The end of one road

For better or worse, my Honours thesis has been handed in.

I collected my certificate of Graduation for Bachelor of Arts (Internet Communications) from the Curtin University graduations office this afternoon.

BA (Internet Communications)

Not bad going for someone who signed up for her first university unit “just to see what it’s like” just over 3 years ago.

Not bad going for someone who thought she’d try this uni thing to see if she had what it took to get a magical piece of paper.

Not bad going for someone who didn’t finish Year 12 either of the times she started it.


24 undergraduate units.

2 Honours units and one dissertation.

58 spiral bound pages.


And, I hope, one walk across a stage in February, a smile, a handshake, and a magical piece of paper with the word “Honours” on it.

What I learned by gatecrashing another workplace

Let me start by saying that the title of this piece is a little misguiding.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

It wasn’t a real gatecrash in the true sense of the term.
More like an invitation extended on which I acted.
Alright, I was an invited guest.
But it made a really good title.

I recently returned from a trip to Melbourne, during which I covered the swarm conference (it’s my annual national-scale giving back to the community project) through live tweets and blog posts of the two days it ran. It is always an eye-opener and an educational experience, sharing the room with so many amazing minds in the community and social media management arena. If you missed my work, or if you want to learn more about the only annual Australian conference for Online Community and Social Media Managers, you can check them out here.

I also took some time off to just enjoy the sight and sounds of Melbourne. I had the chance to catch up and hang out with my very good friend, Venessa Paech. If you don’t know this amazing lady, then you’re missing out. She is a wealth of knowledge concerning community management and a constant source of awesomeness.

Venessa is Senior Manager for Community & Content Strategy with REA Group, and I was invited to pop into the office to catch up with her and the crew after swarm. What I learn was very valuable indeed.

Lessons I learned at REA Group.

1) Work hard, but make time for play.
While many workplaces pay lip service to facilitating the work/life balance of their employees, few really offer ways in which to truly help. Even fewer employees seem willing to accept such offers. Whether it’s not wanting to appear unable to cope, or if it’s a lack of willingness to let their guard down, employees are not striking a true balance in their life and employment. REA Group has made some great moves to endorsing and encouraging fun in the workplace, with an emphasis on helping their employees strike their own sense of balance. Whether it’s taking time out to sit on the couches in breakout areas and play Guitar Hero, or if it’s grabbing the Oculus Rift gear to thwart zombies, these guys have really taken the “Balance in all things” phrase to heart. They even hold classes in the office for Zumba and subsidise gym memberships, showing that healthy choices are all part of striking the balance employees need and want in their lives.

2) “Hot-desk” isn’t a dirty word.
Sure, there are some roles in which you simply can’t have a different desk every day. sometimes, you really do need your own place and for that place to be always yours. When possible, and properly implemented, hot-desking can prove to facilitate employee productivity. It can stop the silo-ing effect of nesting, and helps teams to find a place that works for them and their particular efforts. It also means that if that person who insists on clicking their pen ad nauseum (or any other really annoying habit that you simply can’t stand) isn’t so offended when you simply up and shift to a new position.

3) Employee health IS an employer’s concern.
We often forget that, unless properly managed, one of the cons to increased work hours is a decline in employee health. With office hours on a general increasing trend, it falls to the individual AND their employer to ensure that health, physical and mental, is protected. Walking meetings, standing desks, opportunities to move around, offering exercise incentives, allowing regular breaks, ensuring good office ergonomics and allowing flexibility in work conditions are all ways in which employers can genuinely assist their employees in finding their own ways to ensure good health.

4) Your workplace is a community.
We spend so much of our time at work, but often forget that the people we work with are people too – people with feelings and families and a set of ethics and values. For that reason, your workplace is a community of people, each bringing valuable societal information to share. The moment you start looking at your colleagues in this way, work becomes less of a place to hack away at tasks, and more a place of collaboration and communal problem-solving that makes everyone feel good about the work they are doing.

5) Helping people is good.
REA Group holds regular Hackathons. These Hack Days are a chance for people to pitch ideas they want to work on, for customers, or as a way of giving back to their community outside of work. Whether it’s setting up a national volunteer database, or helping homeless people find a safe place to sleep, allowing employees to work on tasks that benefit someone outside of the workplace not only provides exposure for your company, but also shows that you recognise your place of privilege without society and are wiling to use that position for the greater good.

REA Group is a huge crew, but these lessons aren’t only for big organisations. They work and have meaning on smaller scales too.

And every work place should have zombie-smiting sessions.

Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper

I seriously love my friends. They’re a varied crew, all interested in a huge range of subjects. There is one common thread, however. They’re almost all into what is right.

I recently received this email from a friend in regards to a conversation underway about an online copyright infringement discussion paper. As it is a subject rather close to my heart, I thought I would share its contents with you. It is from the Australian Digital Alliance.

