Assessment 3 · Online Communities · PRODUSERS · Social Media Communication

NICOLE DUNN – Cultural Intermediaries – Visions of the Social World

Nicole Dunn

SID: 450146723

Seminar: Wednesday 5-8pm  Rachael Bolton


Bourdieu’s original conception the cultural intermediary refers to ‘those sets of occupations and workers involved in the production and circulation of symbolic goods and services in the context of an expanding cultural economy.’ (Adkins.) Where tensions between stakeholders with aligned interests meet, intermediaries operate as ‘facilitators, translators and mediators.’ (Hutchinson. 2017) With the emergence of social media as the preferred location for advertising as audience participation is now a necessary element of a successful, engaging social media strategy, cultural intermediaries have unprecedented influence over the cultural economy. Their professional relationships with brands imposes values on products. In order to discuss modern cultural intermediaries and their relationships with social media, a strategic affiliation between intermediaries and the media is necessary. Maguire and Matthews locate cultural intermediaries as working within the media, for the media with the mutual economic goal in promoting consumption of mediated content. (Maguire.2013)

For the purposes of my analysis, I wish to specifically discuss the relationship between cultural intermediaries and non-for-profit organisations. These relationships are niche subsets of cultural mediation as non-for-profit organisations and charities often do no have the fiscal freedom to pursue highly sought after cultural intermediaries. By undertaking a case-study analysis of the Global Women’s Project and their social media presence, I wish to demonstrate the extreme scope of influence these people possess and how difficult it can be to convince audiences of your legitimacy in a crowded marketplace. As the followers of influential cultural intermediaries are similarly cultural producers making cultural product, data surrounding their participation is invaluable to businesses attempting to represent cultural life in their marketing materials. (Carah, Shaul. 2016)

Types of Intermediaries

Hutchinson extensively analyses cultural intermediaries within the context of audience participation within social media, and delineates between four different types of cultural intermediaries who operate within this field of cultural transmission. They are social media producers, community managers, micro-agents and change agents. Though features of all are needed for organisations and stakeholders to have their strategy effectively implemented, micro-influencers are the subset whose existence and legitimacy are the most crucial to successful consumer-business relationships. (Hutchinson. 2017) Micro-influencers are the ‘Instagram Intermediaries’ – the independent third party endorsers who shape audience attitudes through blogs, tweets, and the use of other social media.’ (Freberg, Freberg, Graham,McGaughey. 2011) They are agents of culture who have disrupted the equilibrium between hierarchies and individuals by re-energising cultural production with audience engagement within the media. (Bolton. 2018)

Through their promotional material, such as sponsored post (Image 1A) or an unsponsored ‘shout’ out post they weave legitimacy into the public image of a brand, company or movement.

Morello clearly identifies her paid affiliation with the brand in her public Instagram post.

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 22.44.57
Image 1A: Morello clearly identifies her paid affiliation with the brand in her public Instagram post.

Image 1A.

A successful example of this is the #Ham4All Challenge, created by Tony-Award winning composer Lin Manuel Miranda to raise money for a coalition of immigration organisations. (Chen.2017) For the celebrities who participated and exposed the charitable cause to their online followers and fans, there was no financial gain for participating. Their video posts, which were widely circulated and then replicated by others, are an example of an intermediary activity. These celebrities were taking the form of ‘third wave’ cultural intermediaries who Hutchinson denotes ‘use cultural capital in order to improve our social society.’ (Hutchinson. 2017)


The Global Women’s Project

The rise of the conscious consumer not only denotes the increased interest and demand for transparency between businesses and consumers in relation to ethical practices, but a desire from consumers to make purchases that are considered investments into their social status. As cultural intermediaries operates as agents of change by translating one form of capital into another – such as transforming economic capital (a young woman’s purchase of a dress by the label Bec & Bridge) into social capital – this women receiving increased social currency in the form of  likes, comments and new followers on her Instagram profile. ( Hutchinson, 2017.)

