Identity as a Pound of Flesh

October 20, 2006

Paying for your media may seem like a very non-new-media past time but payment is not always a cash transaction. The financial gain of online ‘content’ has previously been through the exchange of time, namely eyeballs-for-adverts. Social network based sites have begun to transform this tit-for-tat hindrance for something far more subtle – that is tracing, your social habits in exchange for access and conversation with your peers.

ICQ, MSN and the beloved AIM systems have always enabled this (with or without advertising) – but the inherent value of your profile page is being aggregated as indexing fodder. Google and Yahoo! love these pages – they can identify the meaning of social groupings which have a rich value to advertisers needs. Think of them as meta-earsdropping dressed as liminal questionnaires.

With free to access video luring the traffic to online communities – the concept of user payment is going to become far more of a social identity concern than credit card fraud. Who you talk to, listen to and comment upon are going to start stacking up your social baggage if your communications are through a hosted service or public ISP.

Since Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations, the media industry has been under inspection by investor and consumers alike. The social expose of the ‘Blogosphere’ has lead not to a richer media environment but a climate of peer relevancy and verification, rather, “You are who you know.”

As the content and media publishers continue to discuss with their lawyers on ways to control the flow of media-as-datadesignall.jpg whilst grabbing the hands of their audience through social networks to form a walled garden is the failure to notice that this audience are actually the scaffolding to their core services to advertisers – a support they desperately need whilst publishers convert from the commissioning model to scafolding their own professional and prosumer audiences media requirements. These requirements will be bared by the revealing of users passions and dislikes cross referenced with thier consumption and production of data. Fundamentally – this is your identity as it’s communicated as data. It is not the identity that we (narcissistically) present. Equally as they maintain a grasp on your profile page, you should consider your identity sold. MySpace offers no way to export or delete the data attached to your profile. Neither does many, ahem, ‘social’ networking systems.

The Hero Samy is a great example of how this can be faked. By code. By anyone.

Dick Hardt make a fantastic presentation at Etech earlier this year. His video presentation (now on youtube, see below) begins to explore the verification of webservices of a users identity thus avoiding a lock-in with any one ‘authorised’ identifier, such as bank.

Back to Scroble, who bitch slaps the Linkedin recently – just as they announce their Service Provider Reccomendation system. I’m a fan of Linkedin as it’s a simple centralised way to keep track of people you meet during ‘work’. It’s a network purely for business contacts. Yes – it has it short failings – there are no APIs, I cant get my contacts and the relationships out of the system easily and migrate them to another system. This mapping data is Linkedin’s property – they borrow your identity to satify the service they offer to users. This short-falling has been picked up by Marc Cantor with People Aggregator, but waiting for a mass migration of users to an Open Social Network is massively optimistic. pete-and-jordan.jpgOpenness as an incentive in it’s own right is not enough. Users need ‘value conversation’ for their time. And this has been served by text, image and video services from Media Owners and publishers since 1996. But the freedom to re-purpose ‘datamedia’, to revision the permutations of the ideas of communities is framed by notions that originality persists. This vanity forces mockery and legal entanglements for no other purpose than to feed litigation proceedings. But as with Peter Andres and Katie Prices latest media offering, even pastiche as authentic media has may have merits. [mp3] [video]
This need not be the most obvious proposition to deliver to niche groups/communities. Take for example Spencer Tunick’s art works (see above). Why do many many people strip off, lay down and participate in his photographs?

Because they want to. Because they want to be involved with a phenomenon. Because they understand that rare oppotunities in life that afford a personal meaning to their time. It’s something personal and public they can discuss and share. It’s something that just increased their personal value.thou-shall-not.jpg

But identity, arguably a social construct not a personal one, is a narrative. Culture is the by-product of the lives that interweave the construct of communities. The narratives are not always intentional, yet the are fabricated by human distraction. When simulated, narratives pertain to a myth construct, yet much of our bearings within culture are devised by stories that are evolved from one generation to another. StoryTron is a software system that is being prepared for launch shortly – it’s a system for generating interactive narratives. Pending the success of this system, we could be seeing ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’ narrative structures entering into out social network structures. For individuals, the ability to interweave personal and synthetic narratives, rather much like the duality of participants of Second Life, opens up virtues of liminal expereinces – the ability to coexist within several communities simultaneously whether conscious of this or not.
The impact this has on the media publishing industry is worth a wry smile. How do you trace these lives and narratives for conversion into media for tradable time? How do you convey a complexity of an individuals identity when parts of their fictional, virtual or augmented lives collapse without concern? How is value to be applied to unqualifiable, flux narratives?

The audience has for as long as recording has been possible lent their lives to publishers so that others can share in their 15-mins.jpgtime. Now, we seen this loan being called in with the rise User Generated Media, the fall of Copyright respect and the rise homogeneous formatted based production such as ‘WifeSwap‘ and ‘Get me out of here, I’m a ..‘. It’s as if the heart has been removed from the production community; content is merely the blood that flows through a man made aorta.

The implications point to the audience getting their ‘pound of flesh’ from the services that offered conversion of their narrative to media. An API for my identity to be translated to a dataset for tradable time. An individuals story in formats that are devised by the audience of 1. Blogging demonstrated this, but it’s not everyones bag. How do monitize everyones narrative? And when you have, where is the rarity? Is it in anonyminity?

This is a far cry from pound of flesh the publishing industry is trying to acquire through the expected income through copyrighted material.

For the past 20 years we have seen the tabloid media relish in constructing individuals identities, if only to seize the power to control and destroy that persona for ratings. This junk bond media documented by Piers Morgan in the TV show ‘The Importance of Being Famous‘ details the thrill in being able to manifest identity for the sake of the readers lust for thebank1.gif least objectionable fish’n’chip wrapping.

Fabrication of narratives has always been a social requirement for peer acceptance; taxation of these through niche skills/techniques such as ‘Editorial’ is resulting in rejection of singular publishing authorities. An audiences choice of ‘info-tainment’ is about to get a lot more complex to manufacture as sources and syndicators realise that they are part of the consumers mix. Roll in the prosumer model and publishing is faced with having to be a high street bank – where users can deposit and retrieve their media contributions. Consider the identity mortgage schemes…if you want to reinvent, add a new dimension to your narrative, the Banka de Disney will be more than happy to lease you narrative constructs. And if you don’t keep up your narratives payments, well you could always try and remortgage your morals rights..

Ok – this is an exaggeration, but the role of the media publishing industries, if they are to see longevity, will have to maneuver to community development via individuals – and this means enabling them to achieve what they cant do alone. And achievement is all about having a good yarn to spin. With enough inertia behind your tales, you could always consider the personality bond market.
pacino.jpgSo, how can publishing remain a result of fabrication when the participation of social networks are in themselves creating the media that produces the myths, morals and fortitude that entertain and educate?

It seems like the deal of consumption is not being replaced with participation – traditional rights holders in media do not want to relinquished the easy financial interest of the audiences time. As with Shylock, their faith has to change. An audience will maintain the respect for the media if the bond is one of use, not values. A communities value system is not a tradable commodity – it is the reason why the community exists.

One Response to “Identity as a Pound of Flesh”

  1. Daniel Edlen Says:

    Publishing should embrace its role as “aorta”. I used to think trust was irrelevant. They could “sell” verification somehow.

    Your paragraph about identity as narrative is brilliant.


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