Category: NetMed


The notion of speculative thinking has been a primary focus of this subject throughout the semester.

I find this a fascinating subject, especially when looking back on speculation on what the ‘present’ would look like, and how wrong people were.

I found this example, of Isaac Asimov, a science-fiction author and professor of biochemistry, predicting what the year 2014 would look all the way back in 1964.

Included in his predications are ‘automeals’, ‘electroluminescent panels’, robots, hovercars and a ‘society of enforced leisure’.

Although many of these seem laughable now, they were real, possible ideas of what the future could be, and he did in fact get some things right, like the idea of video-calling and conferencing.

In contrast to this, I also found this article, which predicts how the human face might look like in 100,000 years time, producing a, frankly, terrifying image.

Although it is pure speculation that probably will not be close to right, it is based on science, and has to be a real possibility.

Just imagine what we’ll be imagining in another 50 years time…

R.I.P. horse_ebooks

The recent discussion in Netmed about order emerging from the apparent disorder of the internet, and our need to create meaning in meaningless texts, got my thinking about one of my favourite Twitter accounts, @horse_ebooks.

This is a spam account that uses an algorithm, which were a major discussion point in last week’s readings, to collect and post random fragments of text from the internet, interspersed with various links to pain ads.

Despite these posts being completely random, there still emerged a meaning, although this might have been different for every individual. We, as humans, strive to find meaning in everything, and even in these seemingly pointless collections of words, posted by what we thought was a robot, we found truly poignant and poetic phrases.

Some of the accounts best works include “I will make certain you never buy knives again”, “We all agree, no one looks cool”, and my personal favourite, “Everything happens so much”.

This exemplifies the notion that we must find meaning in every text, despite there being no narrative at and the words appearing to be random.

The account has achieved a huge fanbase, with well over 200,000 followers, and has spawned a series of merchandise, fan art, and even fan fiction, displaying the overwhelming power of the networked internet.

The account plays on the old notion that given enough time, a million monkeys on a million typewriters would eventually type out all of Shakespeare’s work, purely random; everything will happen eventually.

But like these networks, everything wasn’t as it seemed. The account, which was originally one of a series of spam accounts for specific ebooks (others include action_ebooks etc), was bought by Jacob Bakkila in 2011, an employee of Buzzfeed, and horse_ebooks’ actions after this became part of a prolonged ‘performance art’ piece by the creator. This art included a link with a similarily ‘random’ Youtube account, as seen through this video:

I think this shows how with new media technologies, they are often developed with one specific purposes, but are commonly ultimately used for very different means. This is an account that was originally created in order to spam Twitter about horse Ebooks and just post ads, being bought by an artist and used to post random strings of words to nearly a quarter of a million followers. The network is a powerful thing.

I think Daniel Sinker summed it up best in his ‘Eulogy For A Horse’:

It was often also beautiful and, in a way, meaningful. Beauty and meaning, built from randomness.


Interpretive Dance And The Networked Internet

The networked nature of the Internet offers a wide range of opportunities to those that can effectively utilise, and this can be seen through viral video campaigns that generate huge amounts of publicity for companies or individuals.

This is seen through the recent video by writer Marina Shifrin, a journalist who recorded a video of her interpretive dancing while informing her boss that she was quitting her repressive job.

The video, uploaded on the 28th of September, has received well over 10 million fews in less than a week, and is much more than just a slam-piece against her former boss.

The video was recorded in the early hours of the morning, and includes captions detailing why Shifrin was quitting: “For almost two years I’ve sacrificed my relationships, time and energy for this job…and my boss only cares about quantity and how many views each video gets”, and “I QUIT”.

Although the video doesn’t include where Shifrin was employed, it was quickly revealed to be a Taiwanese company called Next Media Animation, detailing the powers of the networked Internet to reveal seemingly personal and private information.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Shifrin said that she received no lunch break and had her schedule and responsibilities constantly changed, leading her to create this video and leave her job in the greatest way possible.

This video is the example of how the networked internet can be harnessed to deliver publicity and wealths of opportunity for individuals. The video has every necessary element for it to go viral, and it has in an extreme way. It is expertly crafted, and has already resulted in countless news articles written about it.

The video has delivered Shifrin immense publicity, and the video, which has been viewed more than 10 million times, includes a link to her personal website, which in turns links to her resume.

The journalist has already received job offers via the social network of Twitter, and will no doubt receive a better and higher paying job as a result of this viral video.