It continues to be an exciting year for copyright in Australia! Of particular note is the government’s request for feedback on its proposals on online copyright infringement which are due on 1 September 2014.

Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper

The government recently released a discussion paper aimed at reducing online copyright infringement.  The paper had three main proposals:

  • Extend authorisation liability;
  • Provide a new injunctive process to block overseas websites whose dominant purpose is to infringe copyright; and
  • Extend the safe harbours to a wider class of intermediaries (including schools and universities).

We have a quick overview of the proposals and have blogged some preliminary responses to the proposal to extend authorisation liability.  While this measure is directed ISPs, it is not restricted to ISPs, meaning that the changes will impact on other intermediaries such as schools, libraries, online platforms and universities.  In particular we are concerned that:

  • It will increase legal risk
  • It will increase legal uncertainty
  • It will encourage reliance on the safe harbours, including the requirement for an implemented policy for disconnection of repeat infringers
  • It will put Australia at odds with international norms

We have commissioned Dr Rebecca Giblin to write a paper that examining the effects on intermediaries and also do a comparative analysis of the forms of secondary liability with other core jurisdictions.

We will of course be putting in a submission, and would encourage others to do the same.  EFA has put together some consumer facing materials that may be useful and CHOICE is asking for consumer stories about access to content.  I haven’t seen anything from groups such as the Copyright Council, but if you have additional resources please feel free to bring them to our attention!

Trade Agreements
We have signed tow FTAs this year with Korea and Japan, both contain IP chapters. On copyright these continue to focus on enforcement, with limited recognition of other interests. In the reports on KAFTA they also included an opinion that the decision in the iiNet case was inconsistent with our trade agreements, and should be overturned, something that has now been suggested in the response to online copyright infringement.  We disagree with this interpretation of our international commitments, and said so in our submission.

Negotiations on the TPP continue, the next meeting will be in the first week in September in Hanoi.  The intention still seems to be concluding the agreement in  November, but this hinges a lot on whether Japan, the US and Canada can sort out the market access issues.  We continue to liaise at departmental and political level to ensure that the negotiators and decision makers are aware of the potential effects on user groups.

Other matters

We’ve also recently put in a submission to the Competition Policy Review (done a fair amount of media about the lack of movement on the IT Pricing recommendations \and supporting the work of the libraries at WIPO

Within the Attorney-General’s department a small group has been created to look at copyright reform, including online infringement and the ALRC recommendations.  We continue to work on this, and will be looking to some wider advocacy efforts toward the end of the year.

And, in some excellent news, we finally signed the Marrakesh Treaty!

If anyone is in Melbourne on Tuesday/Wednesday do consider coming to AuIGF – I’ll be speaking on panels about regulation on the internet and intermediary liability.

As always. please do keep up with our work at or follow @aus_digital on twitter.  And feel free to email questions/concerns/suggestions/queries.

So, this blogging thing.

Yes. I’ll admit it. I’ve been incredibly slack in making regular posts.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking into productivity/blogging tools, which I thought I’d share with you all.

If you’ve used any of the following, of if you have other tools to share, I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Now, in no particular order, here come the links:

Pitching itself as the world’s best grammar checker, this website contains an automated proofreader and says it can act as “your personal grammar coach.” Apparently, it can catch up to 10 times more mistakes than normal error checkers. I am yet to really put it to the test, having only used it for little pieces, but it does seem to do a good job. I think I’ll give it a go at sections of my Honours project next.

Every month you get a clean bowling-esque score card. If you write anything at all, you get 1 point. If you write 750 words or more, you get 2 points. If you write two, three or more days in a row, you get even more points. How I see it, points can motivate. It’s fun to try to stay on streaks and the points are a way to play around with that. You can also see how others are doing points-wise if you’re at all competitive that way.

Now, I haven’t used this one at all myself, but I thought it looked good, so I’m going to give it a go this coming month and I’ll get back to you with my findings.

Genius. Pure, unadulterated genius. This app has really given me a new zest for editing my work, which was something I have always loathed. If, like me, you really dislike editing or reviewing your written pieces, then this will make the chore colourful and easy! Each colour equates to a different focus of editing, meaning you can write clearly and concisely without breaking into a sweat! All of the love for this one. Give it a go and let me know if you love it too.

Have a deadline you’ve been ignoring for ages? Got an assignment you just want to forget exists? How’s that report going? Still not started? Allow me to introduce “Written? Kitten!” No spoilers for this one. You just have to go and use it. Let’s just say, I love this one even more than the HemingwayApp, despite it not necessarily being anymore productive than watching YouTube cat videos…

Got a tip or tool for staying productive in the face of ennui and eternal word counts? Share it in the comments below!


