The Politics of Platforms: Video Wiki, Viki

Viki, a play on word between “video” and “wiki” is a premium video streaming service and the first and fastest platform for real-time crowdsourced subtitling of various global TV and independently produced video content. Viki is the fastest subtitling community. The regular turn around time of a Korean drama on Hulu in 2011 is usually around two to three months since airing in Korea. For K-dramas, Viki usually uploads within an hour of airing in Korea, then segmented and translated by volunteers in just few more hours. Once published in English, translators can work to produce subtitles in other languages. This organic community that leverages power from the collective can produce translations in twenty languages overnight.It gains its revenue from advertisers and a subscription model, but qualified volunteers that contribute to subtitles and segmenting of videos have no restrictions. Most noticeably, it is popular for featuring Korean content (known by those who consume Korean, Chinese, and Japanese content) riding what the scholars have called the “Korean Wave”, indicating the increase in the transnational presence of Korean culture through the exports of South Korean Drama and pop culture in accordance with the change in South Korean’s cultural policy. While predominately featuring dramas from Korea, the community is expansive, and has users and content not limited to South Asia, but also North America, Europe, Middle East, South America. Predominately, content ranges from telenovelas and dramas from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Europe, and America. Currently, I counted content to include from 71 different countries, though the platform still privileges Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese content. I have been part of this network since it’s first inception in 2010, to when it joined Japanese media giant Rakuten in 2013, to now. In this time frame I conducted a month long virtual ethnography in April of 2016, and a mini discourse analysis recently for this project focusing on a Korean drama (It’s Okay, That’s Love), paying attention to how Viki as a platform has changed in its affordances and circumventions and thus in identity, experience, and power formation. To this end, I will be mostly using the theoretical framework of Gillespie “The politics of platforms” and Castell’s Network logic

My decision to represent this network in this visual format is quite literally to signify Viki’s strategic positioning as a global platform, conceptually underlining the computational, architectural, political, and figurative categories outlined by Gillespie. Viki as a computational platform suggests something to be build on and to innovate. Viki sticks to the computational definition in their software development pages, the Viki Platform API to increase viewer engagement.It also discursively lends it self as a political platform as a place to speak and be heard. It encourages users to review, comment, share, and participate. We are “passionate and avid fans”. Viki incites a figurative platform using language such as “opportunity is bigger” “endless opportunity”, and this is geared towards the fans to “break the boundary between culture and language in face of great entertainment everywhere” – implying it is for the sake of providing accessibility to everyone by everyone, it’s also geared towards advertisers to reach viki’s 1 billion audience, and its 40 million unique monthly viewers.Architecturally, Viki presents itself as an open egalitarian facilitator, emphasizing fan creation and its protection under Creative Commons licensing. Overall, Viki presents itself as a raised level of access for everyone. It suggests a progressive and egalitarian arrangement, promising to support those who are passionate about erasing cultural and language barriers.

In the job section, it states “our platform is breaking language and culture boundaries”. It takes a neutral facilitator role by always positioning the fans first, framing it in such a way that advertiser and partners disappear in to the background and a ryhomizic fan base takes the foreground. Ultimately, it plays on the ideology of the democratic potentials of the internet, ethos of a participatory web, and enthusiasm for UGC in the era of Web 2.0. The utopian democratic potential of the Internet where global plurality can express and manifest itself is echoed by Viki’s core foundation in their slogan “to remove the language and cultural barriers that stand between great entertainment and fans everywhere”

  • It does this by evoking the image the global by using language such as
    • Global audience
    • Fans everywhere
    • TV worldwide
    • Fans across the globe
    • Millions of fans worldwide
    • Global community

I mapped out places of key stakeholders: (my location, viki’s offices) and the content partner residing in Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, Venezula (but headquarters in Miami), New York, and Washington. These media distribution companies are highly centralized, fragments of a bigger umbrella/media giants (with some exceptions of indie producers). In other words, the global incited by Viki is not so global in content. While there is content from 71 countries, access is contoured by this globalized, economic network. There are also technical changes in the platform which use to give visibility to more countries but after partnership with Chinese media distributors, that changed. There is a direct correlation between popular dramas and Viki’s acquisition of content partners, thus affording users and me, a tailored experience formed not by fan’s organic /organization popularity as Viki would like to suggest, but by API codes, and economic partnerships.

By focusing only on the show (It’s Okay, That’s Love aired in 2014), I further mapped out some legal constraints in where the show is licensed. It is licensed in the Americas, most of Europe, except for Germany, France, and the UK (where only the first 4 eps are free). In a network society, Castell states that the space of flows can organize social practices without geographical and territorial dimensions but it seems that these flows are not recipicoal and are restricted by legal-territorial dimensions. By mapping this globe, it is obvious to see that Viki’s global is not for everyone, and that access is also restricted and enjoyed by select populations, esp by disoporic communuinites

Language:

Nevertheless, UGC in crowdsourced subtitling is still Viki’s selling point and fans assumes the rhetoric of a global community. Ironically, they also engaged in typographical imperialism. English is used as a form of privilege, knowing that English comments will gain more visibility that warrants responses. Comments posted in other languages often have less interactivity. Pinku_Pinku is a Spanish speaker, but always posts in English in order to participate in the public sphere. Furthermore, some users feel the need to remind others that not everyone who watches K-dramas is from America and the love of K-drama is prevailing in other countries too. Practices of the web are normalizing the American user and this privileged position is built in the structures of the Internet.

It’s okay that’s love has 46 language projects, only 30 is translated; Yet, most unique/engaged participation comes from Spanish speakers – the Spanish community is growing. Interest also comes from north India, Philippians, etc. but these shows are not licensed in those countries which is another example of these unequal flows, and the positioning of disporaic communities at an advantage to experience subtitles in preferred language, while other people can’t.

