In one year, from January 1st 2016 to January 1st 2017, the English site of Wikipedia has gotten 93,322,823,874 hits from a body of more than 30,604,028 users worldwide, living up to its reputation as the fifth most visited website globally.
What is so significant about Wikipedia is that, in terms of media audience research, it makes an excellent example of what I would like to call the (Media) Audience 2.0, or the audience as “produser[s]” – a term coined by Brun in 2005 (cited in Bird 2011, p. 502), a combination of two words: producer and user. This new “generation” of users was given rise to by the emergence of digital media, particularly Web 2.0 (Bird 2011, p. 502), which introduced, for the first time, user-generated content (UGC).
This remarkability can only be fully comprehended with a comparison between the “old” media audience – which was described in the history of audience research as gullible, easily to influence, childlike, feminised, overall a passive audience (Turnbull 2017) – with the “new” and active Audience 2.0, as well as the contrast between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. The first stage World Wide Web was the “read-only, static web” (Naughton 2014), entirely made up of Webpages connected by hyperlinks, consequently making the interaction one-way. However, allowed to contribute their own original content by the Web 2.0 environment, which is a platform for blogging, web services, mapping etc., users are becoming increasingly active producers of information we now find on the Web, enthusiastically building their own sources of ideas.
What created by the audience (in this case, of the Internet) does not just stop at entertainment – fan sites, fan fictions, etc. – but expands to more serious areas. Wikipedia was founded with great hope by Jimmy Wales to
“[give] every single person on the planet … free access to the sum of all human knowledge”, and its users have so far created an incredible online library with 5,374,365 articles in English alone. In 2013, The Guardian even declared the launch of a platform specifically dedicated to UGC.
The Audience 2.0 is a reality that forces a change in the way researchers examine the media audience, because with the conventional, purely quantitative, and rigid methods (e.g. Bandura’s Bobo Doll), the outcome is a negative view of an inactive audience, while in fact, in the light of more flexible qualitative methods, this audience turns out to be active users-producers in the media (Turnbull 2010, p. 75).
“Convergent media have been hailed as creating a ‘cultural shift’, which has realigned the roles of audiences and producers in profoundly new ways.” (Bird 2011, p. 503)
Although UGC by the Audience 2.0 is inexorably subject to mistakes, it is solid evidence for Bird’s statement, and thanks to it, the media landscape is now more dynamic than ever.
If you are keen on finding out more about the way UGC are controlled, watch this TED Talk by Wikipedia’s founder:
Bird, SE 2011, ‘Are we all produsers now?: Convergence and media audience practices’, Cultural Studies, vol. 25, no. 4-5, pp. 502-516.
Naughton, J 2014, ‘25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday’, The Guardian, 9 March, viewed 12 February 2017, < https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/mar/09/25-years-web-tim-berners-lee>.
TED 2007, The Birth of Wikipedia – Jimmy Wales, online video, 16 January, viewed 12 February 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQR0gx0QBZ4>.
Turnbull, S 2010, ‘Imagining the Audience’ in S Cunningham and G Turner (eds) The Media and Communications in Australia, 3rd edn, Allen and Unwin, Crow Nest, NSW, pp. 65-78.
Turnbull, S 2017, ‘media Audiences’ PowerPoint slides, BCM110, University of Wollongong, viewed 12 February 2017.