3 Years Today.

Today is my three year anniversary with my blog.

Yes, that’s right. Exactly three years ago, I started this mish-mash of collected junk I like to lovingly refer to as a “blog”.

It’s not much, but it’s mine.

And, in celebration of three (sometimes) glorious years, I would like to write a post to highlight how far I have come and the current state of thing.

Enter, the sponsored post that has been driving me nuts for the past week or so:

Curtin University Facebook post


Yes, Curtin. I AM dreaming of a better career. I have been for a number of years now. In fact, I have been working toward said “better career” for more than three years now.

But, pray tell, dear learning institution, what good is all that learning if there are no jobs?

What if the money I earn isn’t enough to live on?

Or enough to pay back the exorbitant interest on my student loan?

Or what if I become homeless because I cannot find a home to rent or purchase, even if I could afford one?

You see, Curtin (and other unis spruiking their wares at the end of the financial year after an incredibly harsh and damaging budget has been announced), there is no amount of learning that is going to matter if what we are striving for does not exist.

As much as I admire and strive for lifelong learning, there are sometimes strong currents in the murky waters of life that seem intent on pulling us down.

A Simple Comment to a Video…

or Why You Don’t Ask An Internet Communications Student For A Comment On A Video Off YouTube, Because You Might Just Get What You Asked For (but that was too long for a title on my blog, so you get the simplified version).

So, it appears I cannot retire my “political hat” any time soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a link from the Vice Chancellor of Curtin University, Professor Terry. All in all, it’s a good delivery of an update on the goings on around campus and what she is doing to keep up-to-date with the various campuses. I, however, have the following email which I am about to send to the Vice Chancellor, as per her invitation for comments.

And now for my extensively long comment. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dear Professor Terry,

Thank you so much firstly for posting your video on YouTube, and for inviting comments. It is rare to hear someone in an actual position of authority openly ask for, and encourage feedback in such an engaging medium as the Web.

I was happy to hear you speak of the restructuring of the academic teaching system within Curtin University. As a current student, completing my Honours thesis this year with a view to going forward to higher degrees by research in order to join academia and the teaching profession, it is a relief to hear that you will not be cutting numbers of teaching staff. I do, however, offer my story as a view from the other side of the fence that you may not have considered in the implementation of these changes.

I began my undergraduate degree as an Open University’s Australia student, not because I wasn’t as committed to my studies as on campus students but because, as a mature aged, single parent student without high school completion dependant on public transport who was working full time in order to make ends meet, it afforded me the best possible opportunity to fit me life and study together in the same 24 hours everyone else had.

When I made the realisation that this degree I had undertaken was giving me a more rounded sense of accomplishment and personal pride than almost anything else I had undertaken, I decided that I would be furthering my studies. The staff of the department with which I was studying afforded me every opportunity to obtain the necessary information, facilitated my education with a shared passion for the learning material and concepts of study that I thought were a myth amongst academics.

This department was that of Internet Studies, out of the school of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University – a group of academics whom I owe a great debt of gratitude and thank no end for the development of a lifelong love of learning.

This inspiration is, I’m afraid, in spite of almost being erased from the history books due to a proposed cancellation of on campus enrolments last year. This move would have seen the end of this department – the first and only dedicated Internet Studies department in Australia. The students of this department lead and won the fight to retain the opportunity to attend on campus classes, despite opposition from the chancellory of the university, through online and offline means of protest.

But my story does not stop here.

As a current Honours student in the Arts, I have seen more uncertainty regarding the offerings to students already this year than I feel is acceptable. This is absolutely through no fault of the teaching and support staff who have done the very best with what they have had available.

I am attending classes on campus, having made arrangements with my family and employer, as an off campus option has not been made available to students this year. I have been lead to understand that this is due to a revision and restructuring of the unit material and teaching method. This, in spite of having been offered as an off campus study stream in previous years.

Class timetables were finally made available to students, in order to select the  days and times of their classes, only a few days before the beginning of the semester. We then received automated confirmation that our chosen times and days would be made available, only to be told the following week that they were not, and that the classes would be combined and only available on a single day of the week. Thankfully for me, I have a moderately flexible employer who understood that these changes to my schedule were not under my control.

We were then told, just a few weeks later, that the previously possible day and time for class to be held was still available and that the consensus of the class would be the deciding factor as to whether or not the day and time of our compulsory-attendance class would be changed in the middle of the first term. While it only took a matter of an hour or so for the decision to be made by the students that keeping the current day and time would be best, the moments of panic were felt by more than just myself, I can assure you.

I was probably not the only student who felt that continuing studying would be jeopardised if the class were to change circumstances again.

I was probably not the only student who felt that their employer might not be so understanding if study circumstances were to change again.

