LESSONS FROM THE SWARMTRIBES PILOT

Contents
1 INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................................... 2 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 2 BACKGROUND .............................................................................................................................. 2 CUTTING TO THE CHASE .............................................................................................................. 2 OBJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY ............................................................................................... 3 OVERVIEW OF REPORT ................................................................................................................. 4

PROJECT OVERVIEW .................................................................................................................... 6 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 SWARM PROPOSITION .................................................................................................................. 6 THEORY ........................................................................................................................................ 6 NARRATIVE .................................................................................................................................. 8 CASE STUDIES ............................................................................................................................ 17

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LESSONS ........................................................................................................................................... 23 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 CYCLE OF INNOVATION ............................................................................................................. 23 TEST, REVISE AND KEEP COMMUNICATING THE PROPOSITION ................................................. 24 KEEP THE BRANDING LOW-KEY UNTIL IT HAS MOMENTUM ...................................................... 25 KEEP PLATFORM OPTIONS OPEN ................................................................................................ 27 EXPLORE MULTIPLE POSITIONS IN THE MARKET ....................................................................... 28 BUILD EXPERIMENTATION INTO PLANNING AND RESOURCING................................................. 29 EASE OF USE IS CRITICAL TO BUILDING MOMENTUM ................................................................ 29 PRIORITISE EXEMPLARS WHERE CONCEPTS ARE HARD TO EXPLAIN ......................................... 30 UNDERSTANDING THE ECOLOGY OF A NEW SECTOR TAKES TIME ............................................ 31

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CONCLUSIONS ............................................................................................................................... 33 POSTSCRIPT, APRIL 2010............................................................................................................ 35 5.1 5.2 5.3 SWARMTRIBES FOR SPORTS FANS ............................................................................................ 35 NEW SWARMTRIBES FEATURES ................................................................................................ 35 SWARMTRIBES BUSINESS MODEL/STRATEGY .......................................................................... 36

APPENDIX FANDOM’S BIOTEAMS: APPLYING KEN THOMPSON’S THEORY TO FAN CULTURE 1 2 3 BIOTEAMS BASICS........................................................................................................................ 37 FANDOM BASICS ........................................................................................................................... 37 BIOTEAMS AND FANDOM .......................................................................................................... 38 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4 5 LEADERSHIP ZONE ..................................................................................................................... 38 CONNECTIVITY ZONE ................................................................................................................ 40 EXECUTION ZONE ...................................................................................................................... 42 ORGANIZATION ZONE................................................................................................................ 43

CONCLUSION.................................................................................................................................. 45 REFERENCES .................................................................................................................................. 46

David Jennings DJ Alchemi Ltd

Appendix by R.M. Milner & Nancy K. Baym Kansas University

5 May 2009/8 June 2010

Published under Creative Commons licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/

1 Introduction
1.1 Background Swarmteams is a cross-platform communications tool for supporting people working in distributed teams. One of its target applications is marketing through fan and support communities. The technology is designed to encourage the rapid growth of word of mouth focused on ‘social objects’ – basically anything that people care enough about to discuss with others over time, so that a community can form, or ‘swarm’, around it. Led by Founder and CEO, Ken Thompson, Swarmteams Ltd aimed to develop and demonstrate this application of the tool within the field of music marketing and audience development. Popular music was chosen for two main reasons: • • bands and artists are pre-eminent social objects, inspiring considerable devotion from fans who want to spread the word about their favourite acts; the numbers of fans available to take part in swarming are large, as music culture is very strong in the UK, rivalled only by sport.

Swarmteams Ltd secured funding from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology on the Arts) to pursue a pilot application of its technology to the music sector, and this application was later branded as SwarmTribes, in an attempt to reflect the culture of the sector as well as differentiating it from the ‘parent’ platform1. At around the time this pilot project was beginning, I was introduced to Ken Thompson, and then by him to NESTA. My proposal to conduct an evaluation of the project was accepted in March 2008. This report is the culmination of the evaluation. It aims to capture the central points that have been learnt, for the benefit of the stakeholders in the project, including Swarmteams Ltd, NESTA and the music sector (artists, fans and industry). 1.2 Cutting to the chase Within a few weeks of my evaluation getting under way it became evident that the takeup of SwarmTribes by bands, artists and their managers was going more slowly than had been projected on the basis of an early case study. Several remedies and new directions were experimented with during the months that followed, but these have hitherto failed to ignite significant interest. This is reflected in almost any measure you take. One crude indicator is the number of SMS messages sent on the SwarmTribes platform over the course of the project. The projected figure in April 2008 was 500,000. In August this was revised down to 100,000 in August, and then further to 50,000 in September (I understand this is close to the total actually sent at the time of writing in May 2009). Another measure included in my original proposal was the proportion of responses to each message sent. Unfortunately this proportion was so low as to rule out meaningful measurement.

1

Throughout this report, then, Swarmteams may refer to either the company, led by Ken Thompson, or original application and service. SwarmTribes, meanwhile, refers to the music-specific offshoot of the Swarmteams service, which was developed and deployed in this project.
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Central to NESTA’s interest in the project – which was funded as part of the Connect Programme – was the extent to which a technological innovation could foster a more collaborative relationship between bands, artists and managers on the one hand and groups of fans on the other. The idea was that the most committed fans had overlapping objectives with the bands and artists (these latter two terms are used interchangeably in the report). These committed fans – known as ‘alpha’ or ‘VIP’ fans within SwarmTribes – have such passion for their favourite bands that they feel compelled to spread the word and enlist their friends as fellow fans, because they believe their friends will thank them for it. Bands can clearly benefit if they can stoke and harness this enthusiasm, and SwarmTribes offers them a tool to accomplish this. Over the course of the pilot, for which my data collection was extended from an original end date of December 2008 to April 2009, I was unable to find any cases of meaningful collaboration between bands and fans. I could not find a definitive evidence of a fan recruiting another person to a fan swarm. This stands in strong contrast to the case study of using Swarmteams (as it then was) with the band Kharma45, which reports 25 alpha fans signing up hundreds of fans to swarms in a few weeks2. This account quotes one of the band members:
It’s now big kudos to be a Kharma45 Alpha Fan because you also get to distribute this information to others, and are rewarded for signing up new fans. So it was a great way to increase our fan base and also to let them feel more involved with the band.

The Kharma45 swarm experience took place prior to my involvement, and was curtailed when the band split, so I was unable to study it directly. One potentially key difference between this case and those I studied was that Kharma45’s manager was himself retained by Swarmteams Ltd, in a business development role, at around the same time, which meant there was significantly more leverage in securing the band’s involvement. 1.3 Objectives and methodology Since the SwarmTribes pilot did not progress as planned, my objectives and methodology had to adapt significantly. Out went innovative and finessed measures of engagement in social media, and out went any focus on reputation management systems in music communities or the limits of scale in swarms. (My initial groundwork on measures of engagement and some related issues is included in the Interim Report I wrote in October 2008, but not elaborated here as it is ended up having little direct bearing on the evaluation). These were replaced by an emphasis on understanding the barriers to, and dynamics of, take up of the SwarmTribes service by bands – and that is the main focus of this report. Some elements of the planned methodology remained relevant to this purpose. Via the SwarmTribes site, I tracked numbers of members and messages for each band at fortnightly intervals. As reporting functionality for the service was underdeveloped – see Section 2.3.3 below – this was a largely manual and moderately labour-intensive task.

2

Available at http://www.bioteams.com/Kharma45CaseStudy.pdf, last accessed 27 April 2009.
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I interviewed band members and managers about their expectations and experiences with SwarmTribes. The intention was to ‘follow’ a few cases to see how their stories developed and how they differed from each other. In the event, I made the mistake of deciding to delay my follow-up interviews with the first sample of bands (initially interviewed in June and July 2008) on the basis that I could see from the server figures that there had been little activity. By delaying, I hoped that there might be more activity to talk about at a later date. This hope was not realised, and it was understandably difficult to secure interviews later to discuss a service that the subjects had quite possibly not given much thought for several months. The exception to this was Rob Diament of Temposhark, who features as one of the case studies in Section 2.4 below. I added one new element to the original methodology, which was to act as a participant observer in several meetings and teleconferences between Ken Thompson and various creative agencies, artist management companies and music business consultancies. These took place between August and October 2008, most frequently with Rosie Bryant of One Stop Shop Media Ltd (SOS Music), who also features as the informant for the other case study in Section 2.4. I worked with two associates to situate my evaluation in a broader context, both within the music sector and within NESTA’s Connect Programme. Nancy Baym is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at University of Kansas, and has done more research in the field of ‘fandom’ as applied to music subcultures than just about anyone else. Working with her research student Ryan Milner, Nancy reviewed the literature on patterns of fan behaviour with respect to Ken Thompson’s Bioteams model, which underpins Swarmteams and SwarmTribes. Her review was included with my Interim Report and a slightly updated version is appended to this report. Eleanor Ford has worked on evaluations of two other Connect Programme projects – RSA Networks and Corporate Connections – and acted as a sounding board at various stages through this evaluation as it unfolded, kindly contributing more than the half-day for which she was paid. 1.4 Overview of report The structure of this report is simple. Section 2 provides an account of what happened, in terms of the background, four general strands of activity, and two more in-depth case studies. Section 3 draws out the lessons from what happened, in terms of a cycle of influential factors. Section 4 reflects on the lessons with some overall conclusions about this kind of entrepreneurial innovation pilot, and some recommendations for NESTA’s support of future projects in the same vein. As a supplement to this report there are five audio downloads of lightly-edited interviews from the evaluation: • • Sponsor’s view: interview with Roland Harwood of NESTA, April 2008 – 8.5 minutes SwarmTribes launch: interviews with Ken Thompson (Swarmteams), Darren Michael (musician, Slashed Seat Affair), Phil Legg (independent promoter and publisher, Futureproof Records & Promotions), April 2008 – 11 minutes Industry consultant’s view: interview with Rosie Bryant (One Stop Shop/SOS), January 2009 – 31.5 minutes Artist’s view: two interviews with Rob Diament (band leader, Temposhark) at the start and end of the project, July 2008 and February 2009 – 17.5 minutes

• •

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Start-up view: follow-up interview with Ken Thompson (Swarmteams), May 2010 – 9.5 minutes

These interviews can be heard and downloaded at http://soundcloud.com/davidjennings/sets/swarmtribes-evaluation This was a ‘small’ project in the sense that there were only a few people who remained involved in it for the majority of its duration. I was one of them, so the evaluator’s conceit of being invisible and remote from the action is even less tenable than usual. While I had little if any direct influence or contribution to the progress of the pilot, I refer to my actions and perspective in the first person throughout the report, to make my role as evident and transparent as possible.

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2 Project overview
2.1 Swarm proposition SwarmTribes is another flavour in the increasingly variegated landscape of social media. It isn’t a social network, an email list or Twitter – though it shares different features with all of these. Its use within the music sector could be seen as a marketing tool, a service to fans, another instance Web 2.0-style ‘digital sharecropping’3, or some combination of these. One of the key elements that sets the Bioteams swarming model apart is its support for alpha or VIP swarmers. Their role is expected to shift as each swarm moves through several stages of ‘maturity’: • • • first building the community, recruiting members; then grooming the community, establishing norms; then the ‘payload’ messages that work towards marketing, or other, objectives that are agreed, tacitly or explicitly, between the alpha swarmers and the swarm owners (in this case, a band).