Analytics company Annalect produced research carried out in conjunction with Twitter that discovered approximately 40% of people have purchased an item online after seeing it promoted by an influencer or celebrity. The implicit trust given to the intermediaries by their followers is the equivalent of a personal friendship. (Oppenheim. 2016) By mobilizing their fan bases to commit to monthly donations, the intermediaries will have successfully transformed their social capital into economic capital for the charity.

This emergence of the conscious consumer is a particularly welcome development for non-for-profit organisations and charities who are attempting to accumulate cultural and economic capital through non-traditional endorsements. (Baker.2015) Individuals have been able to successfully commodify and monetise their online presence, and must can then endeavour to inject their own ideological and political beliefs with the choice of professional affiliations they agree to. Using their power to improve social society is an emerging trend amongst cultural intermediaries. (Hutchinson. 2017) Audience are no longer passive users but are integral, active participants in the processes of content creation and distribution. This has been conceptualised as the cyclical practice known as Produsage. Any article produced in the public media sphere is an artefact of that cultural period and possess innate value. (Neti. 2011)

Maguire and Matthews suggest that the work of cultural intermediaries involves processes that are often ‘invisible to the consumer’s eye.’ By analysing the our social media strategy for the Global Women’s Project and the growing leverage of cultural intermediaries within the field of social media, I will suggest that modern consumers are acutely aware of these processes, making the composition and implementation of a successful media strategy even more crucial. (Maguire, 2013)

The Produsage model. From Axel Bruns via

My group and I decided to suggest some cultural intermediaries for the Global Women’s Project to work with as we felt it was necessary for them to accrue some cultural capital. Though an established organisation that are seeking grass-roots change through fiscal donations and support, consumers won’t think to support this charity unless they are given compelling evidence to do so. Cultural intermediaries operate at the intersection of economy and culture, defining what is relevant, worthy of a ‘like’ or ‘follow and what people should spend their money on. (Maguire.2013)

We particularly focused on Instagram as it is a tool that calibrates and captures attention. (Carah,Shaul. 2016) For GWP to try and successfully penetrate the dense market of brands, individuals and movements attempting to amass relevance and dedication from the most profitable viewership demographics, they need to amplify the potential for gratification felt by potential investors. This would explain why famous intermediaries would choose to associate themselves the organisation, complimented with the burgeoning ability to mobilise social change within the platforms of site such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Individuals who wish to become effective cultural intermediaries must pre-emptively determine what their followers will respond to and engage with. Now that cultural intermediaries are indispensable operators in the field of social media advertising and communication, it is now possible for these users to be selective about which products they wish to endorse and align their personal branding with. Agreeing to associate their meticulously crafted image with an organisation can be an ideological decision, as intermediaries can function as agents of culture, and assist ‘organizations in adapting to an environment characterized by networked communication systems.’(Hutchinson.2017)


The relationships between organisations, cultural intermediaries and consumers are so intimate and blurred in the sphere of social media that all stakeholders now possess an implicit understanding of how intermediaries function. The failure of the Global Women’s Project to successfully engage their desired audience on social media platforms can be partially attributed to the lack of social transmissions about their core mission and vision for the social world. It is clear when assessing the content on their platforms that they have a clear vision for their social branding and can produce this effectively without third-party assistance, but have not established themselves within the marketplace as of yet. The intersection between cultural intermediaries and organisations, especially non-for-profit, allows visions of about the social world to be circulated in a way that is profitable, timely and guarantees exposure. Just as the reliability of traditional marketing methods has been reconsidered in the age of the Instagram Intermediaries, so to these influencers must consider how to generate diverse forms of capital to ensure the sustainability of media-centric intermediacy.

Word Count: 1395


Adkins, Lisa. (Unknown) Cultural Intermediaries in Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture

Baker, J. (2015, April 2). The rise of the conscious consumer: why businesses need to open up. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from The Guardian:

Carah, N., & Shaul, M. (2016). Brands and Instagram: Point, tap, swipe, glance. Mobile Media & Communication , 4(1).

Freberg, K., Freberg, L. A., Graham, K., & McGaughey. (2011). Who are the social media influencers? A study of public perceptions of personality. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 90-92.

