An article by Jon Pareles in the Times (December 10th, 2006) brings to mind some points that have been risen here throughout the year. One, is the “corporatization” of user-generated content, the other is what to do with all the material resulting from the constant production/dialogue that is taking place on the Internet.
Pareles summarizes the acquisition of MySpace by Rupert’s Murdoch’s News Corporation and YouTube by Google with remarkable clarity:
What these two highly strategic companies spent more than $2 billion on is a couple of empty vessels: brand-named, centralized repositories for whatever their members decide to contribute.
As he puts it, this year will be remembered as the year in which old-line media, online media and millions of individual web users agreed. I wouldn’t use the term “agreed,” but they definitely came together as the media giants saw the financial possibilities of individual self-expression generated in the Web. As it usually happens with independent creative products, large amounts of the art originated in websites such as MySpace and YouTube, borrow freely and get distributed and promoted outside of the traditional for-profit mechanisms. As Pareles says, “it’s word of mouth that can reach the entire world.” Nonetheless, the new acquisitions will bring a profit for some while the rest will supply material for free. But, problems arise when part of that production uses copyrighted material. While we have artists fighting immorally to extend copyright laws, we have Google paying copyright holders for material used in YouTube, but also fighting them.
The Internet has allowed for the democratization of creation and distribution, it has made the anonymous public while providing virtual meeting places for all groups of people. The flattening of the wax cylinder into a portable, engraved surface that produced sound when played with a needle, brought the music hall, the clubs and cabarets into the home, but it also gave rise to the entertainment business. Now the CD burner, the MP3, and online tools have brought the recording studio into the home. Interestingly enough, far from promoting isolation, the Internet has generated dialogue. YouTube is not a place for merely watching dubious videos; it is also a repository of individual reactions. Something similar is happening with film, photography and books. But, what to do with all that? Pareles sees the proliferation of blogs and the user-generated play lists as a sort of filter from which the media moguls are profiting: “Selection, a time-consuming job, has been outsourced. What’s growing is the plentitude not just of user-generated content, but also of user-filtered content.” But he adds, “Mouse-clicking individuals can be as tasteless, in the aggregate, as entertainment professionals.” What is going to happen as private companies become the holders of those filters?