Media’s co-authors have been talking about themes from the book in a range of venues these past few months. Read those interviews here:

  • Arturo Arriagada interviewed co-author Sam Ford for Chilean newspaper La Tercera, which ran on May 3 (in Spanish). The interview also ran at Observatorio de Medios FUCATEL.
  • Co-author Henry Jenkins was interviewed by Julia Fernandez on the Library of Congress’ The Signal: Digital Preservation site in July 2014. Jenkins explains the book’s reaction against “viral media” and unpacks what is meant by the phrase, “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead”: If we don’t know about the media, if we don’t know where to find it, if it’s locked down where we can’t easily get to it, it becomes irrelevant to the conversations in which we are participating. Spreading increases the value of content.”
  • In July 2014, Bob Morris interviewed co-author Sam Ford about his background, his career, his philosophy, and—in particular—in depth about Spreadable Media.
  • Also, Nino Rapin interviewed Ford for Opoloo’s Squirrel Park “great conversationist” interview series where he discussed, among other things, the writing process for Spreadable Media.

Further Publishing from Spreadable Media Authors

Monday, September 15, 2014   9:00

Spreadable Media’s co-authors continue to do work drawing on ideas from the book. See these recent publications:

  • In his 2014 piece for The Journal of Fandom Studies, “Fan Studies: Grappling with an ‘Undisciplined’ Discipline,” co-author Sam Ford draws on Spreadable Media’s description of “accretion texts,” the increased interest from marketers and the media industries on fans, and the book’s argument that the audience’s increased ability “to share, discuss, debate, and critique texts” today “constitutes the greatest shift in the media ecology in a digital age.” Ford also references the ways in which the 2007 “Gender and Fan Studies” series impacted the Spreadable Media project.
  • In his 2014 piece for Cultural Studies, “Rethinking ‘Rethinking Convergence/Culture’,” co-author Henry Jenkins writes extensively about what informed and shaped the Spreadable Media project in the aftermath of his previous book, Convergence Culture.
  • NYU Press’ new book Making Media Work: Cultures of Management in the Entertainment Industries, edited by Derek Johnson, Derek Kompare, and Avi Santo, includes an essay from co-author Sam Ford, entitled “Listening and Empathizing: Advocating for New Management Logics in Marketing and Corporate Communications.” (See an earlier version posted for the MIT Media in Transition 8 conference.) In the essay, Ford draws on Spreadable Media to talk about infrastructural tensions within organizations around who “owns” the customer relationship.
  • The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism ran an excerpt from Spreadable Media in their Winter 2013 Agenda magazine.
  • In late 2013, Spanish-language journal Panorama Social ran Ford’s “Diferencias entre Oír y Escuchar al Público en la Comunicación Corporativa,” which draws on Spreadable Media’s distinction between “hearing” and “listening” to further explore the concept in corporate communication/public relations/marketing.
  • Harvard Business Review recently re-ran Ford’s 2013 piece, “In Marketing, People Are Not Numbers”—drawing on concepts from Spreadable Mediain Russian.
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