Notwithstanding some of the terminology, the Bioteams model is anything but elitist, since anyone can become an alpha swarmer if they show the inclination and behaviours. SwarmTribes is intended to help swarm owners spot and develop emerging alphas – though in practice, during the pilot, this functionality was not available (see Section 2.3.3 below). The promise of SwarmTribes is that it offers an avenue to reach the many through the few – a combination of scale and intimacy. Everyone gets messages passed to them from people they know and trust, knowing that they originate with the band themselves. Ken Thompson asserts that if, say, a record label sends a mailshot to fans, they may typically only get 5% response rate, whereas if the band themselves contact fans, signup may increase to near 100%. 2.2 Theory The swarming model is “inspired by nature,” as the Swarmteams.com home page puts it. Ken Thompson has developed a considerable amount of intellectual property to back up this tagline, most evidently in his book, Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature’s Most Successful Designs. Elsewhere he refers to nature as a model, a measure, and a mentor4. Against the backdrop of the shift away from hierarchical, compartmentalised organisations over the last generation and the rise of networked communications, there is something almost irresistibly seductive about the promise that high tech might actually return us to more natural patterns of communication, rather than adding to our alienation from each other and to our anomie. (Of course, when hierarchy and compartmentalisation were in the ascendancy, they were also construed as ‘natural’,
3

The term ‘digital sharecropper’ is frequently attributed to Nicholas Carr, as in his blog post Meanwhile, back at the plantation, http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2008/03/meanwhile_back.php 4 http://www.slideshare.net/Use8.net/bioteams-turning-audiences-into-communitiesuse8-template, slide 10
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reflecting the Great Chain of Being or the Tree of Life: we choose our version of nature to suit the contemporary zeitgeist.) SwarmTribes seems an ideal combination of high tech and high touch. In understanding the dynamics of social media, there’s a recurrent theme of a naturally emergent order where a few people make the running (by creating new groups or new memes), a larger minority respond to, moderate or filter that running, and the majority then go along for the ride without participating actively. The main reason that I was initially interested in the Bioteams model and the emergence of alpha fans was that I arrived at a similar perspective via a different (and less intellectually rigorous) route, having written, for example, a case history of another fan community5:
In common with many active fan groups, the Galaxie 500 online community has evolved into a self-organised and self-regulating channel for communications, support and learning, which reflects again three levels of commitment, similar to Originators, Synthesisers and Lurkers. The Originators look after the technical and social infrastructure of the community. In return for this unpaid work as ambassadors for the band’s music, they may enjoy personal relationships with the band and other ‘gift economy’ favours such as being invited to after-show parties. The Synthesisers back up the Originators’ efforts with moral support and occasional offers of practical help. Through this process they develop the competences to take their place in the ‘core group’ of Originators if necessary. Any Lurker members will initially just be passive members on the periphery of the online community. Over time they may grow in confidence or be drawn into group discussion and activities, thus graduating to become Synthesisers; alternatively they may pick up a little useful information and then just leave.

The work we commissioned from Nancy Baym and Ryan Milner aimed to explore and test the hypothesis that behaviour in fan communities shows the kind of patterns that are described and predicted in the Bioteams model. This work was a literature review, rather than an empirical test. It concludes that there is a reasonably good ‘fit’ between the model and what the research says about fan communities, while reminding us that even collaborative relationships have tensions, and, even if bands may see SwarmTribes as a ‘tool’, fans will resist if they perceive that they are themselves being treated as tools.
[T]he bioteams framework offers a useful lens through which to understand fandom and the tensions between fan organizations (both loose and formal) and those who work with the texts professionally. Fandom research contributes to the bioteams project by highlighting several points of tension and resistance on both sides. The danger of any program initiated by media producers is that fan productivity is not a top-down labor system. It is, like bioteams would recommend, egalitarian and cooperative. When working with fans, producers would do well to remember just that: work with fans rather than expecting them to work for producers. Bottom-up spreadable labor has worked time and time again in fan culture. Producers, when adopting the bioteams model, are better off harnessing that pre-existing labor structure rather than manufacturing it from the top-down.

The dynamics of influence and power in these contexts are still a contentious issue, and a full treatment of them is beyond the scope of this report. Increasingly attention is

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From Net, Blogs and Rock’n’Roll: How Digital Discovery Works and What it Means for Consumers, Creators and Culture (2007), page 54.
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being turned to what fans/consumers/users say to each other rather than what producers/marketers/hucksters say to them. As Mark Earls puts it6,
Business is a mass-behaviour activity. Individual customer behaviour is largely determined by what other customers do, and…by what other customers say. A sound measurement of customer-customer word of mouth should therefore be a really good proxy for this key mechanic of a business’s impact on mass behaviour.

There is then a spectrum of opinion from those who imagine that a few übermensch fans are influential while the rest of us are destined only to be influenced – as a crude reading of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point might conclude – to those who hold that influence is something more subtle that bubbles up through complex interactions in collective discourse – which seems to be closer to Earls’ position. In other words, are alpha fans born, or are they made through circumstance? The Bioteams model has grown out of an intellectual tradition that reaches back over 20 years to Winograd and Flores’ Understanding Computers and Cognition, and further back from there to J.L. Austin’s theory of speech acts in How to do Things with Words. As such, it reflects a confidence in the instrumental, straightforward and unambiguous use of messages. And as such, it may be open to some of the same criticisms as have been directed at these works – that human communication and roles are frequently multivalent. That means that the same message from the same person can be interpreted differently by different people, depending on their perspective and relationship history with the speaker. While human teams might work better if they followed the protocols of worker bees and queens, the legacy of our language and history is a jumble of mediating ‘middle man’ roles and a reflexive awareness of how these roles are conditional and negotiable. The promise of SwarmTribes was to provide a practical intervention wherein some of these theoretical chickens might come home to roost. 2.3 Narrative
2.3.1 Overview

Figure 1 provides an outline of the story of the SwarmTribes pilot over the last 16 months. I have divided it into four strands for the purpose of this account, though inevitably these strands are highly interdependent. Each of the four strands is elaborated in the sections that follow.

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From Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature (2007), page 196/7.
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Marketing and communications Jan 2008 Feb Mar Apr May Consultations with major labels

Development and production

Other interventions

Swarm status and developments

AIM Music Connected convention

Redevelopment and customisation of Swarmteams as SMS-focused SwarmTribes

Selection of first bands for swarms Switch to ‘emergent’ approach to swarm development, and away from major label artists to independents

50+ swarms

Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan 2009 Feb Mar Apr

Video animations to explain concept Initial engagement of SOS Music Interim Evaluation Report SOS Music Report

Recruiting through networks and contacts

Reinstatement and enhancement of email functionality

77 swarms Second phase of development, focused on case studies (new applicants are added to a waiting list)

Figure 1 – Schematic overview of the SwarmTribes Pilot

2.3.2

Communication and marketing

Before marketing the pilot service publicly, Swarmteams wanted to test and develop the concept of their offering with the music industry. Through the connections of Johnny Davis, erstwhile Kharma45 manager and working with the company in a business development role, the Swarmteams team met major labels and one distributor to get their feedback on the service as well as encouraging them to enlist a few of their bands in the SwarmTribes pilot. At this early stage, the idea was to secure a small number of high-profile, up-andcoming bands as participants and use the stories they generated as a hook to attract further participation. These approaches were met with warm and positive noises, but – after several face-to-face meetings, demonstrations and other exchanges – no practical follow-through. By the time my evaluation contract had been finalised and I joined the project in April 2008, it was already that progress in getting bands committed to the pilot was slower than expected, and there was a hint that it might be necessary to extend the pilot by a few months. Later that month, Swarmteams booked an exhibition stall at the Association of Independent Music’s (AIM) Music Connected convention in London. As a means of explaining the concept to musicians and managers in the independent sector, this was
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very successful. Many asked to be kept in touch with developments and a substantial proportion of the bands who went on to have their own swarms arrived via this event – demonstrating that, given a platform and a few minutes one-on-one attention, this sector does have an interest in the basic concept of SwarmTribes. However, though bands were registering interest with SwarmTribes, and being assigned their initial swarms and quotas of SMS messages, they were not still deploying these swarms as quickly as hoped. This involved, for example, adding SwarmTribes widgets to their MySpace profiles, encouraging their existing fanbase to join, and initiating the swarm by sending messages. By July, Ken Thompson acknowledged that the model was “more new to people than we thought”. Bands were seeing the offering as MySpace with a mobile channel, and are thinking about ‘broadcast’ messages rather than collaborating with fans. One frustration was that the bands with reasonable fanbases and the financial or management backing to make SwarmTribes work tended to have used that backing to opt out of doing day-to-day promotional work to fans. At the same time, the bands who were committed to grassroots communication with fans were generally starting from a low base and were ‘time poor’ because they were doing everything themselves without management support. More succinctly:
Those with scale don’t get it. Those that get it don’t have the scale. Ken Thompson, July 2008

In July, Swarmteams commissioned some short web-based animations to explain the concept: one short narrative aimed at fans, and one more schematic aimed at bands and managers. In particular, these were designed to distinguish SwarmTribes from the ‘broadcast’ approach, where one uniform message is distributed to everyone from the centre. Screengrabs from each animation are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Animation for fans

Animation for bands

These animations did not quite hit the mark, however. Apart from the modest production values and design, which didn’t connect well with the target audience, the main outcome from the animations was to highlight that the SwarmTribes message was not sufficiently clear or simple. This was further brought home by the initiative over the summer to review the service design, presentation and strategy (see Section 2.3.4 for more details of this).

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In the final phase of the project, the emphasis shifted to getting a small number of bands for more intensive support, in order to act as SwarmTribes case studies. For this, the main recruitment method was informal networking, working through the projects existing contacts, plus those of Rosie Bryant of One Stop Shop Media Ltd. In many respects Rosie ended up playing a similar role in the final phase to the one Johnny Davis had in the first phase – Swarmteams particularly appreciated her knowledge of the industry and the respect that her contacts gave her, and wished that the project had been able to tap these earlier on.
2.3.3 Development and production

Linked to the music industry meetings at the start of the project, a considerable amount of time was invested in trying to design features based on feedback from Universal, Polydor, Island Records and Vital/PIAS. This focused on: • • • an AJAX user interface for SwarmTribes; remodelling the Swarmteams back end so that only SMS messaging was retained for SwarmTribes (the Swarmteams service also includes email); creating SwarmTribes widgets that bands could embed on their blogs, MySpace profiles etc.

By the end of April, Ken Thompson was already observing that they were “doing much more software development than expected”. Not long after, when major acts Clocks (Island) and Operator Please (PIAS) failed commit to the pilot, he was having doubts about how much thought had gone into the feedback they had given, and, correspondingly, whether all the changes that had been made were necessary and well-judged. These doubts were backed up by Rosie Bryant’s work, which – as explained at greater length below – questioned the SMS-only approach and suggested a re-introduction of email messaging. By December, Ken had concluded that “the mistake I made was bringing the CTO [chief technology officer, who managed the initial development work] in too early” and that it would have been better to start the pilot with the Swarmteams service as it was, letting it evolve from there in response to practical feedback from committed users. As it was, the initial budget for development had been used up by the summer, and the CTO had been let go, which meant it was a challenge to carry out further development to re-integrate email into SwarmTribes. Nevertheless resource was scraped together to do this from late in 2008, and continued through the early part of 2009, adding further email functionality (such as what-you-see-is-what-you-get HTML editing) in response to feedback from users. One key element that was not given much attention in the main development effort was the reporting functionality. This is central because it gives the swarm leader the means to identify potential VIP fans, to develop them and to assess which are being most effective on a range of measures. (It would also have made part of the project evaluation a lot easier!)
2.3.4 Other interventions

A large part of the rationale of a pilot project is that it allows experimentation to explore what works and how to make it work better. Throughout the SwarmTribes project a number of changes were made to
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• • • •

the marketing and communications approach; swarm recruitment procedures and priorities; the service itself; the support available to swarm owners.

