Online networked communities

Chapter 1

Literature Review

Online networked communities around TV content

1.1 Introduction

In October 2009, Nielson reported an increase of ninety eight percent watching videos online on social networking sites (Nielson Wire, 2009). Watching TV text online on social networking platforms has converged TV and the web, introducing a new array of practices such as forming communities around TV text, rising discussion and debate around content online, rating programs with peers. In conjunction with new practices, Social networking sites have transformed from a simple networking tool to a complex product of convergence culture in the social network era. As Gibs, explain a major paradigm shift in social networking sites that has transformed them to a platform that raises personal opinions, views and share experiences in variety of available formats. (Nielson Wire, 2009).

Social networking sites have added new dimensions to networked publics in particular and TV in general. Bloxham (2009) in an article, ‘At a TV screen near you': Face book and Twitter, refer social media having “benignly parasitical relationship with TV" benefiting social networking sites. Bloxham describes social media's intrusive dependence upon television, for its growth and multiplicity. He discusses, Wolf Blitzer on CNN who reads responses to his show on Twitter and explains how viewers provide input to programming. The phrase ‘parasitical' indicates the dependence of social networking sites on TV, benefiting social networking sites in numerous ways without any return to the former. He explains, a tiny one way relation between the two, missing out the broader implications of “post network era” that practice convergence culture at large. Although, Bloxham talks about social media and its rise, he overlooks the ways and means adopted by social publics to engage with TV content in different ways. The debate is not about who gets benefits from whom, but about a new emerging terminology of practices adopted by online social networked publics to interpret reception of TV content on online.

Television has entered a ‘post-network era' changing how and when of watching TV text across different medium( Lotz 2007:7). Like, my friend and I live miles apart, but we are connected through Twitter and face book. The new way is to ‘tweet', one day she felt bad about a contestant that deserved to be a winner in “Come dine with me”, but didn't make through in the final round, she tweeted and immediately received agreements and disagreements with her view. Although, she loves to tweet about her favorite shows and programs, but her viewing habits and engaging activities with friends and community has altered the way she engages with TV text and friends in community.

Fiske(1987:9) in Television Culture, describes TV as a crucial force for social dynamics as he states TV as “bearer/provoker of meanings and pleasures, and of culture as the generations and circulation of variety of meanings and pleasures within the society.” TV, audience and the means to perceive TV text are constantly changing with technological innovations and enhancements. Modifications in TV production with changes in creation and distribution of content by network channel have created new dimensions in the medium changing when, where and how of the medium.

Social networking is changing the way; we are experiencing television text online connecting people from local to global. Social software like Twitter, Face book and my space are the new resultant spaces that have become platform to share information, ideas and insights as ‘conversation'. As Shirky (2010) explains “Media that are capable of forming communities are not capable of good conversation and media that are capable of good conversation are not good at forming communities but social media is good at both”. Social networking sites cultivate relations and manifest practices that makes public networked globally. As, Clay shirky(2010) adds, more or less social publics, are as a source of information and a site of co-ordination and co-operation.

Social Networking sites support wide range of practices and focuses on construction and collaboration of networked publics on social media. The mediated nature of social network cultivates social connection in communities and induces new ways to use social networking for building communities around TV text, TV fandom and a platform to view trans media content. However, ‘users' on online communities or ‘audience' of TV text online are culturally diverse presenting rupture and gaps in conferring the meaning of online TV text that might vary in different aspects such as language, characters, locations etc. In academia, according to Livingstone (2005) the very idea of ‘audience' is pejorative. On one side of the wall rest the active audience that are rational, selective and individualistic in approach where as passive audience are seen as mindless, defenseless, gullible members that are easily manipulated and exploited by cultural institutions through mass communication. Uses and gratification model suggested by Katz (1959) groups' audience as ‘active and engaging users' that uses media in surprising and unpredictable ways. Audience from different socio-cultural background infers media in different ways, making diverse uses of the content. Hall (1980) argue on similar lines and present a semiotic view of audience that relates media content to the nature of language and patterned arrangements of given signs and symbols within a culture shared by sender and receiver. Although on social networking sites users are from diverse socio-cultural background and necessarily may not belong to same cultural and social class but may share same interest, ideas and beliefs that reproduce bits of changed behavior in the audience.

TV text on social networking sites has given an impetus to networked publics to form communities and correspond cross culturally, that inflicts new behavior and influence users/audiences in numerous ways. Such an aspect of social media introduces global flow of information and ascertains people to excess new ideas and insights largely in communities effecting individual in particular and culture in general.

