Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Media Convergence - Dan 3.0

Dan 3.0 is an interactive, online web-based show that follows the day-to-day life of professional 'Vlogger' (video logger) Dan Brown. Dan 3.0 is a clear example of how the developing technological world has had an impact on online entertainment, bringing ingredients from old media and reinventing it for a modern audience.

Dan originally announced the project at VidCon, a yearly gathering held in Los Angeles. On the official website it is described as a conference that gives the YouTube community 'a place to meet its popular content creators'. The fact that this conference exists is, in itself, a true sign of the popularity of online media. Diachronic growth of the Internet has seen online communities flourish, leading to events and gatherings such as VidCon taking place throughout the year in multiple forms with varied themes and origins.

Dan explained the project in further detail, describing how viewers were able to have a direct impact on the content he would be producing. The project felt fresh, taking television (an example of a media that has survived and changed to reinvent itself as converged technology) and adapting it for the world of online entertainment. Simply put, convergence is developed and propelled by the emergence of digital media and Dan 3.0 is the 'digital media' in this instance.

Above: A screenshot of the Dan 3.0 page on Revision 3

In the first episode of Dan 3.0, the YouTube star gave a clear introduction, explaining: “Dan 3.0 is as much a show, as it is a project, as it is a social experiment. The Internet is a complete 'game changer' in terms of how we interact with each other and online communities can be particularly powerful. When thousands of people put their heads together for a common purpose, amazing things can happen”.

Viewers are asked to submit tasks to what is referred to as the 'decision engine', a place where the most popular ideas submitted are rated and these ratings then enable the ideas to be ordered. This meant the worst ideas were thrown to the side and this process was made possible through user participation. Tasks submitted to the 'decision engine' vary from small, simple tasks (For example, walking to a local landmark) to particularly large ambitious tasks. After receiving a positive rating from audience feedback, Dan was made to take a road trip across America. Even the timings of the road trip and the destinations Dan was to visit were decided by his audience.

Fans are able to keep up to date with the project through Dan's official discussion forum, 'South Pole of the Moon', his Twitter account and his Facebook page. This is another example of convergence and the relationship between online entertainment and social networking. On the subject of social networking, Hendrika Meischke's study on the social marketing theory is somewhat relevant here. The social market theory notes the implementation and control of communication across sources (in this case, Facebook and Twitter) as well as user incentives. Dan 3.0 has encouraged the use of multiple social networks, also ensuring users are made aware that if they visit Revision 3 they will be able to leave their mark on the project. The decision engine on Revision 3's site serves as the 'incentive' Meischke was referring to.

The Dan 3.0 decision engine is hosted on a website by the name of Revision 3. Revision 3 is, in its own words, 'the leading television network for the Internet generation'. The project has amassed a massive following, which is particularly impressive when you consider the fact it isn't actually advertised through YouTube. Instead, YouTube serves merely as a place to upload the content. As an interesting side note, YouTube has now become the fastest growing website in Internet history. This is a clear indication of the success of sharing user-generated content.

The way in which Revision 3 operates is a completely different take on the world of online entertainment. A true example of 'new media', the website produces daily and weekly community-driven content that is watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers. Dan 3.0 is sponsored by Revision 3 and every episode is uploaded to the site. Episodes are also uploaded to Dan's official YouTube channel. This process of convergence ensures the content is seen by a much larger number of people and a larger demographic. The team at Revision 3 have been clever in the way they have used YouTube to enhance their online presence.

Online web shows before Dan 3.0 have encouraged audience interaction that will affect the outcome of the show, but only to some extent. None of them have given as much control to the audience as Dan 3.0 has. The producers behind the BBC's 'Being Human', for example, may have allowed audiences to vote for what they wanted to happen next, yet it was the programme makers that chose what was up for debate, not the audience. In Dan 3.0, almost everything is decided by the viewers and it is this that makes it such a unique project and such a huge leap forward from existing web shows.

YouTube is not a particularly 'old' media as such, yet it is somewhat restrictive in terms of audience interaction. It does enable user comments, yet the voting system implemented on revision 3's website (to aid the challenge of picking tasks for the show) is far more versatile.

In a study by Deepak Thomas and Vineet Buch entitled: 'YouTube Case Study: When Marketing Comes of Age' (2007)' Thomas et al. look further into the success of YouTube and why it has become so popular. It was the ideal platform from which to launch Dan 3.0 and the study goes some way to explaining why this is the case. 

Above: An episode of Dan 3.0 in which Dan hands out 'cookies and compliments'

 In the section entitled 'key success factors', the authors refer to how convenient the site truly is. Perhaps the most relevant factor to Dan 3.0 is the sites easy to use interface and level of global accessibility. As the study claims: “A shift in demographics helped [in the growth of YouTube] as a post 'dot-com generation' was seeking an online experience that placed a lot of emphasis on entertainment.” An increasing number of people of the 'new generation' are consuming more media online than they are offline.

The study reveals some interesting statistics about the video-sharing site, stating that approximately '30 to 40%' of the content is copyrighted. Dan 3.0 is sponsored by Revision 3 and the project also receives funding through advertisements placed on each episode. The more people that watch the content, the more money Dan receives and therefore the more ambitious the episodes and tasks.

Marshall McLuhan was a highly influential professor and philosopher who studied the media and its evolution. According to McLuhan's theory, media is controlled by technology. He was therefore a supporter of technological determinism. He stated: “It is the framework which changes with each new technology and not just the picture within the frame.” Assuming McLuhan was right, Dan 3.0 is therefore a product of the development of technology (or diachronic change), which led to variations of the established formula of online entertainment.

On a personal note, I think the key to Dan's project is the sense of freedom it emanates. Recently in the news, there's been widespread debate concerning the regulation of the Internet. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg attended the latest e-G8 forum, which is a 'unique gathering of the world's top Internet and digital leaders'. Zuckerberg made it clear that he was against increasing regulatory measures being implemented in the future, saying: “You can't isolate some things you like about the Internet, and control other things you don't.”
Zuckerberg joined Internet activists in an attempt to battle against complete governmental control of the net, with many other influential characters associated with the world of online media echoing his thoughts. The 27-year-old entrepreneur said it will be difficult to find a way to regulate the Internet and also allow it to evolve.

In contrast, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that he was in favour of strict online control. Existing online laws in France are already particularly tough and Sarkozy wishes to maintain this level of authority in other areas of the web.

The difference in opinion between Zuckerberg and Sarkozy is somewhat linked to the social conflict theory. Clearly, Zuckerberg and Sarkozy think different levels of control should be implemented online. Modern conflict theory consists partly of 'competition' and 'structural inequality'. The French Government, in this instance, wish to maintain their tight grasp on the Internet. Zuckerberg is going against this, which threatens the stability of the governments regulations.

I think this debate is a clear sign of the changing times. The new generation is more willing to try new things and pursue fresh concepts online whereas the older generation sees these changes as potentially dangerous. I think Dan Brown would agree with Zuckerberg. YouTube is regulated to some extent but there is still a sense of freedom in terms of what users can upload. As Depak Thomas says in his study on the website: “YouTube’s single biggest contribution is that it brought into the mainstream the concept of sharing videos online.”

Dan 3.0 continues to flourish and evolve and is a true sign of the development of Internet media. If Dan Brown's project is anything to go by, the future of online entertainment will be particularly exciting to experience, share and discuss.

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Update - I sent Dan a message and Twitter and told him that I had written about his project and he was kind enough to read it. Here's the reply I got:

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