Hutchinson, J. (2017). Cultural Intermediaries: Audience Participation In Media Organisations .Palgrave MacMillan.

Maguire, J. S. (2013). Bourdieu on Cultural Intermdiaries. In J. S. Maguire, & J. Matthews, The Cultural Intermediaires Reader(pp. 15-24). tUnied Kingdom.: SAGE Publications .

McDuling, J. (2017, April 7). How Google and Facebook trillion dollar duopoly strangles the internet . Retrieved April 27, 2018, from Financial Review:

Neti, S. (2011). Social Media and Its Role in Marketing. International Journal of Enterprise Computing and Business Systems, 1(2).

Oppenheim, M. (2016, May 12). New data reveals people trust social media influencers almost as much as their own friends. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from Independent:

Assessment 3 · PRODUSERS · Social Media Communication

No longer a Couch Potato

It is through communication that business and organizations create their images and values in the market. Moreover, communication is one of the closest activities between business and consumers (Donsbach, 2015; Varey 2002). Thus, a good relationship between consumer and business is based on a good communication strategy. That is, in order to transmit the correct information, through the correct channel or platform, it is of great importance to know how, what, when and for whom to communicate to, enabling the achievement of the target needs, goals and receiving the necessary feedback. (Lasswell, 1948)

The advent of Web 2.0, social media and new technologies of communication, trigger transformations in the process of communication and, in doing so the exchange of communication and interaction between consumers and business also change its manners. Web 2.0 is the “for a group of user-oriented Web-based services (…) that provided the easy-to-use tools” (Anderson, 2016, p. xxvii) such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, among many others, that characterize the concept of new media. Those new media generates richer practices of communication, such as videos, audiovisual effects, gifs, among others senses of stimulations that increases the experience with the message. Likewise, the new communication spectrum enables the conversion of the traditional audience in an active audience. Or even more, because the communication on the Web 2.0 is characterized by participation and interactivity, it enables the possibility of swift the traditional audience in producers and consumers of the message, introducing the term ‘produsers’ and UGC. Consequently, as Jenkins (2009) argued, the consumers, in this new scenario, start not only to participate but also to demand the participation in the construction and elaboration of the message.

No longer a ‘couch potato’

Defined by Bruns (2006) “produser” is particularly related to the Web 2.0 scenario, to describe the collaborative and participative, continuous construction and sharing of an already existing content. The term “produser” emerged from the participatory characteristic of the Web 2.0 and the new communication technologies, which enables the participation of the consumer in the production of the content, becoming an active agent. That is, the content in this new scenario can be reorganized, modified and re-created by the interference of the consumer. By providing such possibility, the roles of consumers and producers are no longer suitable, and the term ‘produsers’ emerges to describe this new form of consumption and production of content. The concept of “produser” breaks with the hierarchical, polarized and linear structure of communication (Figure 1), and a new horizontal, depolarized and branched communication (Figure 2) takes place in the Web 2.0 environment.


Figure 1: Classic scheme of communication

abstract-neural-network-background_sf_y0vffl_thumbnail-full03                                                      Figure 2: Network Communication

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest among many others, take a great role on this swift of audience and consumer to “produsers”. These platforms, even though are many different “in existence, there are a number of general features that most” (Anderson, 2016, p. 155) of them display, such as connect with other individuals, create, share, comment and have access to almost any kind of content. They create a channel of expression and exchange of communication that are the expression of participation on Web 2.0. A good example of the ideal of ‘produsage’ is the platform Youtube (2018), a video sharing platform that allows users to upload videos, participate, comment and interact with other users videos, such as the case of the parody of the band Nickelback video, which shows how users can create a new content based on an existing one, achieving notoriety (more than 8 millions views), interaction with other users (more than 9 thousand comments) and connections with other social media (external links).

