How Consumers have become Producers with the arrival of Web 2.0 Technologies.

Web 2.0 is the new generation of the internet, mainly considered to include popular sites such as ‘Youtube’, ‘Myspace’, ‘Wikipedia’, ‘Google’ and ‘Napster’. These sites are thought to allow the consumers to become producers by letting the user undertake tasks that is only available in this ‘future form’ of the internet.

Perhaps the most popular ‘next generation’ websites are the ‘Myspaces’ and ‘Facebooks’. These sites allow the users to totally design the page to what represents them as a person. It allows the ‘producer’ to add friends, write ‘blogs’, upload pictures and videos, and play their favourite song in the background whilst messaging friends.

Most Web 2.0 sites are free to users and as a result do gain most of their revenue from advertising. Moreover, because of their immense popularity with the teen market, these sites are an extremely good way of advertising. Take for instance the movie ‘300’ which was predominantly advertised on ‘Myspace’ rather than on television. While it isn’t uncommon for a movie to use ‘Myspace’ as an advertising tool as most nowadays do, ‘300’ cleverly used the marketing ploy that to coincide with the movie the user was able to upload up to 300 photos, instead of the regular twelve. It was also backed by dozens of video clips, wallpapers and links to the film’s official website. Thus, the promotion resulted in eight million viewings of the trailer and well over 200,000 “friends” for the movie’s profile page. This resulted in the film breaking a March record, grossing more than seventy million in its opening weekend, ten million more than it cost to make, and this was a film that had no big name stars, no big ad campaign (outside ‘Myspace’) and only a 68% audience tracking awareness rate by Warner Bros. Is it therefore any wonder that 52% of the audiences who saw ‘300’ were under twenty-five?  Furthermore, the projected advertising expenditure for the Internet in 2002 was 3.2%, a significant rise on 1999’s 1.4%, meaning that “this growth rate… was far greater than that for cable television through the 1980s and 1990s.”

Take for instance ‘Youtube’ which serves over 100 million videos each day. ‘Youtube’ is owned by ‘Google’ and is again absolutely free to its users, gaining revenue only through its various advertising campaigns. Users are able to upload their videos for the world to see and then people will vote on how good it was; moreover to comment underneath it. It is very similar to ‘Myspace’ in the way in which it is almost a virtual community and indeed most all Web 2.0 sites share this factor, as does the internet as a whole, in being a fundamentally social experience. For instance, “even aspects of the internet that do not seem particularly social, such as business sites, online magazines and information services, have integrated social opportunities such as chat spaces and bulletin boards into their sites.”  The idea is that we are predominantly sharing our ideas with others through the use of web 2.0.

The internet has evolved in the way that people no longer use it as a form of escapism, to get away from their busy, stressful lives, but instead as a tool to continue their lives online. They “use words on screens to exchange pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt, create a little high art and idle talk. People in virtual communities do just about everything people do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind. You can’t kiss anybody and nobody can punch you in the nose, but a lot can happen within those boundaries.”  The internet is unlike any other media, it allows, for the first time, the whole world (internet capable of course) to participate and therefore, “the Internet is, above all else, a cultural creation.”

The internet, while not as popular as other media sources, such as the television, is in fact considered the fastest growing media. For instance, even though it has only been around for about a decade or so, “the mid-2000 AOL national survey found that 76 million people (39 percent of the US population) used the internet.”  However, in times of crisis it was the internet, above the other modern creations of man, such as the mobile phone, that was used. Take for instance the Virginia Tech shootings whereby students, unbeknownst to the events going on around them, were writing blogs, emails and instant messages through the use of Web 2.0 to gather life saving information.

However, while the internet is a multi-national/cultural experience, “it has no centralized control deciding what shall be disseminated to the general public.” There really is no MPAA or BBFC or a watchdog to decide what can and cannot be viewed. Of course there are limitations to each website but the internet as a whole is free for whomsoever to do whatever they please which results in an alarming “growing impact on a large portion of the population.”

What is alarming is the way in which the unsupervised internet is capable of ‘brainwashing’ its users, most of whom are teenagers who have had “twice as much access to the internet as those over 50 years old; in which 50 per cent of white and Asian Americans had access, but only 29 percent of African Americans and 23 per cent of Hispanic Americans.”

The internet has come a long way since the idea was first formed through the ‘Memex’ during the 1940s. It began to evolve in the 1960s through ‘hypertext’ and was finally unleashed upon the world in 1994. In one year the amount of Web sites grew from 2738 to over 23,000.

The Internet was essentially designed as a place to share ideas and this is more prominent now than ever with Web 2.0. Burton argues that there is “at least as much taking from and using of the internet as there is contributing and exchanging”.  He continues, stating that “it permits mobilization around values shared electronically.”  An example is the popular website, ‘Wikipedia’, which is an encyclopedia made up entirely from users creating pages on subjects of their interest. There is no incentive for people to write but they do, and as a result this idea of contributing and exchanging, an idea that “has a global reach which matches that of other power structures (multi-nationals), and by-passes the limitations of the nation state”  very much in evidence in Web 2.0.

However as stated, the Internet still isn’t quite as popular as the television, its biggest rival in 2000, “Net ratings reports that average web usage amounts to just about three hours per week, a fraction of the time most people spend watching television.”  Indeed this figure would have vastly changed but there is no doubt that television is still the more popular source of media. Perhaps it’s because a television is seen as a more ‘social’ experience than sitting in front of a computer, and indeed this illustration still conjures up images of a ‘geeky’ kid but the idea of Web 2.0 is changing this perception. The amount of adults at work who get an email and follow a link to ‘Youtube’ to watch a funny video is surprising. Streaming’ is basically the new T.V offering for the first time a place where “anyone could publish or ‘broadcast’ without a license, without a large bankroll, and with potential access to the entire Internet audience.” It works in many ways, viewers can watch the same programs that a year ago they would have needed a television for or they can watch exclusive content, such as behind the scenes and interviews, that are totally unavailable outside the Internet. What’s even more encouraging is that most videos are uploaded by users rather than companies, meaning that it’s “a citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communication network,”  and its only going to get bigger. “Webcasters hope that streaming will eventually improve so that they can offer movies, sports and television shows.”

Therefore, the Internet, through Web 2.0 undeniably allows consumers to become producers. This comes about by the ‘producers’ uploading videos, writing entries, downloading and basically taking part in various social activities, through new technologies, such as streaming, that was limited and wholly unavailable several years ago and will improve again in the near future. It is through this idea of socializing that democratic empowerment is achieved, whether it be watching silly videos, looking up your house through a satellite or going on a chat room that  “represents the potential for greater political involvement.”  For that reason and to summarise in conclusion, whether Web 2.0 is a force for good or something more sinister, it appears to be here to stay.

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