Theory

Sub*culture: Exploring the dynamics of a networked public

Simon Lindgren

Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

[0.1] Abstract—The sub scene, an online community for creating and distributing subtitle files for pirated movies and TV series, is a culture wherein the knowledge of a number of contributors is pooled. I describe the cultural and social protocols that shape the sub scene, with a focus on the linguistic and social exchange that characterizes this particular networked public. Analysis of the linguistic exchange shows that the sub scene is about networked collaboration, but one under a relatively strict social code. The analysis of the social exchange is structured according to Quentin Jones's definition of a virtual settlement. There is a minimum level of interactivity, as well as a variety of communicators, on the sub scene. It can also be described as a virtual common public place where computer-mediated interaction takes place, both in the form of coordination networks and of expert/user networks. Furthermore, it has a minimum level of sustained membership. The culture of the sub scene simultaneously bears characteristics of socialized and alienated cyberculture, which should not be perceived as a contradiction. The development of Internet culture is always happening within the full complexity of society as a whole, and the interplay between unity and discord must be seen as the basis for the social integration of any group.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Fansub; Fan sub; Quentin Jones; Piracy

Lindgren, Simon. 2013. "Sub*culture: Exploring the Dynamics of a Networked Public." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 14. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2013.0447.

1. Introduction: Setting the sub scene

[1.1] Subtitles, or captions, are textual renderings of the spoken dialogue in TV or movie content. In television broadcasts and in movie theaters, subtitles are included on screen in those cases where it is presumed that the audience needs them. In commercially released versions of films and series for home viewing, these subtitles can be activated by the viewer according to his or her needs. Subtitles are mainly used for two reasons: to provide text for viewers with a hearing impairment, and to provide the viewer with captions in another language so the viewer can follow the dialogue. A specific subfield within this area is called fan subbing, where fans obtain, subtitle, and release TV shows or films to other fans. This phenomenon has its roots in barter-based fan cultures that share videocassettes and audio tapes. While such fan subbing represents a particular form of subtitling culture, based partly on its own premises and on high levels of commitment (Ito 2012; Lee 2011), I will focus on the more mainstream and straightforward creation and distribution of subtitles that has emerged in the wake of the more general breakthrough of file-sharing technologies.

[1.2] The rise in online piracy of copyrighted TV and movie content in recent years (Mason 2008; Strangelove 2005) has generated a need for subtitles to accompany ripped video files downloaded by users who do not speak the languages of the downloaded content. In practice, this generally means translating British or American English dialogue into a wide variety of languages spoken throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. However, sometimes the translation works in the other direction—from Japanese or Swedish to English. This has led to the emergence of an online scene for the distribution of subtitle files, known as subs. The subtitling scene is similar to the scenes that supply scanned cover art for CDs or DVDs; patches, cracks, serial numbers, or key generators for pirated games or other software; and passwords for commercial porn sites. These scenes all supply additional tools that users need to fully access the pirated material.

[1.3] Subs are plain text files containing captions tagged with data on frame rate, time stamps for individual captions, and information about text formatting. The two most common file extensions are SUB (MicroDVD format) and SRT (SubRip format). Subtitle files are supported by a number of media player applications, which overlay the text in the caption file onto the displayed video content. Files distributed on the sub scene are sometimes ripped in their original form straight from commercial DVDs, or—increasingly—from TV broadcasts and online streaming. In these cases, the captions up- and downloaded are those created by professional subtitlers for film companies. But in many cases, what are offered are amateur translations of initially ripped subtitles that make the subtitles available in more languages, or subtitle files created from scratch by enthusiasts translating the dialogue and then synching the text data with the video file (these fall into the category of fan subs). As various versions of videos with varying frame rates circulate on pirate sites, there is also sometimes a need to resync, or in other ways edit or correct, subtitle files so they can function in new contexts.

[1.4] The online subtitling community, or the sub scene, revolves around several forms of knowledge and expertise relating to dimensions such as language, movie file editing, file distribution, and site promotion. The sub scene participants therefore potentially represent a new form of media audience betwixt and between old and new media logics, and empowered by new technologies (Jenkins 2006a).

