The other week, one of the guys from my Uni class made a Facebook group for the subject so people could share information about how to study for this exam. (for his privacy i won’t link the site) He used the space so people could share their notes and resources and it was really interesting how people came to participate so freely, while others just joined the group and didn’t contribute (I plead guilty). But the biggest contributor was the creator of the group himself, and for that many (including me) were grateful. I admired and was challenged by how he was freely sharing information for the benefit of the community, without requiring people to give anything back to him.
Feeding the internet or feeding off the internet?
As discussed in previous blogs the opportunities for more people to contribute online has expanded. New media surpasses many barriers that traditional media has, allowing peer-to-peer communication, convenience to access information, open interactivity, etc. (Flew 2008). However, studies have found that 90% of internet users are mere ‘lurkers’ rather than contributors, where only 0.2% out of the millions of users of Wikipedia actually contribute to the site. Further, two-thirds of the edits done in the site are done by a mere 0.003% of the most devout contributors. So who are these hard-core contributors and what makes them different to the majority?
Pro-Ams: nerds with a cause
With the internet breaking down the barriers and hierarchies of traditional mediums, allowing anyone to contribute, there has been an emergence of experts called the ‘Pro-Ams’ who dominate the majority of online content. Leadbeater and Miller (2004 cited in Flew 2007) define Pro-Ams as “innovative, commited and networked amateurs working to professional standards”. So in simple terms: they are nerds. But I’m not saying that in a patronising way; ever since Bill Gates, I think it’s become apparent that nerds are cool . This is because they’re usually very knowledgable about a range of topics or very informed about a particular topic, and now web2.0 allows them to share their wealth of knowledge for the common good. But just putting a lot of information out there doesn’t make it valuable. The internet isn’t just some kind of data-processing machine, but a common meeting place for an inter-connected community of people. And those who acknowledge that and contribute in a way to build, refine, and deepen communal knowledge will be the ones who get the most respect from their fellow produsers (Bruns 2007). But not everyone can pull that off, and hence we have this “participation inequality” discussed above.
I’m not an expert! What knowledge can I share?
So what do I have to offer the world wide web of knowledge? I don’t think I know enough about anything worth sharing…Yet equipotentiality suggests “that while the skills and abilities of all participants in the produsage project are not equal, they have an equal ability to make a worthy contribution to the project” (Brun, 2007. p.23). We’ve all got our own experiences and interests, and tend to be well informed about things we like; even if it’s just knowing where the best coffee is served in Uni (oh please do tell!). Furthermore, since the quality of information is defined by the community sometimes it might be just finding that group of people who holds a common interest with you. And who knows, you may just know something that may serve a specific need to a particular group at a particular time. It was certainly the case with the uni students’ Facebook group; and perhaps these new media blogs are examples of it too.
Bruns, A. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production To Produsage. New York: Peter Lang
Flew, T. 2008. New Media: an introduction. 3rd Ed. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press
Nielsen, J.(2006) Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html (accessed 20 may 2009).