Monthly Archives: December 2008

Click Together: An Anthem for the Online Revolution

Following my last posting’s talk about mashups, I was inspired to try something a little different.

As I’ve been traveling around the world telling people (and writing about for the last 11 years), we’ve got an online social and cultural connection revolution happening right now before our eyes. And since every revolution needs an anthem, what the heck, I thought it might be fun to try penning one.

If someone want to try recording it (you’ll know the tune in a moment), I’d love to hear it done…you could try a more PG-rated version of the great-but-kinda-naughty Beatles-NIN mashup available on YouTube right here.

So here are the lyrics….

Click Together (an online community anthem; to be sung to the tune of “Come Together”)

Here come old *H@Kk_Ur!*
He go surfin’ all nightly
He got Flickr eyeball he read global braindump
He got ten servers in his big RV
Must be influential he just post what he please


He shop all naked he got eBay football
He got Twitter finger he one Second Lifer
He say “I friend you, you friend me”
All is information and It got to be free
Click together online community


He blogospheric he big Technorati
He got Google goggles he shoot YouTube picture
He got cloudware clickstream on his page
Look him up in Facebook he make maximum wage
Click together online community


He carpal tunnel he wear Warcraft diaper
He got wiki widget he one porno filter
He say “Web plus Web is Two Point Oh”
Got to be a broker he Net portfolio
Click together online community

A Mixed Up Mashed-Up World

I haven’t confessed this publicly before, but I love mashups. I think they’re an exciting, fresh art form that does syncretism, combination, and extension out in the open, whereas it has always been done “behind closed doors” before.

In case you aren’t familiar with this new form of self-expression, the American Heritage Dictionary online officially defines mash-up as an audio recording that is a composite made up of other recordings, usually from different musical styles.

Although the world of music is where mash-ups started, and where they probably have had the biggest impact, I’d certainly say that we have examples in all other media. The great cultural theorist Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, for example, was essentially a mash-up of other people’s writings about consumption and culture.

Warhol’s Monda Lisa SeriesThe opening to Grant McCracken’s magnificent Plenitude book is a mash-up of quotations about the multifarious aspects of contemporary consumer culture.

Andy Warhol mashed up contemporary images of art and advertising, for example in his Mona Lisa series.

The entire video style known as montage could be considered to have a large subset of work that is very much made up of mashups. A nice example of that would be the use of advertisements in Sut Jhally’s brilliant anti-consumption video “The Ad and the Ego.”

How much of contemporary marketing could be thought of as a mash-up? I wonder. That level of combination, and the different ways it can be applied, might be worth thinking more about.

Consider how ads play on other ads (Linda Scott has written nicely about this in some of her work on rhetoric). Even how product categories are riffed and ripped when marketers position new products.

Is there a science of mashups? A cultural studies set of scholarly works (I’m sure there is and would appreciate being pointed in that direction). Are there interesting global patterns?

I’m always on the lookout for new mashups. If you have any good ones, please send me the link or post them in a comment here.

How and Why Online Consumers Get Creative, and Why It Matters: A New Article With a Set of Frameworks

C3PONo, this is definitely not Andrea Hemetsberger pictured here. In my last blog posting, I wrote about Andrea Hemetsberger and the rest of the faculty at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Andrea and I have been talking about our research interests for at least 5 years, planning various projects that are now beginning to come to fruition.

“But what does this have to do with everyone’s favorite golden gleaming android and authority on human-cyborg relations,” you may ask, fanboys and fangirls? You’re going to have to read on….

Last year at the European Association for Consumer Research meeting in Milan, Italy, Andrea and I presented a paper we were working on that offered a typology of the way online consumers create in communities. We were working at that time with a number of different ideas, but were trying to organize some of the key terms and research findings in the area of open source and creative consumer online communities, such as those I’ve studied in the areas of fandom and entertainment, food, and automotive products. We ended up with a presentation based around a 2 X 2 matrix that captured some of the key elements of creative online communities.

