Recently, I was hanging out with my kids and we were doing a drawing tutorial on the YouTube channel, Arts for Kids Hub. We were following along learning how to draw a volcano when I was struck by some of the things Rob (the tutor) was saying to his son (the student). Every time his son wouldn’t quite make the straight line, or stay inside the colouring lines, or just go a bit wobbly, Rob would just say ‘that’s OK ’cause we’re learning’.
[Just so you know, we drew some insanely cool volcanos that day.]
Anyway, it struck me that this was a reminder that sometimes getting bogged down in the details stops us from just getting on with the overall project – it really interrupts our flow. Kind of like when you are learning a new song on whatever instrument you play, and you can either focus on each note until it’s perfect, or work you way through the piece and perfect sections as you progress. One way is probably more correct, but the other is more fun and likely more insightful of the ‘other’ things you discover along the way.
I wondered if this approach would (could?) apply to my professional world.
Academia runs on perfection and there’s always pressure on us to do the best work we possibly can. This is not necessarily a bad thing, given the significance of the work that we do and the broader impact it might have. The outcome should be the best it can, while also done as a digestible effort for a wide audience. But if we perfect each increment of every step along the way, I wonder what opportunities we may miss. Would there be new discoveries that we miss by chance, or perhaps through serendipity?
I think this is definitely the case with research grant funding.
This project will take us through until mid 2023, with an official kick off in January next year.
I’m now well within my mid-career researcher (MCR) phase, which means I have progressed from the early career researcher (ECR) era – ECR is often judged as beyond five to seven years after completing one’s phd thesis (I submitted mine in 2013). During this time, you usually receive strong mentorship with senior colleagues for positioning your career, focussing your research and its outputs, teaching (if that’s your stream), and grant writing. I’ve had a reasonably strong track record with grant funding for research both through schemes internally at USyd and externally at the Australian Research Council and others.
The eSafety Commission grants were officially announced yesterday, with much media coverage, to which were part of a well-deserved celebration of our successes. We had web pages launched, media releases, tweets constructed and people sending congratulations and best wishes all day and night. It was lovely.
It did make me pause and think about the development of this research project up until this point. We had two failed attempts at various grants (Facebook and ACCAN) before securing this funding go-ahead. Also there would have been so many other great ideas from other research teams that didn’t make the cut for this funding scheme – I have certainly been in that category several times over. Such much effort and time invested in developing a research project and funding application, only to have it declined.
In academia especially, we always talk about our successes as this is our currency that opens the door for the next opportunity – it is our track record. But we never talk about our failings, and this is where the real learning is located. On this most recent successfully funded project, we learnt the following from our previous failed attempts at funding:
Boring things like how to follow procedures to submit through administration systems (which are actually really important);
https://i1.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Social-media-tile-1_Instagram.png?fit=963%2C506&ssl=1506963Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2021-10-22 09:32:002021-10-23 00:11:28A word about failing… (and securing research grants)
2020 was a tough year for everyone, all round. It was also tough in the research output space as reviews slowed, research focus was redirected, conferences stopped, and the overall productivity of our research space grinded to a turtle pace – at times driven by an increased demand on our skills in the teaching space.
What I think we will see is a slowing of research output in the next few years as we all took a hit in research access, fieldwork and overall ability to keep researching during 2020. But it is nice to see colleagues still publishing for the moment and getting back on track in 2021.
One of those outputs for 2021 is our co-authored chapter that explores the role automation plays in public service media. To approach this we have used the lens of digital intermediation to understand how user visibility plays into the overall strategies of increasing uses of automation within public service media.
As always, please get in touch if you have issues with access to the book chapter.
https://i2.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Screenshot-2021-03-21-at-10.25.40-am.png?fit=1558%2C1588&ssl=115881558Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2021-03-21 01:21:452021-03-21 01:22:02Public service media and automation
The constraints of coronavirus isolation have closed down most recreational activities, but some creative industries are responding in innovative ways.
I have been researching “digital first personalities” – content producers who build massive (or highly engaged) audiences online first and then often make the jump to traditional media.
Online spaces and social media platforms including Twitch, Patreon, Streamlabs, OnlyFans, and SubStack are becoming more familiar to consumers. This new frontier of the creative industries has writers, comedians, gamers, musicians and even porn producers adopting new ways to make a buck online that could prove viable beyond lockdown.
Plamping the DJ
Zoom and TikTok have emerged as the go-to social platforms during isolation. Families share meals together online, colleagues enjoy drinks remotely after work, families perform micro-dance challenges together, and trivia has found a new audience.
DJs and their record labels) are providing an innovative model and keeping the good-time vibes rolling during isolation.
The recent phenomenon of “plamping” (a portmanteau of plant and lamp to describe the DJ’s classic background mise en scène) has emerged as a meme. When people are “plamped” they are ready to socially engage with others by tuning in to a live DJ set on Twitch TV and interacting with others in a “hosted” Zoom room.
This is the online equivalent of paying your entry fee to the club and hanging out with your mates. Once there, DJs and their labels encourage participants to donate to support the creators.
As users engage with each other via the chat functionality on the Twitch channel’s stream, they build relationships. Twitch has its own communication style – from platform-specific emojis to catch-cries. As the party kicks into gear, someone will likely ask: “Still plamped?”
New York club Nowadays is hosting virtual DJ sets and asking for financial contributions via Patreon. The highest level of support includes entry to a post-pandemic party.
DJ Khaled and Katy Perry are among high profile artists who will perform live concerts via BeApp, though the platform (sponsored by Coca Cola) will raise funds for International Red Cross.
What is new, however, is the evolution of Twitch (owned by Amazon) for other entertainment areas, including fundraising, house parties, and of course, plamping. It is estimated Twitch’s turnover was approximately US$1.54 billion in 2019 (A$2.32 billion), with creator revenue around US$600 million (A$900 million) per year.