I was probably not the only student panicking that the Honours we had invested ourselves in might be taken away from us before we had the opportunity to really get started.

What I do know for certain is, I am the only student from my department currently studying Honours with Curtin University. Why? An unofficial poll of my fellow online students puts this down to the inability of enrolling off campus.

With so many Internet Studies students currently enrolled in off campus or online only study of the Internet Communications degree, it makes no sense to not have this further education offered online if, as you say, numbers of teaching staff have not been reduced.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, especially with the fine online access to Curtin Library resources we now have available.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus with the degree of control and interaction possible through the Blackboard system, which served as my lecture, seminar and tutorial space for three years quite sufficiently.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, when the Internet Studies department of Curtin university have shown that this mode of study facilitation can create future scholars that will, one day, make Curtin University proud.

This, Professor Terry, is why I find it difficult to believe that the current restructuring at Curtin University has no negative impact on the numbers of teaching staff available to students of Curtin University. I have seen the ability of the teaching staff of Curtin University to traverse space and time to deliver a world-class degree second to none in the world. I have also seen the trials of trying to deal with university bureaucracy when staffing changes, restructuring, budget cuts, reforms and proposed denial of access take place.

Please, if you want to be sure that these staffing changes hold no negative impact for the students of Curtin University, both current and future, I suggest you ask the current students if they are seeing any ramifications from the initial changes today. You may be surprised to hear what they have to tell standing in direct opposition to what the numbers and figures suggest.

I may be just one student telling my story today, but this is not my story alone.

Many thanks for your time,

Melissa Nile.
– current Honours student of B.A. (Internet Communications)



I didn’t write all that so you could cheat and look for the Brodie’s Notes (and if you don’t know what they are, you’re too young!) version of my email. Go read it! And get off my lawn!

Why Australia opposes Fair Use.

Having just finished this article I fear, once again, for the future. Why? Because it contains a very important message that will, ultimately, get drowned out by all the other important messages we are currently facing both here and globally… but that’s a post for another time.

Fair Use for EFF.orgAustralian copyright laws always have been considered antiquated. In fact, we are not terribly forward thinking as a nation, legislatively speaking. Copyright is, however, one of those topics that very few people understand and even fewer care about, unless they stand to profit from the proceeds of it.

Every study period throughout my undergraduate degree I was approached or pointed to a discussion regarding the unsanctioned use of unattributed copyrighted material for assignment purposes.

“But if my tutor says it’s okay to use this picture in my project, then isn’t it okay?”

“What do you mean using the writing of another person is illegal unless I have a specific agreement from the copyright holder to say I can?”

These questions, and so many others like them, resulted in me banging my head against a non-existent desk or wall, as the people I was attempting to educate gleefully told me that they didn’t care, the law was stupid, and they’d go and use copyrighted material anyway because no one was going to chase them for the royalties for their use of said material.


This is why ideas like Fair Use won’t take hold here.

Fair Use is a legal idea allowing people to use copyrighted material so long as the copyright holder isn’t losing out on profits from said use. It’s that simple really. Of course, the real legal mumbo jumbo goes into exclusions and restrictions, but that’s pretty much what it amounts to.

Parliament’s a funny place. And by funny I mean disparaging to the human soul.

So, as long as the public don’t care that they’re breaking the law and could stand to lose a significant amount of money to an already filthy rich corporation (think of how many times you’ve share a meme based on someone else’s work, or a music video, or copied a line from some book onto a completely unrelated image), or face jail time and as long as politicians sit in the pockets of those corporations that believe they will miss out on all the profits if they allow people to do what they’re already “turning a blind eye” to, then legislation such as Fair Use will never take hold in Australia.


Still not sure what it’s all about? Check out the video below for more information.

Honours – The Calm Before the Storm.

Yesterday I managed to complete all my enrollment and admissions for Honours this year. It took me long enough to find out how. The instructions were like something out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Buried under seventy bajillion clicks to get to the right website, I then had to jump through hoops aplenty to make sure that my submission for enrollment went to the right place. It’s all done now, so all I have to do is wait another month, attend the compulsory Orientation meeting (an hour and a half of what I expect will be unbridled excitement and uncontainable joy whilst sitting in the uni stadium) then classes every Thursday afternoon.


Honours RollHopefully, this time next year I will be the holder of a fancy piece of paper that says I know stuff… Fingers crossed it even has the words “First Class” on it. Even if it doesn’t, I will be proud of myself. I never thought I’d get a degree, let alone graduate with Honours.


Here’s to the calm before the Honours storm.

You will never go to university.