We’re seriously lacking in terminology for this new and growing field. There are too many words in some of these terms. So at least for today I’m calling them…..C3PO: Creative Consumer Communities (3 C-words) Producing Online.

After we had presented, we began talking with Hope Schau of the University of Arizona. Hope has been working in areas of online consumption and online creativity for all her career. She had lots of great insight and examples to contribute.

My Schulich colleague Detlev Zwick was co-editing a special issue of the Journal of Macromarketing about ICT: Information and Communication Technologies. He and his co-editor Nik Dholakia invited us to contribute something and we thought immediately of building the C3PO typology. And then we thought about collaborating with Hope and building an article out of it.

As the paper moved through the revision process, it gained a lot from the contact with the Journal of Macromarketing. The journal, if you aren’t familiar with it, says that it “examines important social issues, how they are affected by marketing, and how society influences the conduct of marketing. The journal typically concentrates on these topics:

  • How markets and marketing systems operate
  • Classical and nontraditional examinations of the role of marketing in socio-economic development
  • The origins, growth, and development of marketing history as an activity and marketing thought
  • The marketing of products, services, or programs to enhance the quality of life for consumers, households, communities, countries, and regions
  • Explanatory theory, empirical studies, or methodological treatment of tests for topics of greatest interest to macromarketing scholars, including competition and markets, history, globalization, the environment, socio-economic development, ethics and distributive justice, and quality of life.”

This orientation is quite unique, and it means that the journal published papers that broaden market out to its social implications-offering an interesting sociological and macroeconomic spin on marketing topics.

The article we wrote, and just published in the December 2008 issue offers up a way to understand how online technologies help to spur different types of online community innovation (and yes, I’ll say it again, just for the fun of it, C3PO).

Here is an extended abstract for the article.

If you look at past theories of consumer innovation and creativity, you will find that they have been devised for an age before the emergence of the profound collaborative possibilities of ICT. With the diffusion of networking technologies into consumers’ lives, collective innovation is taking on new forms that are transforming the nature of consumption and work and, with it, society and marketing.

In this article, Andrea, Hope and I theorize, examine, dimensionalize and organize these forms and processes of online collective consumer innovation. We look at Manuel Castells’ ideas and theories of informationalism, and extend them. Then, we follow this macro-social paradigm shift into grassroots regions that have irrevocable impacts on businesses and society.

A central proposal in the paper is that, in this early and initial phase of our understanding of this phenomenon, business and society need categories and procedures to guide their interactions with this powerful and growing phenomenon. That’s how theoretical understanding will move forward.

To serve these needs, we build on past literature and terminology, and also broaden and open up some definitions of our own. We classify and describe four types of online creative Crowds, Hives, Mobs and Swarmsconsumer communities-Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms.

  • Crowds are large, organized groups who gather or are gathered together specifically to plan, manage, and/or complete particular tractable and well defined projects, such as those who will gather to compete for a million dollars in this year’s Crash the Superbowl ad content, or to get paid more than professional designers to create T-shirts for Threadless
  • Hives are online communities whose members contribute a relatively greater amount to the community, but who also produce innovations specifically to respond to particular challenges or to meet particular project goals such as those at Niketalk or
  • Mobs are communities based around the contributions of specialists who speak to a relatively homogenous affinity or interest groups, and whose contributions are oriented to a communo-ludic spirit of communal play and lifestyle exchange. An example would be the individuals who create, contribute to, and maintain, or the Huffington Post, or the Slave to Target blog
  • Swarms are the often large and multitudinous communities that produce individually small individual contributions that occur as a part of more natural or free-flowing cultural or communal practices, such as the typical Web 2.0 communities working to benefit Amazon, Flickr, Wikipedia or Netflix

Our conclusion is that there are a variety of In the age of online communities, collective innovation is produced both as an aggregated byproduct of everyday information consumption and as a result of the efforts of talented and motivated group of innovative etribes. Marketers and social pundits need to make distinctions, stratetize, plan and draw conclusions accordingly.

The full article is available free to my blog readers using this link to the “Wisdom of Consumer Crowds: A Journal of Macromarketing Article.”