Beyond Twitch, there are a number of other monetised streaming apps and platforms, established to enable creators to earn money while they “perform” their craft.
Patreon, Streamlabs, OnlyFans, and SubStack all have business models in place that enable creators to choose a plan and partner with the streaming app.
Started in 2013, Patreon now claims to be home to over 150,000 creators supported by more than 4 million patrons. A Patreon creator will select either a 5, 8, or 12% membership plan, with each level offering increased member benefits. As the artist earns more money, so does the streaming app.
But are these figures representative of online streamers more broadly?
As with all start-up platforms, there are varying degrees of success with typically only a few rising as top earners above the majority of creators. Most streaming creators generally offer branded merchandise alongside their stream to support their income. In the plamping space, DJs are digitally busking by asking punters to leave tips or contribute to their rent.
OnlyFans has been criticised for recent changes to referral bonuses that will cut into earnings.
Digital first personalities who integrate streaming apps are leading the way, but it remains to be seen whether they can sustain themselves this way. As with all disruptive technologies, they explode when they emerge, then settle in the larger media framework.
Still with the increased exposure to live streaming during COVID-19, it is likely we will see more integration of online activity even when live events return. And that is a space where more attention is required to ensure those who work in the industry are supported.
https://i2.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Jonathon_Hutchinson_Plamping-scaled.jpeg?fit=2560%2C1707&ssl=117072560Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2020-06-02 22:22:542020-06-02 22:23:00‘Plamping hard’: how DJs and creatives are earning a buck online via Twitch, Patreon, OnlyFans and more
Social media preferences are shifting during COVID-19 restrictions. While many of us have been house bound during the recent COVID-19 isolation period, many social media users have been finding innovative ways to socialise online, akin to how we would in non-restrictive times. But how are social media logics playing out during this time?
New forms of connecting during COVID-19
There is no doubt, Zoom, TikTok and others have taken over as the go-to social platforms during these times. Families are sharing meals together via video conferencing, colleagues enjoy drinks after work on Friday evening, families are doing micro-dance challenges together, we’re notified when our friends fire up their ‘Houseparty’ app, and trivia games have found a new niche interest.
The recent phenomenon of ‘plamping’, however, has emerged as the one fringe-styled socialisation technique that is rapidly evolving to the mainstream. When one is ‘plamped’ they are ready to socially engage with others usually through a combination of social media platforms, focussed around live DJ sets – usually the combination of Twitch and Zoom.
The fast-tracking of reliance on these few platforms has resulted in a digital intermediation issue: who owns the ‘plamping’ platforms, and are users able to socialise while multi-platforming? [Side note dear reader, you must read the work of Kristian Møller and how chemsex is changing during isolation].
How does ‘Plamping’ work?
Plamp is a portmanteau of the words ‘plant’ and ‘lamp’ which first appeared on the Twitch Live streaming platform on the first weekend of quarantine 2020 to describe the live DJ set of Dark Deep and Dangerous. He had a plant and a lamp in his frame, which is now replicated as a typical ‘prop’ within the scene.
The term also refers to the act of tuning in to a live DJ set on Twitch TV and interacting with other participants in a hosted Zoom room – the preferred platform combination for many users.
As users engage with each other via the commenting and liking functionality on the Twitch channel’s stream, users begin to build relationships with each other. Twitch has its own style of communication, for example through the use of platform specific emojis such as WutFace, HotPokket and a host of unlockable channel specific communications. As the party starts to kick into gear, someone is likely to ask: ‘still plamped? [insert Zoom Meeting ID] [Insert Zoom Meeting Password].
Following that link can take one to all sorts of places.
The Twitch/Zoom combo has become a standard for many users wanting to enjoy their Friday and Saturday nights at home, with many users setting up their houses to mimic ‘the club’ with appropriate lighting and props.
But why are users flocking to this combo of platforms over, say YouTube or the Houseparty app?
What is emerging is the adaptation of this gaming network for other entertainment areas, including fund raising, house parties, and of course, plamping.
And Jeff Bazos is rubbing his hands together.
Twitch is owned by Twitch Interactive, a subsidiary of Amazon. Initially propped up by venture capital of around US$15 million, it was acquired in 2014 by Amazon for US$970 million. Recently, Twitch has introduced Amazon Prime, further monetizing the platform for creators who can now offer in-stream links for events underway.
It is estimated Twitch’s turnover is approximately US$1.54 billion, with creator revenue around US$600 million per year. It is estimated that Ninja, the top Twitch streamer, earns around US$500,000 million per month.
Zoom, however, is owned by Zoom Video Communications, who’s founder, creator and CEO has earned nearly, Eric Yuan, US$4 billion dollars as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The platform’s usage statistics have gone from ~10million daily meeting participants in December 2019, to 300 million+ in April 2020 (Iqbal, 2020).
Twitch and Zoom combined have skewed the social media space away from the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) for highly engaged social media users.
Is this the end of YouTube?
It is difficult to see the sunset for YouTube (if ever), but the platform has certainly taken a significant hit as these two new platforms become the go to for users during the COVID-19 moment. YouTube are increasingly working on their ‘Live’ offering but are not having that much of an impact on Twitch as the Western streaming giant in this space.
Skype (Microsoft) must be scratching its head, wondering what happened (although Microsoft has proven its resilience time and time again).
This moment does bring into question, how much market share is there for multiple platforms? And indeed, as big tech companies are in the mergers and acquisition game to prevent market competitors, can social media users navigate (engage) more than a handful of platforms (beyond Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.)? Or is this a typical media technology media that sees other technologies shift and change to accommodate new innovative practices?