Relation of production

In mapping out the interplay of labour, production, consumption, and capita is where the most interesting analysis of the network takes place. Castell’s network society is an informational, global and economic network and Viki is foremost a product of this post-modern formula. Foremost, the volunteers engage in information and knowledge production in crowdsourcing subtitles which requires channel manager, segmenters, subtitlers, and language moderators, a total of 88 users. Users (like me) also engages in affective immaterial labour production by producing social relations and feelings of connection and community, of satisfaction and excitement in our hypertexts, comments, and participation. We are all networked globally, working in different flows of time and space. Work is based on connectivity and segmentation. Labour is organized by channel projects which one is free to join and create, and the backend segmenting and crowdsourcing happens in real time. Users all work on the same platform but creatively in public spaces, users who are speak multiple languages is strategic in which one to use in order to carve out smaller more semi-private spaces to work when there are transitions between two group of subtitlers.

Volunteers are the holders of their own capita and engages in self-programmable labour with their own social capital in language skill, technical skill, and time availability. Volunteers production of value then determines their bargaining position (of becoming different leveled QCs –qualified contributors so that they can have free access to the show without restrictions, gain social capita within the community, and set the the rules to how shows we experience the shows) Crowdsourced subtitles on Viki are unique in its accuracy, but more significantly in its ability to convey the nuances of language due to the constant communication through the affordances of the subtitling software. Fans collaborate to conveys a deeper understanding by giving short explanations and general contextualization especially when it comes to colloquial terms or idioms. When dealing with medical or legal terminologies, volunteers even recruit professionals in the field to help give accurate translations.

The exploitive nature of immaterial labor as warned by Tizianna Terranova saw the possibility of corporation to capitalize on the autonomous organization of labor and Viki does so in the subtlest and invisible ways. Close examination of the “Terms of Use” shows that Viki Inc is not under the same Creative Commons licensing as the volunteers and users. Viki have full ownership liberties including the power to sell, which is why (the 2nd platform) it is able to form distribution partners- the function and descriptions of distributions partners are VAGUE. The economic profits are VAGUE, but the press releases suggest aa profitable sum in selling (this time not only users as markets) but the already fan subtitled video content to distributors. Users use to share around ways to circumvent ads, but recent updates render most AD blockers useless, thus showing an increase in Ads completion rate of 90% and subscription increase.

Watching content on Viki is a unique identity and experience crossing, afforded by this who network that supports it.

Identity:

There is an interpellation, a hailing, that the “you” is a default female millennial through the digital artefacts and hypertext. Though Facebook sign-ins were introduced in 2013, users prefer to use separate individual accounts as a form of impression management. The online profiles of fans usually have a display picture of feminizing cute objectsK-pop stars, or actors and feminizing pseudonyms that are identity performances, creating an assumed virtual default of a female millennial. – 63% are female millennial. Baym in her study shows the affective labor in producing non-verbal cues, sharing emotions, and offering support are ways female users perform their gender. Similarly, Viki offers emotional support especially during dramatic scenes where many admits to crying, making it an environment open to sharing feelings. Some fans also disclose personal fantasies and hope for reinforcements from people feeling the same way. These impression managements are normalizing, and the biopolitical power produced through social relations creates emotionally supportive members that actively reinforces the default female millennial – as an essentialized category.

Social capital of a Korean Identity:

Impression management can also create social capital in the adoption of Korean words in comments. Those who are familiar with Korean know that words with kinship designations have cultural implications. The rule of the community is to leave these designations in Korean:

  • Ahjumma (Ajumma), Ahjussi (Ajusshi), Agasshi (Agassi), Noona, Oppa, Hyung, Sunbae, Hoobae, Unni (Eonni) may be used instead of lady (aunt), mister (uncle), young lady, sister, brother, brother, senior, junior, sister. You may also write Aigoo or Omo as appropriate or Jeez, Gosh, Oh my, etc

The interesting phenomenon is when commenters would refer to older actors as Ahjussi and their favorite male characters as Oppa. Similarly, there are frequent uses of Omo, Aigoo, and Daebak (wow or awesome) in the same colloquial way of oral practices. These communication genres are effective in producing a “racial crossing” experience (Gosine 145). Using these words produce affinity and narratives that reveal the user’s desires and fantasies for the Korean identity. By using Oppa for Korean idols, in ways the female protagonists use it for their love interest, reinforces the heteronormative representations and narratives of romantic relationships in K-dramas. Using these terms, we situate ourselves in these pseudo-narratives. Users often express desires to be Korean and envy others who are, producing satisfaction and desire for a racial crossing into the Korean identity.

Experience

There is an unique viewing experience in Viki’s real time comment function which is embedded in the video upper level that allows for comment of 120 characters. As a form of asynchronous communication, the comments cannot be edited or deleted, creating a continuous accumulation of affective value for new and returning users, making re-watching K-dramas over again very entertaining. As a form of synchronous communication, it is immediate and personal through the interactions with others by sharing responses to certain scenes, providing intertextual references to other materials, giving background information on actorsanswering questions and asking questions. Social interactivity brings out a new layer of meaning integral to the experience for the diaspora and global communities. Using colloquial and informal speech, often filled with typos, acronyms, slangs, short-forms, hashtags, and popular lingo, INTERTEXTUALITY produce feelings of relevance, affinity, and connection and adds a layer of wit, humor, and satire, making these stereotypical tropes of Korean rom-com more digestible, making visible its stereotypes as a form of suberversion. In fact, the timed comments fundamentally transform the genre of all series. The level of humor added through the comments can diffuse even the scariest and saddest moments. The mix modality of oral and written practices in the comments, the visual and sound in the video, and the written subtitles at the bottom creates a unique form of language that users are fluent in.

 

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