If the networked nature of the internet and new media is utilised effectively and expertly, and with just the right amount of luck, it can deliver huge exposure and publicity that creates countless opportunities.

Marina Shifrin also wrote a brilliant and passionate blog entry about the ‘click-bait’ nature of modern-day journalism, and how it is still a very valuable and worthwhile profession if it is done right. It’s well worth a read.


Willy Wonka

The analogy of hypertext being like film editing got my thinking about the ‘fake trailers’ or ‘recuts’ that people make, transforming the genre of famous films.

This idea that hypertext creates meaning through linking things together, ones that may be completely unrelated, matches up with how an editor cuts shots together to create a film narrative.

This fake trailers are made from the exact same shots that are used in the real film, but have been edited in a different order, changing the structure, and with a different soundtrack (and sometimes a voiceover), the meaning of the film is drastically altered.

These trailers detail how meaning is created through how things are linked together, rather than the actual content, showing that when hypertext users choose which link to follow, a completely different meaning may be created.

This trailer recuts Top Gun as a romantic movie, creating a love story between the two main characters, just be re-ordering the shots, and adding music and a voice-over. A scene with the characters in a bar, which was something entirely different in the original, becomes a romantic interaction between the two, due to the way it is cut after a scene with Tom Cruise previously, and the use of that annoying Dido song. A new meaning is created solely through editing the exact same shots in a different manner.

Another good one is Willy Wonka recut as a horror movie. The maker cleverly recuts it to portray Wonka has a crazy man that uses his factory as some sort of torture house, and this is achieved through editing. The scene where Willy Wonka first meets Charlie and the others is intercut with shots of the children getting into trouble inside the factory, making what Wonka is saying, which seems polite and innocuous in the original, eerie and ominous in the recut.

This one is a bit different, as it doesn’t really alter the film’s genre, but rather just what era it’s from. It transforms 2001: A Space Odyssey, into a 2012 Summer, popcorn blockbuster. This is achieved almost solely in changing the pace of the editing, going from the very slow, long shots of the original, to fast, rushed editing of the recut, making it seem more like a modern day action movie. This is also complemented by a loud, obnoxious, and booming soundtrack.

This recuts help to show how many is established the structuring of individual parts, and that it is so easy to alter meaning merely through re-ordering these parts, something that has become inherent to us with hypertext and the internet.


I really like the discussion in last week’s lecture about the system of recommendations on many websites nowadays, and the inherent hierarchy that it creates.

This system of recommendations offers remarkable opportunities online, but they also come with many problems, and are easily manipulated by businesses and advertisers. They can be extremely useful; advertisements is slightly more bearable when it actually relates to you, and shopping and browsing online for music and such is much more productive and rewarding when we are given a head-start through user recommendations and tools such as ‘people also bought’

However, there have been numerous examples of these systems becoming corrupted by businesses or due to the companies striving to make a profit. Time posted an article about this a few days ago, and listed data that supported how important online reviews by ‘users’ are. According to a 2013 survey, 9/10 customers said their buying decisions have been influenced by online reviews, while a study by Harvard Business School stated that just a one star increase in a review for a business corresponded to a revenue increase of 5-9%. Online reviews and user recommendations are so important today to how well a business or piece of media does, so much weight is placed on how a movie rates on IMDb, or how a book is recommended on Amazon and the likes, and this is much more important than reviews by experts in newspapers or magazines.

Yelp is a giant in the online review business, and is hugely profitable. The site allows users to rate businesses, but this system has been met with much criticism and controversy. It has been alleged that Yelp has filtered reviews based on whether the business in question has paid for advertising on the site or not, and that it has offered to remove derogatory reviews if advertising is bought. This is essentially blackmailing businesses into paying the site, and is a violation of the trust people now place on these review websites. This system has resulted in at least one class-action against Yelp, and is a clear example of how this hierarchy of recommendation can be manipulated to the detriment of the user.

Angie’s List is another website that has allegedly hijacked this review system. It is a site that only allows its two million paying subscribers to see and write the reviews, and has supposedly allowed businesses with a ‘B’ rating or better to pay to get their listing placed at the top of the search results. This creates a fake recommendations system that is misleading and lying the readers, with the aims of generating profit.

This system has also been abused by the businesses and creators of content that is being reviewed, with many being revealed to have reviewed their own or rivals content anonymously online, taking advantage of the fact that it is easy to anonymously post defamatory things online.