So next weekend when Friday night hits and DJs start entertaining their audiences around the world, will people be plamping on YouTube and Skype? Probably not. But will they integrate their old favourites in new ways? That remains to be seen. In any case, I have found an amazing new field to explore an emerging area for social media logics.
https://i2.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/plamp.jpeg?fit=300%2C168&ssl=1168300Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2020-05-20 22:56:212020-05-20 22:56:26Social media logics during COVID-19: The case of #plamping
For many of us who have been impacted by the stay-at-home isolation conditions during this global pandemic, we have turned to new forms of social media entertainment for comfort.
However, for prime-time celebrities who rely heavily on their production teams to create world-class media experiences, the transition has not been so seamless. Instead, what we have seen is the rise of those online content producers who are native to social media platforms amass new audiences of interest.
I have been researching digital first personalities around the globe to understand how single person media productions have become the go-to media source for many individuals, especially in times of isolation.
Celebrities as YouTubers? ‘That’s Chat’
On 30 March 2020, YouTubers Colin and Samir published a video ‘Is this the end of Late Night?’. On the surface this video seemed to make light of the careers of late-night hosts such as Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. In reality, these LA based YouTube creators provide a stunning commentary on the vast difference of skill and expertise levels between native YouTubers and traditional prime time celebrities.
This difference becomes bleedingly obvious when a number of these traditional celebrities were forced to take their productions out of their ‘bright-light’ studios in New York and Los Angeles, and retreat to their private family homes.
While the hosts incorporated the inadequacies of their production design into their nightly comedy routine, for example Seth Meyers making jokes about his attic door which has become something of a regular ‘guest’, the deficiencies in production qualities began to show. Some channels went into hiatus for several days at time, interviews were plagued by poor quality internet connections, lighting was experimental and the technical issues often became obvious for the audiences of these loved programs.
This is not the case for YouTubers who continue to produce high-quality content.
Colin and Samir observe that YouTubers are equipped to not only create entertaining content, but also have the technical skills to write, shoot, edit, publish and distribute at a level far beyond our well-known traditional media celebrities.
‘Good Onya Champ’ – The rise of digital first personalities
I have written about this phenomenon as digital first personalities. Digital first personalities are individuals who produce digital content for maximum visibility by engaging social influencer publication strategies that appease platform algorithms. In other words, they are experts in ensuring their content is seen by large audiences across social media platforms by utilising their entertaining and technical production skills.
Nat’s What I Reckon is one example of online content producers that are rising in popularity on social media, based on their past abilities of interacting with their audiences. As a YouTuber and Instagrammer based in Sydney, he has recently amassed a large audience through his welcomed, no-frills isolation cooking segments. Nat has been posting videos on YouTube for several years, examining the Summer Nationals in Canberra, why cruise ships ‘are weird’, chilli eating competitions, and aliens in Roswell, USA. These videos had a steady audience of just under 10,000 views on average, but as the media hungry, COVID-19 isolated audience grew, Nat’s What I Reckon channel has grown into an almost overnight success story.
As a digital first personality, Nat has spent years not only developing his unique entertaining style, but has also sharpened his interview technique, camera skills, and audio production. Additionally, this digital first personality has honed his public relations skills by strengthening his audience across Instagram and distributing his work across several other social media platforms.
I also wanted to make special mention of Laura Clery, who even makes me laugh as I write her name here – a strong example of a digital first personality, although she does some fame from her previous YouTube life.
The End of the Late Show?
Probably not. But what we are witnessing here is a shift of audience attention away from the large-scale traditional media formats and a continued growth across social media platforms as isolated audiences change their viewing habits indefinitely.
This is a unique moment for online content producers who demonstrate key digital first personality skills. Using TikTok, the demand for content is much higher than what is produced, making this a space ideal for emerging digital first personalities to build their audiences and move from influencers towards native online content celebrities.
https://i1.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Nats_What_I_Reckon.jpeg?fit=720%2C482&ssl=1482720Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2020-05-12 04:03:302020-05-12 04:03:39The rise of digital first personalities during COVID-19 isolation
We performed our academic FIFO (Fly In Fly Out – thanks for the insights here Jolynna) duties recently at the first University of Sydney and Hong Kong University symposium, expertly crafted by Professor Heather Horst and Dr Tom McDonald.
During the one day symposium, all researchers were asked to respond to the somewhat broad theme around the concepts of cross border media flows and social imaginaries – in thinking through these two areas, it is a lovely way to bring sociology and media studies (communication if you will) together:
Media of various forms, and the infrastructures and communities that are associated with them, have often been strongly determined by national boundaries. This is particularly the case in different countries dispersed across the Asia-Pacific region, where media organisations are often owned by government entities and/or large companies. Such media organisations also frequently have political or commercial roles that, arguably, make them less susceptible to the kinds of disruption that have been witnessed by their European and American counterparts in recent years. At the same time, the movement of people, goods, capital, information and ideas are undergoing shifts and intensifications, owing to broader geopolitical changes, state-led infrastructure projects and the aspirations of individuals and communities shaped by such regional transformations.
Against this context, media flows are being created, worked and reworked, facilitated by new infrastructures, imaginaries and understandings. These flows frequently cross, circumvent or come up against borders, both domestic and international. For instance, countries such as China and the US increasingly compete to export infrastructures across the region through the promotion of platforms, technologies and services. Online shopping, logistics, blockchain and fin-tech are fostering new cross-border flows of goods and money. Media content is increasingly consumed internationally, posing new opportunities and challenges for media companies, regulators and governments. Users and consumers of the media are also witnessing the reworking of their media environments because of these changes, and are adopting inventive responses to and adaptations of the media in return.
This symposium, and the planned journal special issue that will result from it, explores these changing circuits of media in the Asia Pacific region. We ask contributors to consider: How are media flows redefining understandings of borders? What kinds of novel communities are being created by cross-border media flows? What forms of social imaginaries accompany the emergence of new infrastructures from “outside”? How are boundaries and borders being made, unmade or remade within and across the Asia-Pacific region?