Another interesting case is the campaign “Vice-Campeões” (Vice Champignons) by Nissan in 2012 in Brazil, to celebrate the prize of the best compact car. The campaign created to Youtube shows several situations of vice-champions, accompanied by an anthem created especially for the campaign. At the end of the video, the audience can choose a Facebook picture of any friend and his or her football team shirt to share on any social media as the vice-champion. That is the audience is reformulating the message, playing with the message and sharing the message. (for more examples Pessoas reais opinioes verdadeiras)

Tell me more about this: The power of UGC

UGC (user generated content) is the content “published on a publicly accessible Web site or on a page on a social networking site that is accessible to a select group of people” (Moens;Li & Chua, 2014, p. 7), in other words any type of content created by users and consumers; or, from my point of a view, free advertisement on social media. UGC is exceptionally predominant on Instagram (2018), due to the possibility to repost (regram) posts from consumers and users. A survey conducted by Olapic, shows that 76% of consumers rely more on the opinion of others consumers than in the brands advertisements. According to study ran by ComScore, consumers also tend to engage more with the brand when “exposed to a mixture of professional marketing content and user generated content” (Tintup, n.d). A good example of the efficiency of UCG is the campaign of the clothing brand Aerie. The campaign #AerieReal focussed on the real beauty of women. The extreme use of editions, filters and unrealistic bodies in bikinis campaigns raised an alarm on the impact on women’s perception of real beauty and body patterns. Therefore the brand encouraged consumers to post pictures of themselves (Figure 3), wearing the brand babe suits, without any alteration using the hashtag #ArieReal, and for each posted photo the brand donated $1 to the National Eating Disorder Association.

Captura de Tela 2018-04-27 às 2.41.03 PM.png                                                  Figure 3: #AerieReal campaign

Our own case:

Two of the theories that we learned, that have driven my group partners and me, to create our campaign to Social Media Communication, was the concept of produsage and UCG. Understanding the willingness to participate in this new consumer – user – and the advantages of mixing a marketing content with a user-generated content, we created the SANE campaign #facesofmentalillness and #SpeakUp. Through a video call to action posted on Youtube (Figure 4) we encourage people to post photos of themselves, doing what they do as an outlet for happiness – being dancing, singing etc – (Figure 5) on Instagram, using the hashtag facesofmentalillness and SPeakUP. The concept here can be compared with the strategy used for the brand Aeire, not that we are trying to sell babe suits, but through the use of a visual campaign, using the platform Instagram to encourage people to share their real lives and faces and creating awareness and supporting a important cause, we drive engagement of the user and therefore call more attention for what we are trying to communicate.


Figure 5: Video Campaign


Figure 6: Instagram Post

Overall the role of the consumer changed; now the message is not only a way to convince, yet a place to give an opinion, share experiences and participate. The communication is more reach in terms of stimulus and formats, and the consumer more critic and optative. It is possible to say that the “produsers” are connected, have an opinion, have access and no longer want to only receive information. Moreover, the new formats of communication such as UCG, are great tools for marketing, being cheaper, obtained information of its consumers and being more creative. However, it is important to emphasize that the risk exists and when the power is on the produsers hand not always it is possible to have control of the results.


Anderson, P. (2012). Web 2.0 and Beyond: Principles and Technologies. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis Group.

Anon, (2018). [image] Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].
Bruns, A. (2006) Towards Produsage: Futures for User-Led Content Production, [online] Available at:

ComScore (2012). comScore Study Finds Professionally-Produced Video Content And User-Generated Product Videos Exhibit Strong Synergy in Driving Sales Effectiveness. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Donsbach, W. (2015). The concise encyclopedia of communication. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Figure 2. (2018). [image] Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Bazilian,E. (2017) Infographic: How Millennials and Baby Boomers Consume User-Generated Content. Available at

Jenkins, H. Cultura da convergência : A colisão entre os velhos e novos meios de comunicação. 2ª ed. – São Paulo: Aleph, 2009.

Moens, M., Li, J. and Chua, T. (2014). Mining user generated content. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.

TINT Blog. (2018). What is User Generated Content (and Why You Should Be Using it). [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Varey, R. (2002). Marketing Communication: Principles and Practice. London: Routledge.

