Collaboration is perhaps one of the lost arts of participating in a web 2.0 environment. There is a lot discussion about some of the other aspects of web 2.0 platforms. We can find plenty of popular media and/or discussion about processes such as aggregation (friends, content etc) and sharing. There is an interesting sideline into the ability to utilise other peoples work for commercial or other artistic uses (see Creative Commons – an article for another day). There is even a well explored discourse on the nature of the interactions and interactivity that evolves from web 2.0 platforms.
Of course, there have been lots of column inches written about collaboration, usual in the same held breath as sharing and interaction, but what does collaboration actually mean. In the simplest sense, a wiki space represents collaboration. People working together to develop, edit and present a document, sometimes in real time, others in an asynchronous fashion (where users log in and out at different times). However, whilst this example harnesses the ability of a web 2.0 environment to empower people to work together, does it explore the process of creativity and innovation in collaboration?
I have found the notion of online collaboration one of the most difficult to engage with, yet one of the most rewarding when it actually occurs and results in something. In some ways it is connected with the notion of professional networking. We can decide to become more involved in a professional network. We can identify the platform, the community, and the people we wish to network with. The conditions however of our interactions are neither automatic nor standard. The ability to effectively communicate with the gatekeepers, information holders or influential people in the network is sometimes the barrier to our intentions of being part of that network. Collaboration often bears the same problems. How do you find people to collaborate with? How do conduct the collaboration? Our blogs are a good start, but there are hundreds of thousands of new blogs being formed each week.
I want to talk about two sites I have discovered this week, that address one of these issues in terms of ‘breaking through’ and identifying potential collaborators. They are not solutions to the problems, just different angles with which to approach it.
The first is the Johnny Cash project (http://www.thejohnnycashproject.com). The site was launched as part of the promotional campaign for the final Johnny Cash album. The aim of the project is to allow you to design your own video for the song ‘ain’t no grave’, the title track from the album. From a library of material, you can adapt, reconstruct and edit a variety of images simply, and then place them within a video, which you can then share on the site. When the frames you design are included in a final video (that is released to the media), your name will appear in the credits. You can access constructs such as ‘most popular frame’ right through to ‘most abstract frame’. Each of these allows you to take someone else’s work, develop it and then share it on.
Taking a different approach was Canadian band, Arcade Fire. Called the ‘Wilderness Downtown’ project (http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/) the site uses cutting edge web programming, that engages with a number of google enhines such as google maps, but effectively developing a collaborative movie between you and your history, the band (who supply the music) and the film maker who controls the images and constructs the shell that allows your work to fill in the gaps. It is very hard to explain, the best suggestion I have is go and try it. It kind of blew my mind! What is interesting here is that our/your collaboration with the music and the film is more about your/our imagination and how you/I see the film representing a story relevant to you or I.
What is interesting about both of these sites is that you become part of a community either explicitly (in terms of the Johnny Cash project where you can sign up and share with other users) or implicitly (in terms of the Arcade Fire, where you can the collaboration is perhaps more limited to the expansion of possibility or the exploration of your role in a film about your life).
In terms of where we started, both of these are a long way from what we might traditionally understand to be collaboration. You may not know who the person is you are collaborating with. The relationship might be entirely passive as the Arcade Fire or it might be active enough to produce collaborative works similar to those made by in-person collaborations. There was interesting example of this a few years back in Australia, where the Arts Council who provide significant funding for the arts, issued a call for funding to support a collaborative project on second life, which is an immersive on-line social network, where you interact through a character you create (called an avatar). The three artists were Adam Nash, Christopher Dodds and Justin Clemens who variously were composers, writers and computer programmers. Their completed work called ‘babelswarm’ takes the words of users, makes them into shapes and constructs a virtual tower of Babel from the word and phrases of the users, with each word triggering a phrase or piece of music that forms a long musical work. Have a look at the video of the work; it may explain it a little better!
The fascinating aspect of collaboration here once again is that we as the users can be a part of an artwork, determine the creative patterns of it, and even contribute in a lasting way to an artefact, without directly meeting or engaging with the artists involved. It makes us think about the nature of collaboration and where it may evolve into the future.