Towards a Social Science of Web 2.0 (XI): George Ritzer: Theorizing Web 2.0

Keynote Speech: George Ritzer
Theorizing Web 2.0

While there are quite new things in the Web 2.0, they are not taking place in the larger society.

There’s quite a consensus that Web 2.0 is about consumption, buying… And a central issue is the collapse among consumption and production, the concept of the prosumer. Also the blurring distinction between the professional, the expert, the amateur.

Is prosuming that new? Marx already stated that production implied consumption. And in the McDonald’s model you also have the consumer as producer. And this is good for the owner: less costs, higher fitting of needs. From a marxian point of view, the consumer that produces produces nothing but surplus value, among other things because he does it for no pay.

In the Web 2.0 it looks like branding, marketing, advertising is so important. Is it Facebook a platform with a name/brand or a brand with a platform? Second Life?

Coolhunting: consumers creating new styles.

All these aspects are about putting the consumer to work, exploiting the audience.

There’s a big problem on how to get profits on Web 2.0 sites/initiatives. Through visibility + adds coming for this visibility? Profits from branding? Being the usual explanations that costs are few: the prosumers work for free and technology’s not that expensive and has huge economy scales.

Frivolization of society through Web 2.0 discourse, being the Web 2.0 a perfect output of Postmodernism.

My reflections
  • When I think of the prosumer, the consumer/producer at McDonald’s (e.g. drive through McDonald’s) or the self-service check in at airports are not what I have in mind. In my point of view, those are not prosumers, but consumers that are getting less for the same money, just as self-service oil pumps: Is this prosuming? No, I don’t think so.
  • IMHO, prosuming is coding apps for a cracked iPhone; and sooner or later being able to buy an official-but-open iPhone with those apps as firmware.
  • The first difference is option: in the later case, you have the option whether to crack and hack the iPhone; in the former examples, you just have not that option.
  • The second difference is leadership: it’s me that wants that hack on that phone. Who asked me for changes in customer relationship with McDonald’s, airports or oil stations?
  • The third difference is that the prosumer, besides doing it as an option, he gets something in exchange that they would not have instead: Flickr gives him server space to store photos, features such as searching and tagging, etc. What do you get in exchange in a self-service oil pump? oil stains and stinking hands. Not the same thing. I agree that Web 2.0 developers/entrepreneurs do get profit from the consumer/prosumer work, but isn’t it a win-win strategy? Sometimes it might be difficult to see what the prosumer gets in exchange (notoriety? a very remote possibility to get a job?), but I guess it’s still there. I agree that some producers exploit the audience, the consumer, but it’s never at gunpoint.
  • A good comment from somebody at the audience: aren’t prosumers having more power (than traditional consumers) against owners?


Towards a Social Science of Web 2.0 related posts (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “Towards a Social Science of Web 2.0 (XI): George Ritzer: Theorizing Web 2.0” In ICTlogy, #48, September 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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5 Comments to “Towards a Social Science of Web 2.0 (XI): George Ritzer: Theorizing Web 2.0” »

  1. I’ll agree with you, for once. Mostly :-). For me, someone who breaks the iPhone is a hacker. But someone who takes the Sopranos TV series and remixes it and retells it in nine minutes and posts it on YouTube (here)… that’s a prosumer.

  2. I think a important part of the prosumer idea in web2.0 application is about personal expression in public, of ideas, creativity, your own personality etc. I think that in the Maslow hierarchy, this is really in the top of the pyramid (or a new top) of self-realisation and expression. So the tools (eg. youtube, ning, etc) offer that space for people to express themselves in public.

  3. Pingback: Prosumer, get to hacking and make something. « A Web App, 2 Guys and no money.

  4. There is another interesting trend Ritzer mentioned: the infantilization of consumers (based on Benjamin Barber’s thoughts, that somehow connected with the previous presentation of Ian Forrester, Senior “Backstage” Producer of the BBC.

    Forrester showed all the new 2.0 features and channels for “opening” the BBC to users, as well as new ways they are making developers participate offline. But wait, that is just like giving kids new toys and letting them play in the backyard, going out from time to time to see if there is something you could promote among them.

    An “open” TV company should let you do more in terms of deciding what is on or not, or at least enter a little bit more the decision-making structures. Otherwise, while kids are playing 2.0 quite important issues can loss attention.

  5. Pingback: Prosumidores en la Web 2.0: el nuevo estadio del capitalismo « tilt!

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