Personally, it was a unique opportunity to apply my recent thinking around digital intermediation to the concept of social imaginaries to understand how geopolitical borders are constructed, de-constructed and enforced and reimagined – there is no better place in the world than Hong Kong to get that sort of thinking on.
If you are interested in the research I have started in this space, you can access my presentation here:
But enough about me, the better work was all around! Here are some notes and reflections from the research presented:
IBM Watson to do the classifier for the woman filmed in The Girl in the Picture
What enables the production of survivors who have crossed the borders?
There is a close connection between the state and industry – building larger goals into the process
There are a number of agencies involved in this process
Leads to the ‘Imagineering’ of content – this is the link to the hologram
The industry in Hollywood has shifted to military content –
The emergence of the Silicon Beach – the increase of tech etc in Venice Beach
Institute of Creative Technology (ICT) – military, academia and entertainment
Joyce Nip – Friends and foes: China’s connections and disconnections in the Twitter sphere
While much of the social media is blocked,
“foreign hostile networks taking over the regions”
@XHNews – one of these ‘blocked’ Chinese Twitter
CGTN, SCMP, Xianhwa News
Looking at #SouthChinaSea
Interestingly @XHNews have set the frames around
There may be not artificial warfare, but other
computational forces at work
Hub account – I think this means the sorts of
large betweenness centrality
@9DashLine and @AsiaMTI758 are the most
What is the correlation to the US based news services then picking up the ‘new’ framing of the events?
Hub accounts are super important
So are Russians more interested in global news than other countries?
Heather Horst – From Kai Viti to Kai Chica: Debating Chinese influence in Fiji
Chinese aid has been welcomed in Fiji, in anticipation of APEC 2018
Cable net offer from Oz around the islands, to ward off Chinese influence
Strong connection with the last coups between China and Fiji
Fiji states it is a relationship, not influence
The 28 WG Friendship Plaza building has difficult Chinese/Fiji relations
First instance of fake news in Fiji – China will take the island of Kadavu to recover the $500m debt
Fiji has an informal censorship process in its media system
The Wikipedia page has been adjusted to say a ‘Province of China’ but was changed back ‘quickly’
Oz support is participatory government (aid cultures), Chinese has been infrastructure support
A common thread between all papers of influence through infrastructures and countries?
What is the broader impact of social media on the Chinese influence?
‘Great Power Rivalry’ – some nation states are more
important than others. This promotes the idea of what are we missing? What if
you don’t have a ‘state’ formed around you? Jewish context and the Chinese
massacres contexts. Non-state actors (not ISIS, but the anarchist forms).
China is not one – There are a number of Chinese (Mainland,
New Territories, Hong Kong)
Bunty Avieson – Minority language Wikipedias for cultural resilience
Privilege has moved online, through connected communication
Cognitive justice – beyond tolerance is something that we need
Localised knowledge practices contribute to cultural production – this is a form of resilience
Pharmacon – a cure and a killer
Wikipedia paints one aspect of the unity of users, knowledge,
Wikipedia is drawing information from Wikipedia
Anyone can edit is a myth – Wikipedians are white global north, Christian, under 30, technical competent
Oral cultures – only 7% have been written down
Positional superiority (Said), long tail of colonialism
Tom McDonald – One Country, two payment systems: Cross-border digital money transactions between Hong Kong and Mainland China
WeChat Advertising campaign that rolled out
across Hong Kong during the time of protest
Immigration has increased significantly during
One country/two systems – the border remains
There is a focus to engage communication
technologies to secure the future
2016 the Money Authority gave the right to five
operators to launch digital wallets (Alipay, WeChat, Octopus, OlePay, TapnGo)
Users are using WeChat and/or Alipay to transfer
funds and then purchase things for cheaper (better rates) in Hong Kong
WeChat groups are emerging for money transfer
Culture is always changing, cultural dynamism is
a better term
More explanation of microplatformization, and
Can oral Wikipedia help solve the Bhutan problem?
Jolynna Sinanan – Mobile media and mobile livelihoods in Queensland’s coal mining industry
What access do miners have when away from home?
Three areas of contestation: they are not
allowed to have mobiles while working, They are often in remote areas with low
coverage, connection to home is no one’s responsibility
mobilities and families – digital media
characterized by mobilities
Literature says: Digital media is how families
do everything together, this is how users make sense of each other and their
context while they are apart from each other
Social transformations are under-developed
Jhow mobilities make sense. through ‘work’ and
Drops ‘cashed-up bogan’ as a term to describe
the impact of the stress on the workers
FIFO Life as a producer of memes
How is this different to pilots? They fly in and out, have similar digital media tools, but are vastly different in how they react with their family?
Tian Xiaoli – No escape: WeChat and reinforcing power hierarchy in Chinese workplaces
WeChat users often think about superiority
online – who is senior? Who is younger? This is reflective of offline lives
Hierarchy and behaviour studies as a background
for the workplace
Jack Linchuan Qiu (Chung Minglun & Pun Ngai) – The effects of digital media upon labor knowledge and attitudes: A study of Chinese vocational-school students
School students from poorer backgrounds – being
trained for vocational jobs (blue collar)
Effects study on the rights
The border between social classes
A study on human capital (Becker, 1964) – the
internet economy, the knowledge economy,
How is the schooling process outdating, or
distracting, or are they adding to the education process?
Passive use of internet versus active use (net
potato (Kaye, 1998))
A process that leads to individualistic usage
well (Arora, 2019)
Increased consumerist activity does not
necessarily relate to decreased labour subjectivity
Media literacy encourages reflective thinking
Is consumerist worry an elitist position?