TV as culture and a flow is induced by social and technological innovations in the social arena. My thesis makes a general understanding of relationship between TV text on social networking sites and argues that such a convergence resonate networked publics as ‘TV audience' in numerous ways such as, how audience engage themselves with cross cultural TV content across range of networked publics on social networking sites, what implications does it pose on behavior and attitude of networked publics and how it affects them when they converse in networked communities on social networking sites.

For instance, taking us to the secret world of ‘Survivors'; Jenkins (2000) writes “Survivor is a TV for internet age-designed to be discussed dissected, debated, predicted and critiqued.” TV text such as survivors, friends and other popular formats have made their way to social platforms like You tube, face book and has transformed the world into one living room. TV in post network era practices Mc Luhan's(1874) living room experience on Castell's(2000) social morphology of networks.

The literature review explains social publics as audience of TV text on social networking sites by emphasizing Katz (1959) uses & gratification and Hall's (1980) encoding-decoding theory that argues audience/users on networked public are active, diverse and engage with TV text in different ways and infer different meanings from different text. Each idea is carefully crafted keeping audience/user (networked publics) of social networking sites to ascertain online community formation around TV text. Social network are also defined as spaces connected by nodes and hubs forming clusters of networked publics with a brief account on popular social software in practice. A separate section also discusses, TV in the post network era as a culture and flow induced by network channel changing when and where of the medium. An account of social use of technology supports social determinism and circumscribe the idea of social networking is also addressed in the thesis.

1.2 Social Publics

Social publics are publics on social media that are organized by networked technologies. Social publics can also be understood as 1) a social order that connects human agents, technologies and objects at a single platform. 2) Resultant social and cultural entities formed to attain power, stability and richness for the connections routed in the social publics. Users of social networking sites cultivate relations and form communities on common interest and knowledge. As Boyd (2007:16) describes social publics, a cluster of individuals (publics) connected through networked technologies, same as publics connected by identity or geography. Livingstone (2005) observes publics are sometimes similar to ‘audience' and are subsumed as broader outset of ‘publics' or ‘the publics'. Publics on social networking sites are fans, readers, consumers, participants and viewer of online diverse content and their activities resembles to those of ‘audience'. But ‘audience' may not be the apt term to define ‘cluster of activities' that social publics practice on networking sites. Although, in many ways both ‘audience' and ‘publics' are alike and are composed of same set of people but both draw distinctive set of boundaries that epitomize different issues. This section of my thesis outlines widely held view of ‘audience' and highlights how publics on social networking are also simultaneous audience of TV text. This section argues that new arrangements in media platforms call for an active and engaging user (Uses and gratification, 1955) as publics play interchangeable roles.

Social network are also defined as spaces connected by nodes and hubs forming clusters of networked publics with a brief account on popular social software in practice are also discussed to understand networked publics on SNS.

1.2.1 Publics as audience

Publics can be defined as collection of people that share “a common understanding of the world, a shared identity, a claim to inclusiveness, a consensus regarding the collective interest” (Livingstone 2005:9). Livingstone consider ‘public' as an active and engaging collection of people that share something in common. Livingstone (2005:24) notes, the activities of audience are similar to that of publics as she cites, Mc Quail (1987: 219) who define ‘audience' as pre existing social groups that are active, interactive, autonomous in character served by a particular media and are independent of their existence. In above context, audience form a part of publics whose opinions are shaped by two major factors a) particular media as ‘audience' and b)social group as ‘publics' that form their own channel of communication by ‘interaction'. Social networking lays a platform for people to practice both, as ‘publics' to create own information flow and ‘audience' to interpret and enjoy online diverse content. Similarly publics on networking sites are active audience that interact and exchange insights in ‘communities'. But the activities undertaken by ‘social publics' as ‘active audience' are much more than audience as users interchange roles quickly as required, such as 1) ‘Audience' as fan of TV program ‘Survivors' acting online spoilers 2) ‘Audience' as online readers interpreting text in many ways 3) ‘Audience' as consumers consuming varied content 4) ‘Audience' as participants engaging in different set of activities ranging from watching program to TV program ratings and 5) ‘Audience' as viewers viewing content online. The term ‘audience' may not be apt to define range of activities performed by social publics in relation to TV text, but characterize some of the factors that matches ‘social audience' present on networking sites. Below, I discuss how active audience interpret media message and in what context.

