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Final paper for University of Michigan School of Information SI 504: Social Systems and Collections. December 2006.

Text of Gig Posters

Timothy Vollmer SI 504 Section 9 Box 285 3648 Words Gigposters Collections live and thrive within social systems. At the same time, weve come to see that collections cannot be understood of effectively managed without understanding the social systems that create and use them.1 Collections help social systems remember by providing a storage area for knowledge, which can facilitate clarification in a dispute by providing evidence. Collections are inextricably linked to social systems and are built through social processes. Collections use social systems to provide resources for preservation, disposition, repurposing, and more resource gathering. Throughout our lectures and course materials, weve learned to qualify a social system as an enduring group of people who interact regularly, create meanings, establish hierarchies and roles, and rehearse norms. Social systems use collections in various ways: as a tool for social memory, in collective sensemaking, to provide coordination and control, and as a means to support social processes and institutions. (henceforth Gigposters) is a virtual collection of concert posters that accepts submissions of digitized concert posters from designers and collectors. After being approved, these posters are displayed online in Gigposters archive. As described on the site, a gig poster is an advertisement for a live musical performance [including] flyers and handbills [but not] promotional, non-music related posters or posters for shows that did not happen. There must be at least one musical performer listed on the poster.2 Gigposters is the largest online collection of concert posters. To date there are approximately 67,000 posters on the site, created by more than 5700 designers.3 Poster images load quickly because the file size remains small (usually under 200kB). The Gigposters

Vollmer, collection is accessible to users with Internet access and provides ways for viewers to browse or search the collection. Viewers can browse Gigposters alphabetically by band or designer. Viewers can also search by band, venue, city, or designer. A drawback of the search feature is that viewers are not able to combine various search terms to return results. For example, a user cannot enter Sonic Youth + Budapest in order to return results of posters containing Sonic Youth shows in Budapest. Viewers may only search one field at a time.


Clay Hays, the current webmaster and sole administrator, created Gigposters in 2001. He used Gigposters as an opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a web designer and learn more about web development. Clay began uploading posters from his old bands and friends bands, and Gigposters grew from there. While Gigposters gave Clay a platform for experimentation and self-education, he is quick to point out that the goal of the site in the beginning was to create a community.4 Today there are over 12,000 registered members on Gigposters.5 Gigposters in now financially stable because of advertising and the introduction of paid premium member accounts. While the Gigposters website receives thousands of hits per day, occasional viewers do not necessarily represent a part of the corresponding social system. Social systems rely on members to provide resources such as knowledge or manpower. Social systems also assume interaction and shared language, which may exclude casual viewers to the site. While we realize that open accessibility to the wealth of the Gigposters collection is important, opt-in membership to the site proves the most instructive example of the social system that lives within Gigposters. Members create an account by choosing a username and password (which are validated through an active e-mail account). Membership allows for more interactivity with the site, with the collection, and with other members. Members can create profiles, display some personal

Vollmer, information, and send private messages to other members. Gigposters incorporates a feature which allows users to comment on individual posters and also provides a larger, more in-depth discussion forum area where users can talk about other topics such as hot bands, upcoming art shows, pertinent legal issues within the poster making community, and design technique. An


interesting category entitled anything goes contains over 900,000 posts!6 Recently, Gigposters has introduced a premium members section in which member who pay a fee of $10 per year can get access to expanded features on the site such as chat rooms, web cams, discounts on thirdparty products, job postings and an online arcade.7 Gigposters audience includes designers, bands, and the general public of art-lovers and music-lovers. Clay speculates that Gigposters user base is comprised of 50% designers, 25% bands, and 25% general public. Immediately, the demographic of Gigposters members can tell us much about its social system. We see that Gigposters relies heavily upon members of a social system entrenched in art and design. This information helps us better analyze the embedded values and priorities of the members of the social system Throughout this paper, I will draw upon an interview conducted with Clay Hays, as well as other information written by Clay that is displayed on the Gigposters website. I will also use background information from conversations with friends who are poster makers. Gigposters is a fascinating collection of concert posters that lives within an intertwined cycle of creation and member interaction. At the onset, we will note that various forms of technology have come to inform all aspects of our inquiry. We will keep these ideas in mind when analyzing the Gigposters collection and the social system it affects and is affected by. First, we will look at how analog-to-digital transformation adds value by increasing access to once-disparate collections. Second, well look into the phenomenon by which transformation builds markets and