What is the labour subjectivity if the user is Reflective/individualistic? for example
Tommy Tse – Dream, dream, dream: The interwoven national, orgnaisational, and individual goals of workers in China’s technology sector
Sociology pays more attention to the practice beyond the theoretical
Cultural practices and how they play out in labour practices
Chinese dream versus Alibaba Dream versus individual dream
https://i1.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Hong_Kong_2019.jpg?fit=1920%2C1440&ssl=114401920Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2019-08-31 11:32:222019-08-31 11:32:33Cross-border Media Flows, Infrastructures and Imaginaries in a changing Asia-Pacific – USyd and HKU Symposium
You may notice I call it a sabbatical, even though technically it is called Special Studies Program (SSP) here at the University of Sydney. But, so a broader audience gets what’s going on here, let’s go with sabbatical for now…
It was also a unique opportunity to meet a diverse group of like-minded researchers from around the world as we all converged on Hamburg to get going with some ground-breaking research. The powerhouse of researchers include Arjen van Dalen (Denmark), Christiano Ferri (Brazil), and Maris Männiste (Estonia).
Beyond having an amazing experience with these folk and learning about the bizarre similarities and differences of our countries, we shared insights into our research on automation, algorithms, media policy, and social cohesion. We also moved forward with some innovative digital methods, and have hatched a number of new research projects, including Bot visibility and authenticity: Automated social media conversation detection:
Bots are increasingly simple to produce and used as key communication protocols for individuals and institutions across social media platforms as one form of automated media production. Simultaneously, however, bot use is emerging as a relationship creator (Ford & Hutchinson, 2019) between consumers across platforms, skewing content visibility. Recent work by Münch et al. (forthcoming) identify bots within the German Twittersphere, resulting in a high probability of bots within Marketing and public relations (PR) conversations. Conversely, there is a low probability of bots communicating within the YouTuber Creator conversations across the same Twittersphere. This observation supports the argument that YouTubers may have a better strategy at visibility than bots, yet their content production is determined by their cultural, economic and political backgrounds. This project seeks to test bot-detection methods, for example the Botometer. It will design a ‘human’ baseline for bot detection within the German and Australian Twittersphere that can be compared against the automated bot-detection processes currently utilised. It will produce a bot-detection classifier that will be able to categorise accounts across a scale of malign, benign, or not likely automated.
Keynotes and Public Lectures
I also spent a small amount of time travelling to other European Universities to strengthen networks and develop future research projects. I was invited to deliver a Keynote Lecture to the Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication Institute of Tallin University in Estonia. My exceptional host was Dr Katrin Tiidenberg, who made me feel very much at home, but also exposed me to the life in the few countries within post-Soviet Union (like, I saw a real KGB interrogation room!!). Thanks to everyone who came along and asked engaging questions to help me continue to think through my new research area.
I also had the pleasure of visiting a number of other universities, to catch up with friends, colleagues and hatch new ideas and projects, including:
The University of Amsterdam, Netherlands;
London School of Economics, United Kingdom;
City University, London, United Kingdom;
Alexander von Humboldt Institute, Berlin, Germany.
Hutchinson J. (2019). Towards transparent public automated media: Digital intermediation. Keynote Lecture. University of Tallin, Estonia. 16 May.
Hutchinson J. (2019). Towards transparent public automated media: Digital intermediation. Keynote Lecture. Leibnitz Institute for Media and Communication, Hamburg, Germany. 15 May.
While I was in Tallin, I also delivered a masterclass on Data Ethnography with a group a diverse folk from Lecturers across the Arts, through to Masters Students from Information Technology. While the participants genuinely enjoyed the class, I think I always take more from this workshop as I keep developing the method. Thanks everyone for coming along the ride with me:
Hutchinson J. (2019). Data ethnography: How do we research what we can’t see? Postgraduate Masterclass. University of Tallin, Estonia. 17 May
I mean, this is what it all comes down to, right? Of which I am most delighted to have some time to finish those articles that were stuck on my hard drive, complete some new pieces, and then start work on the next few areas.
My time away during my SSP was spent for the most part writing and researching on my new emerging area of research, digital intermediation which I argue highlights the new media ecology that incorporates the agency of digital agencies, automation and algorithms.
I was also able to have three articles published as a precursor to this work, and commenced work on new research and writing in this space. As I return to work, I have two articles under review and one book proposal in with the editors of Media Series for MIT Press.
Published Journal Articles:
Hutchinson J. (2019). Micro-platformization for digital activism on social media. Information, Communication & Society. DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2019.1629612
Ford H & Hutchinson J. (2019). Newsbots That Mediate Journalist and Audience Relationships. Digital Journalism. DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2019.1626752
Hutchinson J. (2019). Digital first personality: Automation and influence within evolving media ecologies. Convergence. DOI: 10.1177/1354856519858921
Journal Articles Under Review:
Hutchinson J. (2019). Data ethnography for digital intermediation: How do we research what we can’t see? Big Data & Society.
Hutchinson J. (2019). Theorizing digital intermediation: Automating our media. Media, Culture & Society.
Book (almost with commissioning editors):
Hutchinson J. Revealing digital intermediation: Towards transparent infrastructure. Distribution Matters book series, MIT Press.
This grant is being used for the research project Bot visibility
and authenticity: Automated social media conversation detection, which is
underway with colleagues from the Leibnitz Institute for Media and Communication,
Hamburg. This project seeks to understand the reliability of the Botometer
project in comparison with the bot detection methods we have already developed,
to understand how perceived real communication occurs around events within the
Australian and German Twitterspheres. The immediate output is a paper for the
2020 ICA Conference, with a view to continue working on this project in the
near several years.