Yang, B. (2013). Figure 1. [image] Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Assessment 3 · PRODUSERS · Social Media Communication

Assessment 3: ‘Produser’= Producer + User

MECO6936 Assessment 3: Online Article
Keeli Royle
SID 440308483
Tutorial Time: Thursday 12pm-3pm (Kai Soh)

The term ‘produser,’ devised by Axel Bruns, is a combination of ‘producer’ and ‘user’ and refers to the changing nature of the role of the audience as a participatory member of the online community in Web 2.0. The evidence of this theory is shown through study of community engagement with entertainment and information entities, as well as the distribution of content from other consumers. The idea of the ‘produser’ challenges the traditional hierarchy in media communication, which is evident in “‘show-and-tell’ advertising or ‘telling people what the need to know’ journalism” (Deuze, 2007, p. 256). The exploration of this topic reveals perspectives of audience-media relationships and the degree to which Web 2.0 has impacted the participatory nature of communication between these parties. It also explores the power relationship between companies and the possible exploitation of the ‘produser’ as well as the collaborative dynamic between traditional producers of media content and the consumers. The ‘produser’ and their role within digital media, particularly the internet and social media, allows exploration of the way online communities and roles influence behaviour and practices in the offline world.

The introduction of the role of the audience as ‘produser’ contrasts the idea of the passive receiver of online materials and allows a more interactive experience with content contribution and distribution. The concept that the ‘produser’ is a result of Web 2.0 suggests that the progressive function of media platforms has extended beyond “simply responding to content that has been created by an organisation” (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p. 58) and not only allows, but encourages, the creation of new, user created content (UCC). There is question of whether Web 2.0 has increased the capability of the user to create original content or if the access to distribution platforms and direct connection with appropriate audiences has allowed the content to be perceived as a more prevalent occurrence. There is evidence contradicting the direct correlation between ‘produsage’ and Web 2.0 through audience participatory behavior and communities, such as fandoms and the associated content produced, prior to the creation of the online distribution. There is also use of ‘produsage’, which is relevant to both online and offline communities and a “whole array of practices that certainly articulate around media, and may employ Internet communication, but involve many other forms of creativity” (Bird, 2011, p.505). An example of the online/offline relationship of content is the use of Pinterest and the way the user created or distributed posts often relate to offline skills and tasks such as design, craft or baking. The stylistic changes to the traditional producer and consumer roles as part of Web 2.0, require the recognition of the participatory and collaborative developments within the media, “be it within a multiplayer game, on a newspaper discussion forum, or at a viral marketing site – it becomes crucial to understand the roles of the producer and the consumer as (to some extent) interchangeable and (at the very least) independent” (Deuze, 2007, p.250). The malleable roles that have been emphasised, if not created, by this technological development have deconstructed the way media is consumed and the wider-range of content specific information that is readily available.


Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 10.27.01 pm
One type of community that has prospered from, and significantly utilised, the power of online user production and distribution has been that of ‘fandom’ groups. The platform for the distribution of content throughout media has created a greater presence for ‘fandoms’; although, it is also evident that the technology did not create these communities or fan culture but rather allowed it to distribute relevant concepts to other fans that exceed geographical location. The commitment to the creation of content by these fans to distribute to the wider fan communities supports the idea of the user as a professional amateur, or pro-am, who is defined by Hinton and Hjorth as:

…someone who worked at their interest like a professional, spending as many hours on their endeavour as they might in their day job, treating it like it was a task that earned money, and yet was not a professional since they were not part of a professional community and did not get paid for their work (2013, p.59)