The pilot was originally aiming to test its model with 36 artists or bands and their fans during 2008. It was anticipated that Swarmteams Ltd would pre-qualify, develop and select these bands from a larger number of applicants. After a fair amount of time was ‘lost’ on courting and developing bands who failed to commit, tactics for recruiting bands to the pilot were changed. Rather than pre-selecting them, the new approach lowered boundaries to basic-level entry to the pilot, and then encouraged bands to selfselect to gain further support (and larger quotas of messages) by demonstrating their ability to develop active swarms. This emergent approach was much more in keeping with the ethos of SwarmTribes and the wider Bioteams model, in that it did not privilege anyone with the power to ‘pick winners’ but distributed the selection process across all stakeholders and made it more outcome-orientated. Following the AIM Music Connected event, the number of bands registered for swarms rapidly exceeded 50. However, as these bands failed to graduate from registration to subsequent levels of ‘maturity’ (as defined within the Bioteams model – see Figure 3 below), Ken Thompson concluded by the summer that he was missing a partner – probably based in London as the density of bands is highest there – to incubate the bands and guide them through the early stages. Ken met various potential partners working in artist development, of whom Rosie Bryant was the most engaged and committed. While Rosie was initially approached with the intent of getting the bands and labels she worked with to participate in the pilot, she had reservations about this because she was unconvinced that the service was ready for this. • It did not provide a straightforward way for artists to get up and running, because most artists already have some kind of database of fans, but this is usually based on email addresses, and SwarmTribes was exclusively SMS. The SMS element was also a concern in terms of ongoing costs. As Rosie put it, “there’s a fear that you develop an SMS database that then is useless to you when you can no longer afford to communicate with them.” Again, if the service also ran on email, then this element could be guaranteed to remain free. Generally the SwarmTribes platform appeared too complicated for artists and small-scale managers to user, partly because of its openness and the flexibility it offered to swarm members.
It’s too open at the moment; you’re giving bands this powerful technology and they need directing. … Swarmteams [sic] allows you, or an artist, to have one enormous database of users and then many smaller groups within that, which is great. But what it left the artist in charge of was making all the decisions about what groups to set up or communication with their fans to encourage them to set up the groups. This just wasn’t going to do. Artists are inherently lazy [laughs]. Rosie Bryant, August 2008/January 2009

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In parallel with this, at a meeting in August, Swarmteams, NESTA and I were reviewing the slow progress up to that point, and arrived at a preliminary diagnosis that more work remained to be done on communicating the concept, improving the service design and usability. As discussions with specialist service design companies reached a dead end (there wasn’t sufficient budget available to attract them), the best available solution was to commission Rosie to review the service concept and usability from her insider perspective within the independent music sector. Rosie’s recommendations reflected her initial analysis in terms of • • • the importance of having an email option; ensuring there is an option for a free basic service; automating some parts of the swarm creation process and some basic messages to new swarm members.

She also proposed two directions for business development. Firstly, Rosie identified the people who run bands’ ‘street teams’ as a key target market for SwarmTribes. Street teams have been around since before the Internet became mainstream, and are oldschool groups of alpha fans who are enlisted by record labels or managers to promote their favourite bands to new audiences in return for in-kind favours such as exclusive merchandise or backstage access. The swarming model, Rosie argued, was closely matched to the way street teams operate. So the people who run these teams should be armed with SwarmTribes, because they are already dedicated to running swarms of fans, and they understand the incentives that make these teams work. One issue, however, is that leaders of street teams need to know who their most productive team members are, so SwarmTribes’ lack of full reporting functionality was a drawback. The second issue for business development was Rosie’s recognition that most bands are already using some kind of communications software to manage relationships with their fans. If SwarmTribes adds to the variety and complexity of this environment, then it will always be at risk of being cut out and forgotten when the next drive for simplicity and integration occurs. So it has to offer an integrated set of functions itself.
The ideal would be for Swarmteams to represent a comprehensive offering for communication to your fanbase. So it’s not competing with the likes of MySpace and Facebook, but it’s your communication hub. Manage your entire fanbase from this one place. But what we need to look at was how to compete with other software available, for newsletters and communication. A lot of the ones that are being used are fairly sophisticated in comparison, so things like logo customisation, technical issues with spam-related, and choosing HTML over plain text — all of those kind of things, which are still in the process of being addressed, but that is happening. We want to eliminate the need for other technology, because I think what Ken will find will happen is that people will use the service for a while, but then if they constantly need to be moving to other softwares to do things they want to, eventually it will migrate over and it will die a death. Their fanbase will wither away — it needs to be the one place. Rosie Bryant, January 2009

As described above, Swarmteams responded quickly to these recommendations, within the constraints of the resources available.
Ken surprised me how quickly… how willing he was to take on board my suggestions. Because normally I come on board with a project, I rip it to pieces, I tell them what I think, and there’s this enormous resistance because someone’s
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spent all this time developing something in a certain way and you tell them “No, go backwards” and people just have this instinct to fight it. And actually he was more than willing to take my suggestions on board, and he’s moved on them very quickly.

The focus in the final stage of the project was on building a small number of case studies, and working with the swarm owners for these cases to ensure that the ongoing SwarmTribes developments were tailored to their needs.
2.3.5 Swarm status and developments

The main recruitment to the SwarmTribes pilot came in the wake of the AIM Music Connected event. By mid-June 2008, 54 bands had been signed up, of which 18 had put SwarmTribes widgets on their sites or MySpace profiles, and two had sent an email to their fanbase. There was still an element of selection at work during this period. Swarmteams went on to identify a Top 20 of registered bands, who had reached Step 3 of the Ten Step model shown in Figure 3, and allocated them a first batch of 2,500 SMS messages each. The remainder were allocated a quota of 50 or 100 by default. These quotas were set as a form of reminder to swarm leaders that the allocation of free messages was finite. However, in practice, as only a minority of bands approached these limits, those that reached their quotas would have been rewarded with larger quotas.

Figure 3 – Swarm maturity model (copyright © Swarmteams Ltd, 2008)

Supporting the swarms turned out to be more complex than anticipated, and Swarmteams had only limited resources for support. They found that that, while the model expected just one owner of the swarm, in practice they were frequently having to

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deal with three contacts in the bands: a manager, one or more band members, and a technical guy/girl. The swarming model emphasises the importance of getting at alpha/VIP fans, but experience showed that these were not just sitting there like ripe apples waiting to be plucked. It was necessary either to let the VIPs emerge (by demonstrating that they had the ‘qualifications’ in the form of frequent responses or recruitment of other fans) or to let the bands designate their VIP fans. The swarms that progressed beyond initial registration sufficiently to show serious intent stalled at the critical VIP Mobilisation phase in Figure 3. Thus no swarms experienced the Major Growth phase or achieved Critical Mass. Within the Top 20 band swarms, Ken Thompson identified to me those that he felt were most promising. He put me in touch with five of them, of whom three agreed to be interviewed. I also monitored the progress of a larger sample of swarms via administrative access to SwarmTribes via the web. At approximately fortnightly intervals, I took ‘snapshots’ of the measures that were available for each swarm: • • • number of members; number of messages sent; number of invitations sent and accepted by individuals within each swarm.

Figure 4 shows the first two of these measures over time for the five most active swarms in the initial intake (i.e. those who took part in the pilot for longest).

Swarm size over time
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Swarm activity over time
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Figure 4 – Development of a sample of swarms over the course of the project

The nature of my approach to sampling meant that I did not collect data at the initial registration stage when members were first added to swarms (and no reports were available on SwarmTribes to provide this historical data). However, the upper chart shows that there was very little growth in the swarms after this stage. In the lower chart, figures for messages increase in increments according to the size of the swarm (i.e. sending one message to a swarm of 50 leads to an increment of 50 messages). It’s evident that, for all but one of this sample of the most active swarms, group messaging had effectively ceased by October. I interviewed Annalie, Slashed Seat Affair and Temposhark in July 2008. I approached them all for a follow-up interview in November, but only had a response from Temposhark – see the case study in Section 2.4.
2.3.6 Changes in the social media environment

Inevitably the rest of the world did not stand still during the SwarmTribes pilot. For example, the US-based service Mozes (mozes.com) extended its SMS messaging platform for bands to communicate with fans, though without the VIP fan concept that lies at the heart of SwarmTribes. They have raised $18 million investment, claim over 5,000 ‘mobs’ (the Mozes equivalent of a swarm), and have signed a deal with Sony Music to support a number of their artists. However, the most significant development was the very widely-reported ascendancy of Twitter, which went from being a minor cause celebre at a tech convention a year ago (in the shape of the Mark Zuckerberg interview at SXSW Interactive) to a phenomenon endorsed by mainstream media celebrities (in the shape of Jonathan Ross and Oprah Winfrey) earlier this year. While different in many ways from
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SwarmTribes, Twitter is evidently a competitor since it is widely touted as a means for celebs of all shapes and sizes, including independent bands, to keep in touch with their fans. Although SMS is not central to its operation (at least in the UK), it can be used from a growing number of mobile handsets. This competition validates the space in the market that SwarmTribes aims to occupy, while also reinforcing the impression that the execution of SwarmTribes has not been a success. At the time of writing, Swarmteams is exploring ways to provide a mobile messaging service through the web – working with the Bemoko platform for content delivery (bemoko.com) – rather than SMS, to get round the costs associated with the latter. There are plans to develop the service so that it can be operated through widgets and APIs embedded in other websites, reducing or removing the need to visit the SwarmTribes site. To achieve this, alongside a significant increase in the number of users, Swarmteams has prepared a business plan for investment. Other sectors, including sports and sports fans, will be targeted alongside music. 2.4 Case studies
2.4.1 Temposhark

Temposhark is an electronic rock band, led by singer-songwriter Rob Diament. Formed in 2004, the band released their first album in March 2008, and were working on their second in late 2008 and early 2009. They have followings in the UK and US (where they have sold out some tours), which they have accrued in part through collaborations and crossover with fellow artists Imogen Heap, Guy Sigsworth and Frou Frou7.
There were a few key fans of Imogen’s that became fans of ours really early, perhaps even before she’d done a song with us, but she mentioned us on a few blogs. It’s incredible how something like that can work. All it needs is one or two obsessive fans to read something on a blog, and then, thanks to the Internet, they can go away and research it. Imogen had a forum; we had a forum, and some of the same people were in both — even though I’m a male singer, we seem to share some fans. Rob Diament, July 2008

In the early days of the band, Temposhark were able to sell 10,000 downloads on the US iTunes Store, without any formal PR and apparently solely on the back of word spreading via the Imogen Heap association.
I really believe in the power of word of mouth. I think we’re pretty much proof of it in that sense.

This is what had attracted Rob to the SwarmTribes pilot, and when I first spoke to him, he was enthusiastic about the power of making a direct connection with fans.
The benefits of SwarmTribes I can see being that personal connection. That’s what appealed to me initially. What I like is that you can have a special strand for the VIPs, and I’ve already started personally inviting certain fans, and it makes them feel like you’re including them, because you are in a way. Like a joining a club. They’re excited because they

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A richly-detailed history of Temposhark is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temposhark
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can text me, without me having to give my number out, so I can continue my friendship with them without it crossing into my private life. I’ve already built up a trust with them, because I’ve always written blogs every month and I’ve always responded personally to emails. I like the idea at the end of a gig being able to send a text to everyone just to say ‘thanks for coming’.

Rob was cautious, though, about how well the service would scale, and recognised that SwarmTribes’ SMS-only service (as it was in Summer 2008) had drawbacks as well as advantages.
I’m not trying to pretend I’m a big star, but you can’t be friends with all of them [the fans], as it would take all your time. … We did a mass mailout to everyone who we had a [mobile] number for, inviting them to join the swarm, and some people signed up from that, but others didn’t want to because there’s this whole thing at the moment about mobile phone companies that are selling ringtones through text messages, and they end up getting signed up into something that costs them £10 a week. A lot of my friends would be really worried about getting signed up to some subscription service.

This and other drawbacks were mentioned by other bands, including an artist who had been advised to target a young, female audience:
Some people are wary of giving out their mobile number because it is so personal and feels like it could be invasive — older people in particular. On the other hand, for under-18s the challenges are different: sometimes they will run out of credit on their phones, and literally not be able to use their phones for a few days. So it’s not always reliable! Annalie, July 2008

At the start of his involvement in the pilot, Rob Diament was planning to build the Temposhark swarm via a number of means, such as mentioning it on his blog, and was already thinking creatively about the kind of dialogue he might have with fans:
What I found, doing a gig the other week, was that having people sign up in front of you is quite exciting… I’m going to mention SwarmTribes in every email I send, so maybe the repetition will help encourage them as well. I’m wondering about the second album, that we’re going to finish by November, and interested to see how we can do that with the fans: I almost want to say that you can get exclusive updates through that medium. Some kind of dialogue about what song I’m writing today. We’ll see.

