From user to producer: what’s the right conceptual framing?

A discussion on terminology by Doc Searls, who like George Lakoff, is well aware of the power of framing, inspired me to do a search on the concept of the user in our wiki.

In this contribution, Doc proposes to shift our vocabulary from user-centered, which implies doing something for the user, to user-driven, but the search suggest might be even better.

Doc Searls writes:

“In Two tales of user-centricities, Adriana Lukas gets at something that has bothered me for years about the term “User-centric”. It always seemed too external to me. It equates too easily with terms like “customer-focused”. It’s something one does for a user. Not something a user does. In the past I’ve tried to steer the identity development community away from it, suggesting terms like “independent” instead of “user-centric”. But I failed and just accepted “user-centric” as is. Hell, I don’t like the term “user”, either. But I think Adriana is right about “-driven”. It’s a much better term. I don’t know if it’s too late to get the identity community to adopt it, but we’re still getting started with VRM. Regardless of what adjectival phrases we use to describe what VRM is about, it’s essential to get our vectors right. With VRM, our vectors are anchored on the user side, the customer side, the individual’s side. The relationships we establish and manage are on our terms and not just those of vendors. We are not against vendors in the least, of course. Our logic is AND, not OR. But it starts with the sovereign autonomy and independence of each individual as a fully-empowered participant in the relationships that comprise markets and other social arrangements. “-driven” says that much more clearly and correctly than “-centric”.

What do we find in our wik? Eric von Hippel uses the user-centric language, when he talks about user-centered innovation.

User-driven is also used, for example in the context of advertizing , but does that not imply being ‘pushed’ by users, rather than created by them? In this sense, user-generated sounds better, and is often used for content production, where it has created a whole new media ecosystem. It is important to distinguish content generated by users themselves, from content that is filtered or ranked by user communities, for which the user-filtering concept is more appropriate.

What about using the even stronger user-created moniker, as here applied to advertizing ? It seems to me that the literature confirms, in the usage that creates a nested hierarchy from co-design to co-creation , that creation is seen as the ultimate stage.

However, despite the growing importance and power of users, is the very concept of user not obsolete? That is precisely the point of Alex Bruns, who proposes the concept of produser, referring to those engaged in produserism or produsage.

He explains that:

It builds on a simple, yet fundamental proposition: the proposition that to describe the creative, collaborative, and ad hoc engagement with content for which user-led spaces such as the Wikipedia act as examples, the term production is no longer accurate. This is true even where we re-imagine the concept of production as user-led production, commons-based peer production, or more prosaicly as the production of customer-made products: not the adjectives and qualifiers which we may attach to the term production are the problem, but the very noun itself. To overcome the terminological dilemma which faces us as we attempt to examine processes of user-led content creation, we must introduce new terms into the debate. The concept of produsage is such a term: it highlights that within the communities which engage in the collaborative creation and extension of information and knowledge that we examine on this site, the role of consumer and even that of end user have long disappeared, and the distinctions between producers and users of content have faded into comparative insignificance. In many of the spaces we encounter here, users are always already necessarily also producers of the shared knowledge base, regardless of whether they are aware of this role – they have become a new, hybrid, produser.”

“Some key characteristics of produsage are the following:

• users are productive – produsage is user-led or at least significantly user-involved, and requires heterarchical, permeable community structures,

• there is collaborative engagement between users and/or between users and other stakeholders,

• prodused artefacts are unfinished – produsage is palimpsestic, iterative, and evolutionary in its development of ideas and content,

• alternative approaches to intellectual property are employed in the produsage process.”

My own preference is still to use peer producers, especially in the context where the production is autonomous and based on voluntary contribution, i.e. without manufacturer. This has the advantage of distinguishing the partial users and occasional contributors, from communities relying on a core of dedicated producers.

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