Reproduced and Emergent Genres of Communication on the World Wide Web

Crowston, Kevin, and Marie Williams. “Reproduced and Emergent Genres of Communication on the World Wide Web.” Information Society 16 3 (2000): 201-15.

Given its attention to the definition and consideration of the communication genre, I am drawing on this article to help support my suggestion of the Online Video Conversation (OVC) as a new communication genre.

In this 2000 article, Crowston and Williams look to how genres are formed on the Web. They define communicative genre as “an accepted type of communication sharing common form, content, or purpose, such as an inquiry, letter, memo, or meeting.” (pg. 202). The authors rely heavily on two or three articles from Yates and Orlikowski, who define genres as “a distinctive type of communicative action, characterized by a socially recognized communicative purpose and common aspects of form.” They also note that it is taken in response to current situations.” (Yates and Orlikowski, 1992, p. 299). Similarly, in Blogging as a Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog, Carolyn Miller notes, “When a type of discourse or communicative action acquires a common name within a given context or community, that’s a good sign that it’s functioning as a genre.”

Essentially, formal or informal communities that begin using a communication form in a similar way for a similar purpose create new genres. It is the combination of communication form and purpose that seem to be fundamental to the effective creation of a genre. However, these “new” genres are generally based on existing genres that modified, repurposed, and/or remediated. This step often–if not generally–occurs from the adoption of a new medium. Crowsten and Williams’s examples include the emergence of the Web as a medium to deliver the social science paper (a traditionally print-delivered genre) via online academic journals.

In this way, I am presenting the OVC as a new genre. Video exists as a conversational medium; in fact, the live conversation through tools such as Skype is an increasingly popular practice. Yet, I am using video in a certain manner, within a particular setting, with a specific community of individuals. It is the use of recorded video by students within the asynchronous online classroom (AOC) to communicate with the instructor and with each other about assignments, readings, group projects, and any other topic related to the class. It is similar to and finds origins in genres such as textual and video blogs, video conferencing, online discussion boards, and forums in its presentation of ongoing, threaded, asynchronous conversations of individuals at separate locations presenting their ideas. I will note that the AOC is not the defining community for this genre. Rather, it is merely the setting in which I examining its use. The OVC can be and is used on general social media sites, such as Viddler, seesmic video (seesmic.tv), 12seconds.tv, and others. While I have been shown examples of companies that are using the OVC in some capacity to communicate, it is largely for internal communication and therefore difficult to find and share concrete examples. I have not pursued this aspect of the genre, since it is currently beyond the scope of my research.

The authors go on to discuss embedded genres and genre systems, which refers to the way in which many communication forms use multiple genres simultaneously. The OVC, for example, is most prominently a recorded (non-live) video communication medium. Yet it ceases to be both unidirectional and linear it the viewers’ ability to respond within the timeline of a video in either textual or video form.

In their discussion of Genre Repertoires, the authors state. “Genres are useful because the make communications more easily recognizable and understandable by recipients.” (pg. 203). In the beginning of the class in which I use the communication form, for example, I have the students post an introduction video. Often, such videos are recorded outside or with movement and have varying and sometimes random topic direction. Additionally, the students are not yet familiar with the class site structure and use of video in this class. As the class progresses and students have set topics to discuss each week, the videos invariably are comprised of the standard “talking head” video of the student at a desk or other workplace. This is not to negate the more free-flowing introduction video as an example of the OVC, but rather to suggest that it is only after more exposure to the talking head style videos on the class site that we, as members of the community using this genre, recognize the genre of the OVC , whereas the introduction video could be any in any style and therefore may not be immediately recognizable as such were it not presented in the same manner of the familiar class Web site.

Crowsten and Williams go on to cite Orlikowski and Yates’ argument that

“People produce, reproduce and change genres through a process of structuring. As members of the community draw on their knowledge of a genre repertoire to communicate, they reinforce the use of these genres, making them more legitimate for use in a given situation.”

In my research, this is exampled in the following occurrence. When students begin the course, they are generally uncomfortable with video in general and with the OVC process. However, it is a part of the required weekly assignments, so over a number of weeks they become increasing comfortable with it and presumably see the value in the OVC as a communication method. This is illustrated in some students’ voluntary use of the OVC toward the end of the semester to communicate within smaller groups. For this assigned group project, there is not required method of communication, yet as it is an online class, I provide and suggest a range of communication methods. While email and discussion boards are the preferred method, many of the groups use the OVC throughout the term of their project.

While this article is ten years old, and the view of the Internet was quite different then, the authors suggest of the Web that, “[T]he capabilities of this new medium seem likely to result in the development of new genres of communication. Furthermore, the rapid development of this medium suggests a high level of experimentation with potential genres.” (203). The online video conversation is certainly definable as an experimental communication form and can also be seen as a unique communication genre.

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