And we saw. These plans were not followed through. Figure 4 shows that three messages were sent to the Temposhark swarm in September and October 2008, but that was it. There was no single reason for this, and it was barely a conscious decision, but more a case of going with the flow, following avenues that seemed to offer quicker, more straightforward rewards. With just 39 members in the swarm to show for the initial recruitment efforts, investing time in further recruitment felt like a slog. By comparison, Rob had started using and promoting his Twitter presence in the seven months between my first interview with him and the follow-up in February 2009. At the time of writing, he has over 1,100 followers.
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He repeatedly stressed the attractiveness of Twitter’s simplicity, and the following quote also illustrates Rob’s awareness of the traffic and responsiveness of different platforms:
… I think when these things are all new, they often do have this thing where people feel really like wowed by it, and they get really into it, and then they you email you and stuff. And when I was first on the home page of MySpace, a few years ago, we had loads of emails from people just saying “I love you music, or I bought it on iTunes” or that kind of stuff. And then I could write back to them and you get into dialogue with people. Since Twitter’s arrived, I’m getting loads of direct messages from people, and even just this @reply thing, where they talk with each other. I just feel it’s increased since that’s happened… The difference with MySpace is, there’s so much on MySpace and it’s constantly developing and getting bigger almost. The same with Facebook where there’s so many applications on Facebook. And I think, the bigger things get, sometimes the less impact they have with personal emails and personal things, because it all becomes this big mass of stuff. And with something like Twitter that’s so simple, I think it might actually survive being this community that it is right now, because of its simplicity, because they’re not going to start having adverts, they’re not going to start putting video content up and all that stuff. Because it is just words, and it’s quite simple… I think MySpace and stuff is suffering in a way, because it’s getting too big, you know, it’s getting too… complicated and there’s too much information to take in. So instead of emailing your favourite band, you’ll just watch ten of their videos and then get bored and go somewhere else. I don’t think you’d have that feeling that you want to email someone or talk to them as much. I get less emails on MySpace now; I get some on Facebook, loads on Last.fm and loads on Twitter. Rob Diament, February 2009

Temposhark followed through the idea of maintaining a dialogue with fans during the recording of their album, but they did so via videos on YouTube, embedded in the Temposhark blog8. This offered both richer media, and a potentially much wider reach by comparison with SwarmTribes. When asked directly about SwarmTribes, Rob still had the service pegged as SMSonly, based on his original impressions, and reflecting how detached he had become from the pilot.
I think people are quite wary of giving away too much information these days, I think especially mobile phone numbers and I think that might be why it’s difficult with SwarmTribes. I mean, I think it was a great idea, but the trouble is the amount of people I’ve spoken to who were just like, “I don’t want you texting me” because they feel it’s like their personal space, and that they’re not in control of it, and they don’t like the idea of being spammed by it. With email, people don’t even like spamming on email, but I think there’s an element… they can just delete it if they don’t want it, or something, and it’s less intrusive in a way. So I think that’s definitely what I’ve found.

Later in the interview I had mentioned a little of the new directions SwarmTribes had taken:
I’m not anti it or anything, I just need to work out how it would fit in with what we’re doing, because if I’m already doing Twitter and stuff like that, it’s like, I kind of don’t
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See, for example, the blog post about ‘crowdsourcing’ some backing vocalists via Facebook at http://temposhark.blogspot.com/2009/01/you-and-me-areirresistable.html, plus other videos on the YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/temposhark
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need another one. But… maybe it’s a better email management system than what I’m using, I don’t really know. Because FanBridge [another email system] seems quite good, and it’s just quite simple… I just need to login I think and… [David Jennings: It’s not my job to sell it to you.] I personally haven’t logged in [to SwarmTribes] for a while,

Clearly Rob Diament and Temposhark ‘get it’ in terms of the power of social media for keeping fans engaged and building word of mouth. Even though they’ve been operating without a manager, they’ve found time to blog, tweet and produce diary-style videos of their recording, and they have engaged a large number of fans and potential fans through these means. But SwarmTribes has not been a significant part of this multi-pronged campaign, mainly because the initial experience was one of investing effort only to get a fair amount of fan resistance and little reward in return.
2.4.2 Cr2

Cr2 Records is an independent dance music label based in London. They are clients of Rosie Bryant at SOS Music. After Rosie had delivered her initial report and recommendations (see Section 2.3.4 above), Swarmteams hired her to help develop one or more case studies working with the ‘revised’ SwarmTribes service, and, based on her experience of working with Cr2, she put them forward as a company she felt could benefit from the service.
Cr2 are a client of mine. I was giving them some general advice on their marketing strategy, so during the course of the conversation they explained to me that they were really under-using the database which was really insubstantial compared to what it should have been, considering the profile the label has, and their level of activity did have was fairly strong, and had been responsive on campaigns. They also discussed that they wanted to create communities outside the UK, and have them working for them. So I felt that their needs perfectly matched the SwarmTribes offering, so they might benefit from a trial. I suggested they meet Ken, and we talked, and we’ve been running, or started running, what will be a series of promotions. Rosie Bryant, January 2009

Unlike Temposhark, Cr2 were not asked to use the service ‘as is’, but were invited to help co-design an updated version of the service including email functionality. They were also supported by Rosie, acting as an incubator and liaison between Cr2 and Swarmteams. The chicken-and-egg challenge this created was that Cr2 were understandably cautious about committing their fan communications to the service until it met their needs, but it was difficult to ensure it met their needs until they used it.
The struggle is that we want Cr2 to fully embrace the technology, for it to be their number one data management software — and really it needs them to do so for us to fully benefit from the trial. So, for example, on the Cr2 website we need a widget there that’s really clear and simple, so all the new subscriptions are going into SwarmTribes. What we’re finding is that we need to fine-tune the system as we go, so that they’re completely happy with it before they’ll do that.

In common with most companies in the music promotion business, Cr2 were already using email list management software, and had a number of expectations about the feature set, including things like the ability to send HTML mail. Swarmteams therefore had to develop SwarmTribes to include these features.
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However, because this case study was email-based, Cr2 were able to import their full email database into SwarmTribes, creating at a stroke a swarm with over 3,300 members – an order of magnitude larger than any of the previous swarms in the pilot. Rosie worked with Cr2 and Swarmteams to develop campaigns using SwarmTribes:
The first promotion that we’ve done is a competition… We ingested the entire database so that we’ve got one Cr2 team, and then within that people have opted in for team number two, which we now know is our active users, and Cr2 have been giving them content as well for the system. And the competition worked such that there was an incentive for users to invite new friends to the service, so that they could all win, I think it was a trip for them and a friend, so it was relevant to them inviting any friend relevant to the promotion, so that was a good place to start. [David Jennings: Because that inviting of new friends is fundamental…] Yeah it’s fundamental to the concept.

Progress was slow:
It’s not growing as fast as we would like and so the next thing we’d like to do — this was over the Christmas period, which isn’t necessarily the best period, so what it needs now is another prompt to the database reminding them of the benefits. The other thing that we looked at was an automated email out to the team, every time someone subscribes, an automated email that describes the benefits very clearly: Why should you be in this swarm or this swarm, what is Swarmteams etc. Which again is something we’re holding off until that’s been developed further and everything’s working well. But the next thing that we’re going to look at doing — as that’s part of a continuous run of promotions that’ll hopefully run for a little while — is hopefully taking a look at creating VIP teams in different territories for Cr2, and they’ve already got some interest there, and there’s a database to target. So that’ll be very interesting, and there’ll be a very clear brief for VIPs, the number one goal being to start their team and to grow the numbers. So it should be interesting — that’ll definitely be a very important test for SwarmTribes. I think that that will take a number of months Rosie Bryant, January 2009

Up to this point in the case study, the application of SwarmTribes was indistinguishable from that of an email list sending out ‘broadcast’ messages – exactly what the Bioteams swarming model had sought to differentiate itself from. Response rates have been modest, exactly as predicted for broadcast messages. An invitation to register on the website and provide some additional information, with the incentive of a free MP3 track for anyone who did, got 70 people to sign up – around 2% of the 3,300+ swarm members. 3,000 people imported. The problem is that registration is required for swarm members to be able to invite others or create their own swarm. So this response rate constrains the number of fans who can become VIP swarmers. The invitation to become VIP ‘international affiliates’ – as referred to in Rosie Bryant’s quote above – was sent out in mid-March, and got 15 positive responses. Cr2 said that they wanted to contact each of these prospective VIPs individually before proceeding further. At the time of writing, in the last week of April, this round of contacts has not yet been completed. This case study depends on Cr2 maintaining the momentum, but it

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appears they may be flagging, and frustrated by the relative lack of rewards in relation to the amount of effort that SwarmTribes requires from them. The Cr2 swarm has seen more messages sent out to more people than any other swarm in the pilot. However, as with the smaller swarms recruited earlier, there has been no appreciable growth of the swarm (3,366 members in December 2008, 3,371 in April 2009), and no clear evidence of swarming behaviour in the shape of one member attracting others to join. In the second half of April, reporting functionality was added to make it possible to track the source of recruitment to swarms, but it hasn’t been running long enough for their to be meaningful data. In an attempt to integrate with the expectations and established working practices of this client, SwarmTribes may have risked underplaying its unique features and selling points. If it becomes just another email list application, well, Cr2 already had one of them…

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3 Lessons
3.1 Cycle of innovation
[L]ive controlled experimentation is the only way to get things right and most things won’t work out as planned anyway, no matter how well they are analyzed and designed. Bioteams quickly experiment with multiple alternative courses of action… Ken Thompson, Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature’s Most Successful Designs, 2008

The SwarmTribes pilot was an experiment by Swarmteams and NESTA to explore how a model of group communications, and its instantiation in a software application, could be implemented to catalyse change in a context (audience development with fans in the music sector) where neither party had much experience. Thus there were at least four sets of issues rolled up together in the pilot and at least four potential points of failure. 1 2 3 4 The Bioteams swarming model might be inaccurate as a description of ‘natural’ fan behaviour. The execution of the software application might be poor. The engagement with key actors in the music sector might be ineffective. The sector might be unwilling or unable to change and innovate in the ways the swarming model requires.

As it is based on case studies, a pilot project cannot provide definitive tests of each of these points: there are no control groups, and no means to disentangle the issues. With that heavy caveat, my reading of the evidence from the pilot leads to the following verdicts for each of the above points. 1 Not guilty. Nancy Baym’s and Ryan Milner’s literature review suggests that research accounts of fan behaviour are broadly consistent with the swarming model; Rosie Bryant argues that the model is very much in line with the industry practice of coordinating street teams of fans. Partially guilty. In terms of communications functionality, SwarmTribes does everything it has been supposed to do. However, the reporting features that enable swarm owners to identify potential alpha/VIP swarmers. Generally the system has suffered from being too complex and difficult to use. Partially guilty. The interest at the AIM Music Connected event and subsequently shows that SwarmTribes is able to attract the interest of the music sector. But the project was slow to find the most promising users, went down too many blind alleys, and did not keep the participants in the initial phase of the project up to date with developments, allowing them to drift away. Not guilty. It is suspect to blame the customer at the best of times. While mainstream thinking may not have caught on to every beneficial feature of SwarmTribes, that goes with the territory in a project like this – it would not be innovation otherwise. The case of Temposhark and other examples show that some in the sector are working along very similar lines. The challenge has been to find and engage them.

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The main lessons emerge from the areas where there is some guilt, where things didn’t go so smoothly and there is room for better, alternative approaches. Figure 5 elaborates these areas in greater detail, and the rest of this section deals with them.
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Platforms Branding Positioning

Music sector ecology

Communicate proposition

Capture feedback from practical experimentation

Inspirational exemplars

Service design & usability

Figure 5 – Innovation Cycle for SwarmTribes

This cycle is an iterative to-and-fro of developing what you think the market wants, promoting it to that market, and then refining your ideas about what the market wants in the light of feedback from actual experience. If there is too much ‘friction’ or barriers as you go round the cycle, the process tends to cave in on itself – as may have happened in this pilot. But if the cycle runs smoothly then it picks up momentum with each circuit, spinning out into a wider orbit, until it reaches critical mass and further growth is self-sustaining. When you are incubating an innovation, each step of the cycle has to take careful account of the culture and ecology of the marketplace around it – in this case the music sector. However, if the innovation has already been incubated in a different sector (as was the case with Twitter, for example), then it may have sufficient momentum to be able to sweep into adjacent sectors without having to worry too much about the norms and protocol, which will adapt to it rather than vice-versa. The lessons below are in effect an elaboration of the options for improvement that I proposed in my Interim Report last October: • • • • • • creating exemplars and case studies that embody the swarming concept in a concrete and mimickable form; identifying the most fertile ‘seeding grounds’ for swarms; removing/lowering barriers to bands signing up and getting started; removing/lowering barriers to fans joining and participating in swarms; supporting bands and management in ‘priming the pump’ and helping ensure that their swarms get off to a good, vibrant start; increasing incentives for bands and fans to engage with each other.