An author named R.J. Ellory was caught posting positive reviews of his own book on Amazon, as well as very negative ones on his rivals. Ellory perhaps naively made very little effort to actually hid it, sometimes signing off with his name or email address, but he has been met with a huge backlash for hijacking a system like this.

As soon as people lose trust in a recommendations system, it is useless. The whole idea of this hierarchy of recommendations is for unbiased, ‘normal’ people’s opinions to be heard and for these to influence and help other people, not for businesses and writers to manipulate it.
This is like comparing a ‘promoted’ tweet that appears at the top of your timeline with something that has been retweeted by someone you follow. One is something that is paid for and not necessarily relating to your interests, while the other is something that has been recommended to you by someone you have already stated you are interested in.

This system of recommendations has the real potential to be effective and worthwhile, but only if it can prevent business and companies taking advantage of it.

Interactive Documentaries

I really liked the discussion on interactive documentaries in the seventh unlecture, focusing on how to describe and define a documentary that utilises the hypertextual format.

I think from all the genres and mediums, hypertext has one of the strongest, and potentially most positive, effect on the documentary, transforming from a the very ‘high school’, boring, and dull movie/radio program etc, to an engaging, interactive, and captivating amalgamation that lets the reader choose what to investigate.

Interactive documentaries can involve a combination of text, video, audio, and most importantly, hyperlinks, allowing the user to pick where to go next and what to discover. Instead of just watching a linear documentary, we can now only focusing on what is important or interesting to us.

I think the most exciting part of interactive documentaries is that you, as the reader/user, can become actively involved in this reality, assisting in informing and giving insight into the specific topic, and making it much more accessible for use in education.

I found this list of six innovative interactive documentaries, which separates them into three categories:

  1. Semi-closed: where the user can browse the content but cannot change it.
  2. Semi-open: where the user can actively participate but not actually change the structure.
  3. Completely open: where the user and the documentary interact with each other and adapt to each other.

This interactive documentary about Pine Point, a Canadian documentary that disappeared in the 1980s, is an example of a semi-closed interactive documentary, but even this format still actively involves the viewer. You can obviously tell that it is focused on text, and in the past, this text would have been the whole documentary, but with the added ability to choose what to read and where to go, and the combination of video, pictures, and text, it is a much more exciting documentary.

A great example of a semi-open interactive documentary is Prison Valley, which focuses on a town whose economy is entirely reliant on its 13 prisons. This one brilliantly incorporates a diverse range of mediums: TV documentary, online documentary, a book, an iPhone app, social media, and an actual exhibition. The documentary is in the style of a road trip, and you can choose where to stop and what detours to take, and become actively involved in the real story that is being told.

As that website sites, this is still a relatively new format, and a completely open one hasn’t been properly produced. However, many are still getting close, mostly involving the readers sending in their own stories and videos etc, forming a new documentary each time.

My favourite out of the interactive documentaries that I found was ‘Clouds Over Cuba’, detailing the Cuban Missile Crisis. It allows you to scroll through the timeline and pick out any news articles, TV footage, articles and everything else to read. If you need the background information then you can easily access it, but if you already know it, you don’t have to waste your time with it. It also includes a fascinating ‘what might have been section’. In further efforts to include the audience, this documentary also allows you to connect through social media, to collect ‘dossiers’ of information and sync with mobile phones.

For me, interactive documentaries are a very exciting aspect of hypertext, allowing these stories to become more accessible and interesting, and in the future, and as hypertext becomes increasingly ‘the norm’, they will only become more innovative.

Arrested Linearity

Discussions about hypertext fiction often raises the challenges to linearity that it presents, with the reader often controlling where a narrative goes, rather than the author. With a hypertext narrative, the author doesn’t even know every of the countless possibilities that the story could go, with the reader playing with the concept of linearity.

Although hypertext allows individuals to do this with an unprecedented level of freedom and interactivity, people have proved that it’s still possible without hypertext, through more traditional mediums of media.

This was seen with the new, fourth season of Arrested Development, which was released in a non-linear form, with every episode focusing on a specific character rather than a specific timeframe. Within a very short space of time, an entrepreneurial individual had edited the footage into chronological order, providing linearity to a narrative that previously had little. This was a person taking a usually fixed and permanent medium and proving it to be slightly more interactive than previously thought. We at least have the power to alter the links and timing, but the actual footage or text remains exactly the same.

The A Song Of Ice And Fire series also saw this level of fan meddling, after the fourth and fifth books were split up by location, rather than by linearity. Once again, a committed fan provided a means to return this narrative to chronological order, with someone providing a detailed instructional guide on how to read the books as a combined entity, provided a cohesive story. 