This is an open letter to the children who will be taking over from my generation when we are done. It is more a critique of where I see our country, and perhaps the world, heading in the not-too-distant future, than any kind of real apology, but I feel that the contents need to be said before too much more time passes. I decided to write this when I realised that I was quite possibly the last person in my immediate family who would be able to attend university. The thought of rising tuition costs and other actions which have inhibited the entry to higher education for all but the affluent or extremely intelligent, was almost paralysing when I wondered what would become of my child’s employment prospects should university not be an option.

I hope the world I foresaw during the writing of this piece does not come to be. I see it as a dystopian “modge-podge” of scientific advancement beaten down by religious extremism with an unhealthy dose of ecological disaster and a sprinkling of moralistic dishonesty. We are well on the road to this scary place, but I sincerely hope that more people take a step back from their everyday actions and choose to make real and affirmative action.

LearningTo the future children of Australia,

I am writing today to let you in on a secret.

Once upon a time, in a land not very unlike your own today, many people were able to go to university. I’m serious. Most people had the opportunity to enter university, or some other higher education institution. It was an attainable goal that most had the possibility of reaching without striving too far at all. Of course, some courses cost more than others, and some courses were more difficult to be accepted into, but if you had the brain power and the desire, it was possible.

It wasn’t always glamorous. A lot of the time, you had to work as many hours as you could possibly get from your employer around your hours of study, which left precious little time for homework and assignments, let alone relaxation or general socialisation.

Sometimes, you had to go days without eating meat, or fresh vegetables. Sometimes all you could afford to eat was week old bread or two minute noodles that had an expiry date you didn’t really want to think about. You lived below the poverty line, as did all of your uni friends. You would look at your tired friends with full time jobs and envy their bank balance, their new clothes not bought from the op shop, and their ability to pay for petrol AND food in the same week. All the while, you kept your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel, and just hoped it wasn’t an oncoming train.

But you did what you could to afford all the books and stationery. You scraped and saved for your tuition fees. Sometimes, if you jumped through enough flaming hoops, you were able to get government assistance to help you through. Once upon a time, my dear children, you were even able to defer the costs of your tuition and pay the government back when you started earning above a certain amount. We truly believed, as did some of those in politics, that everyone should have the option of studying at higher level, regardless of their postcode.

I know that it must seem unfair to you now. Given how much it all costs, and how hard it is to even scrape together enough to do a simple short course at a college for a few weeks, it seems unfathomable to go to university for a few years. Even if you did manage to get into university, you may not be able to get a job in your chosen field.

That’s very scary. That’s not to mention the fact that everyone your age is trying for the same cheaper courses, all in the hopes of getting their foot in the door to a job interview at somewhere other than the local fast food outlet or menial labour position. The desire to escape the shackles of a workplace that displays complete disregard for the laws surrounding employment conditions, simply because their staff are too scared of losing their jobs to complain about any of the unsafe, or illegal practices, is one I understand all too well. I was there, once upon a time, but my case was a rare one for my time. For you, it is an every day occurrence.

The secret wasn’t all I wanted to say though. I also want to apologise.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that higher education is out of your reach. I’m sorry I couldn’t earn enough to put you through university. I’m sorry you have to apply to groups such as UNICEF for the chance to win your higher education. I’m sorry that the government my generation voted in for only three years, managed to destroy university opportunities so very badly for you all.

I’m sorry that you are now forced to work long hours at a job you hate for minimum wage, simply because you couldn’t get a degree that would have allowed you access to a better paying career with promotion opportunities. I’m sorry that you and your partner will have to both work two jobs to make sure you can afford to pay rent AND feed your kids, should you choose to have any. I’m sorry you can’t afford to put a deposit down on your own home because you don’t earn enough to pay a mortgage. I’m so very very sorry.

I’m sorry that even if you did manage to get accepted into university, that you have to pick your career path very carefully, because you won’t be able to afford a second lot of self-education because it’s not covered by your tax cap.

We thought we knew it all. We were the generation that had everything going for it, and nothing to lose. That was until we lost everything.

It started fairly innocently enough. There was a general sense of ennui. Our idea of taking a stand and having our voices heard amounted to thing more than adding our name and address to an online petition, or perhaps liking a Facebook page. Back in our day, Facebook was only just starting to become the multinational conglomerate it is now. You probably don’t believe me, but we all thought it was a great way of keeping up to date with our friends without really having to commit to a face-to-face conversation.

Nothing more than that. Just a “harmless” social networking site. Oh, how wrong were we to be proven. But that, my dear, is a story for another day.

Sure, we still protested, thinking it would make a difference. Somehow, though, the fire wasn’t there that it had been for previous generations. Maybe it was the fact that we would have all preferred to be at home in front of our computers, safe in our anonymity. Maybe it was the fact that the laws were changed so that any unauthorised groups of more than to people were suddenly illegal. Maybe it was the fact that if we boycotted anything there was the likelihood of someone being sued. Who knows? All we remember is one day turning around and realising just how screwed up things had become. By that point, of course, nothing short of revolution was going to be able to change things, and we as a nation were unlikely to form like that. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, in our self-absorbed mediated lives, we had become a society like something out of a book.