3.2 Test, revise and keep communicating the proposition Swarmteams came into the project with a substantial amount of intellectual property to back up the SwarmTribes service, including Ken Thompson’s two books (Bioteams and
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The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the Future Through Virtual Enterprise Networks) and experience of implementing the Swarmteams service in other sectors. However, they had very little practical knowledge or experience in the music sector. They had to judge how best to pitch the SwarmTribes proposition in a way that would appeal to bands and their management, distinguishing it from the many other social media offerings available while making it seem like a logical extension of them.
Looking at the comparisons in the marketplace and how Swarmteams fits into that… it’s very difficult. Apart from anything else… it’s very difficult to market something new to people. You very rarely want to, quite frankly, because you’ve got to convert people, they’ve got to understand what it’s all about. What you want to look for is something that you can align yourselves with, and then show how you’re slightly different and slightly better. And I think there wasn’t really enough there from what I could see in terms of what’s already out there, how does it compare, how is it better, how does it link in with or integrate with what a band are already using. Rosie Bryant, January 2009

In attempts to align the offering with what was familiar to the market SwarmTribes was described informally as “MySpace for mobile” or “Twitter for groups”. These analogies help give people some kind of handle on the SwarmTribes offer, but may also create inaccurate or limited expectations. The essence of swarming is potentially more radical (in the sense of working with whole groups rather than multiple social pairings) than MySpace or Twitter. The experience of the pilot backs Rosie Bryant’s comments about the difficulty of communicating what is radical and innovative, while also making it sound attractive. Early in the project, one swarm owner commented in an email, “Have watched the video [on the Swarmteams website]. Why am I thinking ‘pyramid selling’?” As described in Section 2.3.2, the animations failed to overcome this difficulty. The challenge was exacerbated by the nature of a pilot where some elements of the proposition changed as a result of the experimentation that took place. In particular, there was a significant shift from the first part of the project, when the mobile SMS basis of the service being central to its differentiation, to the later stages when emphasis switched away from the mobile platform towards email. While Swarmteams benefited from experimenting with “multiple alternative courses of action”, there was also be a tension with the demands of appearing confident to the market by backing one solid offering rather than confusing it with multiple options. The experience of the latter phase of the pilot, including the Cr2 case study, suggests that Swarmteams may not yet be in a position to settle on a single, stable proposition. Further experimentation may be needed, whether this involves building SwarmTribes out into a fully-featured communications hub, licensing the swarming technology to another provider’s integrated solution, or some other path. 3.3 Keep the branding low-key until it has momentum Early in the pilot, Swarmteams considered a range of alternative brands to distinguish their music offering from the ‘parent’ service. SwarmTribes was chosen from a shortlist

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of different terms that played on the biology/group theme. Seth Godin, the Internet marketing pundit, had recently written about music fans as tribes9. This choice of terminology and the way it was presented was considered alienating in some respects for the target market.
I did feel that a lot of the wording, a lot of the communication on the site, was a bit cheesy. And it lent itself much more to a pop market than what we have which is an enormous indie/rock/dance market, and it was alienating. They would read that and think “This isn’t for me, because this isn’t how I talk about myself, and I don’t want to ask my fans to join my ‘tribe’. That’s not how I communicate with my fans.” What you want is for the platform itself to be a little more faceless, and allow much more customisation from the individual artist so that it can be used in a really versatile way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the biological terminology. I didn’t actually have a problem with using the term ‘swarm’ — that was kind of OK — but it was the ‘tribes’ part. Two things: one, I didn’t think that the music industry cared that much about it; it’s where the concept’s evolved from, all the thinking and understanding about the natural world, or what have you, but really the music industry don’t need to know that. They need to know How’s it going to affect my business? How am I going to generate more sales? …And really those are the things you need to focus on. The rest of it’s just fluff, and it pales into insignificance, and I felt there was just too much emphasis on explaining, you know, what the theory is behind it, whereas that’s completely irrelevant to me as a user, and, quite frankly, it’s a little confusing as well. Rosie Bryant, January 2009

Rob Diament backed this up with his own experience.
I also think the name isn’t right, I’m convinced the name SwamTribes is too… every time I tell people “Have you heard of SwarmTribes”, they go “Whaat, that sounds awful!” People just think it sounds like an illness or something, because it just sounds strange. I think something shorter, like just Tribes, I don’t know, just something shorter would be more effective on a branding level. Because I don’t think it’s the kind of name that attracts people to want to get involved. I know it sounds ridiculous, but people are so weird, people are so picky about things. And I think part of Twitter’s success is that you can remember it. And you go “Twitter? Like, what the hell?” Like, loads of my friends hadn’t even heard of Twitter, but they all go to it straight away, and they can find the website really easily. But if I say SwarmTribes, it’s almost too long. Rob Diament, February 2009

Nothing succeeds like success, and Twitter evidently did not choose their brand to reflect the language and terminology of the music sector, but incubated elsewhere – in the geek-tech domain where such names are au courant – and were then able to translate this momentum to other areas. Directly after the above comments, Rob went on to give an interesting reflexive twist to his assessment, suggesting that SwarmTribes has to build an ‘audience’ in exactly the way bands like his have to.
I think it’s just about finding an audience that is probably… not even that different, but you have to find some kind of angle that’s just slightly… different… and I’m sure it would take off, if you know what I mean.
9

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Building or incubating a brand doesn’t have to be a macho chest-beating exercise in shoving the name down people’s throats all the time, and SwarmTribes may be better off if it takes a more stealthy – and more ‘Web 2.0’ – approach to begin with. One approach would be to make it easier for bands and/or fans to ‘colonise’ the swarming space, giving it their own look and feel, rather than requiring everyone to operate with the same page template (thin of MySpace profiles, for example). An alternative, currently under consideration by Swarmteams, as described in Section 2.3.6, would be develop the service so that it can be operated through widgets and APIs embedded in other websites, rather than requiring fans to visit the SwarmTribes website. From the evidence collected in the evaluation, it seems the identity SwarmTribes should project is one associated with the ‘backstage’ exclusivity of having a direct communication link with the band, irrespective of the channel or medium of this link. 3.4 Keep platform options open The original hope was that SwarmTribes could further enhance its exclusive access to bands by making it more personal and intimate via the medium of SMS. The experience of the pilot is that this intimacy comes with several costs attached. • Although participation in the SwarmTribes pilot was free (aside from standard charges for text messages) fans remained wary of hidden costs, because the mobile platform has a reputation for such gambits. Because SMS messages are more intimate and more like ‘push’ technology in their use of alerts, user are much more sensitive about any message that could be construed as spam. People are not used to using SMS for group messaging. SMS has poor support for threaded conversations. While it may be popular with teen fans, this age group is also liable to run out of credit for sending and receiving messages for days or even weeks at a time.

• • •

In the medium term, beyond the pilot, the SMS platform also has non-trivial financial costs, which need to be factored into the business model once NESTA support has ceased. Swarmteams’ calculations were that the minimum number of messages per month worth selling is 1,000, at a cost of £100. The plan was that this cost would be supported by advertising, in the form of short sponsored additions to the SMS messages, so that the bands would not have to pay for the service. An obvious concern would have been that this might tip an already sensitive balance concerning messages being perceived as spam. But the pilot never came close to testing this concern. No swarms used enough messages to make advertising a viable proposition. Conversely, levying a charge of £100 per month from small bands was not an option. The swarming model also has inherent risks for any platform where cost is directly linked to message volume. As fans can send messages themselves, the owner or sponsor of a swarm is not in control of their costs. There is a tension built into the system: you want messaging to mushroom as swarmers enlist their friends, but, as it does, so do your costs. In contrast, the same does not apply to email and RSS. Hence the decision to move the focus of the service to email. The clear lesson from this is that, in a world of converging communications platforms, it is unwise to plump for one platform until a resilient and scalable business model has been found. Up to that point, innovative models should hedge their bets and explore multiple alternative platforms.
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3.5 Explore multiple positions in the market The SwarmTribes pilot was planned and initially developed as a stand-alone service targeted at bands and artists. A number of alternative ways of positioning the model and technology in the music sector were not seriously considered until later in the pilot. The rationale for the focus on bands was that they are the ones who inspire the most devotion from fans, they are the premier ‘social object’. The downside of this focus was that many of the bands in the pilot were not particularly active in promoting or using their swarms. In my interviews, they explained that they expected to make most use of SwarmTribes when they were playing gigs or issuing a new release. In the extended intervals between such events, they didn’t feel confident that they had much to talk about with their swarms. Critically, they did not feel that SwarmTribes was an appropriate platform for them sharing the minutiae of their not-so-glamorous day-today lives à la Twitter. More generally band members themselves may not be the most clued-in about the techniques of building an audience.
What I find is that a lot of the independent artists I see, this is a particular area of weakness, knowing how to grow and nurture a dedicated fanbase. Rosie Bryant

During the pilot, SwarmTribes dipped its toes into other sub-markets within the music sector, but mostly only with a sample of one. Many of these alternative sub-markets have solid business reasons and/or strong traditions of more regular communication with music fans than bands themselves have. For example: • • • • • music venues gig promoters magazines and semi-commercial fanzines fan-led communities street teams.

The other dimension of positioning SwarmTribes in the music sector is its competition and relationship to complementary offerings. With hindsight, Mozes was probably not the most similar offering, just because it involved messaging to mobile handsets, and was not a competitor in the UK market. Even from this vantage point at the end of the pilot, there can be no definitive statement of SwarmTribes ‘true’ position in the marketplace. But if the key offering to fans is the prospect of exclusive backstage access to band members, then everything from MySpace to Twitter comes into contention. And if the offering to bands or other players on the music scene is a unique model for developing an audience, then tools from email list management to ReverbNation are relevant as competition, because they are the customers’ existing solution. Through its website and animations, SwarmTribes made efforts to distinguish itself from the ‘broadcast message’ approach of MySpace and email lists. The challenge with this line is that the Cr2 case study suggests that, in the early stages of customers’ adoption of SwarmTribes, they are likely to be using it in exactly the broadcast way – and with correspondingly modest response rates. One hitherto unexplored alternative would be to integrate the swarming model and technology into an existing service with an established market presence. This might provide a route to market with less friction. For example, ReverbNation already offers a

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solution for street teams10 - could SwarmTribes work in partnership with them to augment this solution? 3.6 Build experimentation into planning and resourcing The preceding parts of this section have argued that, although billed as a pilot, the SwarmTribes project had insufficient capacity to experiment with all the alternative courses of action that might have turned out to be fruitful. The initial plan followed something closer to the ‘waterfall model’ of system development: an initial analysis stage, followed by development, followed by implementation, with precious little scope for iteration and feedback from the market or users, which might have challenged the original analysis. This plan was swiftly and radically adapted around the midpoint of the extended project (August 2008). In line with Rosie Bryant’s comments (quoted in Section 2.3.4 above) about how quickly Ken Robinson responded, I saw no denial – and indeed no panic – in the face of evidence that the swarms were not developing as hoped. Time and thought went into reviewing and refocusing the remainder of the project. The major difficulty with this refocusing was that the original budget for developing SwarmTribes had been exhausted some months previously. The project had to reassign funds initially intended to pay for swarm messages, in order to support at a minimal level the additional development that was required. As described above, some of this development was effectively an undoing of what had been done earlier in the project (i.e. replacing email functionality, included in the original Swarmteams service, that had been removed to make SwarmTribes an SMS-only system). Because of limited resources, the second half of the project had to take another ‘one shot’ analysis-development-implementation approach. More attention was given to getting feedback from case studies such as Cr2, and developing the system further to accommodate this. But there was no scope for exploring some of the alternative courses of action described in previous sections. 3.7 Ease of use is critical to building momentum The success of the swarming model at the heart of SwarmTribes depends crucially on the ease and simplicity with which swarms can grow. This in turn is the prerequisite for the scale that is central to the SwarmTribes business plan. (Early in 2009, a business plan to raise investment targeted having one million users by end 2009, and ten million after three years.) It will be a lot easier to meet such targets by getting a smaller number of swarms that reach critical mass and grow significantly under their own steam, compared with recruiting more swarms that never grow much beyond their starting numbers, as has occurred in the pilot. Aside from the Why SwarmTribes? question, discussed above, the experience in the pilot suggests that the answer to the How? question remains over-complex, and there are too many practical barriers to swarm growth. The swarm maturity model in Figure 3 has ten steps: how could this number be reduced?
10