Vollmer, helps financially support creative communities. Third, we will try to understand how poster collections aid in social memory. Next, well analyze how Gigposters utilizes both centralized


and decentralized controls to maintain its collection. Well also look into the how collections that promote efficient communication methods enrich a users experience. Finally, well examine the process by which communication allows users to uphold ideals of creative freedom, question institutional policies, and resolve disputes when they arise. Transformation adds value through aggregation Thomassen writes, to maintain a quality archive, we must maintain the relationship between content data on the one hand and the form, structure and context of creation of these data on the other.8 The transformation and uploading of digitized posters creates value through aggregation, creates new markets for poster sales, and allows users to exchange design ideas online. History, context of creation and the original provenance are important factors to keep in mind when analyzing the transformation of collections from the physical to the digital. Gigposters combines previously disparate collections of posters into a massive archive and helps bridge the gap of space and time. A supercollection is created where there was not one before! The original purpose of a concert poster was to advertise a local music concert, to draw persons who were knowledgeable of the surrounding neighborhood or city to a venue to see live music. As a result, no large geographic collections materialized, and for good reasona person is more likely to attend local shows than those spread across the country and across the world, so it makes sense that someone might collect posters from local shows. These posters are more readily available and often free if taken from a kiosk or wall of a venue. Similarly, personal physical poster collections most likely span only a limited amount of time. The Gigposters collection draws posters from vastly different musical erasit contains a poster from a Beatles

Vollmer, show in Liverpool in 1963 as well as a poster from a TV on the Radio show in Detroit only a


weeks ago. Gigposters allows members to sift through thousands of posters showcasing concerts spread throughout hundreds of cities and over decades of time. Clay writes, the Internet has allowed me to create a place where anyone can view gig posters from around the world. Its the only way.9 Clay even admits that the size standards (600 by 800) are set solely because it represents the size best displayed on web browsers.10 Moving collections online seems to encounter an obvious tradeoffwe lose quality but gain viewing portability and easier access. This distinction misses the point of Gigposters, at least for now. We see that the aim of Gigposters is not to provide a replacement for the original work. Instead, it aims at opening historically distant communities to a wealth of creativity and intimate knowledge of art, bands, and design that was nearly impossible to access before. The history and provenance of poster making is steeped in a tradition of the physicalheavy paper and quality ink. Gigposters does not try to solve the problem of the physicalthe reproduction of a poster on my 12 iBook screen does not do justice to an 18X24 four-color silkscreen Modest Mouse concert poster. So, while the collection provides a gigantic wealth of beautiful posters that are easy to access, we are constantly reminded of the original context of the posters creation. Transformation creates new markets Its interesting to see how Giposters facilitates a market for the purchasing of posters. This market was not present before, save for a few poster makers who were actually able to attend the shows for which the posters were created. This is an arduous process in itself, usually requiring permission from the band, venue, and promoter in order to sell the posters. Gigposters represents the springboard from which collecting and buying can bloom. It creates markets that



