What’s the old Napster got to do with the new PR?

6 01 2009

As 2009 dawns here at Extanz we have been reflecting on  some of the simultaneously insightful and frustrating conversations we have had with folks recently around the notion of PR 2.0 and what counts as “success” in such a field. Now, we know we say we do PR 2.0 and the term sits heavily with us. We use the term because it is something that people can “hold onto” and has some meaning, but like all language, it traps us in a game (as Nietzsche would argue) and it is this game that has become increasingly frustrating to us. You could argue that our view on PR is colored by our politics. You could argue it is colored by our international backgrounds. Even our language differences. But it really comes down to some very simple terms — “public” and “relations”. These terms beg the questions, we would argue, of 1)  “who is your public?” and 2) what kind of “relations” do you want to have with them? We’ve implicitly discussed these philosophical underpinnings of Extanz’ work before in our posts on Trust 2.0 and The Medium is the Message, but we thought we try and spell it out here. See what you think.

First of all, hands up all those who remember Napster? How about KaZaa? Come on now, you don’t have to be nervous…. how many of you participated in P2P activities way before it was gentrified and still considered a somewhat edgy act akin to, dare we say it, hacking? How many of us believed ‘information just wants to be free’? How many of us still do?

Back in the radical early days of Napster, I was lucky enough to be around some super smart media  and cultural studies people and we wrote a paper on just what it was about Napster that made authorities’ blood boil and music lovers rejoice. Napster and its P2P friends, peers and offspring reminded us that systems of enclosure such as copyright, patents, and property deeds are artificial creations, the tools of the powerful to become more powerful; weapons of exclusivity, designed to keep their users in “in their place” in an artificial order of things; instruments of selfish wealth creation for some individuals. Now, one of the reasons Napster and KaZaa and the like were so popular was because we all knew we were being sold 2 good tracks on a CD for the price of 10 and there was nothing we thought we could do about it until we realized that if we just set those tracks we liked free, or if our friends had them and we traded them for others, then everyone could win. And win we did. Heck, even the bands cut out the middle people which made them, well you know, discontent. And then vengeful.

Around the same time, I was torturing myself over my ‘original contribution’ to academic knowledge as I toiled through my PhD program (with those smart types I was mentioning earlier). Frozen like a deer in the headlights, I was whining to one of my mentors one day about my desperation of not finding my unique contribution when she reminded me that, “there is no such thing as an original idea. There are only original combinations and articulations.” That’s academic speak for what we know now as, ‘the mashup rules; and the more creative the mash, the better it is’.

What’s the old Napster got to do with the new PR? Everything. Napster then and now serves us a reminder of the true power of the Web (it is called a web for a reason, folks). It reminded us of its original conception, its unique brilliance– its power to connect and create mutually beneficial relationships with others. At the same time that Napster ruled as a radical force and disruptive technology, we both had the honor of working for a data storage company. While sadly unaware of what would come to pass in its industry, the company had a slogan at the time —  “information made powerful”.  Napster was information made powerful. Facebook is information made powerful. Web 2.0 is information made powerful. Napster ushered in the age of the bricoleur; the artist who weaves different forms, different objects and different ideas together to create something new and useful to share with others. PR 2.0 is about the bricoleur; the individual who creates relationships between people, objects and ideas.

The new PR is not the PR of our parents’ generation. It is the PR of the Napster Generation. The Millenials. Gen Y. Gen disrupting the workforce. Gen ADHD. In the eyes of Extanz, PR 2.0, the new PR, is conversations made powerful. People made powerful. Participation made powerful. Relationships made powerful. As the Zen Buddhist Teacher Shunryu Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind states, “when you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.” (p.44). PR 2.0 Extanz-style.

With thanks to Today is a good day  ,  jm3and of course Napster, for their inspiration!

Welcome to the brave new world — ready to share?



The medium is the message, (stupid).

9 09 2008

Ah, yes, who remembers Marshall McLuhan and his famous statement in Understanding Media (1964)?

In claiming that “the medium is the message” McLuhan expresses the sentiment that there is a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived, creating subtle change over time…. a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself.” (wikipedia.com)

We have been blessed to have multiple inspiring and challenging conversations with people over the last few weeks/months. As you may have guessed from reading some of our blog posts, we are a little fed up with how the web has been and continues to be used. We are also find the lack of vision and willingness to interact openly on the part of those who communicate for organizations, more than perplexing. But perhaps what Extanz finds most concerning is how underestimated, and you could say, diminished the power of social media tends to  become as it is relegated to interpretations of ‘all about me blogging’, ‘a group of drunken college students and their photos’ and ‘meaningless noise in 140 characters’. You know who I am talking about here….:)

Let’s face it, we remember the days of Napster, Kazaa and all the aggravation of the record companies. We remember how P2P was considered radical, dangerous and controversial. We remember the origins of the Internet, when it was known as the Arpanet and designed for information sharing, collaboration, and institutional and community coordination. These ways of organizing and communicating are built into the very fabric of the web, its DNA if you will. That’s why web 2.0 has come on so fast, because those technologies are moving the web away from its reliance on experts, on one way transmission of information and to some degree, away from producer control. What Napster and its comrades initiated was the rise of the prosumer = part producer, part consumer. It highlighted the connections between the relationships we build and the technologies that can serve, support and sustain them. It forced us into conversation with each other and it also raised the critical questions of authority and control. Information wants to be free, or so the battle cry suggested.

But here’s the issue. Where does information live? It lives within you, me and we. And herein lies the rub. Recently some bloggers have been talking about risk and trust and how they collide in the implementation of social media. Social media is seen as risky, Amber Naslund contends because of its ability to influence the multitudes = people may critique what you do, say something bad about you, you lose control over the message etc etc. Naslund does an equally good job of providing defenses to these contentions which she says, are largely based on the open, organic, ubiquitous nature of this particular medium. On the other side, as we have stated before, social media depends on trust and the cultivation of same. As Rex Lee puts it “A lack of trust will cause people to withhold information, to waste effort validating each message instead of integrating, to be less receptive to compromise, and to just be overall less committed, often choosing the least amount of commitment possible. Ultimately this means organizations are, less agile, less innovative, of average performance, and peppered with incomplete analysis.”

The fact that social media is open, is organic and is ubiquitous can provide some level of trust as there is a certain level of transparency in a relationship based medium.The power of social media, that collection of technologies born out of and through web 2.0, lies in their persistent commitment to participation, connection and interaction. All technologies, web 1.0., 2.0, 3.0 etc carry the values of their creators. That we see these technologies and forms of media ascend now says much about the people producing-consuming them. So can we reframe the title to ask – what is the message we are sending about who we are when we choose social media as our medium of communicating….OR perhaps more importantly, what message are we sending when we DO NOT?