Faculty Research Support Scheme: $5000.00
This grant is being used to bring several colleagues together
on a project with a view to advance the research project to a competitive ARC Discovery
Grant application. The project’s title is Promoting digital equality through
better platform algorithmic policy, and brings expertise from Political
Science, Computational Science, Design and Media Studies. While in Europe, I
have received support for the project from Dr Jan Schmidt at the Leibnitz Institute
for Media and Communication, Hamburg, and Associate Professor Thomas Poell from
the University of Amsterdam – both leading academics in this field who are interested
in becoming international advisors in the project.
I continue working on my book, which will create the field of digital intermediation. I describe the book in the following way:
Our media consumption is increasingly curated and
designed by digital infrastructures that are informed by economic and
infrastructural environments that determine the creation of content and how that
content is distributed. Often, this is represented through algorithmically
calculated decisions: recommendation systems on media applications and
platforms. While this can be seen as a useful mechanism to sort, curate and
present a digestible media diet within a saturated media market, automation is
also an unseen digital infrastructure that contributes to the decrease in
diversification of our exposure to information. Social media platforms
increasingly promote what they see to be important content, which is often
aligned with their commercial interests. Smart TVs are purchased with a bundle
of pre-installed applications that are often unable to be uninstalled.
Connected devices and interoperable systems are developed on information
efficiency calculations with little concern for user and information equality.
It is the commercial operators such as Netflix, Prime, YouTube and Apple who
are succeeding in the content exposure battle, crowding out other key content
creators, media organisations and cultural institutions. This is a digital
distribution problem: the mismanagement of automated infrastructures.
This book constructs a theoretical model of digital intermediation within increasingly automated media systems. Digital intermediation can be applied to the process of digital media communication across the majority of social media platforms, which now drive the news and media cycle, highlighting the agency of users that becomes restricted and refined by the digital intermediaries that create, publish and distribute content. Through digital intermediation, it is also possible to understand the strategies of its most successful social media users, the platforms that privilege this content production process, and explain how some media is more visible than others. The book answers this question: How is media content produced nowadays, in what context(s), and within which structural pressures? Digital intermediation is a content production process that incorporates the culture and political economy that surrounds the technologies, online content producers, digital agencies and automation. The book describes these four unseen infrastructures of digital intermediation in detail by highlighting the production and distribution of content within our contemporary media ecology. The book then moves on to describe the cultural dimensions that surround how particular types of content is created as a means to represent our current societal understandings. The use of political economy is incorporated to then frame the regulation and economical practices that surround the production and consumption of content that is produced and distributed across digital spaces through the digital intermediation process. Finally, the book provides a series of recommendations that includes improved interface design that incorporates the dimensions of digital intermediation for content production and distribution to encourage the education and involvement of user agency within these media ecologies.
I’m super focussed, enjoying teaching again, and ready to develop my skills in the research service roles (HDR Coordinator). I am also managing the three International Executive Roles and learning so much from being on these Boards. Until the next three years!
Danke für die lustigen Zeiten, meine neuen Freunde!
I have just completed a world-wind European tour, giving lectures at some of the best media institutes this side of the planet. Thanks to all the folk who made this possible, and took the time to promote my work. I’d like to reflect on that work and the discussions I’ve had with many great people within this post as I prepare this thinking for my next book – namely who should be facilitating and innovating transparent automated media systems? I argue public Service Media (PSM).
The thrust of this latest research was to problematise the concept of the ‘black-box’ as has been argued by so many scholars as something that we have no control over and are almost helpless to its control.
I think some of the most important work in this space was undertaken by Frank Pasquale and his Black Box Society book, which highlights the role algorithms play in society from a finance, legal and economic’s perspective. His argument of how algorithms control not only finance, but our digital lives, is a call for increased transparency and accountability on those who facilitate these technologies.
I also appreciate the work of many scholars who contribute and develop this arena of scholarship. Safiya Noble has done amazing work here and here book Algorithms of Oppression is a landmark piece of scholarship that brings to bear the real world implications of how algorithms are not only bias, but racist and oppressive.
Noble’s book leads well into Tania Bucher’s also groundbreaking book If…Then, that further develops the politics of algorithms and automated systems, to offer media academics a framework to help think through some of the implications of these socio-technical constructs.
I also find Christian Sandvig’s work incredibly inspiring here. While Sandvig’s work on algorithms and discrimination is super interesting, this particular piece on Auditing Algorithms sparked a particular interest in me on how to research algorithms.
But what I have found through most of this literature are two things, and this is perhaps where my ‘application brain’ is most curious. Firstly, most scholars tend to ignore user agency in these relationships, as if we are helplessly at the mercy of mathematical equations that are determining our society. Most (some) people are aware of the algorithm, and how to work alongside it these days, if our interface with platforms like Netflix, Spotify, YouTube etc. is anything to go by. Secondly, no-one talks of who should be responsible for facilitating a better system. Should we simply make more policy that tries to calm the overlord digital tech companies of now, or should we be thinking five to ten years ahead on how that technology can be used for society’s benefit (and not in a Chineses Social Credit System sense, either)?
So that is what I have been talking about in the last few weeks, and I think it is really important to include in the automated media conversation. I have been developing a digital intermediation framework that incorporates a number of these actors, and trying to understand how the intermediation process occurs. Check this out:
This is a first parse at what will become an important tool for a facilitating organisation who should be leading and innovating in this space: public service media.
Work has already commenced in this space, and we can draw on the thoughts of Bodó et al. (2018):
Public service media have charters that oblige them to educate, inform, and sustain social cohesion, and an ongoing challenge for public service media is interpreting their mission in the light of the contemporary societal and technological context. The performance metrics by which these organizations measure the success of their algorithmic recommendations will reflect these particular goals, namely profitability, loyalty, trust, or social cohesion.