were not present before. Clay writes, I don't think posters were sold near[ly] as much before the site came around. I think [Gigposters] has opened up the art form, collectiblity, and has resulted in more people selling posters in many different ways.11 The posters, once a functional artifact, help fuel an economic market rooted in nostalgia. The Internet, and Gigposters in particular, has brought existing collectors together and created new collectors, who have been exposed to vast knowledge of new posters (and their corresponding designer websites, who often sell them) through the Gigposters site. Most people go and buy posters after viewing them on Gigposters, claims Clay.12 Transformation aids social memory Radley discusses the collecting, sorting, and presentation of objects that social systems deem worthwhile for remembering: The status of objects as things for remembering is a matter of social definition, framing some artifacts (through displacement) as mementos, some as of historic interest and others so that they remain merely functional. This marking of objects as being worthy of attention for remembering can be illustrated by the discovery of an old heirloom in the attic which is brought into the living room There is here a definite invitation to attend to these objects in a special way, to allow [emphasis his] the interests and attitudes which they evoke to be revived through the elaboration of meanings made possible by talking with others about them.13 Gigposters is an historical archive, says Clay.14 The aggregation of posters on the site helps us remember, in a very literal way, a musical history of our time. We realize that the representation of music and design history on Gigposters is never all-inclusive, but still remains useful in our analysis.

Vollmer, While individual posters are beautiful and provide useful information and entertainment in a standalone context, Gigposters begs for user participation to share experiences, rebuild histories, and further social memory. Through discussion on the forums and poster comments pages, Gigposters can help us remember these narratives. Members can provide comments that


can provide the necessary background, nostalgic ruminations and stories that can help describe a music scene at a particular timein a sense, a journalistic snapshot of a social scene at its height. Imagine what it would it be like to hear a personal account describing of one of Nirvanas first shows in the Pacific Northwest in 1987. Concert posters have the ability to trigger this kind of emotion and urges members to discuss and share stories. This sharing of history with such a large and diverse audience would have been impossible before. Considering the more technical realm of design, the aggregation of poster collections on Gigposters helps members document and track various movements in art and design. Gigposters design forums can help open containers of specialized knowledge wrapped up within the poster design community. Designers are able to receive feedback on their work from members the might not have interacted with before. Artists and musicians are able to study and discuss trends in art, design, and interact with the creators of the art. The use of the Gigposters collection as a tool for sustaining musical histories and documenting design trends represents a very pure way of utilizing artifacts to sustain memory over time. Infinite value is added when these communities interact. Coordination and Control Beniger shows us that control arises in the intersection of information processing and reciprocal communication: Two-way interaction between controller and controlled must also occur, not only to communicate influence from the former to the latter, but also to communicate

Vollmer, back the results of this action.15 This feedback is necessary in order to maintain and further control in a meaningful way. Gigposters represents an interesting interplay of control and feedback that is distributed between the webmaster (Clay) and Gigposters members. Since Clay is the one person who approves posters to be uploaded to the Gigposters site, it appears that the control mechanism is


fairly straightforward. Clay manually looks at each poster submission sent to the website to make sure that it contains the proper technical attributes (live show, name of band, file type and size).16 Since Clay is the only person involved in approving posters, we wonder what would happen to the collection if he were unable to continue. In addition to following technical standards, Clay asks that members refrain from submitting duplicate posters, and also urges uploaders to read the Terms of Use page in order to make sure the proposed poster follows the Permitted Uses and does not contain prohibited content.17 Clay respects artistic freedom and does not discriminate posters based on qualityif it's up on the street to advertise a music show, it deserves to be on the Gigposters site.18 At the same time, Clay admits that he has to moderate the forum sections all the time in order to rid it of spam, advertising and inappropriate entries.19 Collectors as well as designers may upload posters to the site. Deregulation allows for more posters to be uploaded and shared, as is the case when collectors add old posters from which we no longer know the creator. Increased exposure may allow the posters creator to eventually be identified. While Clay plays an important role as gatekeeper to Gigposters, we also recognize that members play an integral part in managing the sites collection. Members add a layer of control to this seemingly simplistic hierarchy by representing the eyes of Gigposters. Clay says, I

