Jinfo BlogDigital Ethnography on YouTube

Thursday, 15th May 2008

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Is it strange for a cultural anthropologist to talk about Web 2.0? Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropology professor at Kansas State University, sent his video "Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE&NR=1 to his IT colleagues just to get some feedback if he got the XML right. Five days later that video was all over Technorati and the viral started http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/02/07/web. Two and a half months later he learned amazingly "how somebody from the middle of nowhere can actually reach out to over 2 million people with a video like this". The story itself manifests how far we have gone with Web 2.0, or the way our world is connected today - Everything is connected, anthropologically speaking. The magic is beyond the apparent high quality of the video production. From linear text on paper to hyperlinked digital information, from simple html to xml separating form from content, from linking information to linking people ... It looks all familiar. Wesch explained in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqm556DoaM4&NR=1 some of the ideas that went into the creation of the original video. Aside from the more philosophical background which was shared in a brief interview at John Battelle's Searchblog http://battellemedia.com/archives/003386.php, the video was based on the understanding that there may well be better models for organizing information in the future, and there will be new media allowing us to do things better than using old media. Isn't that plain truth? Information professionals know that well, but it may be out of our usual thinking to link it to anthropology. It also takes skills and especially curiosity - exploring the use of new media tools in ways that may not be intended - to paint such a holistic picture out of the plain truth that says a lot about what are not being said in words. No doubt that we will continue to work with words for the large part of what we do: Communicate and deliver information. Meanwhile it is enlightening to experience how emerging new media and tools present new possibilities that could make our work ever more interesting.

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