I’m now back in Toronto after three months of traveling. We’ve just passed Thanksgiving day last week and the holiday weekend, and as I’ve been unpacking and starting to catch up on my work I’ve been feeling reflective.

The progression of holidays at this time of year, when the sun retreats and the darkness looms, is structured for looking inwards. As we move from the Autumnal Equinox to the Winter Equinox, we are taken deeper down into the tunnel of our own life, encouraged to reflect on it in the present moment. Halloween triggers it, with the transition from the light of the sun outside to the light of the hearth, symbolized by the Jack-o-lantern pumpkin fire. Then comes Thanksgiving that is, according to the examples provided by my Facebook and Twitter friends, a time for thinking about that for which we are grateful. Next come the Christmas and other related holidays, with their lights and fires to brighten the darkness and their gift-giving rituals to enculturate and strengthen social bonds. Finally, we have the New Year’s rituals that are both ecstatic and celebratory, but succeeded by a serious assessment and reflection of changes to come.

In that spirit of reflection, I wanted to dedicate today’s blog entry to my gratitude for all the people who made my sabbatical travel this year possible, and who made it such a delightful adventure.

First, I’m grateful to Marylouise Caldwell and Paul Henry of the University of Sydney. You both initiated this venture and persisted in making it a reality. If it wasn’t for you, there would have been no Oceania travel. Not only were you officially responsible, but you completely went the extra mile. You drove my family and I around, you took us to visit new places, we had wonderful dinners together, and you were incredibly considerate at every turn. Seal Rocks Australia

I’m grateful to my Ph.D. students at the University of Sydney. I know I overwhelmed them. They were just starting their program and here came this fast-talking professor from overseas with his 20 kilo reading pack and pile of assignments. I’m grateful that Bettina the wonder-manager was there to help me at every turn.

I’m grateful to the University of Sydney’s faculty and students for their support of my presentations about online communities and netnography. Also to Boss Magazine, the U. Sydney Uni News (Allison), the Group at Mitchell & Partners, and the Australian Marketing Institute for the press coverage and exposure.

Elizabeth Cowley and Arnold, Charles Areni, Theresa Davis, Donnell Briley, and the other faculty members and your spouses and families, you are gracious hosts. We dined with you, we enjoyed fine wines, we picnicked and played at Coogee beach. In a month living as Randwick residents we gained a lifetime of memories.

Dunedin New ZealandI’m grateful to Shelagh Ferguson for inviting me to Dunedin to spend time at the University of Otago, to Ken Deans (the Head of Department) and to the rest of the faculty there for hosting my family and I in fine style and for the tickets to Jane Eyre. To Shelagh and Mike, and your two gorgeous Samoyeds: thank you for the wonderful meal overlooking the mountains, for advising the Lord of the Rings trip to Queensland (and the gift of the book, which now sits proudly on my shelf), and for recommending Nature’s Wonders, which provided one of the highlights of our time in New Zealand-or anywhere.

I’m thoroughly grateful that Mike Lee was my host for my time at the University of Auckland, and that I was invited to come spend time there. His organizational powers are beyond impressive. First, he managed to win the very first Hood Fellowship to fund my visit, which made everything easier (money has a way of doing that). I’m thankful of course to the Lion Foundation for that generous fellowship.

Wai-o-tapu, near Rotorua, New ZealandMike had my time scheduled so efficiently that I felt like not a minute was being wasted. Shortly after arriving in Auckland, I presented a highly academic topic about ideology and consumer resistance, then had time for lunch and some meetings, and then spoke to a crowd of 200 alumni and businesspeople about the marketing potential of online communities and how to strategize around it. We had a wine tasting from the University’s own vineyard, which was exceptional. Department head Rod Brodie’s oenological expertise was much appreciated then, and in our subsequent Thai dinner that he hosted for faculty, my family and I.