I am not the only one who should be apologising to you, for having made the world the nightmare that it is for you. I’m disappointed by my fellows and contemporaries. Not because of their inaction so much as their collective inability to join the few of us who have dared critique the world we have created. En masse, we could do something, but it would need to be all of us, and it would need to be now. Of course, having said that, it may already be too late. You have freedoms from the constraints and pressures of higher education, while we had the freedom of it. They’re two side of the coin. It’s a fine line of difference, but when you’ve seen where the line is and what it stands for, it can mean all the difference in the world.

Oh, my dear blinded an uneducated children, I am so very very sorry for all that we have done, but I am even more sorry for all we did not do.

Yours in sorrow,


For those who are not aware, the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is the story I refer to in the latter part of this piece. If you have not read it, I would highly recommend it as a very good book to read. Regardless of your views on religion, it is a good treatment of the “what-ifs” of religious extremism managing to take over the political arena in troubled and turmoiled times, such as those we are currently experiencing. This book, combined with ideas from Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson is how I envision the world becoming within my own lifetime should we not stop and reflect on the consequences of our actions. If you have not read either of these books, please do yourself a favour and do so. They will change your thinking on how the world is and could be.


ABC News, (2013). Two-thirds of university students living below the poverty line: report. Accessed via:

Atwood, M., (2012). Haunted by The Handmaids’ Tale. The Guardian. Accessed via:

Denholm, M., (2013). Companies to get protections from activists’ boycotts. National Affairs – The Australian. Accessed via:

Evans, C., (2012). Keeping the doors open to all. Ministers’ Website for Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Accessed via:

Evans, C., (2012). Tony Abbot to slash support for university students. Ministers’ Website for Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Accessed via:

O’Connor, D., (2013). Making (self) education unaffordable. Gadens. Accessed via:

Sricharatchanya, H., (n.d.). Education – for some still an unattainable dream. UNICEF EAPRO – Media Centre. Ccessed via:

Stephenson, N., (1992). Snowcrash. Random House Publishing.

Western Australian Consolidated Acts, (2013). Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 – Notes. Chapter IX – Unlawful assemblies: Breaches of the peace. Accessed via: (

“We Aim To Misbehave” : How The Browncoats Changed the Face of Community as We Know It.

Net 204 2012I thought it was time to share some of my more academic writing. Here is my essay, presented at the NET204 CommUnity conference, both online and face-to-face. This piece was nominated for a Mr Pointy award. I would like to add that this was written and presented in my first year at university, and that my writing has improved by leaps and bounds since this piece.


December of 2002 saw the end of yet another television series. It had run for eleven of the planned fourteen episodes, but low ratings had forced the network to call for its cancellation. It was not the first time this had happened and it certainly was not the last (, 2009). However, this time was different. This television series had an army fighting for its survival. That fight led to an historic event. Never before in the history of television had an axed television program led to a major motion picture, thanks to the dedicated fans and their efforts. The television show was Firefly, the movie was Serenity, and the fans are the ‘Browncoats’. Through their dedication and use of Web 2.0 applications in the forms of emails, weblogs, forums, social networking sites, wikis, video- sharing sites, and other user-generated content, the Browncoat community pulled together.

As Neil Gaiman, acclaimed fantasy author and Browncoat said, “There are people you do not wanna upset in the world … the science-fiction and fantasy fans whose favourite show has been canceled in an untimely way (interviewed in the FIREorg, 2011).” In this paper I shall explain the various Web 2.0 platforms that were used in the fight for Serenity, why it was an important fight, and why communities like the Browncoats are the way of the future. I will argue that a new kind of community building has emerged, neither online or offline, but an amalgamation of the two and that the Browncoats are an example of a true Web 2.0 community, one that bridges online and offline experiences.


A community online is, to those who are a part of it, not that dissimilar to that of a more ‘real life’ community (Kavanaugh, et. al., 2005, para. 55). Online participants have more of a “…tendency to develop feelings of closeness on the basis of shared interests, rather than … of shared social characteristics (Gulia & Wellman, 1999, P#5)…” In this case, the shared interest is that of the television program, Firefly. There has been much debate since the Internet, and indeed, the Web became a part of our everyday lives, as to whether or not it has enhanced or detracted from our social interactions. Those of older generations sometimes complain that younger generations would be lost without the Web to make their contact for them (Baytor,, 2009).