Uses and Gratification model was proposed by Katz (1955) assumes audience are active members and tried to answer, how audience use media other than what effects does media pose to audience. This model, states audiences are active receivers of media message and can choose text to gratify certain needs. To explain the same phenomenon Blumler and Katz (1974) suggested four major needs for TV audience gratified by TV.

a) Personal relationship - a recognition and companionship with characters of soap operas or water cooler conversation about TV with others.

b) Diversion - Relief, pleasure and evasion from pressures.

c) Surveillance - To know what's happening around

d) Personal Identity - Relating and reaffirming meanings of TV text with personal experiences.

Although, the model stresses to understand active audience from different aspects but overlooks the interpretation factor that plays an important role in understanding the message. Uses and gratification model also disregards the socio-cultural backgrounds of audience that plays an important role in interpretation and specific relation shared with the text. As Hall (1980) states the relationship between producer, text and audience is critical to media communication. Hall's (1980) proposed encoding and decoding theory that added new dimensions to audience research and stated ‘interpretation' is dependent on many socio-cultural frameworks such as class, gender, age and education. The theory individualize each member of active audience and highlights how audience interpret message on personal experience and past knowledge. Although, preferred meaning rests in the text as encoded by producers but audience encodes and construct meanings on past experience and existent knowledge. Hall's encoding decoding theory explains audience interpretation rests upon socio-cultural framework within the context of how the receiver receives message. For instance recently, when Noor (Turkish origin soap Opera) was telecasted on MBC (Arab sat), the show was condemned by the highest authority of Saudi Arabia as the content was reported against the principles of Islam. But with all such criticism, Noor remains the most popular and viewable show of the network with world wide audience. Above example highlights different interpretations of audience within the context of socio-cultural frameworks and cultural environment in which the message is consumed.

Becker (1974:80) notes any need, can induce any media behavior that in turn leads to any gratification. Although, audience are selective in their approach and the locus of control to interpret message rests upon them but socio-cultural framework influences the attitude and behavior to a larger extent forming a backgrounder to interpret the message. As Levy and Windhal's (1984a:51-52) argue, individuals choose media from available numerous media settings and are conditioned by social and psychological structures, their motivation to choose media is dependent upon goals and uses that are self-defined. Mc guire (1974:168) argues on similar lines and admits that external factors play an important role in determining media's exposure on individuals.

Audience construct meanings within the context of socio-cultural frameworks present in the environment. Cruz & Lewis (1994: 20) notes construction of meanings by audience helps to understand the perspectives shared by audience in particular and culture in general. Audience on social networking sites are ‘dispersed reading public' (Mc Quail: 1997) that use social platforms to gratify different needs and interpret meanings to message within the context of socio-cultural framework.

The phrase ‘audience' is sometimes confused with masses and calling bunch of amorphous groups as ‘audience' would be inappropriate. As Williams (1998) notes that there is nothing as masses, but to imagine people as masses. Similarly audiences on social networking sites are neither ‘masses' nor ‘publics' but an aggregate of individuals organized in ‘huge groups' that share common interest and knowledge, demographic characteristic , socio-cultural framework and many other objects that are common. As Rokeach & Cantor (1986) notes audience are unstructured groups with no social connection and are connected either through demography or geography. Social networking sites bridge the gaps between audiences widespread across the globe and bring them on a common platform to discuss insights on varied online content. For instance, chat room discussion of MBC underlines different interpretation of audience on ‘Noor'. MBC net portal works as a platform to share and discuss insights of people from Arab origin and highlight new ways of online engagement of audience with TV text.

To conclude this section of literature review, I argue social publics that form a major chunk of active audience of online TV text, interpret message on different understandings of media and text. Although, preferred meanings are encoded by the producer in media text, but audience understand the message in respect to socio-cultural framework and past experience. As discussed above, audience may not be an apt phrase to define the activities of social publics practiced online in relation to TV, I will prefer to call ‘social publics' as ‘social audience' that as it clubs the social and audience aspect of viewing online TV text.

1.2.2 Networked publics on Social networking sites

Castells (2000) argue information age is highly organized around networks. He states new technological paradigm forms core to entire social structure, where networks are ‘new morphology of our societies' (Castells 2000:500). Castells notes , society is organized around social structures (networks) that process and mange information flow by technology (networks) (Castells, 2000: 495). For him, networks have become the governing cultural logic of our society. The very idea of ‘network society' relates to the present society, but goes beyond the notion of information society, as it considers the growing size and importance of information flow in social structures (Webster, 2006) and to accentuate the structures of networked societies in terms of complex interlinked and co-dependent networks (Berkowitz and Wellman, 1988; Castells, 1996). Castells lists information, flexibility, convergence and pervasiveness are important features of technological paradigm in network society (2000a: 69ff).

