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Summary:

It’s close to a compulsion — this need for traditional media to expound on the real meaning of user-gen media. Social phenomenon. Old wine…

It’s close to a compulsion — this need for traditional media to expound on the real meaning of user-gen media. Social phenomenon. Old wine in new bottles. No substitute for pros. Pick one or all. Then there’s Jon Pareles who feels so compelled in Sunday’s NYT to make 2006 a watershed moment that he compresses the acquisitions of MySpace.com and YouTube into one year. (MySpace was acquired for $580 million in July 2005.) He views both properties as “empty vessels: brand-named, centralized repositories for whatever their members decide to contribute.” MySpace is “an ever-expanding heap of personal ads, random photos, private blathering, demo recordings and camcorder video clips.” YouTube is “a flood of grainy TV excerpts, snarkily edited film clips, homemade video diaries, amateur music videos and shots of people singing along with their stereos.” (Much of the TV and movie content I’ve viewed on YouTube video is far from grainy.) “User-generated content” is “the paramount cultural buzz phrase of 2006″ but Pareles prefers self-expression. Whatever it’s called, it leads to more fragmentation countered by user ranking/filtering that mimics the old media gatekeepers — and a further splintering of “cultural unity” in an online world with endless choice.
As he explores the cultural meaning, what Pareles skips over is that News Corp.and Google weren’t buying the content as much as the community, the massive traffic and the distribution MySpace.com and YouTube.com provide respectively. That, and the idea that sophisticated online advertising can overcome fragmentation. Of course, that’s our job, not his.
Update: Meant to link to this last night … Jeff Jarvis goes deep on Pareles and the changing role of the professional critic — or, at least, the critic’s environment.

  1. I was searching for Vanished on Without A Trace but I found it on that
    "Empty Vessel" MySpace and now I know that Sara is alive and well
    in Maine. I couldn't use Firefox (they said I could) so I was forced to
    use Explorer (which you know I hate)…took me 30 minutes but I
    did it without waking you up!

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  2. everybodytakeiteasy Monday, December 18, 2006

    When someone says "empty vessel" in the context of MySpace or YouTube, it doesn't mean that there's nothing in it, or nothing worthwhile. I believe they mean that the site is simply a place that stores a bunch of things, not related to each other, and more importantly, not a characteristic of the sites themselves.

    A crowd in a stadium does not have a distinct character. It's just a bunch of people who showed up, with very little in common except for their desire to see an event. What is important is what is happening in the stadium. Often it's a single event like a game, but without that event, the crowd is just there to make noise, and maybe hope to see themselves on the Jumbo-tron. The people who are questioning the worth of user-created-content sites are saying it's a stadium with no game, and people are left to ogle each other on the Jumbo-tron. Looking at it that way, the whole thing seems a. initially mildly amusing, and b. ultimately boring.

    Actors sometimes call themselves empty vessels, to be "filled" with a character they play. Myspace, YouTube, and such, are vessels in this way. They present no character of their own, just the expression of some third party.

    MySpace and YouTube have gathered a great number of people to their doors, but have separated them into 1-person theaters (your lonely desktop or laptop) where the sharing of an experience is so distant in time and space as to be almost inaudible. Wouldn't it be more fun to laugh along with other people, instead of sitting in silence snickering by yourself? The experience has its limits.

    I think the knee-jerk reaction here is on the part of people trying to defend user created content sites as if there's been some insult. The user-created stuff is okay, and some of it is damn good. Anyway, who cares…

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