The fact remains that we have truly embraced the Web, and now Web 2.0 applications, as an essential element of our lives. For fans of television programs, the internet has become particularly integral to finding fellowship and peer groups. Fandom has always had a reputation for being of a more “geeky” basis (Clark, 2008), with computer sciences highly represented in careers of the geek (Svitavsky, 2001). It does stand to reason then, that with the advent of Web 2.0, fans have formed their communities online, rather than in person, and used it to demonstrate that which they love (Karabulut, 2010).

The Browncoats first began as an unaffiliated group of fans outraged that their favourite television program was being into hiatus by the very network that had brought it into being, shown it out of sequence and, ultimately, created its own demise. From this, they formed a more condensed presence on websites such as and in order to bring about a unified front for their fight. This later developed into face-to-face meetings at science-fiction conventions, and other events, across the United States and other countries. In this way, the Browncoats brought together the crowdsourcing capabilities and geographic ignorance of the web spaces and joined it with more traditional community norms, such as presence in meetings and gatherings (Efimova & Hendrick, 2005, P7).

Web 2.0.

It is difficult to think of the web without the simplified and user-friendly Web 2.0 applications that we know today. Email, blogs, social networking sites, user-generated content are just some of the services which are most characteristic of Web 2.0. Designed to make the web a more user-orientated and -friendly experience (O’Reilly, 2005), Web 2.0 applications have made it so that any user, regardless of their technical expertise can pose a challenge to the traditional media producers, by creating and publishing their own works of creativity (Harrison and Barthel, 2009). We see in the large volumes of user-generated fan content on such sites as,,,, and (for the Firefly series alone), a tendency of fans to make their own interpretations from the original source material. The Web 2.0 applications that are available give such freedoms to expand engagement with the source of fandom, that new sites and new creations are appearing on the web every day.


Firefly was seen as something brand new in the science-fiction television field (Card, 2007). Although set in space, there were no aliens which was something which had not really been done before (Burns, 2007). The focus was not on the science of the science- fiction, but on the stories of the characters living on a spaceship. Firefly was Joss Whedon’s third project for primetime television and after his success with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the Fox Network were ready for his new idea, being a mixing together of the original Star Trek, Stagecoach (1939), and Wagon Train (1957-1965) (Cochrane, 2009). It aired for eleven of its fourteen episodes, out of the intended order, in a variety of time slots making it difficult for a fan base to establish itself. However, the show captivated the imagination of a group of people who, upon seeing the first few episodes, had become hooked and wanted this program to continue. They could see the merit, even when the network airing it could not.

Browncoats ≠ Fans.

There is something about a Browncoat that sets them apart from the ordinary fan, a certain intrinsic quality that makes them something more. There are those who would argue that all Firefly fans are Browncoats (Cochrane, 2009.). This is to say all who enjoy watching Star Trek are Trekkies, or all everyone likes to watch Doctor Who is a Whovian. While a simple definition of Browncoat may be hard to ascertain, it is possibly best left to the Browncoats and their associates to define themselves. Joss Whedon, in his introduction to the movie Serenity, had this to say in regards to Browncoats:

“… the people who made the show and the people who saw the show, which is roughly the same number of people, fell in love with it a little bit too much to let it go. Too much to lay down arms when the battle looked pretty much lost. In Hollywood, people like that are called “unrealistic”, “quixotic”, “obsessive”. In my world, they’re called “Browncoats…” (Whedon, 2005a)

While engaging in their chosen media in a participatory and productive way is seen to be a clear indicator of a fan (Costello & Moore, 2007, P127), the Browncoat goes that little bit further (Cochrane, 2009). There is an “… intensity of devotion and level of activity distinguishes admirers from true Browncoats” (Cochrane, 2009). As one Browncoat posted in a group forum a fan is someone who watches and likes the show and is disappointed when it is over or taken away, but a Browncoat is a fan activist and will take the next step to keep the show going (po1s, 2010).

How the Browncoats Utilised On- and Off-line Networking.

As an example of multi-platform fan activism, the Browncoats are the exemplary unit. Letter writing to Fox networks, postcard sendings from, emails and advertising campaigns in magazines (, 2009a) all contributed to the backing had behind him when he approached Universal Pictures with his idea of making a Firefly film. While most of this work was conducted from the anonymity of an online presence in a web-based community, there were actual face-to-face contacts made as well, at science-fiction conventions such as Comic-Con (Hadlock, Heppler, Neish, Nelson &Wiser, 2006).Flyers handed out by Browncoats who had volunteered their time to man stands helped to spread the word about the television program which, in turn, brought more members to the community. As more people joined the fold, DVD dales of the television series increased, giving the series more validity in the eyes of a movie investor. Had it been left to a singularly online tour de fource, there would not have been the return on investment seen by Universal Pictures to make the film, Serenity.