“As a historical trend, dominant functions and process in the Information Age are increasingly organized around networks. Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power, and culture” (as original Castells' 2000: 500).

Castells' argue, innovations and technology are not only means to define social societies, but social, political, cultural and economical factors are important as they shape society in different ways. The Space of Flows plays an important role in Castells' vision of network society, expanded by hubs where networks crisscross with connected nodes.

As Castells note, network should be seen as a part of ‘bipolar opposition' between Net and self, where individuals try to establish their identities in a fast changing world (Castells, 2004:55). This identifies a set of arrangement of networks that are simultaneously physical and virtual, crowded with individuals that produce and consume information in the technological paradigm. But, as Giles (Giles 1990:177-182) states "today the self is not so much constituted by any notion of identity but rather is reduced to "dividuals." Instead of individuals, publics are constituted in multiple micro-publics that are simultaneously overlapping in many ways for example users on networking sites interact in communities on different social platforms such as v blogs, chat forums etc. Castells (2004) view of ‘net and self' focuses on self (me); and centralizes on self -selection, direction and generation that does not fit into the periphery of social publics. Networked publics interact in communities where every one has access to everyone else building a hive of networks. Hence, I argue publics on social networking is not a mere representation of ‘net and self' but ‘dividuals' that forms the new dynamics of social publics.

To interpret networked publics and its structure, I tried to establish ‘nodes' as connecting points between networks that connects social publics on social platforms. Nodes can be defined as connection points that works on simple logistic of ‘connection' for instance a computer, processor, and switch can be categorized into nodes. Nodes connect with each other to form a series of network that intertwines each node with every other network building a colony of networks. A node is an element that allocates “architecture with multidirectional connections among all nodes in the networked information environment” (Benkler, 2006:36). According to network theory, a relationship shared by each node with every other network has its own individuality and originality. A network is consisted of nodes (objects) and mapping (description of relations) between nodes builds the structure to form beehive (Kadushin 2004:2). As Castells (1996: 470-71) states, networks are open structures that can expand to unlimited boundaries, incorporate new nodes, if previous nodes are able to interact in the network. Nodes form the basic elements of networks along with hubs (connected nodes) and links that connect social publics on different social networked platforms (Gummesson, 2000).

As Benkler (2006) note, networks are governed by few key nodes in a hub that set the conditions for other nodes to multiply and form a collection of networks. Gummesson (2002) affirms, ‘nodes' as specific way of creating networks that applies structural properties and results in clusters of networks such as centralized network (one hub), the decentralized network (many hubs) and the distributed network (no hub). Clusters are dense groupings of nodes and links that connect series of network, interlinking networked publics on social platforms.

Other than technical properties, identity and relationship shared by node to every other node forms the significant basis to understand ‘networking' in relation to connection shared by networked publics. Kadushin (2004:2) explain connections between nodes are not simple connection shared by people and organizations but information, that marks the identity of connections amidst people and organization. He describes ‘individual node' an important constituent of social unit that can only be understood in relation to other units. Kadushin cites Descartes' view of self, that explains self cant' be formed without the reflection of others, “the world around us is simply perceived as a mirror of our subjectivities.”( Kadushin, 2004. Fries and Reis, 2001: 37(2):297-327). Kadushin and Descartes view of society, relates to Marx (1857) who states society is not merely an aggregate of individuals but the sum of relationships one stands for each other. Gummesson (2004) explains ‘networks' as social structures that determine and facilitate relation between multiple nodes interconnecting hub of networks. Structures are networks of cultural and cognitive text that makes relation meaningful (Brieger: 2004).

As space and adjoining nodes (networks) are woven together, the potential and properties of network technologies transforms nodes into networks and networks in to clusters of networks. Networked publics are connected through nodes and are regulated by its properties.

Gummesson (2004) primarily cites nodes, a connecting point for networks that connect social publics. Kadushin (2004) and Descartes (2001) view of self and society contributes to the dynamics and relation shared by social units on networking sites. But social publics are transformed with new technological innovations and activities practiced by social publics, thereafter introducing complexity in the relationship shared by social publics.

1.2.3 Social Soft wares

”Society is not merely an aggregate of individuals; but a sum of the relations in which these individuals stand to one another” Karl Marx (1857).