Vollmer, manually approve every poster. If I screw up ... people let me know.20 Modeling this under the open-source model of many eyeballs, users provide a layer of control to Gigposters in identifying technical problems (corrupted poster display) as well as flagging duplicates, copyright issues, or inappropriate content. This is similar to the flag this video button present in sites like YouTube, except that on the Gigposters site, users must email Clay directly with issues or complaints. This avenue for feedback and user control provides an extremely useful tool for control of the collection. Members function as the neighborhood watch of the Gigposters community. Sensemaking


The Gigposters collection opens up access to a gigantic virtual poster collection and gives members the opportunity for interaction and communication. Users must engage in sensemaking when they spot something out of the ordinary. In 2003, a Gigposters member and designer named Delicious posted a silk-screened poster for a Gossip concert in Chicago. The poster depicted a cartoonish, stereotypical mammy character, an Aunt Jemima figure. The poster fit the submission guidelines and therefore went up on the Gigposters site. Immediately, the poster started generating member comments such as I imagine this will get some attention and Id like to know the motivation behind this one.21 Many thought that the poster was racist (the band actually refused to play the show until the posters were removed from the club). Others thought the poster was a brave statement of artistic freedom. Still others chose to only critique the posters design elements. Everyone seemed to have something to say about the Gossip posterto date 245 comments have been left on the page.

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Clay remembered the issue when put to him, and stated that the poster is still on the site and has not been removed at any time. The ubiquity of Gigposters within the poster making community reduces the fallacy of centrality described by Weickthe idea that if a person doesnt know about a situation, then it must not be happening.22 Everyone knew about the controversial Gossip poster because it was so easily accessible online, whereas before, probably only a few kids in Chicago would have actually seen the poster in the first place. Gigposters has made information retrieval so efficient that we are unable to ignore it when outliers appear on our radar screen. At the same time, we should realize that this increased access to information should come coupled with an increased responsibility for analysis, public discussion, and sensemaking.

Vollmer, 11 Weick says, sensemaking is understood as a process that is grounded in identity construction, retrospective, enactive of sensible environments, social, ongoing, focused on and by extracted cues, and driven by plausibility rather than accuracy.23 The conflict and cognitive dissonance brought about by the Gossip poster incident shows how Gigposters members attempt to true their ideals of artistic freedom with personal and community integrity: Members aim for sensemaking by maintaining standards supported by a common identity. Members look at other posters to see whether a similar issue has arisen before. Members build and sustain the collection in a continual cycle of social interaction. Members utilize design cues and text to praise or critique others work. Members search for an eventual answer. The really interesting part of sensemaking concerning the Gossip poster occurs at the intersection of creative freedom, published regulations (terms of use agreement), and members values and ethics. Designers wish to protect artistic freedom while the site tries to maintain standards that attempt to prohibit content that is patently offensive to the online community promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual24 At the same time, the member community does not wish to be considered racist if they allow controversial content like the Gossip poster to remain in Gigposters collection. Clay says that the terms of agreement came from a generic form that is typical of many websites like Gigposters, and that the terms of use provisions have not changed since the site was created.25 Clay also proudly states that he does not delete any posters based on the content thereinhe claims that artists are provided with 100% creative freedom. Clay is very flexible concerning poster submissionsall are considered art.26 Taking into consideration the outcry from many members, who denounced the seemingly racist depiction on the Gossip poster, its interesting to see how sensemaking is achieved through communication.