At Auckland, there were meetings with some great students and faculty members such as Rod Brodie, Biljana Juric, Ana Ilic, Mike Lee, Denise Conroy, Sussie Morrish, David Sundarum, Rick Starr, businessman and actor John Summers and Lorraine Friend and Javlon Kadirov who visited from Waikato. I had my own completely equipped and comfortable office-with my name printed professionally over the door. And I had the pleasure of working with Mary Hoong, a delightful and magnificently efficient admin assistant for the department.

Bethell’s BeachAnd here’s where Mike’s scheduling came in again. He advised, assisted, and helped arrange a number of very memorable voyages to locations my family and I will never forget: Hot Water Beach, Coromandel, Rotorua, Wai-o-tapu, and Bethell’s Beach.

San Francisco and ACR are a big blur. I’m intensely grateful that I could meet up with family and friends there. I owe a big debt of gratitude to my co-chair and friend Meg Campbell for making my time with ACR Doctoral Symposium so enjoyable.

I’m thankful that I went to Ireland, and have Pierre McDonagh and his Centre for Consumption Studies to thank for it. The hospitality of the Dublin City University group, my friend Darach Turley (thanks for Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at the Gate Theatre–it was fantastic; and for recommending Newgrange, a high point), their Dean, Bernard Pierce, and the students were all outstanding.

I also am grateful that I got to meet Norah Campbell at Trinity College, share ideas with her, and loved the whirlwind personal tour she gave me of this historic college and its sights (“Book of Kells, there it is, okay, let’s go….”). Dublin was super-cool (and rainy) and I think my family and I made the most of the many opportunities it provided. A traveling hint: If you’re in Dublin, do not miss Kilmainham Gaol.

View from Mt. CooleyThanks to Andy and Pierre, and their great group of boys, for a wonderful stay at their beautiful home in Carlingford. And for a terrific hike up into the Cooley mountains. The birthday cake, the gifts, the vegetarian meal, the sleeping arrangements, the views of the Mountains of Mourne, the great conversation-everything was perfect, even the hunt for the (still?) missing corkscrew!

My time in Austria was an absolute delight, and I’m exceedingly grateful to Andrea Hemetsberger of the University of Innsbruck for inspiring and arranging my travel there. Not to mention hosting us at your and Klaus’s home and making an incredible dinner for my family on a particularly challenging evening.  That salad and pasta, the wine, the grated truffle, the “hot love” (oh, yeah hot love), your patient cooking assistant, the evening view of sparkling Innsbruck, the Harry Potter download–what a superb time we had with you. Thank you Klaus and Andrea (pronounced, finally, “on-dray-uh”).
Innsbruck and Munich are cities where I have found kindred souls and I feel very at home there. Hans Muhlbacher is a new friend who I had known only by reputation before this visit/ I greatly enjoyed meeting him and speaking with him. I got to spend some time with my brilliant colleague and fellow netnographer Johann Fuller as well as with my talented colleague Marius Ludicke (sorry for the missing umlauts, everyone my OS-Wordpress interface doesn’t seem to be accommodating them today).

I also had the pleasure of meeting some new colleagues at the University of Innsbruck, including Gunther Botschen, Oliver Koll, and Sylvia von Wallpach. Ralf Weinberger, Thomas Kohler and Dagmar Abfalter are Ph.D. students I met with extremely interesting topics. I hope we stay in touch as they move to the important publication stage.

Innsbruck AustriaInnsbruck is a stunningly beautiful city, with some great skiing. I also had the opportunity to travel to Langenfeld and stay in a wonderful Tirolean resort called the Aqua Dome Hotel. The Aqua Dome hotel was fantastic. The room I stayed in was luxurious, with wooden walls, a fireplace, lots of room, a beautiful mountain view, and even a sauna in the room. The hotel itself had incredible food, wonderful wellness and resort facilities, and we were delighted by the terrific service. If you are ever near Innsbruck, I highly recommend this hotel and its facilities. At the Aqua Dome, I presented to a group called the Freundeskreis, the “Circle of Friends,” a group of business people gathered with academics to brainstorm and discuss current ideas and issues. The presentation and discussion were enlightening and very enjoyable.