Social soft wares like Orkut, Facebook, and Twitter are the new emerging platforms to support social interactions in social structures. Martin (2009) describes structures are ‘crystallization of relationship' and discusses Simmel's (1950) idea of society- a network of ‘crystallized relations'. Much on the same lines, Brown (1940) notes network of social relations has resulted in formation of social structures. As Turner (1991:571) says

Social structures comprises of relationships shared amidst communities that tie individuals to form a patterned structure that has meaning and purpose. Social networking sites cultivate relations among individuals and bring a collective opinion. Social networking sites are also known as ‘social soft wares' and are given many names by Shirky (Shirky, 2008:20) such as ‘social media', ‘social software' and ‘social computing'. Although, there are some distinctions between the tags, but the idea to communicate remains the same. Shirky (2008) explains individuals can't be understood separately from the society, their identity and relations lie inside the social structure.

“When we change the way we communicate, we change society. The tools that a society use to create and maintain itself are as central to human life as a hive to bee life. Though the hive is not part of an individual bee, it is a part of colony, both shaped by shaping the life of inhabitants. The hives of social device is a piece of bee information technology that provide a platform literary for the communication and co-ordination that keeps one colony viable.”.(as original in Shirky,2008:17)

Like a beehive, social structure is not shaped up by individuals but the sum of relations shared by individuals to form a network. As suggested by Wellman (1988), the network concept can be used as exact representations to some of the elements of social structure. Networks and social structure has ‘structured correlations' in common that entails action and cultivates relation. Social phenomenon involves purposive action to be carried out in structured social context to make meaningful relationship (Thompson, 1995). Bourdieu (1995:12) explains individuals are situated in “field of interaction” at different positions and communicate on different kinds and quantities of resources available to them. I extend Bourdieu (1995) idea of ‘field of interaction' to social networking platforms that facilitate interaction and cultivate relations amidst individuals located at different positions with varied resources available to them. For instance on Twitter, a tag is shared and others tag it, and than collection of tags form collective output to individuals input. Knowledge is as dispersed across social networks and “everybody knows something, nobody knows everything, and what is known by any member is accessible to the group on demand” (Jenkins : 2006,26-27, Perry). Individual opinions contribute to collective intelligence; construct meanings to knowledge and information strengthening relations in social structures.

As Solis, (Solis, 2007) at Future Work PR explains networking media are a mix of technology and sociology resulting monologue to dialogue. One of the key advantages of networking sites is dialogue, interaction flow as ‘conversation' with immediate feedbacks. Recent developments in technology have given an impetus to social structures to practice networking and cultivate many forms of relationship by using varied structural properties The social use of technology offers interaction, participation and transparency in the system for instance, during presidential election in US, Obama heavily relied on social media such as Facebook, twitter and My space to build trust and support. His videos during and after the campaign on You tube, not only reached to handful of Americans but global citizens that no longer tune to network channel to get information. A new media shapes the society in new ways (Giles, 2003:6; Mc Luhan).

Social networking platforms are emerging norm to satisfy our deep-seated desire to communicate, share our insights for instance sharing pictures on Face book fan page with short quips and asking others ‘What they think about it” highlights numerous ways we can use social networking for. Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Orkut are clusters of ‘social structures' organized to value relationship shared amidst individuals.

Shirky (2002) states networking platforms gather users to interact in a community serving the core foundation to social media. But in reality, socializing may prove critical to ever expanding networks that builds productive dialogue between “dividuals”. The growth of social networking depends on social publics, more cluster of social structures much is the complexity in relationship is expected. As Kadushin (2004:6) explains the complexity of the network increases with the growth of network. The growth of networking is directly related to popularity and likings of publics which vary place to pace and time to time. Boyd (2006,a) explains a similar phenomenon, when users become early adopters of My Space skipping Friendster, an online dating site. The site began deleting profiles of people who did not comply with the company's intention and resulted in changing preference. Likewise, she also explains networked publics connected through networked technologies are same as publics connected by identity or geography (Boyd, 2007). Publics on social platform belong to different socio-cultural backgrounds, their preference, needs, interests are completely different from each other and that affects usage of different networking platforms at different places, for instance despite the fall of Orkut (social networking site) in America (county of origin), the website is very popular in India and Brazil. The sites have major number of users from India and Brazil and are connected on Orkut by geography.

I argue the essence of social networking lies in the usage and adoption of social platforms that may vary from place to place or time to time. To conclude this section I can say, social networking sites are rising distinct phenomenon that connects and cultivate relations of social structures on networking sites. It builds blocks of trust and value largely affecting the social fabric of society.

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