The term ‘convergence’ is defined by Henry Jenkins as “The flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behaviour of media audiences” (Mitew 2015). During this time of 2006, traditional media technologies were competing with vastly different, new forms of social media and as a result, the dynamic of what was formally known as the ‘audience’ has continued to change drastically from passive consumers to active participants (2015).
Convergence has a major impact on the relationship between media technologies and the audience. In this essay, I will be analysing Facebook, an online social networking service which has 1.44 billion monthly active users (Statista 2015), in terms of the four dimensions of convergence: Technological (Consumption), Industrial (Commercial), Social and Textual (Australian Communication and Media Authorities 2012, p.64).
Industrial (Commercial) convergence involves businesses or companies using the spread of social media to sell or promote a physical product in the aim of commerce and market share. In terms of commercial convergence, Facebook sells and markets intangible products as a method of gaining profit. This is achieved through their use of advertising within user’s newsfeeds and timelines on behalf of “A variety of global entertainment and technology companies, as well as major global retailers” (Carroll, 2010, p.1). Facebook also uses its extensive app database to advertise as it is “Easier for ads to send users from app to app” (Austin 2014). Furthermore, Facebooks ‘like button’ “Appears on apps and websites outside Facebook and allows people to indicate with a click that they are interested in a brand, product, or piece of digital content” (Simonite 2012). This information is then used for advertisement purposes once the users log back into their accounts. However on the big business side of this debate there are great benefits in advertising within the clusters of convergence on Facebook and “Early advertisers who have participated in product ads have reported a 20 percent increase in conversions compared to other standard formats” of marketing on the internet (Lay 2015).
As a result of this convergence regarding businesses advertisements, the relationship between Facebook and its users is diminishing as information stored on the website is perceived to be out of Facebooks hands as the medium has changed from solely a social media platform, to a website whose aim is to advertise at any possible opportunity in the aim of commerce. This invasion of privacy also extends to the issue of Facebook “Repeatedly expanding what information is public by default” (Mui 2011).
Social convergence revolves around the varied ways in which different individuals view the notion of socialising with themselves and others. As a social media platform at the heart of social convergence, Facebook has changed the entire social construct of a human being in regards to the way we view and critique other people’s communication, usually in the form of a story or information. “Whilst the individual may be the centre of their own community” (McIntyre 2014), ultimately the varying religions and cultures that Facebook enables users to socialise and connect with in our own online community allows for greater exposure to other communication methods.
Facebooks role in social convergence can also be seen by the methods in which individuals go about sharing personal information or experiences. Prior to social media, events such as a marriage proposal or relocation to a new job was sent through word of mouth, however Facebook has taken advantage of this social convergence by allowing its users to change their details or recently add major life events to users timelines without even having to communicate it verbally, exemplifying Marshall McLuhan’s term “Global village” (Vidyarthi 2011) in which everyone has a “Huge involvement in everyone else’s affairs” (Davis 2011).
This vast convergence of social values from around the world strengthens the connection between Facebook and its users as the interaction becomes extremely personal within the day to day running of their lives and “An important part of people’s affection” (Paul 2010), rather than just being a person’s traditional online persona which in years gone by has operated as a mirage of a person’s actual personality and as a result, “These interactions allow the content to become more important” (Briar 2011).
Technological (Consumption) convergence refers to the many different methods in which convergence is achieved through global access from varied technologies. This “Combination of computing, communications and content around networked digital media platforms” (Australian Communication and Media Authorities 2012, p.64) allows anybody to freely access content. Facebook has utilised this form of convergence very effectively as it has given its users multiple delivery devices in which they can communicate and converge in one central domain. These come in the form of a traditional website on the internet and the Facebook app available on both Apple and Android phones, laptops, tablets, gaming consoles and many other forms of technology.
In effect, the result in these seemingly never-ending forms of content access and sharing has resulted in the rise of citizen journalism which revolves around “Public citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information” (Smithers 2015) and as just about everybody carries some form of technology that is able to access Facebook, they are able to capture any content and share it instantly. This is an example of the impact that convergence has on the relationship between media technologies, in this case Facebook acting as a host of citizen journalism, and the audience who expect their content to be able to be shared instantly from any technology.
Textual Convergence “Involves the re-use and remixing of media into what has been termed a ‘transmedia’ model, where stories and media content” (Australian Communication and Media Authorities 2012, p.64) are not only able to be expressed across multiple mediums but they can also be expressed in several different formats (video, text, sound, etc.) or individual segments across multiple platforms. The advantage that social media websites like Facebook bring to the entire transmedia storytelling is the promotional aspect in which anyone is able to share both the content that is on social media but also recognise and discuss the other parts of a story contained in other mediums, simular to fan fiction.
Facebook has taken advantage of this textual convergence through its purchase of Instagram, WhatsApp and roughly fifty other social media websites which highlights the fact that an individual is able to share their own story or input into a transmedia story and expand their online persona without having to outreach to other networks that may not be operated by Facebook.
Also, Facebook itself is its own transmedia narrative through its use of accounts on multiple media platforms such as social networking websites like YouTube, social media websites such as Twitter, a news app called ‘Paper’ as well as “An initiative called internet.org that aims to bring internet access to everyone in the world” (Harris 2013). By sharing content on these various mediums, Facebook is not only spreading its own messages but it’s encouraging users to continue convergence on other mediums as they have “A profound effect on the communications” (Vidyarthi 2011) in all of society.
As a result of textual convergence and media technologies promoting the transmedia narrative, the correlation with these technologies and their audiences changes as media like Facebook rely on their users to connect and share their content on other forms of media and bring it back to the Facebook site itself in order for the user to serve its promotional and social obligations.
Facebook serves as a prime example of how convergence can have a destabilising effect on the connection between media technologies and their audience as there is such a vast difference in the varying aspects converging onto platforms such as Facebook, which takes away from the positive aspects that convergence brings to media in the form of social education and citizen journalism. In order for the relationship to remain durable, media technologies must focus on continually improving the cores of their media rather than advertising and commercial opportunities as the core of these mediums is what generally attracts and maintains an audience.
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