This group at the University of Innsbruck is not only an exceptionally nice group of people, they are also very talented and focused. They are focused on brand management, user-generated branding, technology, and user innovation, and the multiple intersections of these topics. You may not have heard of their impressive research work yet, but I’m convinced that you are going to hear a lot more from them in the future. Thank you one and all for your collegiality, help in time of need (!), and intellectual stimulation.

I also am very grateful for my time in London at the University of London’s Royal Holloway business school. Alan Bradshaw was a terrific host, and I greatly enjoyed learning more about his work studying the connections between consumption culture and counterculture. I appreciate his book recommendations and have already ordered several of them from Amazon (I’ll review some of them here after I read them). He even shared some fascinating stuff on the use of tribe metaphors in early countercultural writings. I’ll try to share some of those insights on the blog soon. Chris Hackley, the head of the department, was also a very attentive and considerate host.

It was a very enjoyable and well-attended presentation at the University of London’s Royal Holloway Business School. It was very nice to have the co-sponsorship of colleagues in the engineering school, and affiliated with the IEEE for my talk about the managerial implications of online communities and etribes. Thanks for Rob Caruana, Andreas Chatzidakis, and Sumana Laparojkit for traveling to come and see my talk and meet me (and for the very kind gift from Sumana), and to all the other people who traveled to come and see me.

Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, IrelandI’m thankful that I had a chance to spend some time with my friend Stephen Brown, who inspired and helped to set up the Irish end of my sabbatical travel. Lunch with Stephen and Audrey Gilmore (who I was delighted to meet) and dinner with Stephen were big highlights of my time in Europe. Stephen provided what I would consider my very favorite introduction thus far to one of my presentations. I especially like how he slandered Queen’s University in Belfast during his set-up to my talk, while also managing to compliment the Queen’s University in Kingston Canada where I conducted my doctoral studies.

I enjoyed presenting at the University of Ulster and meeting the members of the department and students there. And even sparring with David Carson, who advanced the idea that governments should tax companies for every online mention of their trademarked brands.

Miriam Catterall was very kind to sponsor my talk at Queen’s University in Belfast and I’m grateful to her as well (especially after Stephen’s cruel, vile, slanderous, and downright nasty remarks directed at her school during my introduction).

What a beautiful and historic building Queen’s University is! The class I taught at Queen’s was enjoyable (I even got some students to speak), and the talk I gave on the topic of netnography was very memorable. Miriam asked a great, thought-provoking question at the end. She asked me who, besides myself, was carrying the mantle of netnographic work. I gave her a number of stars and rising stars of this field, and I’ll be sharing some of their work with you, Gentle Readers, in future blog postings.

I also very grateful to David Marshall, another CCS partner, and to the faculty at the University of Edinburgh Business School who hosted me with great hospitality. Was that just last week? Yes, it was, and I enjoyed my day in Edinburgh, although I would have loved to stay longer. The talk I gave on online communities was the last one of this sabbatical travel world tour and it was special to me in a wistful sort of way. I recall that group of 50-60 people in the comfortable, cozy, U-shaped room nodding and asking questions. Maybe due to a recency effect, I remember that presentation with crystal clarity. That night we had a fantastic dinner at the Museum Tower overlooking Dublin Castle.

So many things to be grateful for!

To everyone who traveled to see me, who met with me, who sat patiently listening, who asked questions, who wrote to follow-up, who played a part in my being there, I thank you sincerely.

Of course, I’m very grateful to you, my blog readers, who stayed with me on this journey, even though my posting was sporadic at best. I thank you for that.

Above all, I’m grateful to my wonderful wife, Marianne, who made all of this travel possible. You organized, planned, wrote and recorded, managed and maintained. Without you, none of this would have been.

I needed to say it here in the most public and immediate forum I have. There are so many good and kind people out there who are willing to open their doors, their minds, and their hearts. That’s truly an amazing thing.

I’ve written recently in this blog about the environmental and social problems that we are all facing, and certainly in the last three months we’ve had even more problems and pressing issues heaped upon our collective plates. Yet this voyage inspired my faith in the goodness and potential of all of us. I’m very grateful for that.