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Only latterly in the pilot has feedback from hands-on users been incorporated into SwarmTribes, and this feedback has only been from one class of users – the swarm owners. Investing in service design and usability should lead to a higher percentage of swarm members engaging fully and actively in their swarms, and thus being more likely to recruit other members. This would create the positive feedback loop that leads to, and constitutes, critical mass. As an illustration, the Cr2 swarm started with approximately 3,300 people imported. A month later, around 70 of these had logged onto the website to register a username and password – which is required to be able to invite others or create your own swarm. Figures from other forms of online participation suggest that the proportion of people who register who actually go on to be active in discussions and invitations is rarely more than 10%. That would mean six or seven members of the Cr2 swarm becoming alpha swarmers, which is 0.25% (1 in 400) of the original total. Service design and usability priorities should then be to: • • increase proportions of swarm members who complete the registration process; make it easier, and more likely, for registered members to invite others to join a swarm and/or create their own swarm.

There are three classes of SwarmTribes user who have differing levels of motivation and different goals in using the service: • • swarm owners, motivated because their living depends on it, with a complex set of set-up and management goals in growing their swarm; alpha swarmers, motivated by social and self-esteem and/or strong intrinsic interest, with a moderate set of goals in building new relationships and developing existing relationships with other swarm members; general swarm members, motivated by a slightly more casual interest in the social object at the focus of the swarm, but with a fairly simple set of goals for participation.

The SwarmTribes pilot has got feedback from the first of these, but not from the second or third. Because of the low levels of engagement, it was very difficult for my evaluation work to identify members of either of these groups who had substantial feedback to offer. These groups were not identified as a major stakeholder group in my original proposal for the evaluation – something that now seems like an oversight. So the lesson is that the end-user experience should be represented, and actively explored, for the benefit of both project leaders, such as Swarmteams, and sponsors, such as NESTA. 3.8 Prioritise exemplars where concepts are hard to explain “If you can’t talk about it, point to it,” as Wittgenstein is alleged to have said. Given the challenge of explaining the distinctive innovation at the heart of the swarming model, a concrete and relevant example of the model in action would be worth its metaphorical weight in gold. The availability of case studies and exemplars would get over the problem that much emergent behaviour looks natural and almost inevitable in hindsight, yet before it happens it is unforeseen and hard even to imagine.
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Once there are credible and referenceable case studies of swarming success then several barriers to the development of further swarms are lowered: • • • communicating the concept and its benefits becomes easier; bands’ motivation to develop swarms is higher; support and training needs of swarm leaders are reduced, as they learn by copying and adapting (just as they did when first developing their MySpace pages); and they may also appeal to potential sponsors of messages or investors in the business.

Swarmteams is understandably frustrated about having to depend on the Karma45 case study, which is now over a year old and losing its credibility since it has not been replicated. Hence the focus in the latter half of the project has been on building good case studies. 3.9 Understanding the ecology of a new sector takes time The music sector is not Swarmteams’ native habitat: the company came with limited contacts and little familiarity with the norms and dynamics that hold sway. At times this was clearly a source of frustration, as Ken Thompson would bemoan a pattern of contacts being “all over you one minute – and then you never hear from them again”. From the other side of the fence, SwarmTribes may be seen as one more alien harbinger of a new way of doing things that threatens to disrupt many of the old, comfortable norms of behaviour. Nancy Baym speaks of “a different skill set [that] being a musician will require in the future – especially being able to provide some continuous content to people with whom one has at least a quasi-personal relationship.” This fish-out-water context provided a canvas on which each of the issues outlined earlier in this section were drawn, and the challenges this created should not be underestimated. Ken relied on others to guide him through the music sector but possibly overestimated the credentials of those around him (myself included). The partnership with, and guidance from, Rosie Bryant of SOS Music, which began half way through the pilot, was the most productive.
I don’t know who they went to see, but I try and look back to when I started out on my own in the music business, the mistakes I made, and the people I spoke to. I think, as with any industry, if you don’t know the industry well, you’ve got to take a broad selection of the industry for your research. If they only went to record companies, that’s the first error. Go to management companies, go to publishers, speak to independent artists. But it is difficult, it is difficult… Rosie Bryant, January 2009

Though I knew about street teams, and was even briefly part of one once, it took a guide who lives and breathes this way of working to identify that the fit between street teams and SwarmTribes might actually work at a practical level.
[A] street team is essentially the band fanbase that works for the band. Traditionally you’d work with a very big pop artist who would have substantial fanbase, hundreds of thousands, and a label would isolate core team of up to a hundred. It wouldn’t normally be much larger than that because what you’re talking about is your really avid, dedicated fans, who are then given lots of incentives and freebies to reward their help in promoting the band. Traditionally they’d do things like call up DJs and request that the music be played or call up The Box and request that the video be played, but they’d also play quite an important role on the web, posting
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things on forums, making sure that there’s a constant profile for an artist on the web in a way that’s very labour-intensive. They manage fan sites, and there will be that core team of nutters that appear outside a gig, and they play a part in creating an illusion of success and profile for an artiste. There is an exchange of goods and services, but the idea being that if you get real fans they’re doing it because they want to do it, it’s not just for the freebie, and they’ll do a better job. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools that can exist. When I saw the platform, I understood that this was a technology that could make street teams simple, because they are simple enough in principle, but it does take a bit of a marketing pitch to understand how to keep a fanbase happy and working for you. And they’re incredibly labour-intensive – basically somebody’s full-time job. The clever marketing teams use one of their top street teamers to help run the street team as well, so you constantly delegate tasks. But it takes a little time, and it’s difficult to monitor the activity and work out who the really avid fans are. So here was a technology that did that for you, reduced the workload, and made it possible for more bands to run street teams.

Social media has to adjust to work within the warp and weft of whatever ground rules apply in a specific context. There are few if any sure-fire ways to shortcut the time it takes to get a deep, embedded understanding of which tactics might fly and which will bomb. Working with industry insiders is a good approach, but finding the right credible insider takes time, and the best advice is probably to get more than one source of advice to test out thinking and explore possible opportunities.

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4 Conclusions
Putting together all the lessons from the previous section, perhaps the most telling conclusion is that even entrepreneurs and innovation agencies who know that “most things won’t work out as planned anyway, no matter how well they are analyzed and designed” tend to overlook this truth when it comes to scoping and resourcing projects for funding purposes. This meant that the capacity for “quickly experimenting with multiple alternative courses of action” when, sure enough, things didn’t work out as planned, was very limited. The nature of growth and change in social media is emergent, non-linear and therefore highly unpredictable. As this pilot has found, it is sensitive to a very diverse range of factors: technical affordances and experiences, historical development of competitive offerings and inspirational precedents, cultural norms within sectors, personalities of creative and management individuals, economic and business judgments, zeitgeist whims and fashion bandwagons. Any of these individually can make the difference between catapulting an innovation into widespread acceptance or grinding it into the dust of universal indifference. Predicting the interaction of so many individual factors is simply impossible.
Top-down planning of bottom-up phenomena is a trick! Nancy Baym, October 2008

So managing this growth is not going to be easy or smooth. There will always be pressures to adjust plans, even when the plans allow scope for rapid experimentation with multiple parallel courses of action. One essential pillar of this management must be 360-degree monitoring and communication. The SwarmTribes pilot suffered from the absence of this at several levels. The following three instances are examples from a wider range that could be cited. • As the project changed emphasis and SwarmTribes itself was re-developed, insufficient attention was given to keeping the owners of existing swarms in touch with the changes. As a consequence, they were allowed to drift and lose touch with the project – a possible missed opportunity. Conversely there was little monitoring of the impact of the incentives, rewards and constraints for swarm owners and alpha fans. One band member I spoke to revealed an unplanned consequence of the message quotas that were imposed on swarms. They were holding back from sending interim update messages to their swarm, he said, because they didn’t want to find that they’d run out when they had some more substantial activity to promote. So this feature of the pilot management was inadvertently a brake on growing swarm activity. Finally, and most critically, the lack of in-depth reporting threatened the collection of data required to understand the quantitative aspects of the swarming model in the music sector. At one level the model is a numbers game: working out the proportion of swarm members who become alpha fans in different circumstances is central to the ‘gearing’ of the model, and advising SwarmTribes users on how best to use the service to develop their fanbase.

The essence of successful experimentation is rapid iteration based on good feedback. It doesn’t matter where you start in terms of analysis, design, and implementation so long as you are able to go round the loop of those three stages at least twice. Ken
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Thompson concluded that, rather than focusing on analysis and redevelopment at the start of the pilot, he would have been better off to start by offering the Swarmteams service as it was, and then redeveloping it in the light of experience and feedback. Meanwhile Rosie Bryant made a similar point while recognising that the path taken by the pilot had nevertheless led to some useful opportunities for learning.
And maybe this is the process they needed to go through to come to the conclusions that they did, because it is also very difficult to get feedback certainly from independent artists on a concept. It’s much easier now to get feedback and criticism on a service that they can play with.

My recommendations for NESTA when commissioning similar entrepreneurial innovation pilots would be: • Press project leaders to consider multiple alternative courses of action, and don’t let anyone be fooled into thinking they know what’s going to work at the start. Keep asking question like, What if that plan doesn’t work? What other ways are there of achieving similar ends? Allow time for iterative experimentation, and ensure project plans have at least two iterations of designs and their implementation. This will probably mean projects that last longer than even the extended 16 months of the SwarmTribes pilot, but it is useless to try and hurry social, emergent behaviour. Ensure that plans have robust measures for 360-degree communication and monitoring. This means all stakeholders being kept in touch with changes of direction that will inevitably take place, and also keeping a very close eye on the impact of incentives, regulations and all the other interventions and levers of influence that are available. If an entrepreneur is working out of their ‘natural habitat’, support them in getting in-depth guidance about the workings of that habitat.

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5 Postscript, April 2010
This section was written by Ken Thompson of Swarmteams in April 2010 to record changes and developments since the report was written. Since the NESTA project ended we have been exploring areas outside music where SwarmTribes (connecting fans and media owners) might gain better traction. 5.1 SwarmTribes for Sports Fans For the last 6 months we have been working in the soccer fans area with some very promising results to the extent that in partnership with one (or more) soccer community/broadcast ventures we hope to launch a new version of “SwarmTribes Soccer” during or after the Soccer World Cup in South Africa in July. We getting a lot of interest in SwarmTribes making possible a “GAME” (Group Augmented Match Experience) - the idea being that a fan may not be at the match but they are almost having as good an experience over the web and mobile phone! From our experiences of the last six months it is very clear that there is much more passion between soccer fans and their teams than music fans and their bands. With music fans we were constantly thinking of ways to try to engage them - with soccer fans you just cannot stop them chatting! There is also much more loyalty (monogamy) between soccer fans and their teams than music fans. Its been said you might change your car or your partner but you never change your soccer team. In the music sector a growing number of fans no longer follow bands in the way they used to - we are seeing an “itunes download generation” where many follow “tracks rather than artists”. 5.2 New SwarmTribes features To facilitate “SwarmTribes for Sports Fans” we have 4 major new features in Beta test: 1. Match Swarms Any two (or more) sets of fans (plus neutrals) can engage with each other around live matches in any sport via a unique integrated messageboard covering web and mobile phone. 2. Embedding We have identified a major requirement for community owners to be able to embed social networks inside their existing web applications and now allow SwarmTribes to be fully embedded using sngle-signon, web-services and IFRAME technology. 3. New Channels (MMS, Mobile Web and RSS) As well as allowing email, web and SMS we now also offer mobile web (e.g. iphone), MMS ( picture messages and videos) and RSS channels. We have found also that many people do not want outbound SMS (very expensive) as long as they can do inbound SMS which is very cost-effective. 4. Polls Tool We have developed a Polling capability, which allows for feedback, quizzes and competitions by web, email and SMS with the results shown instantly in graph form.