‘Fandom’ online communities are so strongly associated with participatory culture and the role of the ‘produser,’ that Bird (2011) argues that “the equation of audience practices with one specific type of activity – online fandom – has the potential to stifle a richer understanding of continuing audience activity” (p.504). It is recognised through Bird (2011) and Carpentier (2009) that there has been neglect in the acknowledgment of the ‘regular’ audience. In contrast to the high representation of fandom culture in reference to active user participation in the online media, Bird (2011) states that majority of people are, in fact, not ‘produsers’ “whether by choice or access to time and resources” (p. 504). This absence of the ‘regular’ user supports “the conflation of producer and audience is not total, and that participatory media products still have audiences that are not involved in the participatory process” (Carpentier, 2009, p.411).
The representation and rise of the ‘produser’ has changed the relationship and power dynamic in the hierarchy of media industries and audiences. The concept of ‘produsage’ appears to render the traditional media producer and industries more redundant in the digitalised sphere of Web 2.0, but it is evident that, through collaboration and communication, the power dynamic is not as clearly defined as it traditionally was. The most explicit evidence of power play between the traditional and redefined producer can be seen through integration and reaction to the imposition of ‘terms of service.’ A technique of disciplining and control that industries can enforce over participating users is the redefinition of content ownership “so that anything they post becomes the property of the company” (Bird, 2011, p.507). Contrastingly, it is evident that attempts at direct control can completely backfire in February 2009 where Facebook attempted to significantly “change its terms of service, which resulted in an uproar in the Facebook community, forcing Facebook to walk back the changes and promise to seek users’ input in developing new terms of service” (Grinnell, 2009, p.594). Power can also be developed through collaboration, particularly business utilising User Created Content (UCC) for marketing and as a pathway into connecting to audiences on a level that appears to be less hierarchical and imposed. Wendy’s online “roasts” on social media sites, Facebook and Twitter, created hype through its comedic contrast from a traditional business approach to marketing, through this it also generated ‘shares,’ and ‘retweets,’ as well a interactive communication across the platforms.

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 9.54.17 pm

A media industry that has been impacted and changed through audience participation and collaboration is that of journalism and the distribution and creation of information. The most significant evidence of this is the nature and use of Wikipedia and the benefits and risks around the content it produces. Hinton and Hjorth state that Wikipedia has “quickly become the world’s largest source of knowledge on a variety of topics” (2013, p.63) however the legitimacy of the ‘knowledge’ and its ‘produsers’ is questionable in its authenticity, relying on other ‘produsers’ to correct or alter information.

‘Produsage’ and the ‘produser’ is an automated part of my personal social media experience. Being part of any number of communities and being able to access, produce and distribute material so quickly and easily creates a lack of attention to my actual participation and contribution to the online and social media network. This was contrasted within my work producing for ‘Be The Filter,’ as I was actively trying to create content to create audience response, a traditionally Web 1.0 technique, while also requiring audience participation to encourage the promotion of the movement and the associated activities.

The vast amount of online content I interact with daily has to be produced somewhere, however, the recognition of the concept of a ‘produser’, I find most effective in using for bettering my understanding of social networking and intentional connection and participation with other users for marketing and promotional purposes.



Bird, S., 2011. ARE WE ALL PRODUSERS NOW?. Cultural Studies, 25(4-5), pp.502-516.

Carpentier, N., 2009. Participation Is Not Enough: The Conditions of Possibility of Mediated Participatory Practices. European Journal of Communication, 24(4), pp.407-420.

Deuze, M., 2007. Convergence culture in the creative industries. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 10(2), pp.243-263.

Grinnell, C., 2009. From Consumer to Prosumer to Produser: Who Keeps Shifting My Paradigm? (We Do!). Public Culture, 21(3), pp.577-598.

Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013. Understanding social media. 1st ed. Los Angeles, CA [etc.]: SAGE.

Make Stress Balls Kids Will Love – Natural Beach Living. 2017 [online] Natural Beach Living. Available at: <; [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].

MECO Vox Pops #BeTheFilter. 2017 [online] YouTube. Available at: <; [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].

Pinterest. [online] Pinterest. Available at: <; [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].

The Southerners: #bethefilter Facebook Page. 2017 [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].

Wendy’s Is Roasting People On Twitter, And It’s Just Too Funny. 2017. [online] Bored Panda. Available at: <; [Accessed 28 Apr. 2017].

Assessment 3 · Online Communities · PRODUSERS · Social Media Communication

r/place for everything… A social experiment that defined community

By: Lee Anthony
Class: Kai Soh, Thursdays 12pm

WARNING: Contains some NSFW content

“There is an empty canvas.
You may place a tile upon it, but you must wait to place another.
Individually you can create something.
Together you can create something more.”        