[1.5] The sub scene is interesting to analyze for several reasons. It is a culture wherein the knowledge of a number of contributors is pooled, which makes it an expression of collective intelligence (Lévy 1999). It is also of interest to explore whether the sub scene is based on honor codes similar to those of hacker culture (von Busch and Palmås 2006; Thomas 2002; Wark 2004) or the warez scene (Rychlicki 2006; Rehn 2004), which are defined by networked collaboration under a relatively strict social code. Furthermore, the sub scene is firmly embedded in a pirate culture where current conceptions of copyright are questioned and infringed. All this makes it an object of study through which the interplay between alienation and socialization in cyberculture may be analyzed (Fuchs 2008).

[1.6] To use the conceptualization put forth by Castells (2001), the sub scene cuts across several layers of "the culture of the Internet." In this context, one would expect to meet "virtual communitarians" creating forms of online social organization characterized by "horizontal, free communication" (54), as well as hackers with a common need for openness and sharing, and entrepreneurs who are forerunners in a transformation toward a new economy with new rules of production and circulation. This hybrid media space can be used as an empirical tool for gaining insights into potential conflicts arising within emerging networked publics (Benkler 2006). Any space of this kind potentially represents a site of struggle and negotiation between different forms of power. These conflicts may promote or hinder the processes of peer production.

2. Subtitling as nonprofit production

[2.1] One way of understanding the sub scene is from the perspective of the expanding literature on participatory culture, democratized innovation, and peer production in networked publics. Participatory culture refers to a departure from previous notions of media spectatorship (Jenkins et al. 2009; Jenkins 2006a, 2006b). Media consumers and producers no longer occupy distinct and separate roles. Instead, they must be conceived of as participants interacting under a new set of rules that enable media users to collaborate, find their own voices, map out strategies, develop common interests, and forge political alliances. Similarly, other authors have written about processes of democratized innovation (von Hippel 2001, 2005; Herz 2002) and peer production (Benkler 2006) to illustrate how individual hobbyists and "colonies of enthusiasts" (Rheingold 1994, xxi) design and create new things with the sophisticated tools supplied by new media technologies. This digitally networked environment enables dynamic forms of group-based cooperation in which "thousands of volunteers" (Benkler 2006, 59) are engaged in developing technologies and reshaping culture.

[2.2] In short, there has been a turn toward a networked public culture characterized by amateur and nonprofit production, niche, and special interest groups, and by sharing, remixing, and appropriating content (Lessig 2008; Russell et al. 2008). As Ito (2008) notes,

[2.3] The term networked publics references a linked set of social, cultural, and technological developments that have accompanied the growing engagement with digitally networked media. The Internet has not completely changed the media's role in society: mass media, or one-to-many communications, continue to cater to a wide arena of cultural life. What has changed are the ways in which people are networked and mobilized with and through media…Networked publics…are communicating more and more through complex networks that are bottom-up, top-down, as well as side-to-side. Publics can be reactors, (re)makers and (re)distributors, engaging in shared culture and knowledge through discourse and social exchange. (2–3)

[2.4] I conceive of the sub scene as a networked public. It is a participatory and collaborative environment where technology is used and developed, interests are shared, peer-to-peer sharing takes place, texts are appropriated, remade, and redistributed, and enthusiasts and volunteers create. However, it is important to note—especially because much work on new media is leaning toward the optimistic or even utopian side—that the cooperative and democratizing potential is not necessarily realized in a fully symmetric and frictionless manner. Some participants exert greater power than others, and some have greater abilities than others to participate (Jenkins 2006a).

[2.5] Jenkins (2006a) makes a distinction between interactivity and participation. Various media technologies allow for various degrees of interactivity. For example, listening to the radio allows for a lesser level of interactivity than playing a video game, where users can alter the world that is represented. Participation, on the other hand, refers to the patterns of media use that are shaped by cultural and social protocols.

3. Protocols of linguistic and social exchange

[3.1] I aim to analyze the cultural and social protocols of the sub scene by proposing a study of both linguistic and social exchange in this online environment. To study these protocols, I use a method combining bibliometrics and social network analysis (Lindgren and Lundström 2009) to map out the linguistic and social spaces of the sub scene.