Television networks do not give money to unsuccessful programs for follow-up films and it is for this reason that the Browncoats stand alone as an example of fan pressure on the industry. There have been science-fiction films stemming from popular television shows. There have been the Star Trek films, in their various versions, the X-Files films, The Avengers and now Firefly (Wilcox, 2011). Firefly stands alone as the only one of these to have been axed by its parent television network. When Universal Pictures took on the project, the Browncoat community united as only they knew how. There was blog posting across the Web celebrating Universal “greenlighting” production of Serenity in March 2004 (, 2004). With a possible budget in the tens of millions, this was no minor endeavour. The plot took place approximately five years after the initial series, and featured the characters the fans had grown to love, as they watched their DVD boxed sets of the series, waiting for the next series or movie. Released in August 2005, Browncoats were lining up in their best array. Some had already been involved in super secret test audiences Universal Pictures had arranged to gauge reactions to the script and plot. This was the “big damned movie” the Browncoats and the cast and crew of Firefly had worked towards. The fans had “…done the impossible, and that makes [them] mighty … (Baldwin, 2006)”

Web forums were the platform for the majority of the Browncoats work. When Fox announced that Firefly was on hiatus, Internet conversation in the following days and weeks was inevitably displaying anger towards the network (Hark, 2010). and were simply two of hundreds of forums that popped up when Firefly hit the air, not to mention the pre-existing science-fiction forums and social networking sites across the web. Forums gave the fans a chance to read responses and reply at their leisure, rather than an Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which was more immediate.

Currently, there are over one hundred group pages one Facebook alone that are hit in a search for Firefly. At the time of Firefly going to air, and were also still rather active. These also have high numbers of groups registered with Firefly as their main focus, some of them still active today. As well as these forums, many websites arose. and popped up to solidify the Browncoat front, with sites like and being about the fight to keep the show going or make the movie a success. Regardless of their purpose, these methods of computer mediated social networking gave their Browncoat users a sense of community (Gulia & Wellman, 1999), somewhere they could mourn the loss of the program, get angry, and feel safe to do so because they were surrounded by people of a similar ilk.

While some may see the Browncoats as just another group of fanatics trying to keep their favourite show from falling by the wayside, they are the prime example of a community taking what Web 2.0 has to offer and running with it. Jenkins suggests that as the world moves forward from a commodity-based culture to a more knowledge-based one, that we will be forced to collaborate in more effective ways across further distances (Jenkins, 2004). He goes on to say that these collaborations will take places regardless of physical contact and without particular attention to geography. This is how the Browncoats operated. By banding together on websites, they worked together as a team to achieve their goal, keeping the crew of Serenity flying for just a little longer. The Browncoats’ movement best encapsulates Downing’s concept of the blurred line between ‘active media user’ and ‘radical alternative media producers’ (Downing cited in Harrison and Barthel, 2009).

By creating their own campaign material, spreading it via the Web, they were the media producers, bypassing the traditional avenues of media production and consumption. In the making of Browncoats: Redemption, a fan film for charity, fans used crowd-sourcing, a typical Web 2.0 platform, to spread the word of their endeavour and to gain support. Even beyond the fight for Serenity or Firefly, the Browncoats still use Web 2.0 applications, in the form of social networking sites such as Twitter, to spread word about Firefly-applicable situations, such as in the case of Professor Miller’s fight against on-campus censorship (, 2011). No other fan-based group has embraced Web 2.0 applications and platforms and used them with such ferocity.

With Web 2.0 removing the distance between producer and consumer of media, through the affordability of the means for production as well as the access to means of distribution, we are forced to reconsider how we view production and consumption of media (Harrison & Barthel, 2009). No longer are they strictly separated. We have entered the world of the ‘prosumer’ (Ritzer & Jurgenson, 2010), those who can challenge the big companies and triumph. Fan activism is not new, but having greater access to the world via Web 2.0 platforms, they are able to have their messages heard by more people and communities can come together regardless of geographical boundaries. This can be harnessed by companies, as in the case of the advertising for the film Serenity (Affinitive, 2005).


As the now instantly recognisable theme song, written by Joss Whedon himself, says, if that which is loved and held dear is taken away, there will be somewhere that people will still be able to stand; you can’t take the sky from the Browncoats, they will simply refuse to lay down arms.

“Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me;
Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain’t coming back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can’t take the sky from me;
There’s no place I can be
Since I found Serenity
But you can’t take the sky from me…” (Whedon, 2005)

The Web was the second most powerful weapon in the Browncoat arsenal. It was their determination and community, as unfamiliar in form it may be, that was their biggest strength. Their program was shelved, the end was near, but by banding together in forums and their own websites, they succeeded. They showed that there was enough of a following to warrant a movie being made. It was a mighty battle, but in the end, they won. “Coz remember, they tried to kill us – they did kill us – and here we are. We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty (Whedon, 2005a).”


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