Bodó, B., Helberger, N., Eskens, S., & Möller, J. (2019). Interested in Diversity. Digital Journalism, 7(2), 206–229.
So then, how does PSM do this? One way is to embed it in editorial policies to ensure PSM employees are operating as such. Another is to undertake PSM innovation remit and start teaching its users on how to work with algorithms effectively.
I don’t think ‘cracking open the black-box’ is all that useful to operationalise. They are often complex algorithmic formulas that require specialist expertise to design and interpret. But affording a control mechanism that enables users to ‘tweak’ how the algorithm performs may be not only possible, but crucial.
This is my focus for my last few weeks while I am working as a Research Fellow here in Hamburg.
https://i0.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Jonathon_Hutchinson_Transparent_Infrastructures.jpg?fit=1920%2C1080&ssl=110801920Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2019-05-18 09:38:572019-05-18 09:39:06Data Intermediation: Towards transparent public automated media
EDIT: It is worth noting that News UK has teamed up with The Fifth to undertake exactly the point of this article. Read the Digiday article here.
In around 2017, Mike Williams and I had a few beers (can I say that?) in one of the studios at the ABC with a view to thinking through what was happening in the media at that time.
Instagram was ‘blowing up’, YouTube was going nuts, and a swag of micro platforms such as Vine, Musical.,ly, and others were fuelling the rise of branded content producers – otherwise known as solo content producers, otherwise known as influencers.
But what we were interested in that night was understanding how this exploding creative industry was running alongside the existing media organisations, or was it all – where we both had a keen interest in how the ABC was shaping up in comparison.
One of the concepts we started throwing around was this idea that social media content producers now make their celebrity-ness online, build these massive audiences (or highly engaged audiences), and then often make the jump to traditional media. At the time, #7dayslater had just finished season 1 and I thought it was going to be a new production model the ABC would indeed pursue (but then, funding cuts).
What #7dayslater did represent however, was the praxis between online content producers and media organisations such as the ABC. And so was born the first concept of the Digital First Personality.
Of course this concept only raised more questions that night, like:
Why would a content producer become popular with their own style, and then switch over to somewhere like the ABC (with a remit for public service)?
How could they maintain their platform salary if they were to go off brand with their audience (suddenly start talking about the ABC as part of their suite of everyday-ness)
Should online content producers be trained by media organisations, and if so does that mean traditional celebrities should ‘learn’ social media?
Does the digital first personality become the new cultural intermediary?
Now that we have finished several beers, shall we go and have dumplings?
I’ve been thinking, researching and developing these questions for the last few years (beyond the call for dumplings), and have developed the concept of the digital first personality significantly. I first took it for a test drive with my MECO3602 Online Media students who bought into it and then also pulled the idea apart. I have presented the idea at a few conferences and have received some great feedback from colleagues along the way. Recently, I have resubmitted an article with major revisions to an A ranked journal, and am hopeful it will be published soon.
The last round of revisions with that journal really pushed me to think through some of the fundamental and theoretical concepts of the digital first personality. More broadly, I am beginning to draw connections between the digital first personality and microplatformization as part of the Digital Intermediation research project – how online content producers craft their skills as cultural intermediaries that are both experts at social influence and understanding platform automation, i.e. recommender systems. This is now starting to feed into the infrastructure work I am undertaking within the automated media space.
Here’s a basic introduction to how I am approaching the framework of the digital first personality:
Intermediation has traditionally been undertaken by a number of stakeholders including institutions, humans and non-human actors, to transfer information from one group of individuals to another. Recently, two new actors have emerged within the digital media ecology through cultural intermediation: social media influencers and automated media systems engaging algorithms. Cultural intermediation as a framework is a useful way to understand emerging social and cultural forms as a result of new media technologies. Cultural intermediation (Bourdieu, 1984) that describes how social capital can be exchanged between different stakeholder groups also incorporates market economics (Smith Maguire and Matthews, 2014) and expertise exchange. The latest iteration of cultural intermediation includes the agency of platforms, social media influencers and increasingly algorithms. Understanding this new form of cultural intermediation is crucial to enable items of public importance to remain visible.
Social influencers, which have previously been referred to as microcelebrities (Marwick, 2013; Senft 2013) and digital influencers (Abidin, 2016), are a particular subset of cultural intermediaries. Through their developed expertise to identify ‘cool’ boundary objects, they are able to engage in multiple media production practices to demonstrate the value of those objects to their large audiences. Examples of this practice include Zoella who often engages her audience with the products from her latest shopping haul (revealing the contents of one’s shopping bag), Evan’s Tube who engages his younger audience with an ‘unboxing’ of the latest Lego kit, or Fun for Louis who is often travelling to exotic locations to reveal its most appealing side. In each instance of these social influencers producing content, they engage in high levels of media literacy to transfer the value of the chosen product or service to their large fan base: a trustworthy, word of mouth news sharing technique. They will typically do this across a number of social media platforms, including their TikTok channel for the behind-the-scenes content, the Instagram platform for the ‘hype’ photo or Insta-Story, and a YouTube video to engage their largest audience.
The second emerging aspect of cultural intermediation is the algorithmic arena, which to a large extent describes how automation is undertaken across digital media platforms. As Gillespie (2014: 167) notes, algorithms “are encoded procedures for transforming input data into a desired output, based on specified calculations”. Within a media ecology that sees significantly more content produced than can be consumed, algorithms, in one sense, are seen as mechanisms to assist users in finding and consuming content that is relevant to their interests. In most cases, this manifests as a recommender system, which is represented as ‘Recommended for you’, ‘Up Next’ or ‘You will Like’ types of automated mechanisms. However, there is an increasing body of literature, which is described in detail below, that challenges the bias, power and relationships with content, society and culture that are represented by automated media systems.
