Friday, June 19, 2009

Global-Flat, Technology & Flatland...

The next instalment from Ali Finlay....

Dear Flatland Australia Blog reader,

It’s a little slack I know but below is an essay I wrote for school well over a year ago. It was for a class called New Communication Technology and is about technological convergence. Basically I was lazy used the global-flat website as the basis for my analysis. It was pretty much the first thing I wrote for school after returning to formal education for the first time in ten years. I got 78 for the essay and the version below is almost identical.

This essay is relevant for three reasons; one it’s about global-flat, two it started a long tradition of me using flatland as a basis for essays and three, it was just after I wrote it that I worked out that my school marks way too soft.


Martin Hirst and John Harrison in their text Communication and New Media: From Broadcast to Narrowcast describe convergence ‘In the context of communications technologies’ as a process of ‘the coming together of telecommunications, computing and broadcasting into one electronic system’ (2006 p.65). They also argue that ‘technological convergence is itself the end product of important social and economic forces, in particular the process of commercial convergence. (2006 p.69). (Schulz, 2008), a website dedicated to the sub-culture of Freestyle BMX Flatland, shows examples of Hirst & Harrison’s definitions of convergence. Old forms of broadcast media like print, still images and video are available in electronic format. The front page of the site displays recent news and updates in a text box and can contain a link to another site, video or photo. The news updates have an archive going back to 2004 and are available by RSS or Really Simple Syndication feed. The site also makes its text based news available in different languages, however because the news has to be translated by volunteers the service can experience delays.

There are clearly defined links above the main content panel at the top of the site that link users to the Video, Photo, Events and About sections. The Video section contains a convergence of this old technology with the new technology of online and on-demand streaming and downloading. Users have access to a large library of videos at no cost. These videos are produced by the site’s production team and users. The videos are delivered by the older direct download process and the newer web based streaming. This reflects changes in the way users access videos on the internet. We again see the convergence of old and new technologies in the photo section. Here still images are presented in albums arranged by subject. Users are able to view the images on-demand, as well as give a rating and make comments on each individual photo. This is an interactive element to

One example of economic convergence is the sites ability to market itself to companies within the community. The site carries click-through advertisements for products and services relating to Flatland. connects consumers to companies with relevant, desirable products. Companies and users utilize the reach has to market and develop interest around products and brands. The site content brings companies and users together via its news, videos, photos and forum posts, these can often contain an element of brand placement or endorsement.

Interactive is defined in the Concise Australian Oxford Dictionary (1997) as “1 Reciprocally active; acting upon or influencing each other” and “2 (of a computer or other electronic device) allowing two-way flow of information between it and a user, responding to the user’s input.” Interactivity is the act of being interactive. has interactive elements which are also linked from the top menu of the main page. The sites interactivity can be broken into three groups; online, offline and combination. The online group includes things such as the forum where users interact with each other, generally sharing information, discussing issues of importance to the community as well as non-Flatland related topics in a web based environment. This takes place on a PHP or PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor forum, which allows for the direct linking and display of images and videos. The PHP forum displays elements of technological convergence combined with a high level of interactivity and interpersonal connectivity. The parts section of the site contains an element where users can construct a virtual bike using real world parts. The end goal is to produce an image that gives users the ability to view possible combinations and see approximate weights and then apply that information in the real world to setup and purchase choices.

The offline interactive sections include a Tricks page which is a detailed how-to listing videos and text that give people instruction on how to complete certain Flatland tricks. The use of this online information takes place in the real world. In the past limited portability options have meant this information could not be taken on location, recent developments in wireless broadband internet technology now enable such information to be accessed at a spot and applied rapidly.

An example of combination interactivity is where volunteers provide an updated list of parts and their relevant aspects. Users are then invited to give each part a rating. A problem with this interactive element is that users have a tendency to give ratings on parts they have only experienced through the internet. A direct example of this is when over 1300 users rated a product that was still in development phase and being used by less than three riders in the world. A possible issue with the part rating system could be that it gives the wrong impression to users who might access the information with an aim to making decisions about product purchases.

Ultimately, is not the first Flatland website to use media like videos and digital images in combination with things like forums and live chats and it will not be the last. The relative success of within the Flatland community can be attributed to its model of narrowcast and diversified convergent technology. It seems to be the quality and quantity of its content and a high level of interactivity and connectivity that brings together a small community. However as the site continues to develop content and interactivity, it may have to face issues of accountability and advertising declaration.


The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1997) Moore, Bruce (ed)
, Martin and Harrison, John (2006) Communication and New Media: From Broadcast to Narrowcast.
Schulz, Martin

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