Jenkins, Ford, Green — Spreadable Media

In this timely and fundamentally rhetorical book, media scholar Henry Jenkins, digital strategist Sam Ford, and digital strategist Joshua Green explore how media spreads in social media contexts. As the authors routinely point out, their central argument is “if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead” (1). They use the term “spreadability” to help theorists, designers, and writers think about production, content, and distribution considerations that are necessary for successful circulation in web spaces.

By making use of concrete examples (such as particular YouTube videos and memes), the book offers strategies for designing for spreadability. These include: listening vs hearing (177), considerations of distribution (198), and savvy content decisions (i.e. the use of humor, “shared fantasies,” parody, unfinished content, and so on).

This is an extremely practical book that appeals to a diverse audience. It speaks to both scholars and producers of media, offering suggestions, examples, and theories for digital writers who want to “spread” their media in digital, transnational contexts. What is useful for my purposes is Jenkins et al’s attention to the distribution channels and social media habits that make up digital circulation. In other words, they offer concrete examples of why media spreads–or doesn’t spread–in Web 2.0 spaces such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. In so doing, the authors speak of the specific, situated concepts relevant to digital circulation.

The authors had a very interesting chapter that explored how companies track users’ activity in social media networks. They note that successful companies don’t merely collect and quantify user data but they “do something about it” (178); in other words, based on the collected data, they respond and interact with users. This makes me think about the inherent interaction that is possible in today’s circulation. In Warner’s formulation of a public, then, circulating discourse is always in a state of reflexivity: simultaneously recursive and forward moving. Of course, this adds another difficult layer into tracking circulation: how does the initial rhetor or group of rhetors respond(s) to and interact within what Warner would call the “circulatory field”?  This question makes me think that a big part of studying circulation, then, would involve tracking how rhetors participate in the circulation of their message post initial distribution.

Jenkins, Henry, Ford, Sam, and Joshua Green. Spreadble Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: NYUP, 2013.

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