[3.2] A particularly important part of this method is that it aims to bridge the dualism between quantitative and qualitative approaches to text analysis. It presumes that selective qualitative close readings of parts of the empirical material are made in order to inform crucial decisions in the quantitative parts of the analysis, and also that several of the quantitative steps are validated through qualitative measures (Lindgren and Lundström 2009). The choice to combine quantitative content and network analysis with close readings of discourse in Internet research is in line with Quentin Jones's (1997) contention that "the fact that the communication is computer mediated makes it considerably easier to 'count' and 'map' group 'interactions.' At the same time the advent of virtual communities has further highlighted the importance of human interactions."

[3.3] By using the discourse theory of political theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (1985) as a source of inspiration, I analyzed relatively large data volumes by a combination of software tools: Bibexcel and Pajek. Bibliometrics (Osareh 1996) and social network analysis (De Nooy, Mrvar, and Batagelj 2005) combined can be used to perform an analysis of co-occurrences of linguistic concepts, as well as of social actors that can be graphically presented in a way reminiscent of how Laclau and Mouffe conceive of discursive formations. Reminiscent, however, is a key term here, because their conceptual apparatus must be reinterpreted and simplified quite a bit to be applicable to the components of the schematic discursive maps generated in this way.

[3.4] The basic idea of Laclau and Mouffe's (1985) much-quoted and much-used discourse theory is that the connections between meaningful elements in a discourse can be traced in terms of how links between concepts are authorized and asserted, how chains of signifiers are grouped, and how certain arrangements of these fit together. A discourse can be seen as a field wherein a number of symbolic components or concepts are positioned in relation to each other. Some of these concepts are peripheral; others are crucial. The discourse can thus be read as a set of conceptual and social relations (Laclau 1996).

4. The linguistic space of the sub scene

[4.1] According to Bourdieu (1977), "the social world is a system of symbolic exchanges," and "social action is an act of communication" (646). He argues that social structure can be conceived of as relations of symbolic power and that the linguistic competence of a speaker is impossible to separate from his or her position in the social structure. From this perspective, mapping the linguistic space of the sub scene overlaps to a high degree with mapping it as a solely social space. Language is social, and social interaction revolves around various forms of language use. Still, I choose to separate these two levels of analysis. I first map out the sub scene in terms of its written discourse, then in terms of the social positions of its actors.

[4.2] Figure 1 is a visualization of the linguistic space of the sub scene. The network map is based on the text content of 13,366 posts that were collected by a Web spidering application, Web Info Extractor (http://www.webinfoextractor.com/). The posts come from two different forums: Subscene (http://subscene.com) (10,447 posts) and Opensubtitles.org (http://opensubtitles.org) (2,919 posts). In line with my focus on mainstream subtitle distribution forums rather than fan subbing, I focus on these two general sites, which facilitate uploading and downloading ripped and/or translated subtitles for films and TV series. The sizes of the vertices in the graph indicate how common certain identified themes are in the material, and the lines illustrate the strongest links in terms of co-occurrences between themes.

A visualization of the linguistic space of the sub scene, linking the hub 'Language Issues' (Polish, Spanish, Chinese, German, English, Persian, Korean, French, Italian, Croatian, Danish, Arabic, Brazilian, Greek, Portuguese, Swedish, Japanes, Russian) to 'Queries and Help' (Formats, Uploading/Downloading, Techniques and Tutorials, Software, TV Series) to 'Movie Genres' (IMDB, Asian, Anime)

Figure 1. The linguistic space of the sub scene. [View larger image.]

[4.3] Matters concerning queries and help, language issues, and discussions of various movie genres are the three key nodes in sub scene discourse. Discussions within the first category (queries and help) revolve around the exchange of technical help with regard to peer-to-peer sharing of the subtitle files, and around the use of different file formats. This category is also about the use of various software and techniques to rip and/or translate the subtitles, and about content aspects of the TV series and movies that are subtitled.

Extract 1

Hi. When I try to watch a movie with Korean subtitles using the VLC Player, the subtitles appear distorted. For example, instead of Korean alphabets, strange "squares" and symbols appear instead. I searched online relentlessly, but have found no resolution. If anyone could help, I would REALLY APPRECIATE it. Many thanks in advance! P.S. I have Windows Vista Home Premium

VLC "Tools / Preferences / Subtitles and oSD / Default encoding" set to KOREAN. Set the Font to a font that can display Korean characters. You should find the fonts in c:\windows\fonts. That *should* work.

