Tuesday, March 9, 2010

They Own Our Hearts / Who Do We Heart Working For ?

They (teenagers) heart their statuses, comments, groups, bulletins, profiles, messages, pictures, links....but who are they for?
While Danah Boyd is comfortable addressing the modes of participation that constitute social networking sites in her "ethnography," she fails to frame this participation in a larger and economic system. She does address that most social networking sites are in some way owned by larger corporations but fails to address what this means for her "networked publics." In fact, most of what she has to say is contained within one paragraph:

Most of the social network sites were brewed by venture-backed startups but there are a few exceptions to this. Cyworld is a property of SK Telecom, the largest mobile phone operator in South Korea. Orkut began as a side project by a Google employee but, shortly before launch, Google decided to attach their name to the site so that it launched as a Google project. Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL, and Wal-Mart have all created social network sites but none have been particularly successful. In 2005, Fox Interactive Media (a division of Murdoch’s News Corporation) purchased MySpace for US $580M. Unfortunately, not much is currently known about the long-term effects of corporate participation in social network sites. While there has been tremendous speculation about what Fox’s ownership of MySpace will mean, there have been few changes made since the site was acquired. Of course, broader concerns about consumerism’s relationship to agency in online participation are completely applicable to social network sites.(5)

While Boyd clearly points out that there may be a problematic relationship between "consumerism" and "agency," I think she fails to point that the modes of participation including merely acting as a member of the "invisible audience" is a form of production that enables profit for owner companies. I think to define and properly understand this production one must question how online agency and participation can be viewed in fact as a labor. I take this notion of user production from Tiziana Terranova's Network Culture, a work that we will later read from this semester. Terranova introduces a concept she adopts called "free labor" to describe the productive activity of users on the web that enable participation and engagement but are not seen as actual labor. This digital labor therefore is problematic in that we can see the participation and contribution to "networked publics" to be a for of "free labor" one that very large (considering their financial worth) and important (considering their relationship to/as the [mass] media) corporations that benefit from this free production.

I am also interested in how "free labor" on a digital public such as Second Life, which contains an internal economy based Linden Dollars, transform or complicate "free labor." It is especially interesting considering that Second Life users can in fact make money by creating objects and then selling them to users. It is even more interesting when you consider how advanced Second Life economy in fact is with an exchange market, a history that includes illegitimate banking practices, and periods of crisis and inflatio

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