Cultural intermediation that combines both social influencers and algorithms, then, acts as a process for media visibility across emerging networked platforms. What has become the process of blending private with public media (Meikle, 2016) has, as Turner (2010) highlights through the demotic turn, enabled ordinary folk to become key influential media producers. However, these key actors within cultural intermediation are typically engaging with the content production and distribution process for the social media entertainment (Cunningham and Craig, 2017) benefits such as increased social and economic capital. This cultural intermediation process is operationalised by what I argue is the digital first personality: those individuals that produce digital content for maximum visibility by engaging social influencer publication strategies that appease platform algorithms. In many cases, their media production focus is on commercial products and services to increase their social and economic capital. Within the social influencer genre that excludes fake news and disinformation, public issues, public affairs, news and current affairs, are often ignored in lieu of highly profitable alternatives.
So here is a beginning for a new area of research. I feel as though I have completed my fieldwork in digital agencies for now, but i can see a new space opening up that looks at the intersection of microplatformization and digital first personalities as the backbone of digital intermediation.
https://i2.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Jonathon_Hutchinson_Digital_First-Personality.jpg?fit=1920%2C1080&ssl=110801920Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2019-03-18 23:36:212019-03-19 16:45:12Digital First Personality: An overview
I’m lucky enough to be the Program Chair for the 2019 Association of Internet Researchers Conference, to be held in Brisbane in October. During the last week, I have engaged in the next task as Program Chair and gone through each individual submissions as I assign them to reviewers. This process involves reviewing the title, the abstract and then matching those papers to most suitable experts within the Association.
For those non-academic folk reading this, the conference process usually involves responding to a conference theme as designed by the conference and organisation committees, where potential delegates submit a proposal of anywhere between 500 and 1200 words addressing that theme. This proposal is then sent to a number of reviewers who conduct a blind review (blind meaning they do not know who the author(s) is/are), and then the paper is returned to the program chair with a review and overall score. The papers that receive a suitable score are invited to submit their paper to the conference, while the others are rejected.
We are just about to send the papers out to the reviewers after they have been assigned, which has provided me with some unique insights into the state of the field of internet research. Granted, the proposals are responding to the theme of Trust in the System, which will skew the submissions slightly, but typically academics will usually make their research align with any given conference theme as one’s field usually moves towards a common trajectory. The research that has been submitted can be read as a very strong overview and indicator of where the field is currently, and where it is heading.
Of course the items below are seen through my eyes, which is the first parse of the content coming through the submission portal – the final version of papers that will be accepted and presented will no doubt differ slightly from these initial observations.
What are the hot internet research topics?
As you would expect there is a growing number of research papers in the area of algorithms and platforms. The concept of automation and recommender systems has spread beyond Netflix and permeates in the areas of news and journalism, smart cities, politics, and healthcare.
Platform research continues to be incredibly important with work critically looking at YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as the most popular areas. It is interesting to see the rise of focus on emerging Chinese social media platforms – while I didn’t notice any on TikTok, there was a focus on WeChat and Weibo.
Other very popular areas of research interest include governance and regulation of internet and social media, news and journalism related to the internet, social media and politics, methodologies, labour and things/bots. There is also a group of researchers interested in Blockchain.
Who are internet researchers?
One of the core roles of the review assignment was aligning the papers that were submitted with relative experts in the field. To assist in this process, members of the Association nominate the topics and methodologies of which they are experts. This information provides a unique insight into how we see ourselves as internet researchers.
I have not crunched hard data on this, and would not publish any sensitive data from the Association, so this is a broad observation of my aggregated insights. That is, these are the methods fields that kept popping up when I was assigning papers to reviewers.
One of the most popular internet researcher categories that was available from the pool was ethnographers for social media – participant observation across social media practices. I directly fit into this category and needless to say much of the work undertaken by these researchers could easily align with my own research endeavours.
An emerging category that aligns with the growing field is social media algorithm analysts. As humanities and social scientists become increasingly involved in data science alongside media and communication, the rise of algorithmic analysis has become not only popular, but essential to understand our field.
News and journalism experts are often coupled with social media experts, and the other interesting (and popular) couplings included discourse analysis with social media, and social media and textual analysis/content analysis.
There is a significant gap however, in those researching identities and activism – from what I can see across most of the communication infrastructure formats. A number of researchers are presenting work in this area, yet we still don’t see ourselves as a large cohort of experts in identity research – which seems odd. Perhaps this is just how the methodological categories appear in the conference system, or perhaps this is true of how we (don’t) identify as researchers?
So what does all this mean?
Well, these insights certainly won’t change the field’s direction but it does offer some insights into the gaps of internet research. I think we have platform research covered, while social media and ethnography is very strong. Social media and politics also has a very strong presence.
But there are areas that lack representation in internet research, that would be useful for researchers to pick up on in the next 12 months.
Ethics – in both use of internet and how to research the internet;
Algorithm analysis – the growing field here requires more people to apply data science to their existing work on platforms, social media etc.;
Geography and geolocation – I didn’t notice any human geographers (I might have missed this) conducting work in internet research in this sample. There is a small group of researchers undertaking geolocation specific work, but there is room for more;
For me, a light bulb just went on with how to personally align my research after attending conferences. I guess I always thought of conferences as a chance to present my current work alongside the field. But after having undertaken this Program Chair role, I find it is better to also analyse the gaps in the field to position your work for the next 12 months.
Perhaps scholars have always worked like this and I am just catching up with the game, but having these insights has been incredibly useful to shape my thinking. Hopefully they are useful to others in some capacity.
https://i0.wp.com/jonathonhutchinson.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Jonathon_Hutchinson_Internet_Research.jpg?fit=1920%2C1080&ssl=110801920Jonathon HutchinsonJonathon Hutchinson2019-03-11 13:33:402019-03-11 13:33:482019 Internet Research Overview