If you're using VLC player, download the Korean font package file, baekmuk-ttf-2.1.tar.gz" from ftp://ftp.mizi.com/pub/baekmuk/ then extract it to your \windows\fonts directory. In VLC, go to Settings > Preferences > Video > Subtitles/

OSD>Text Renderer. In the font box, click browse and select the \windows\fonts directory. DON'T click on the font you want. TYPE the name. For Korean, it's usually "gulim.ttf" or "batang.ttf." Be sure not to use the the ".ttc" Windows OS version of the fonts since I wasn't able to get them to display the subtitles properly. Save the changes, exit the program and restart it. Now, you should be able to display Korean subtitles files in your vlc player with your movies. Don't forget to restart VLC after you've made any changes…just in case.

Some people say that GOMPlayerworks fine with Korean subtitles. Since they are Korea based that sounds quite likely. Good player, too. Oor you could use any player together with vobsub/vsfilter.

[4.4] Extract 1 illustrates how the sub scene bears the mark of a knowledge community, the members of which pool, trade, and exchange knowledge (Lévy 1999). In this case, the first poster needs help with using Korean subtitles in VLC Media Player, an open-source software title. Three community members then suggest various solutions, which include altering the media player settings, downloading a special font package, and using an alternative media player. Analysis of data reveals that similar patterns may be found over and over in the forums. Although it may not seem surprising that people are willing to help each other with common technological problems, it is an example of how individual expertise is provided online toward shared objectives and interests.

[4.5] The sub scene is an example of an emergent knowledge culture that illustrates the ability of virtual communities to "leverage the combined expertise of their members" (Jenkins 2006a, 27). Its use of open-source software, and the patterns of peer-to-peer sharing and support, illustrate Lévy's (1999) idea that the ways in which commodity culture operates can gradually become altered by new types of audiences. The idea that the help given is expected to be reciprocated is illustrated in extract 2; the initial poster gets help in processing a file and is reminded to upload the finished result for the community to access. Extract 3 illustrates how the volunteer work done in the subtitling community is organized and coordinated in order to provide results as efficiently as possible, and extract 4 shows how discussions within TV series fandoms might lead to cooperation in the participatory culture of the sub scene.

Extract 2

hello everyone. How do I convert a regular translation file (divx) to 720p. i have a srt file for a dvdrip movie but the movie i have is BRrip now i want to convert the subtitle from dvd rip to BRrip please help.

Give subtitle and video the same name and see if it fits. You might be lucky. If the subtitle is off sync, have a look at our tutorials about syncing subtitles. There is no difference between syncing a subtitle for a DVDrip or 720p mkv.

Unfortunately, I tried but did not fit. Why is there no difference. then why I see many people are asking to submit a copy of the subs for 720p

Well, then you have to resync it. As I said, have a look at the tutorials. You can use subtitle workshop or time adjuster for this task. Don't forget to upload the result. :-)

Extract 3

Dear Arab translators, I suggest that we make this page a forum for reporting the movies we are translating. Of course, some of us will decide not to translate a certain movie when we know that another good translator is already working on it. This will save our time and efforts and result in translating more films and allowing other subscribers to know the movies we are translating and wait for our translations. If any translator still wants to translate a movie although another translator has reported that he is working on it, there is no problem of course. Thanks for all your efforts and your valueable time.

Extract 4

Hi Mr Bibou thanks for your comments. Lost is really a great show so far. Apart from the sci-fi element, it has supreme actings that make you feel for the characters. I used to watch Stargate SG-1 and after watching 10 seasons you could tell the actors were getting tired into the show and became sloppy in acting. I mean how could you be entertained when they stepped into an unknown territory like they were walking a dog in the park?

I picked 24 [as one of my favorite series] for many reasons. It has great actings, fast-pacing stories, believable logics, near-the-future technologies, new villians for each season and everything you need to keep on watching. In fact the show could go on without Jack Bauer because a show with real-time concept could apply to many themes!

ya you where wright. and let me tell you that every have his interst and his ideas about what he like watch and what dislike. and you are free to watch every things you want and there isno one who can tell you why. and i hope so if we can working toghether in the near future.

[4.6] Extracts 5 and 6 illustrate discourse relating to matters of language, translation, and interpretation. Extract 5 illustrates how corrections submitted by a French-speaking participant regarding a translation of software developed within the community (SubDownloader) led to his or her being made the official translator for that language.

Extract 5

Hi, This topic is to report translation errors in SubDownloader…Please report the concerned language!

