Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wellington Great Blend - and why youth heart MySpace

I just got home from the Wellington Karajoz Great Blend, put together by Russell Brown from Public Address, so I though I'd give you a brief review.

Nice venue (the Boatshed), great (free) coffee (thanks Karajoz!), excellent to see so many familiar faces and a bunch of new ones, and a group of quite fascinating speakers.

Russell showed us the StarLords mash-up which he also screened at Webstock, and then we got to hear from its co-creator, Matt Gibbons (who happens to be an old friend of mine - hi Matt!). It's a great piece of sampled creativity - basically taking bits from LOTR and bits of the Star Wars movies and mashing them together to create something new. Matt has a dance and choreography background, and it shows in the way that he's cut together the different elements - there's a lovely (and very funny) flow to it. Disco!Gandalf!Darth!Vader! Check out Matt's website Misshapen Features for download and more info - or just watch one of the many versions on YouTube.

The main guest speaker at the Great Blend was danah boyd of Berkley University. She's been studying online communities for a while now, and she's pretty much a world authority on MySpace and associated phenomena. Her piece on Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace makes fascinating reading.

She's also a brilliant speaker. She spoke for ages on the subject of MySpace, youth culture, the history of the site and why it's been so successful. She spoke with no notes, just a few powerpoint slides of her main points, and she absolutely didn't miss a beat. She was like an amazing wind-up toy where you just turn the key and let her go!

The most important thing about MySpace is that grownups.just.don' It's disorganised, and inconsistent, and full of noise and music and bleeping flashing icons and animations and - stuff - everyone's profile page is different because users long ago figured out how to change the HTML on their own page. Each person's profile expresses the work-in-progress that is their unique identity. Kids use MySpace to figure out who they are, and how social networking works, and how to relate to friends, and strangers, and most importantly to hang out.

Many parents in the US are so terrified of "stranger danger" that they never let their kids out of their sight except for school or when they're at a friend's house. Kids have no "private" space any more - and what's perhaps more important - they have no "public" space either - because adults are too afraid to let them venture into it alone. It's all "controlled" space. MySpace allows young people both a private and a public space, within a virtual environment. Did you know MySpace hosts 2 terabytes of photo upload traffic per day? Wow. That's a lot of pictures of you and your mates getting trashed.

Of course, parents are also completely terrified of stranger danger on MySpace - but apparently they don't need to be. Any creeps who are lurking there don't get far with the real teens - who simply delete their messages - and any responses they do get are likely to be from Department of Homeland Security guys masquerading as scantily-clad 14 year olds. Heh.

After dana's talk (I wonder why she doesn't like capital letters?) we had a panel session that included dana herself, Justin Zhang of SkyKiwi and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan.

Did you know SkyKiwi has 120,000 registered members and is more popular than the Xtra website? It's responsible for probably 80% of the Chinese community's online traffic - and you've probably never heard of it - unless you are part of the Chinese community, that is. It was originally set up to help Chinese and other Asian students when they first arrived in New Zealand, and now you can do everything from ordering Chinese food online, to blogging, posting in forums, reading and discussing the news and developing your network of friends. Justin told us that now SkyKiwi has reached critical mass, he believes his biggest challenge is to try and bridge the gap between this online Chinese community and the rest of the NZ community - to try and be a conduit between the two. Good on him!

Sam told us lots of cool stuff about the self-policing community that is TradeMe. Including that fact that they decided to stop a guy auctioning off his amputated leg the other day (nice!) because the community wasn't happy with it (and cos it's against the law!), but they allow stuff like on-selling of Rugby Sevens tickets because the community likes it - even though the NZRFU would like it to be stopped. When you're the "dad" of something this big, you have to trust that your "family" will self-regulate, because there's absolutely no way you could police it all yourself.

The panel discussed online communities from each of their different perspectives, and I have to say it was far more successful and interesting than the last panel I saw Russell chair - which was the one at Webstock which I blogged about the other day. I think the difference was that this panel brought together a group of people who all have something in common. It allowed them to have a real on-stage conversation - riffing off each other's ideas and comments, and taking questions from the floor at the same time.

We finished off the evening with some great music from Samuel Flynn Scott and Bunnies on Ponies. Nice one! Thanks heaps to all the sponsors for their support, and to Russell and the team for making it happen. I'll definitely be there again next time.

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Miraz said...

Thanks for writing such a clear and coherent review of the session. I really enjoyed danah's presentation too, and also found the rest really interesting.

Kim Hill interviewed danah yesterday and the mp3 is available from the Radio NZ podcasts for the next couple of weeks.

Like you, I enjoyed the panel discussion - I was very wary after the panel-that-didn't-work at Webstock - but the panel at the Great Blend worked out extremely well.

webweaver said...

Thanks miraz! I had a great time - roll on the next one!