Friday, 28 March 2008

Web 2.0: The End of the Audience?

The notion of audience has been strongly contested in communication studies since the 1990s through the prism of cultural and technological transformations in media production and consequently fragmentation and specialization in media consumption (cf. Marshall, 2004; Livingston, 2006). These inclinations are also embedded in critical discussions on the phenomenon of Web 2.0 included in the special issue of First Monday – Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0: a new kind of media consumer who is more engaged, active and a participant is emerging in “the key business of the Internet”: creating, maintaining and expanding content (Allen, 2008); the users/producers are “immaterial free labor” and “the base to the superstructure of virtual real estate owners” (Scholz, 2008); the silent and obedient audiences of broadcast media are fading in favor to “the writable generation” (Silver, 2008). These authors approach the construct of the Web 2.0 from different perspectives: Scholz (2008) debunks the myths of the Web 2.0 brand and argues that the popularized phrase limits public media discourse, Allen (2008) approaches Web 2.0 by locating its emergence and significance within the broad movement of convergence of old and new media, Silver (2008) merely briefly »organizes thoughts around history, hype, and hope« of the Web 2.0. However, what seems to be a common conceptual issue of these reflections on Web 2.0 and debates on the online communication in general is the question of the theoretical and empirical fading of the notion of audience. It seems that the future investigations would have to deal with this question: How to approach the audience in contemporary media landscape?

In communication studies audience research – one of the pillars of communication research in the 20th century – has been partitioned according to the type of media consumed with two salient research focuses: contexts of media use and the interpretation of media content (Livingstone, 2006: 339). It seems that within the domain of what Jenkins (2006) calls “convergence culture” or what Deuze (2007) understands as “liquid media life” the term audience poorly fits, because it only satisfactory covers the activities of reading, listening and watching, moreover, it neglects the activating of the users “from a corporate-consumer-marketing perspective” (Silver, 2008) accelerated by “market ideology” (Scholz, 2008) or “ideology for the creation of new forms of dependence between individual humans and corporations” that “by monopolizing and controlling the network activities” benefit from this dependence (Allen, 2008). The term user that has consolidated in the investigations of online communication in recent years seems to allow for the greater variety of modes of engagement, although it tends to be overly individualistic and instrumental, with no specific and necessary relation to communication and neglecting the sense of collectivity and activity (Livingstone, 2006: 353). Therefore, there have been some examples of constructing new phrases – for instance produsers (Bruns, 2008) – that stress the activization of the online audience or online user/s.

Despite superficially presented terminological problem, which derives from related theoretical and empirical issues, the investigations into this “imaginary entity” (Ang, 1991) in the contemporary media landscape should try to be a reminder of constant changes in understanding of the notion of the audience framed by research interests in communication studies in transforming media landscapes specific of politically, economically and culturally specific social contexts from 1930s onwards. In this respect the historical review of the audience should be the theoretical groundwork to contemporary investigations into people’s media engagement in the context of Web 2.0 and broader, however, S. Livingston (2006: 356) acknowledges, that “both in looking back and in looking forward, it is already providing easier to investigate the contexts within which people use media-as-objects than it is to identify the interpretive ‘work’ within audiences engage with media-as-texts”.

Igor Vobič, March 2008

Allen, Matthew (2008). Web 2.0: An Argument against Convergence. First Monday 13 (3); available at:, March 28, 2008.
Ang, Ian (1991). Desperately Seeking the Audience. London: Routledge.
Jenkins, Henry (2006). The Convergence Culture. New York, London: New York University Press.
Deuze, Mark (2007). Media Work. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Livingstone, Sonia (2006). The Changing Nature of Audiences: From the Mass Audience to the Interactive Media User. In: Angharad N. Valvadia (ed.): A Companion to Media Studies, pp. 337–359. Oxford: Blackwell.
Scholz, Trebor (2008). Market Ideology and the Myths of Web 2.0. First Monday 13 (3); available at:, March 28, 2008.
Silver, David (2008). History, Hype, and Hope: An Afterward. First Monday 13 (3); available at:, March 28, 2008.

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