I have a little one here: French translation: when uploading a subtitle, the message in the popup window says something like "en cours d'envoir, patience…" …envoir is misspelled, it should be "envoi" (without the "r"). I think that the first letter of the sentence is in small caps too, it should be upper case…

login, and you can correct it. you are now official french translator, welcome to our team

[4.7] Extract 6 consists of part of a discussion thread about the 2007 Thai queer romantic drama film The Love of Siam. The extract illustrates how sub scene participants from different cultural backgrounds deal with technical and sociocultural aspects of the subtitling of this movie.

Extract 6

My directors cut subs are hard-coded and were downloaded from a gay torrent site. The other subs a friend gave me, not sure where he downloaded from. Can email them to you if you want to compare.

One scene from the directors cut that i wasn't quite sure of (and maybe im being stupid) when Mew and Tong were sitting on the bench indoors chatting and mew asks if he's different from other people, and then he says "no, i mean my ummm errr…" What's that about?

hey. the two gay torrent websites that I am aware of (and I am sure there are many), both of them have versions of the subtitles that we made. I have even posted a torrent with the subs hard encoded on a couple of websites including mininova and the piratebay. There were a couple different versions of our subs because we wanted to make sure we got it right and then I took it upon myself to try and make the dialogue flow a bit better and kind of "americanized it" so people could better understand what was trying to be communicated…um…err…um…errr…

Yeah, that scene on the bench I have NO EARTHLY CLUE what the hell they are talking about. I mean, how fricken vague and detached can you be…If you know what they are discussing, I wish you or someone else would share it with me. One thing I love, and hate at the same time, about this movie is that you are left to try and interpret what the hell is going on. Hell, for all I know, Mew was talking about his shoe size. Well, I…um…err…ummm. errr…well, err, …ummm…(what is all that sh*t about, is that how they talk over there?) NOT that there is anything wrong with that. If you have the ability to email the subs you got from your friend, I would be greatful. I really just want to see if they are a version of the ones we generated and I could figure that out very quickly. (I just need to look at the dialogue)

Well i've listened to it a couple of times, and it seems the umm errr is correctly translated! i will ask a thai friend if they can throw any light on it. I wondered if it Mew was actually referring to his sexuality here, in this scene. And Tong confirms that it doesn't matter to him.

Ive emailed, but dont know how to attach when sending through here.

If both my sources were from here, it was interesting some of the differences, how come? One that stood out was the scene with the dolls by the christmas tree. In one version the mother says: do as you please which has a very different sentiment in english from the better version "do what you think is best for you." Mostly little differences like that.

Hey, i am from China. I saw this director cut version for a couple of times, and i have both chinese and english subtitles. I think my english subtitle should pretty much the same as yours. From my understanding to this scence is that Mew is referring to his sexuality here, he want to know whether Tong think he is a little bit gay, but Tong didn't get it, he said Mew is no different than anyone else.

I would agree but did Tong get it or not? Tong seems to be a bit vague but I think he gets what Mew is saying. I did not actually think Mew was asking that because I did not think that Mew even thought of himself that way at that time. Thanks for resonding.

[4.8] Overall, the analysis of the written discourse of the sub scene gives the impression that this is a participatory culture in the sense of Jenkins et al. (2009). It can certainly be argued that the sub scene is a site of informal learning and collective problem solving, where skills for interacting correctly and efficiently with the subtitling tools are acquired, developed, and traded. Furthermore, knowledge is pooled, notes are compared, and the reliability and credibility of various sources of information are constantly evaluated. In order to participate on the sub scene, one must possess the ability to follow textual flows across multiple modalities; one must also have the skills necessary to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information. But the sub scene is also a site of negotiation, where participants must be able to discern the social code and grasp and follow certain norms (Jenkins et al. 2009).

[4.9] The culture of the sub scene—if we read it as an expression of networked participation—is an example of socialized cyberculture (Fuchs 2008) where communication and collaboration stand at the center. If we assume a different perspective, however, it can also be described in terms of an alienated cyberculture, where rules for inclusion and exclusion are strict, and where there exists a policy of instilling fear.

Extract 7

Before posting, please read the damn rules!! The first user may not be correct with the answer, so don't depend on his answer if you know it.