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5.3 SwarmTribes Business Model/Strategy In terms of the business propositions “SwarmTribes for Sports Fans” looks like a great way to attract new traffic to a web site and making it very sticky so that they keep returning. This is very attractive for ventures (sports communities and broadcasters) that are following major sports whether they are subscription or advertising funded. Once we have proven the SwarmTribes model with soccer fans we will develop our business model for its expansion to all major team sports such as rugby, cricket, baseball, ice hockey and American football, Tennis, Golf and Formula 1.

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FAN DOM’S BIOT EAMS: APP LYIN G KEN THOMPSON’S THEORY TO FAN CULTURE
R.M. Milner Nancy K. Baym

1 Bioteams Basics
The heart of Ken Thompson’s bioteams model (2008) consists of twelve rules divided into four zones. These rules synthesize the behaviors of various teams of organisms and, Thompson argues, provide a path for successful group interaction. They are as follows: • Leadership zone: every team member is a potential leader. o rule one: stop controlling o rule two: team intelligence o rule three: permission granted Connectivity zone: team members are partners in synergistic networks. o rule four: always on o rule five: symbiosis o rule six: cluster Execution zone: teams adapt by using experimentation and cooperation. o rule seven: swarm o rule eight: tit-for-tat o rule nine: genetic algorithms Organization zone: team members are sustainable and self-organizing o rule ten: self-organizing networks o rule eleven: porous membranes o rule twelve: emerge

2 Fandom Basics
While a universal definition of ‘fans’ or ‘fandom’ is elusive, “most would agree it involves a collective of people organized socially around their shared appreciation of a pop culture object” (Baym, 2007, p. 2). Fans have been studied deeply over the past few decades, including fans of many sorts of texts: • • • • television (Andrejvic, 2008; Baym, 2000; Costello & Moore, 2007; Jenkins, 1992) film (Jenkins, 2006; Murray, 2004; Proffitt, Tchoi, & McAllister 2007; Shefrin, 2004) digital games (Consalvo, 2003; Humphreys, 2005; Postigo, 2008; Taylor 2006) music (Atton, 2001; Baym, 2007; Mihelich & Papineau 2005; Scodari, 2007)

Television fans, especially science fiction fans, have been the topic of most research. Music fans have received far less attention, but there does appear to be some differences between music fans and fans of other media. Fans of visual media and story-based media (such as television and film) seem to often express their creativity by adding to or interacting over the story. Fan fiction and canon debates are examples of such functions. There is some example of this with music fans (e.g., fan remixes of songs and ‘mash-ups’; Serazio, 2008), but most music fans seem to express their devotion by critiquing or evangelizing for the source of their fandom, rather than by altering or expanding it. Fans of the medium appear ready to accept the product as it is
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and go from there, without creatively altering it. This might equate to devotion to a solid product, or displeasure with an inferior product, so it’s a double-edged sword. No matter the medium, given the productivity of fan groups, fans are potential extended members of the teams that create, produce, maintain, and repair media texts, even if they are not official employees of the organizations responsible for those texts. Many fans work labor on behalf of media texts after the producer’s job is done, whether actively through creativity such as remixing songs, creating fan videos, writing fan fiction or digital-game strategy guides, or less actively by talking with friends or others about the texts. While music fans have not been known to labor as creatively as fans of other media, their investment and interest is just as noticeable. Music fandom has been linked time and again to identity and community (e.g. Baulch, 2005; Dougan, 2006; Elliot, 2004; and Farrugia, 2004) on a more universal level than other media fandoms. Fans of musical artists and genres are often not simply fans of only those artists and genres. Rather, those artists and genres are often part of an identity that extends beyond fandom and into identification of a broader subculture, complete with its own values, perspectives, fashion, attitudes, politics, etc. This is often true of fans of independent and underground artists and genres such as independent rock (Stahl, 2003), electronica (McLead, 2001) or goth (Whittaker, 2007). For producers this may mean that tapping into music fan identification with aims on encouraging fan productivity may be about tapping into a subcultural identity more than tapping into investment in a specific musical artist. Technology is moderating the voice and reach of fan identification. Fans of any media can also connect more easily to producers of those texts via email, web forums, social networking sites and the like. The internet and mobile media have made this kind of fan communication increasingly accessible. Fans can now connect across the world around the objects of their fandom. Within the realm of music fandom, this means that fans can help spread music further, critique music with more reach, and therefore theoretically have a more significant impact on musician renown and sales. This is another a double-edged sword. The relationship between fans and producers can be symbiotic, but it can also be a struggle for power (Postigo, 2008; Shefrin, 2004; Soukup, 2006). The tension lies in issues of ownership and who must defer to whom, especially over issues of text quality. A bioteams inspired paradigm of fan/producer cooperation could help to understand how fan practices and producer (used here to mean everyone involved in making, distributing, and promoting music or other pop culture products) can work together successfully rather than in opposition. In the remainder of this essay, we work through the four zones and twelve rules of bioteaming, marshalling the literature of fan activity to draw out the connections between Thompson’s model and what is known about fan practices.

3 Bioteams And Fandom
3.1 Leadership Zone The “leadership zone” of bioteaming rests on one of nature’s most profound examples: that every team member has the potential to be a leader. Social insects are not concerned with charismatic or prestigious individuals. Any ant can lead a march. Far from being treated as potential leaders, fans have a long history of marginalization and censorship (Jenkins, 1992). Despite this, they also have a history of creating materials that spread in ways that can promote engagement with texts. This has been done with little concern for official hierarchy. Any fan can help the text in this way. In music, examples include mp3 blogs, music archives and fan sites (Baym, 2007).
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Jenkins (1992) outlined three ways in which producers attempt to manage fan input: • • • They use fans to support their causes They treat fans with contempt They attempt to supervise fan input.

Each of these three communicates something about producer perceptions of the leadership potential of fans. A discussion of Thompson’s first three rules will help explain why.
3.1.1 Stop Controlling

Rule one asks managers (or in this case producers) to “stop controlling,” and to communicate information, not orders. This may be a rule that producers need to hear, as they often resort to ordering around productive fans, attempting to control their production. Examples include: • Harry Potter fans running websites related to the series were told by Warner Bros. to cease and desist their activity after the film studio bought rights to the title (Murray, 2004) Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans struggled with producers over the content on their sites well (Consalvo, 2003)

These contemptuous producer behaviors violate Thompson’s first rule of bioteaming, and can hurt relations with loyal fans. Attempts to control fan activity can be less aggressive as well. As Siapera (2004) pointed out while exploring television networks’ official fans sites: “in providing a fan site, broadcasters have usurped the more or less spontaneous gathering and organization of fans, and by centralizing the exchange of opinions and ideas they retain considerable control over the show they produce” (p. 162). In the realm of music fandom, there may be something to be said for producer’s attempted control of illegal fan downloads (Woodworth, 2004). Attempts to control illegal downloads have often backfired for many producers (e.g. Metallica) and led to diminished fan/producer relationships. Of course there is also a case for the considerable intellectual property violations and financial risk illegal downloads pose to producers, so producers must determine how much of their property they are willing to not control.
3.1.2 Team Intelligence

Rule two, “team intelligence,” builds on that inherent trust and explains that everyone on the team can be mobilized to respond to threats and opportunities. Fans are often committed and responsive enough to coordinate well as a team. This is what the Writer’s Guild of America, the union that represents American television and film writers, was counting on when they went on strike in late 2007. They used You Tube to mobilize their fans against the perceived threat of the studio and network executives. Stars and writers of shows such as The Office and Scrubs went on the site and called for fans to write to executives demanding they meet the guild’s demands and get the shows back on the air. Baulch (2003) demonstrated how Balinese death-metal fans rose as a counter culture against the perceived threat of “tourist music” geared toward white visitors on the island. By doing so, and pushing forward in their underground fan culture, these metalheads used team intelligence to respond to a perceived threat. Digital-game producers utilize the team intelligence of fans to improve the games they create. Producers monitor actual gameplay to determine which game attributes are used, which are not, and what unexpected ways players engage the game, in order to

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adjust future installments of the text (Humphreys, 2005; Taylor, 2006). Postigo (2003) explained one instance of producer utilization of the team intelligence of fans:
The PC-game industry has wisely tapped these emerging fan bases and fostered them by hosting fan websites and providing server space where networked gaming can take place. Fans contribute large amounts of content for these sites making them valuable resources for gamers, which serve as, amongst other things, a ready-made ‘tech-support’ group for other games. Such additional resources add considerably to the value to the developer’s game. (p. 595)

Chris Ender, CBS senior vice president of communication, called show-related fan forums “the best marketing research you can get” (quoted in Jenkins, 2006, p. 46).
3.1.3 Permission Granted

Rule three, “permission granted” calls for teams to allow members to act without bureaucratic restraint (after all, ants don’t have to wait for permission to march). Accountability, Thompson argues should be achieved through transparency, not control. In fan culture, this speaks to supporting or perhaps supervising fans who are free to labor in a spreadable manner, without controlling them. A sort of “permission granted” model is what George Lucas used when asking for fan input in designing a Star Wars massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game. He laid down ground rules for fan participation in the process, and allowed fans to work independently within those rules (Murray, 2004). Terranova (2000), a digital-economy theorist, explained the value of a “permission granted” mindset in the era of new media: “the best way to stay visible and thriving on the web, is to turn your site into a space that is not only accessed, but somehow built by its users” (p. 49). Soukup (2006) applied such thinking specifically to fan interaction: “clearly, the fansite is another strategy used to foster a perceived mutual interaction between the fan and the celebrity…In some respects, the fan becomes a peer, a fellow performer in the entertainment industry” (p. 331). All of this means music fans may be both empowered and helpful to producer interests if they are given voice within the official system surrounding their favorite musician. 3.2 Connectivity Zone In the “connectivity zone,” networks of team members are exhorted to work together synergistically. In any system of social organisms (and even within any single cell), the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is an appropriate metaphor for many fan groups, who congregate either in person or online to form “knowledge communities” (Lévy, 1997) that are built upon shared information and interpretation about a media text, practices Baym (2000) locates at the heart of fan interaction. For instance Newman (2005) detailed how digital-game fans produce “walkthroughs,” working together to create online strategy guides that help others get through the game level by level. Music fans will often connect in order to take part in a subcultural community surrounding their favored artists and genres. During this connection, these fans often increase their identification with the artist or genre or evangelize its merits to others. This is true whether its blues collectors deciding a ‘canon’ of important records (Dougan, 2006) or fans of trance music meeting and discussing their identity online (Elliot, 2004). Given that these practices, and most spreadable fan productivity, are inherently social, communicative acts, they fit well with the connectivity as zone proposed by Thompson.

