In looking for ways to discuss as huge a project as Viki, a profit-based fan-translation site, I kept returning to its forums based on volunteering. The encouragement from volunteers on popular channels that fans take these volunteer training programs piqued my interest. I applied to two segmenter training programs and was accepted to one. The other has a year-long wait list. I am still finishing my training, which could be completed in six weeks, making me potentially the slowest student they have ever had. In my tenure I have found parallels between this program and practices that I have learned and developed as a writing instructor. For instance, assignments are scaffolded--student-volunteers start with low-stakes assignments in familiar languages that increase in both linguistic and technical difficulty over time. There’s time built into the program for revision and reflection. At the final stage, student-volunteers are tested both on the information they acquire and the level of skill they achieve.
These training programs are designed entirely by volunteers in their leisure time with no interference from Viki. In some ways this connection between makes sense as translation attracts motivated volunteers with strong linguistic and technical skill. Translation communities also attract individuals who are as interested in practicing a language as they are following particular shows and celebrities. Many of Viki’s volunteers are young adults; it is likely they’ve turned to their classes as models for developing their own classrooms. In fact, the self-paced nature and obvious transfer of skills within these fan communities is almost enviable. In the context of developing literacies, these are known as “affinity spaces” (Gee, 2007), wherein individuals gather, share resources, and develop cultural artifacts in online spaces that privilege work and collaboration over place, age, sex, race, or class.
When this learning model is applied to a corporate situation, it seems as though the possibilities are endless.The commodification of a crowd-sourced projects like Viki has been an ongoing capital investment. In Wikinomics, Tapscott and Williams argue that collaborative projects on a massive scale “allow thousands upon thousands of individuals and small producers to cocreate products, access markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past” (12). Viki creates a gift economy where collaborators contribute to these spaces because sustained involvement and quality work earn individuals authority and recognition within this community. Many gift economies work easily in and around corporate market economies. Translators gift their work to the community they have often benefited from as well. Participatory communities attract corporate entities. While usually only a small number of members produce content for any community, they also appeal a high number of spectator members, who are attractive for advertisers (Van Dijck and Nieborg 861). Viki has a similar structure. A small percentage of fans volunteer to produce content for the site. The millions of fans who watch view content bring advertisement and paid subscriptions to the site.
Ten years after these landmark texts on online collaborative spaces, we can see the the complexities that have developed in this model. Participatory cultures’ further entrenchment in corporate strategies, even when the end goal for sites like Viki include altruistic endeavors, alters the constitution of affinity spaces. In my research in these forums I am surprised by the issue of not enough. There are not enough teachers to train. There are not enough volunteers doing the invisible work of translation. At the same time, there are millions of fans who consume content. While not exclusive to Viki or other fan-translation sites, my question becomes what we should call participatory culture when only a fraction of members are involved in production? Likewise, as education models turn towards online spaces for examples, how do we manage these unbalanced participatory practices?
Barbrook, Richard. “The High-tech Gift Economy.” First Monday. 3.12 (2005). Web.
Gee, Jamies Paul. Good Video Games + Good Learning: Collected Essays on Video Games, Learning and Literacy. Vol. 27. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. Print.
Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Portfolio, 2006. Print.
Van Dijck, Jose, and David Nieborg. “Wikinomics and Its Discontents: A Critical Analysis of Web 2.0 Business Manifestos.” New Media & Society 11.5 (2009): 855–874. Print.