Extract 8

What do everyone think about machine translated subs ? Personally it annoys me when people upload subs translated by a machine or online translator, the quality is just not good enough. To many errors and things that makes no sense for the person who reads it. Just today someone uploaded a hole bunch of Danish subs that was made with a machine, none of them made any sense, and some of them already existed in good quality translated by human. I rated all of them bad, if it was up to me such subs should be removed. What do you think ?

Thank you for bringing this subject up. We've been "pleading" with uploaders to refrain from uploading such nonsensical translations, but unfortunately nothing doing. They keep wasting everybody's time, including theirs. Several posts were written to this effect, but nobody bothers to read. Upon recurrence, such uploaders are eventually banned from the Site. Please rate such subs "fake," because that's what they are. Thanks

Extract 9

if you have read a bit this forum, you should know, that requests are forbidden. For requests look at http://www.opensubtitles.org/request—add your requests there and not here. Topic, as 100 others—LOCKED.

[4.10] It might seem exaggerated to interpret corrective discourse such as that illustrated in extracts 7–9 in terms of alienation, exclusion, and fear. However, these examples show that there are indeed limits and regulations on the sub scene: "read the damn rules"; "refrain from posting nonsensical translations"; "you should know that requests are forbidden." In many respects, this scene adheres to rules similar to those of the warez scene, where pirated software is ripped, cracked, and released. This is a form of gift economy that abides by its own logic. As Rehn (2004) notes,

[4.11] What interests [the core of] participants is not the direct acquiring of specific [subtitles] (although this can be a consequence), but the way in which reputation and status can be obtained through being noticed as a particularly good source…Managing to keep up a constant supply of new [subtitles] in a timely fashion, or distributing these efficiently ensures a participant's status, but only provisionally, as the scene is engaged in these contests on a continuous basis. (363)

[4.12] From this perspective, virtue on the sub scene lies in the efficient propagation of objects that are symbolically important. The key participants can then be conceived of as a powerless elite (Tulloch 1995) between the power of the industry that produces the TV series and films and their own peers, as well as the general public, on whose recognition in the form of downloads and support they rely. But no matter how powerless they may be from this perspective, they nonetheless constitute an elite. They possess a form of symbolic capital that is needed to play for the social field of the sub scene—a field that, like any other, has a specific logic that "determines those who are valid in this market…[and] are pertinent and active in the game in question" (Bourdieu 1984, 112–13).

5. The social space of the sub scene

[5.1] These dynamics can be further investigated by analyzing not only the written discourse of the sub scene, but also the social positioning and hierarchies of its participants. To be able to "give an account of discourse, we need to know the conditions governing the constitution of the group within which it functions" (Bourdieu 1977, 650). Jones (1997) proposes the term virtual settlement for the online place where a virtual community operates. He writes that a virtual settlement can be defined as "a cyber-place that is symbolically delineated by topic of interest and within which a significant proportion of interrelated interactive group-CMC [computer-mediated communication] occurs." This is similar to Bourdieu's (2000) statement that any social field is always delineated by a doxa, a set of fundamental rules or presuppositions that are specific to the field: "All those who are involved in the fields…share a tacit adherence to the same doxa which makes their competition possible and assigns its limits" (102).

[5.2] According to Jones (1997), an online place where group communication takes place must meet four basic conditions to be labeled as a virtual settlement, as follows: "(1) a minimum level of interactivity; (2) a variety of communicators; (3) a virtual common-public-space where a significant portion of interactive group-CMCs occur[s]"; and "(4) a minimum level of sustained membership." I use these four criteria to map out the social logics of the field, or the virtual settlement, of the sub scene. How is it constituted? How are participants positioned? Which fundamental patterns does its social interaction adhere to?

[5.3] Jones (1997) notes that a variety of communicators is a condition highly intertwined with the condition of interactivity: "Clearly if there is only one communicator there can be no interactivity." By making the variety (more than two) of communicators a criterion, e-mail lists and other database interactions can be excluded from the analysis of virtual communities (figure 2).

Number of participants (horizontal axis) listed by their numbers of posts (vertical axis). Horizontal axis ranges from 1 to 645 and vertical axis ranges from 0 to 100.

Figure 2. Number of participants (horizontal axis) listed by their numbers of posts (vertical axis). The sample comes from the Open Lounge section on the Subscene Web site (3,553 posts, in 357 threads, by 656 users). [View larger image.]