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3.2.1

Always On

Rule four of bioteaming states that teams should be “always on” with members able to receive instant messaging 24-7. While this is an impossible goal for an individual, or perhaps even small group, the technologically-enabled connectivity of fans worldwide allows for this. New media let fans interact more often, more intimately, and more thoroughly. Spaces allowing such interaction are up and running 24-7. Many media producers have seen the potential for such “always on” feedback, and have used it to foster community and the growth of their brand. Demers (2006) described how fans of the digital-game Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) used always on internet communities to spread the game across the world, helping it (and the musical artists featured on it) achieve cult hit status. Théberge (2005) explains that “internet fan clubs provide both a medium and a forum for a kind of ongoing, reciprocal interaction between stars and fans, and between fans and the fan community, that is unprecedented in the history of fan culture” (p. 497).
3.2.2 Symbiosis

Rule five deals with “symbiosis,” in which external partners are trusted once they prove beneficial to the team. Jenkins (2006) outlined an excellent example of fan group symbiosis when he explored fans on a message board who congregated in an effort to spoil each season of Survivor. Their explicit goal was to determine each season’s winner before the show announced the results. Each member had his/her own expertise and each worked to benefit the other. Furthermore, each could not exist without the other to apply new information about the show and refine the group’s ideas. While these fans were acting in opposition to the goals of producers (and indeed many other fans of the show) their interdependence is exemplar of the symbiotic nature of many fan communities. The challenge for producers to harness this potential in a way that is beneficial to producer and fan interests. Sotomaa (2007) explained how fans of the digital game The Movies fulfilled an important role that neither producers nor the game itself were able to accomplish. In the game, a player can direct movies within the game engine, using virtual actors. The Movies website allows fans to post their films and other fans to critique those films. Neither fans nor the game itself would realize their full potential without the symbiotic interaction between the two. As Sotomaa explained, “the community is used as a ‘social patch’ to supplement the inadequate feedback the software has to offer the moviemakers” (p. 392).
3.2.3 Cluster

Rule six asks teams to “cluster,” or nurture internal and external networks and connections, forming series of subgroups attached to the larger whole. Again, new media make it easy for this to occur across fan culture. Fans, once isolated by geography, have a much wider pool in which to find comrades and sparring partners (Baym, 2000, 2007; Costello & Moore, 2007). This clustering of fans has potential benefits to both fans and producers. As Grimes (2006) put it, “part of what makes a game attractive to other players (and potential subscribers) is its ability to offer a welldeveloped social dynamic, a feature that would not exist without the continued efforts and participation of regular players” (p. 978). Music fans are very likely to cluster through digital media, especially if their favorite genre is not popular in their society’s mainstream culture. For instance, Soloman (2005) explored how clusters of Turkish hiphop and rap fans used the internet to connect subgroups from diverse locals, extending from Turkey, through Europe, and all the way to the United States. Baym (2007) did the same thing with clusters of Swedish indie music fans. Clustering is a natural part of
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music fan culture, and one that is happening more thanks to new technology. In these clusters, producers have the potential to interact with more fans more quickly. 3.3 Execution Zone The “execution zone” is where Thompson calls teams to experiment, cooperate, and learn the way animals do, adapting generation after generation. Fans often execute by a process called textual poaching, where they work together to experiment with a text outside of its official meanings (Jenkins, 1992, borrowing the term from de Certeau, 1984). So when fans produce fan videos, speculate on future installments of the text, or, in the case of digital-game fans, alter the text using mods (code level alterations of the game’s structure that fans use to create new gaming experiences), they are executing in the way similar to what Thompson proposes in bioteams. As Newman (2005) explained, “the task of the fan is a dual one that pushes and explores at the edge of the canon, expanding, modifying, enriching, while also preserving, policing, and remedying” (p. 53). Music fans can execute by working together to foster identity and build community. Independent rock fans in San Fransisco studied by Stahl (2003) worked together in this manner; so did participants in the 19th century Greek rebetika music culture studied by Sarbanes (2006). During music fan exectution, the specific product is not as important as the identity and culture it represents. Thompson’s execution zone may be a worthwhile way to understand the often contested act of textual poaching. An exploration of the rules within the zone will help such an exanimation.
3.3.1 Swarm

Rule seven is simple: “swarm.” Thompson uses the metaphor to encourage teams to develop consistent, autonomous, team-member behaviors. Fans of the University of Kansas’ basketball team recently swarmed on downtown Lawrence, KS after the team won the 2008 NCAA national championship. These fans poured onto the town’s main street in droves, a sea of blue lasting late into the night. No one organized the rally. No one set up the program. The fans in an autonomous, consistent manner, simply swarmed – calling each other on cell phones, making noise that attracted others, and otherwise bringing others into what became a 40,000 person party in a four block area (in a town with only 80,000 residents!). When fans congregate online to practice poaching behaviors, they are essentially swarming. These fans often work together with little if any hierarchical direction (and often counter to it), sharing mp3s, fiction, creating and distributing mods, and borrowing from the official text to experiment with it and adapt it to their needs. Consalvo (2003) spoke of what is essentially fan swarming when she observed about fansites that “the mixing of the official and unofficial occurs when fans link official sites to their own, and also when fans ‘borrow’ official materials and offer their own views in response.” (p. 75). When fans systematically interact after each new episode of their favorite show on Television without Pity, spread the word on when and where their favorite musician is going to play next, or gather at the airport to welcome their favorite sports team home, they are swarming.
3.3.2 Tit-for-tat

Rule eight calls for “tit-for-tat” cooperation strategies that are mutually beneficial to all team members, and external partners as well. While many fans see their productive contributions to the culture surrounding the text as just that (financially and creatively beneficial to both producers and fans), many producers try to squelch that productivity (Consalvo, 2003; Soukup, 2006). This is not always the case though. Rehak (2003)
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examined the relationship between fans and producers of the multi-media digital star Laura Croft, and found a more sophisticated tit-for-tat type of interaction occurring:
Rather than seeing fans and producers as groups with opposed ideological agendas (the tug-of-war model), it may be the case that postmodern media are shifting away from simple polarities of production and consumption, toward a more complex, cooperative, circulatory model. Audiences and owners work together to construct new methods of coping with change, smoothing over potential ruptures produced by the ever-accelerating evolution of interactive and representational technologies. (p. 489)

So while not all producers are willing to acknowledge the evident “tit-for-tat” relationship between their text and fans due to fears about giving up intellectual property or control over the destiny of the brand, there may be benefits to embracing it. The inability of fans and producers to fully reach a tit-for-tat relationship, and truly cooperate toward mutually beneficial ends, has been one of the most prevalent causes of tension between the two parties. The lack of tit-for-tat cooperation may underlie some fanproducer tension over file sharing. An open dialogue of the benefits and dangers of the practice has given way to reactionary producer control.
3.3.3 Genetic algorithms

Rule nine is based on “genetic algorithms” where at the most basic level, organisms experiment, mutate, and renew. Once again, fan remixes, fan videos, mods, fiction and other poaching acts can be understood as a natural form of fan-lead experimentation. When fans rework and critique the text they esteem, they are acting as external partners within the development process of the text (Jenkins, 1992; Sandvoss, 2005). If producers acknowledge this criticism and creativity, they can more actively participate in the algorithm. Fans may even end up creating in support of producers, as Rehak’s (2003) Lara Croft fans did. However, many producers have not acknowledged the execution potential of fans. Fans of many different media texts have admitted that even if they could hypothetically influence producer behavior, they wonder if they ever actually have (Andrejevic, 2008; Costello & Moore, 2007; Menon, 2007; Scardaville, 2005). This forces us to ask if producers are ready to acknowledge fans as partners in the execution of their product. 3.4 Organization Zone Thompson’s “organization zone” advocates that teams work to establish sustainable self-organization, like many effective teams in nature whose teams consist of simple, replicable units that can be reproduced and redistributed with ease. Much of Thompson’s language in the organization zone is similar to the language of the New Organization, an organizational model proposed by the likes of Drucker (1994, 1998), Fulk and DeSanctis (1995), and Rice and Gattiker (2000). These authors argued that ICTs are changing the way organizations function, that knowledge is an increasingly important commodity, and that the very idea of the worker needs to be redefined to account for motivated self-directed team members working across traditional department lines. Milner (2008) has recently drawn a theoretical link between fandom and the New Organization, arguing that the paradigm is a useful way to view productive fans of media texts. Terranova (2000) has made similar claims without referring to the New Organization by name. As Lucas and Baroudi (1994) observed when exploring the affordances of ICTs on organizational forms, “in the final analysis, the organization of the future may not be an organization at all” (p. 22). This may be especially true in music-fan culture where fans often develop their own subcultural communities from the
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bottom up, without much producer sustenance. Top-down producer organization of fans needs an element of fan control and community to stay viable For instance, in both Théberge’s (2005) study of official fan sites or Yano’s (1997) exploration of a Japanese fan club, producer control over fan activity was critiqued, but fan community and input was still seen as a viable producer strategy. So in the end, Thompson’s “organization zone” may be an important and insightful extension of the emerging link between the New Organization and fandom.
3.4.1 Self-Organizing Networks

Rule ten asks for teams to be “self-organizing networks,” calling for these networks to become transformative and fluid. Fans often work along such ad hoc lines to create sustainable self-organizing networks, needing no more motivation to labor than the text they love. For instance, Jenkins (2006) told of rings of anime fans who were frustrated by their inability to purchase the Japanese animation form in the United States. In an effort to make the texts available to other fans and to raise awareness of the genre, some of these fans began to translate and dub anime programs themselves and then distribute them via self-organizing networks. The fans did so with no mind for financial gain, and even dubbed in a message at the bottom of the screen urging viewers to stop passing the programs along when and if they became available for official purchase in the States. By doing so, fans were organizing themselves into New Organizational networks that worked for the benefit of the producers and the fans.
3.4.2 Porous Membranes

Rule eleven proposes that teams should have “porous membranes” which are open to energy, but closed to waste. Producers of media texts, it seems, have had trouble distinguishing between what fan production will energize their endeavors and what will harm them. Jenkins (2006) explained the delicate relationship between the producer and productive consumer: “the media industry is increasingly dependent on active and committed consumers to spread the word about valued properties in an overcrowded media marketplace, and in some cases they are seeking ways to channel the creative output of media fans to lower their production costs. At the same time, they are terrified of what happens if this consumer power gets out of control” (p. 134). But, when one looks at fans as extended members of the team in either the bioteams or New Organizational paradigms, it becomes evident that there is more good to be had from allowing fans to participate in production than harm. Terranova (2000) pointed out that New Organizational members benefit from something resembling a porous membrane: “knowledge workers need open organizational structures to produce, because the production of knowledge is rooted in collaboration…” (p. 37). Fans seem to have embraced this collaboration, but many media producers run the risk of being so closed to waste, that they do not let any new energy in.
3.4.3 Emerge

Rule twelve calls teams to “emerge,” and scale naturally through natural growth and decay cycles, rather than trying to artificially expand beyond their capabilities. Jenkins (1992) saw fan labor as an important growth stage of fan culture: “fandom recognizes no clear-cut line between artists and consumers; all fans are potential writers whose talents need to be discovered, nurtured, and promoted and who may be able to make a contribution, however modest, to the cultural wealth of the larger community” (p. 280). Indeed, in digital-gaming culture, modders can often get hired by producers, successfully emerging from the extended network to the core of the production system
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(de Peuter & Dyer-Witheford, 2005). Fans can naturally scale through their own phases of life, growth, and death, with changing interests or the cancellation of their favorite text. Unnatural decay attempts by producers (such as cease and desist orders or prosecuting music downloaders) seem to disrupt the process.

4 Conclusion
In short, the bioteams framework offers a useful lens through which to understand fandom and the tensions between fan organizations (both loose and formal) and those who work with the texts professionally. Fandom research contributes to the bioteams project by highlighting several points of tension and resistance on both sides. The danger of any program initiated by media producers is that fan productivity is not a top-down labor system. It is, like bioteams would recommend, egalitarian and cooperative, not rigidly corporate. For instance, when Mihelich & Papineau (2005) explored the online discourse of Jimmy Buffett fans, they found that many fans were increasingly wary of the contradiction between Buffett’s bohemian message and his corporate interests (such as Corona sponsorship and restaurant franchises). His topdown actions conflicted with the message that made him appealing in the first place. In a fan culture sensitive to selling out, producers must be careful that their agenda doesn’t come off as too corporate. When working with fans, producers would do well to remember just that: work with fans rather than expecting them to work for producers. Bottom-up spreadable labor has worked time and time again in fan culture. This is especially true in music-fan culture, given that it is so often deeply tied to subcultural identity and community. Successful artists with active, productive fanbases mostly do not have to manufacture such a fan base. They just keep playing their shows. There is a history in music fandom of bottom-up fan involvement. Producers, when adopting the bioteams model, are better off harnessing that pre-existing labor structure rather than manufacturing it from the top-down.

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