Tux the Penguin reading books

FOSS Academic

(I'm) Mashing That Subscribe Button

One major goal for my Goal 2 book project is to learn from people who create things on the fediverse. They might create code and cultures by developing and running instances. Or, they might be using the fediverse to promote their photography, music, or ideas.

As an endowed research chair, I have the privilege of generous research funding. For the purposes of my book project, research includes talking to people, running my own digital infrastructure (e.g., the incredible Nextcloud), and, of course, studying texts.

The meaning of “texts” is quite open-ended. Obviously, I’m reading books and journal articles. But so, so much knowledge is being created on the Fediverse itself – including knowledge offered only to subscribers. There are artists, musicians, and writers using Patreon (or, maybe better, Liberapay) to share their work with subscribers.

Do the math, Robert.

Mash that subscribe button.

Subscribing as Research

subscribe button
Mash it

Much as I would subscribe to an important journal (say, New Media & Society) to stay up on the field, I’m increasingly finding I need to subscribe to Fediverse-based artists, writers, and musicians. So, I’m going to spend a part of my research budget buying these research materials.

This raises some important questions, though:

  • What do I do with the materials I purchase? The obvious answer is that I archive it. But since I’m buying these items with public money, should they be made public? I think the answer here is “no,” because the authors intend that these items be for subscribers only. The exception might be if the creator specifically and explicitly consents to have the item shared. In that case, I think my next step is to talk to a library to see if they want to archive the item for future researchers.
  • So, how might I cite these items? The answer here is similar: I cannot, unless the creator explicitly says I can. (I’ll write more about this in a later post).
  • I’m interviewing people as part of this project. How does subscribing affect my research prior to interviews? Answer: I cannot really interview a creator without seeing their work, no? So, for example, if I want to interview an author of a book, I really ought to read that book, whether from a library or if I buy my own copy. The same is true of a Fediverse artist: I need to see their work to ask intelligent questions.
  • So, are the people you subscribe to obliged to talk to you? This is the biggest ethical question I’m dealing with. My plan is to make it crystal clear that my subscribing to an artist does not oblige them to talk to me, and that if I reach out with an interview request, their response (including “oh, hell no!”) will not result in my stopping my subscription. I’m committing keeping my subscriptions going for at least a year, regardless of response to interview requests. (This would only change if my funding changes).

At the very least, then, subscribing as part of the research process would give me more insights into the creative works of Fediverse artists while supporting their work. I also do hope that subscribing can lead to meeting artists and creators who do want to talk to me about their experience with the Fediverse.

I’m very open to comments and critiques of this – if you’ve got comments, find me on Mastodon (or comment below with your Fedi account, so long as your comment is set to Public).

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