One of the internet’s largest communities staged a 2017 April Fool’s Day joke that quickly became an extraordinary social media experiment. The diversity expressed by users in Reddit’s 72-hour r/place challenge and the social media dynamics they generated came to represent a microcosm of interaction and “produsage” (Bruns, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, p57) in the online world.

More than a bulletin board

Reddit was launched in 2005, as “the front page of the internet” – a news aggregation and social discussion site. It is still often described somewhat clinically as an ‘online bulletin board system’, but its history of community and sub-community activities, language, and memes show it has grown to become much more than that.

Users, or Redditors, have collectively raised funds for numerous charitable causes and hold regular global gift exchanges – including annual Guinness World Record-breaking Secret Santa exchanges.  They can ‘friend’ each other to follow the posts of specific users, discuss topics either publicly or privately, and attend subreddit ‘in-person’ meetups and events in cities around the world, that is, they network (Hinton & Hjorth, p22). Self-policing and gatekeeping (Nissenbaum and Shifman, p485) is effectively under the control of individual subreddit moderators, but Redditors themselves also play a role in community control via the public-post upvoting and downvoting system. Users’ contributions to subreddit discussions earn ‘karma’, or “social capital” (Bourdieu, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, p42); karma has no material benefit, but is a reflection of a contributor’s popularity on Reddit.

The above traits, combined with an active user base, clearly show that Reddit has fulfilled Parks’ “conditions for community: membership, personal expression and connection” (Parks, 2011, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, p43) and, therefore, is a thriving virtual community and not merely a very large forum.

How r/place was built, razed and rebuilt

The 2017 r/place experiment was a fascinating reflection of Reddit’s collective spirit.

The giant social media network created a blank canvas 1000 pixels by 1000 pixels – r/place – and the riddle at the top of this blog was an invitation to users to fill it in. Anyone with a Reddit account created by March 31, 2017, could place one of 16 colours on one pixel at 5-10 minute intervals. During the three days that r/place was active, more than a million unique produsers from all over the world participated in creating and recreating artwork on the canvas.

The concept of a social media platform as a collaborative community space (Hyde, et al, in Mandiberg, Ch5, p53) was clearly evident in r/place. At first, individual pixels dotted the canvas, then users began to form teams to generate recognisable images. New subreddits were created to discuss strategy, as were Discord voice/text chat servers. Later in the exercise, as teams realised they could not be fully represented around the clock, alliances were formed between some to help protect each other’s input.

Popular Reddit memes were a dominant feature. Subreddit teams jostled for space to include their own “sub-cultural” themes (Nissenbaum and Shifman, p484). Early entries included the infamous Dick Butt character, originally drawn by web comic artist K.C. Green, adopted by 4chan and later by Reddit as the theme of its own subreddit. Dick Butt battled for canvas space against another subreddit meme, the Pink Vomit Monster, which survived to the end. Movie, music, game and graphic magazine memes were posted, painted over and reposted; Star Wars fans rendered a large prequel meme – The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise – and one game logo, Osu!, survived multiple ‘attacks’ throughout the three days. A ‘Blue Corner’ posse took over the bottom left of the canvas and soon faced off against a ‘Red Corner’ and the ‘Green Lattice Team’, all of which created their own strategy subreddits during the exercise.

Other cultural representation (Nissenbaum and Shifman, p484) began with nationality subreddits whose teams placed flags or self-referential memes (Singer, et al, p3), for example, r/Australia and r/straya managed to carve out a large, prime position for Aussie themes and defend the space until the end. A Steve Irwin ‘crikey’ memorial sits alongside boxing kangaroo, redback spider, dropbear and Bunnings-snags memes, all linked by the two Down Under subreddits’ classic greeting: “G’day cunts”.

place atlas Australia
The Australian contribution to r/place. Picture: The /r/place Atlas
War and Peace

An international pixel war broke out as nationality teams invaded each other’s spaces to wipe out rival countries’ flags. Many Redditors were particularly impressed by a German flag’s invasion of a French one (below; video: Aidaman TV, YouTube); another team eventually superimposed a European Union banner on a disputed section of the warring factions’ flags (on the final canvas, a peace dove appears in the centre of the EU logo). The US flag was attacked multiple times during the three days and successfully fended off a last-ditch black-out attempt by The Black Void (see trolls, below).