[5.4] While 70 percent of the participants have only authored a single post, 25 percent have written two to nine posts, 4 percent have posted 10 to 35 each, and a 1 percent core of users have contributed 40 to 85 posts each. This means that 1 percent of the users write 25 percent of the posts. The figure parallels the well-known long tail curve, popularized in Net research by Anderson (2006). Anderson's argument does not relate directly to issues of community but to matters of supply-and-demand economics. His point is that in a cultural landscape where nearly everything is available, the true face of demand will reveal itself. He predicts that the future of business lies in catering to a large number of niche tastes. Reinterpreted and applied to the sub scene context, Anderson's idea raises the question of what the long tail represents in this case. Does it mean that the majority of participants are uncommitted or semiaccidental visitors to the sub scene, or does it make us aware that the definition of participation might include contributing extremely small numbers of posts?

[5.5] Liu (1999) notes that a "group of 'lurkers' [noncontributing forum users] who do not communicate cannot be called a community. For a group of individuals to qualify as a community, these individuals have to communicate and interact." I make a qualitative review of the content that was contributed by the users posting only once. Extracts 10–12 are typical examples of posts from one-off contributors, indicating that similar sub scene discourse to that illustrated in figure 1 is maintained in these posts as well. Nothing in my qualitative review indicates that the one-off posters generally contribute discourse of random or residual character.

Extract 10

DR Khaled I am one of you fans so I will support your topic. I am translating this movie Alien.Raiders.DVDRip.XviD-BeStDivX

Extract 11

I want to add this movie to the database. I have subtitles to upload. When I enter the URLs and movie title I get a notice: Error title not added—most likely explanation is that title already exists in database—click here to search for the film title. The movie trying to add—Snow Buddies 2008. It's not in the database. I searched on Snow Buddies, Snow, and Buddies. The movie title is not there.

Extract 12

I would also like to join Spyder in saying thank you to everyone who contributes to this website. :) Recently I was looking for a website to get subtitles from and after discovering this site it's the first one I come to every time—and it hasn't disappoint! The reason I need subtitles is because I cannot hear very well. I find it hard to understand my own native language sometimes, especially when accents are involved so having subtitles helps me out a lot. So to everyone here: Thank you so much!!!!

[5.6] These extracts illustrate the general conclusion that committed fans, users, participants, and contributors to the sub scene are also prevalent among the very low-intensity forum posters. This means that the long tail is not to be read as an illusion of community, collaboration, and participation. Instead, processes similar to the ones I have described are in operation regardless of the posting frequency of a given forum visitor. Returning to Jones's (1997) theory of virtual settlements, there exists a minimum level of interactivity on the sub scene. Furthermore, there is indeed a variety of active communicators. But we have yet to examine the two remaining criteria: a virtual common public space where a significant portion of interactive group-CMCs occurs, and a minimum level of sustained membership.

[5.7] According to Steve Jones (1994), "Computer-mediated communication is, in essence, socially produced space" (17). Indeed, the social and the spatial are always interlinked, as space is constantly structured by those who occupy it and by how occupants appropriate it. Space is therefore always a social product (Lefebvre 1974) marked by various spatial practices that can be read and interpreted. To better define the spatial logic of social interactions on the sub scene, I make a social network analysis (De Nooy, Mrvar, and Batagelj 2005) of relations of coauthorship (Persson, Danell, and Wiborg Schneider 2009). In this case, coauthorship is defined as the relationship established when two users contribute to the same discussion thread. The sample is once again drawn from the Open Lounge at Subscene (3,553 posts, in 357 threads, by 656 users).

[5.8] The purpose of this analysis is to map and visualize the common public space of the sub scene and to identify basic dynamics of interactive group-CMC within it (Jones 1997) (figure 3). Each vertex represents a single user. Vertex size indicates the level of activity of each user (that is, how many relationships of coauthorship they are involved in), and the positions of vertices and the connections between them represent the strongest links (in terms of coauthorship) among contributors.

Visualization of relations between the 656 participants in the studied context. [No text in image.]

Figure 3. Relations between the 656 participants in the studied context. [View larger image.]