There are many, many other examples of this, such as with Pulp Fiction and Memento, and I think this shows just how desperate we as readers or the audience are for interactivity, and how we crave the ability to have control and flexibility with a text.

Even with  mediums such as television and books, that are so fixed and rigid, people have found ways to be more involved with the narrative, so just imagine what this could be like with hypertext, a medium that actually encourages this level of interactivity and ingenuity.

The Journalistic Muscle

In the networked world of new media, we have an abundance of opportunities and means to create content, and for this content to be seen by people across the world,  allowing for unlimited ways to develop our own writing and abilities in the media.

During a Reddit AMA, I was lucky enough to have Alan Rusbridger, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian, answer two of my questions.

These AMA’s typify this new network of media interactions and opportunities that we all have access to. A whole range of people, ranging from normal people that have experience extraordinary things, to an array of celebrities, have participated in these online interviews of sorts, where anyone can ask questions, and the interviewee can choose what to answer. In an AMA, the middleman of a publicist or specific interviewer is removed, allowing fans to connect directly with their idols and find out what they really want to know.

I found Alan Rusbridger’s interview particularly interesting, with it focusing mainly on The Guardian’s role in the recent NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, and the implications of this, as well as more general insights into journalism.

My question to Rusbridger was a simple but important one for myself: “What advice would you have for a journalism student attempting to get into the industry at the moment?”.  Journalism is a constantly developing and adapting industry, and I was interested to see what the editor of one of the most reputable and successful newspaper, both online and in print, would say to the masses of us studying the trade at the moment.

Due to the sheer luck of being online when the online interview was started, Alan Rusbridger answered my question:

Main thing is to publish. Blog, tweet, write, photograph, tweet, video, code, play around with data – or a combination of all of the above. a) it will keep your journalistic ‘muscle’ in practice. b) if you’re any good, you’ll get noticed.

And bear in mind you can do these things at other places than conventional news organisations. Many businesses, NGOs, arts organisations, public bodies, universities, etc are now publishers of extremely high quality stuff. Good places to practise your craft before moving on.

I found this to be an interesting, useful, and even inspiring answer, and one that also serves to justify, in a way, how this course is run.

I love his notion of a ‘journalistic muscle’, and how we must be constantly writing and ‘training’ this muscle in order to hone our writing skills. Maintaining something like a blog is a great way to do this, but as he states, there are numerous other ways to do this.

Rusbridger acknowledges the importance and prominence of social networking in journalism and the media, and doing something as seemingly mundane as tweeting can help to improve your writing skills, as well as get yourself noticed. Nearly every point that he covered as good ways to ‘publish’ are included in the Networked Media course, and I think the fact that we are expected to do three or more posts each work is a good way to force us to train this writing ‘muscle’.

Rusbridger also identifies that “if you’re any good, you’ll get noticed”, and this is a testament to this new networked society; it is just so easy to write something and for it to be seen by numerous, like-minded people, as well as potential employers.

Our Networked Media blogs aren’t just for the tutors and other people in the course, they can be viewed by anyone and everyone, and are an opportunity to bulk up our journalistic, or media, ‘muscle’.

My other question was more specific, and related to the recent series of leaks facilitated by journalists, and how the outcry and reactions from many areas of society affect the industry: “What, in your opinion, are the implications to journalism following the reactions to the Snowden leak and the recent result in the Manning case?”.

And his reply:

Mostly, it’s all bad. I don’t think most news organisations have remotely considered the threat to journalism potentially posed by the methods revealed in the Snowden documents. One basic question: how are we going to have secure communication with sources in future – by phone, by chat, by email, by anything except face to face contact? And, obviously, the use of the Espionage Act – a first world war panic measure passed in 1917 – to clamp down on whistleblowing is really dismaying. But the US still has the First Amendment. Wish we had one of those in the UK.

In his answer, Rusbridger identified how this networked world can be abused and become dangerous for journalism and the media. With the constant surveillance over many online activities, that was in part revealed by Snowden’s leak, it is becoming much harder for a journalist to keep a source secret. I found his comment that he wished the UK had a replica of America’s First Amendment striking and relevant for us, as we in Australia also don’t enjoy this constitutional right to free speech.

Just having the editor of The Guardian answer a nobody like me’s questions shows how brilliant and powerful this networked world is, and hopefully creating content for this blog will help to train my own ‘journalistic muscle’ that Alan Rusbridger identified.