Vollmer, 12 Members build and maintain identity on Gigpostersthey realize that the environment they occupy on Gigposters is one that comes preloaded with a culture that adheres to certain principles and defends some viewpoints more strongly than others. We also realize that sensemaking is a social and ongoing process that reflects the time and culturewhile we might tolerate pornographic images (itself a violation of the sites terms of use); we feel more internal and community conflict when affronted with racist imagery. By raising our concerns with others within the community, we can help resolve this conflict. Weick says, [the] social context is crucial for sensemaking because it binds people to actions that they then must justify.27 Delicious initially refused to comment on his poster, but after members posted increasingly critical comments about his irresponsibility, he eventually began to explain his motivations and ideas for using this particular imagery. The users of Gigposters were creating sense by urging the author to speak. This process of accountability in being able to justify choice and action is an important process of understanding for the health of the social system and the robustness of the collection. We see that it is equally important for us to keep records of these discussions and issues, which allows us to revisit them later and provides a tangible example for later sensemaking. We constantly revisit, reexamine, and rewrite our history and story as new people discover the poster. While the deluge of comments on the Gossip poster came within about the first two months, the most recent was posted just this year. Onward We have seen that the transformation of collections from the analog to the digital opens doors to access once constrained by geography and time. Weve also discovered that the aggregation of collections can result in the creation of novel markets. Furthermore, consolidation of disparate collections into a central site shares histories and sustains memory of design

Vollmer, 13 processes. Weve realized that virtual collections require resources and control techniques that can be both individual and social. Finally, weve learned that we through regular communication, we can make sense online. Over all of this, we have remained cognizant of the technological innovation that affects each aspect of this collection and its corresponding social system. Brown and Duguid write, by engaging the social context in which technologies are embedded, better designs and uses will emerge.28 Technological innovations are happening faster and more easily than ever before. While technology can provide answers to many problems, we need to be able to step back and analyze these progressions with an ever-vigilant eye. We are challenged to look around29to remain open-minded in our thinking about these dynamic concepts as we encounter new technological and social environments.

1 2

504 lecture, week 2 Clay Hays, Submit a Poster., 2006. December 5, 2006. 3 Clay Hays, Home Page., 2006. December 5, 2006. 4 E-mail communication with Clay Hays. November 18, 2006. 5 Clay Hays, Forums., 2006. December 5, 2006. 6 Clay Hays, Forums., 2006. December 5, 2006. 7 Clay Hays, Premium Members., 2006. December 5, 2006. 8 Theo Thomassen, Archival Science 1, no. 4 p. 383 9 E-mail communication with Clay Hays. November 18, 2006. 10 ibid. 11 ibid. 12 ibid. 13 Alan Radley, Collective Remembering (Inquiries in Social Construction), p. 56 14 E-mail communication with Clay Hays. November 18, 2006. 15 James Beniger, The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society, p. 8

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Clay Hays, Submit a Poster., 2006. December 5, 2006. 17 Clay Hays, Terms of Use., 2006. December 5, 2006. 18 E-mail communication with Clay Hays. November 18, 2006. 19 ibid. 20 ibid. 21 The Gossip poster comments., 2006. December 5, 2006. 22 Karl Weick, Sensemaking in Organizations, p. 2 23 Weick, at 17. 24 Clay Hays, Terms of Use., 2006. December 5, 2006. 25 E-mail communication with Clay Hays. November 18, 2006. 26 ibid. 27 Weick, at 53. 28 John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information, p. x. 29 Brown and Duguid, at xxiv.

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Works Cited Beniger, James. The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), Introduction, pp. 1-27. Email communication between Clay Hays and Timothy Vollmer, November 18, 2006. Hays, Clay. Forums. December 3, 2006. Hays, Clay. Home Page. December 3, 2006. Hays, Clay. Premium Members. December 3, 2006. Hays, Clay. Submit a Poster. December 3, 2006. Hays, Clay. Terms of Use. December 3, 2006. Radley, Alan. Artefacts, Memory and a Sense of the Past, Collective Remembering (Inquires in Social Construction), David Middleton and Derek Edwards, eds. (London: Sage, 1990), pp. 46-59. Seely Brown, John and Paul Duguid. Introduction, The Social Life of Information (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2000): ix xxv. Thomassen, Theo. A First Introduction to Archival Science, Archival Science 1, no. 4 (2001): 373-385. Weick, Karl. Sensemaking in Organizations (Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage Publications, 1995), Chapter 1, Nature of Sense-Making, and 2, Seven Properties of Sense-Making, pp. 1-62.