The appearance of advertising logos midway through the exercise outraged some Redditors. As Shareen Pathak of Ad Age warned in 2014: “Redditors overwhelmingly hate marketing in (almost) all its forms… Brands that try to insert themselves as memes are bound to fail”. A Tesla Motors logo added to the canvas was the subject of a subreddit debate about whether or not it and other corporate logos passed the sub-cultural legitimacy test (Goodman, in Ritzer [2004] cited in Nissenbaum and Shifman, p486).

There were peacemakers, including the Rainbow Road Team, and art-lovers who replicated notable works including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

And there were trolls. A group widely suspected to be 4chan users and supporters swarmed to r/place as The Black Void, collectively attempting (and ultimately failing) to fill the canvas with black pixels.

The Black Void, r/place. Picture:

Of concern to all teams was that their turf would be attacked while they slept. Whole threads on subreddits were devoted to the question of whether to just let it go until morning or organise shifts. On, Redditor Lou Contaldi described the angst thus:

“A mythos had been created overnight. There were protagonists, antagonists and pure evil taking over the r/place grid. Wars had been started and ended overnight, alliances had been drawn and the war was raging on tirelessly.”

The battles for control of the canvas are an example of “co-operation epidemics and insurgence” by “smart mobs” (Seo, et al, p887). But, as with other multi-player online games, not all the ‘mobs’ were human. Some individuals and teams created and ran bots to colour pixels on their behalf; this was not against the rules of r/place and was even anticipated by the developers. Others took pride in handcrafting their contributions and discouraged team members from using bots.

After 72 hours, r/place closed as abruptly as it had started.

A community-driven “labor of love”

On an official blog summary of r/place, Reddit’s Josh Wardle and Justin Basset explained the canvas was created to “explore human interaction at scale”:

“We thought that for every one person that wanted to do something negative, there would be thousands that wanted to overwrite that with something positive—and we were right. It turns out collaborating to make something bad is far harder than collaborating to make something good.”

The r/place experiment and its final canvas have been hailed by Redditors and onlookers as a successful demonstration of “the internet of everything” (Open Mind, August 29, 2016). Has it furthered understanding of the workings of a social network community? Yes. Discussions and analyses are continuing on numerous forums, media and other sites weeks after the project ended. In addition, the r/place produsers’ input goes beyond the colouring exercise, and to date includes mid- and post-canvas user-created content such as:

  • Bot scripts for placing pixels on a user’s behalf
  • Data visualisations and statistical analysis (links following citations)
  • An interactive atlas of the final art
  • Time-lapse tracking and videos
  • Blogging and citizen journalism articles

One of the best summaries of r/place – underlining Reddit’s status as an active virtual community – was posted by u/_eltanin_ on Reddit’s post-r/place analysis on April 4, 2017:

“What started off as a blank canvas with vague instructions… shortly but surely became a community-driven labor of love that spawned territorial control and aggression, coordinated efforts to build, attack, defend and rebuild, debates over real estate allocation, diplomatic talks and alliances, faction sanctioned protection and other various activities that you’d least expect to come from a random social experiment whose main goal was simply to draw things on a canvas.”


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Nissenbaum, A., & Shifman, L. (2015). Internet memes as contested cultural capital: The case of 4chan’s /b/ board. New Media & Society, 19(4), 146144481560931. doi:10.1177/1461444815609313

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Pathak, S. (March 10, 2014). Reddit hates marketing. How to market on it anyway. Accessed April 16, 2017.

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The Internet of Everything (IoE). Open Mind. August 29, 2016. Accessed April 17, 2017.

r/place: some data and analysis links

Data on Reddit:

Individual redditors’ r/place contribution search: