Produsage future: what it means for us

(Warning: Just would like to confess that I might make money from this…I’ll explain below…)

The concept of produsage does seem to be working in places like Wikipedia where what the people are trading with run%20rhino%20hires%202each other are information and ideas. But what happens when this comes into the real world? An innovative example is Threadless, an online t-shirt franchise which prints designs that are submitted by users then rated through other users to determine its wear-worthiness. Those whose ideas are accepted by the community and get their design printed not only gain recognition, but get paid actual cash. This is a prime example of “turning artefacts into products” which Bruns (2008) talks about where “a number of ‘user innovation communities’ …develop a collection of information and knowledge sufficient to allow for the industrial production of physical goods”. As more consumers voice their desires and demands to producers businesses are starting notice and take a turn in the way they do things (e.g. Dell). So what kind of implications does this have for us?

What does it mean…

…for consumers?

Consumers will get to have more of a say in what they want and be able to participate in the production process. With the example of threadless, people not only get to be designers (create the design for shirt), but also are able to be fashion critiques (score and comment on it to advise the designer), models (post photos of them wearing the shirt) and part of the advertising team (by posting or sending a link to threadless to promote the website). More user participation means more brand loyalty; as people will feel more attached to the product if they have a stake in the production (Norman 2004).

…for businesses?

 They will need to open their doors for user participation, and be genuine in their efforts to benefit consumers. People have to come to respect Threadless because their owners prioritise the benefits of the communities they foster and retained their independence from investors in order to ensure customer interests always go first. With this new business model, placing profit-margins over the needs of consumers will be suicide. Only through the support of the community, creating, collaborating, monitoring, and refining ideas will the business strive. Of course, there are some limitations for produsage in the physical production (e.g. the actual shirts getting made) which will have to be covered by manufacturers and service providers (Bruns 2008). But if these trends continue, what and how these products and services are made will be directed by consumers, not the businesses, and businesses will merely be facilitators of this proccess (Owyang 2009).

…for advertisers/marketing/communicators?

I’m guessing most of my readers are communications students and therefore wondering where they fit in with this produsage business mix. According to Jeremiah Owyang (2009), in the future PR practitioners will turn their focus from representing brands to representing communities. According to him, instead of persuading people to buy/support certain brands, marketing roles will change into those where they step-in for communities with certain demands for a product/service and communicate them to businesses who will then have to meet them. I think this view is interesting but still seperates the producer/consumer divide. If the produsage model was fully adopted, the users will be the primary advertisers. Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are powerful tools that Threadless has tapped into with their ‘street team’ intiative that actually pays users to spread the word. That’s right folks, if you click here and then actually went ahead and bought a shirt from the site, I get $1.50 credit for the sale! (hey, at least i’m being honest).

 So would this mean an end to Advertising/Marketing/PR practitioners?? Probably not. I think brand image will still be something that will be powerful and have to be maintained, and those in the IMC/PR profession will probably still have to come up with ways that will attract the most interest, foster and maintain relations, and provide the tools which produsers and producers will be communicating through. In the end, whether we’re buying shirts with our slogan, orchestrating a new e-business, or promoting a brand we like, we’ll all be playing our part in the produsage process and being a part of a community of collaborators. Want to join the club?


Bruns, A. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production To Produsage. New York: Peter Lang

Linderman, M. 2008. 7 Reasons why Threadless rules. (accessed May 25 2009).

Norman, D. A. 2004. Design & Emotion. (Accessed 25 May 09).

Owyang, J. 2009. Future of PR: When Agencies Represent Communities –Not Brands. (accessed 25 May 09)


7 responses to “Produsage future: what it means for us

  1. Mimi, I find your blog really intelligent and easy to follow. With regard to the future of produsage and the development of artefacts into products, I liked the Threadless example. It embodies many principles of produsage and collaborative content creation, particularly the involvement of the user in many different production roles, ultimately creating an intensified connection with the brand/product. Many other brands and services are doing a similar thing, and organisations are beginning to realise that involving produsers, and embracing ordinary people’s creativity saves money and enhances the relationship with consumers. As discussed in our tutorial, Bruns (2008) believes any individual has the creativity to contribute – you don’t have to be particularly brilliant or inspired.

    I agree that PR companies will soon be representing communities rather than individual brands. PR is not my professional interest, however it’s interesting to note the various sectors that have begun to be affected by the produsage movement, as well as citizen journalism. Thanks for the great read.

  2. aliciapalimaka

    As a fellow PR student I found your blog entry on DIY produsers very thought provoking. My answer to your question “would this mean an end to Advertising/Marketing/PR practitioners??” is no, not the end but rather the beginning of a new era for these professions where DIY produser communities will cause an upheaval to the traditional models and practices. As discussed in my blog Public Relations Produsers, PR is already faced with a large scale power shift where stakeholders and publics have freedom and authority in message interpretation and dissemination via online social networks and communities. This is a stark contrast to the days of traditional top-down media such as television and newspapers which are essentially one way in their communication flow and gave PR practitioners all the freedom to craft and deliver messages.

    While you argue that these DIY produser communities will have a significantly greater responsibility for advertising, marketing and of course creating their products, the skills of PR practitioners such as relationship management, media relations, strategic speech, persuasive writing and corporate communication are essential to the survival of any organisation. Similar to Jeremiah Owyang’s prediction that PR practitioners will represent communities as opposed to brands, I believe the role of PR will be to work closely alongside DIY communities and consult them on issues and campaigns as a collaborative communal process in the same way their products are created.

  3. Hey Mimi! I really like your analysis through various aspects! I am curious what it will be in the future. Generation Y, Z are growing in the produsage era, as they (including us) work and play with the new media. They may not realise what a big change happened. I believe it is a good thing. Despite some moral panics about the effects of new media, there is no question that our life is developing under the changes.

    The more significant thing is that it requires to use or apply new media stuff for achievements. We talked about Obama and Kevin’s online campaign. I think they are good examples about how necessary to approach the internet users to be successful. Especially the fact that Obama raised half billion was really a sign of using new media.

    Meanwhile, as the media audiences are more interactive and flexible to use new media. It is very challenging for media producers. They have to improve their products associating with the increasing requirement from the audiences. It’s hard for us , media students, to do it well. Yet we have to follow the produsage for business, study and media work.

  4. theageofdissonance

    Just as QUT is the university for the real world, I love how you have addressed the real world implications of produsage. I too am a budding PR practitioner and I like to keep myself updated on the role of new media platforms in the PR and communications fields. I can really relate to the numerous examples you have provided, and I was definitely nodding my head when you stated the bottom line of your blog….which is the bottom line!

    Ultimately if PR wants to adapt and stay relevant in this new age of participatory media, they really need to go back to basics, inherently as the name suggests, PR is about managing relationships and relating to your publics. I think in the past the industry has tried to focus on measurable and evaluative tactics, when in fact these often miss the point. I believe that whilst the bottom line is important and measurable results , PR needs to take on a few characteristics of produsage, in that a firm needs to adopt open source communication, communal evaluation, fluid heterarchies and the notion of unfinished artefacts. Involving consumers in more of a produser role, will ensure a two-way symmetrical flow of information which is at the crux of produsage, as opposed to a simple feedback loop, two-way asymmetrical etc.

    PR like any industry is always evolving and I thankyou for shedding light on how we, as future PR professionals, can evolve with and together shape the future of the industry we love!

  5. Hi Mimi, I loved the post, you have a keen ability to clarify things and organize the information making it understandable and effective.

    The Threadless example is an interesting one in that it seems to be a very product driven model, where only the best will do? An Australian Idol for designers almost. I have seen another example of this type of DIY culture and design you may be interested in called It allows anyone to submit work and sell it in a range of formats, without any mediation or judgment. Meaning any (visual/writing) creative artifact can become a product if a produser intends to acquire it.

    Can you think of any other industry aplications for this type of business model?

    The advertising industry could benefit from a DIY-culture model, a place for us to maybe gain some experience and build our portfolios? It could offer business the ability to access good quality PR/Adv/Mktng for a fraction of a regular agency cost.

    I would agree with the notion that Adv/PR will continue to exsist, however the exclusive/expensive nature of the industry will become a thing of the past with produsage and user-generated activities becoming more viable and effective. Thanks again for your post.

  6. Pingback: Produsage to Products « aliciapalimaka’s blog

  7. As my interest area is fashion I thank you for your post on the Threadless initiative. This product shows a different aspect of the fashion world and is an example of how it can embody a more participatory nature. At present the majority of styles and designs are influenced by big name designers such as Dior and Zimmermann. They produce a new line each season which they have created from personal inspiration, the magazines interpret the looks and the chain stores replicate the styles and the people wear them. In this case the people are the designers, their inspiration is individual and instead of one group of people deciding what will be fashionable site contributors become fashion critiques and are able to choose what will be produced. This initiative mixes the typical fashion process up which is similar to other produsage applications, for example Wikipedia and citizen journalism platforms. These applications have allowed regular people to have a say on what products are produced and what knowledge is published and when. Perhaps it is the future of fashion. An industry which listens to its people.

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