[5.9] Once again, it is obvious that this social setting is centered on a relatively small number of key contributors (the 5–10 largest vertices in figure 3), around whom the rest of the social space is ordered. To get a more detailed picture, I now take a closer look at two ideal-typic (Weber 1968) patterns that are found on this network map. I use a set of unified analytical constructs, following Weber's interpretive philosophy, to understand the social logic of this complex network. These might not explain the full spectrum of variation, but they still serve as essential interpretive tools. The two patterns are illustrative of some of the important characteristics of the sub scene. In figure 4, I examine the cluster in the lower right corner of figure 3.

Coordination network: centers on koki_84 with a circle spokes leading outwards to TheRock, Number One, raye2, NoOne, M.A.A.A., m_q87, ramy000000, nawaf_007, o7up0, M.i.K., Ne7b, obdzoheir, M.WeWe, oldschool, arkade, m_one, and say_yeh.

Figure 4. Coordination network (close-up of image in figure 3). [View larger image.]

[5.10] This star-shaped type of cluster reveals itself, upon closer inspection, to be characteristic of the types of threads where the main activity is coordination of sub scene activities through brief messages. These threads generally consist of a first post stating the aim—for example: "I suggest that we make this page a forum for reporting the movies we are translating…This will save our time and efforts and result in translating more films and allowing other subscribers to know the movies we are translating and wait for our translations" (cf. extract 3). Then a large number of replies, sometimes thousands, follow. Extracts 13–16 provide examples of expressions of this form of coordination network.

Extract 13

i started doing "The Duchess" but i just checked and seems like Abu Essa had a great sub so I'm yet to translate a movie :) I will ! someday :DD

Extract 14

PS: within two days The Office US s05e11 will be ready.

Extract 15

due to personal reasons, I'm not gonna be doing any more subtitling for the time being until…well I'm not sure until when. sorry i couldn't reply any of my msgz or emails in the past two weeks.

Extract 16

I'm sorry CosTantEn, But I've checked about your movie and i found out that it's a porn movie :S:S…also i checked on the actors and actresses in this movie and i found out that they are porn stars. plz, correct me if I'm wrong and plz BE MORE CAREFUL

Extract 17

Dear users, as I stated 2 weeks ago, starting today MARCH 1ST we'll begin to delete all the links to other sites, no matter what. I hope you all fixed your uploads, because we won't be able to retrieve them. And please avoid to complain about your disappearing posts because you had 2 weeks to fix them. Please also remember that links have been strictly forbidden, and those who keep posting them could suddenly not be able to login anymore without notice. Thanks.

Extract 18

I really feel so sorry for all of you guys who have to suffer because of the dumb f**** who can't seem to understand what GIVING CREDIT and NOT UPLOADING TO STREAMING SITES mean…I really hope that this horrible situation can be resolved and that those idiots wake up and realize that what they are doing is WRONG!

Extract 19

For the third time: I already explained this. You're saving your text files in a different encoding than what the program expects. Either you're saving them as utf-8/Unicode and it expects Latin-1 or viceversa…I'll refrain from answering now and unsubscribe from this thread, as it obviously has no further point (I've repeated myself three times at least).

Extract 20

It is obviously clear that many members of this community are lazy…If Rollins says not to take his works and abuse it, he would like to believe that people would listen to him and use his works accordingly. But no…Obeying the wishes of someone is the only thing we have left in this corrupt, polluted Internet. If you people can't even do something as simple as that, then I'm afraid of what you're capable of doing elsewhere—within your family, at school or at the workplace…I don't know who Rollins is. Never met him, never PM'd him. I don't know if he's a guy or a gal. Regardless, if Rollins says not to mistreat his works, and I use his works for enjoyment, I'm going to obey his wishes. What's so difficult about that?

[5.11] Within this cooperative network, discussions tend to be devoted to coordination (extract 13), information (extracts 14 and 15) and—quite prominently—regulation (extracts 16–20), in relation to the communal flow of subtitles being produced on the scene.

[5.12] The spider-shaped cluster depicted in figure 5 has been cut out from the lower middle of figure 3. From the perspective of network metrics, it has the same properties as figure 4. In figure 5 too, one user dominates the space (user Alsaeede80's larger vertex) over a number of equally active participants.

Expert network: centers on alsaeede80 with a arc of spokes leading out to emy.s, Dawn, Emoo, ayman, gamal, dreams7sky, ATTIADONA, b.qawa, burberry, bawa, DEADMAN INC., By LuCk, amosh, amg.h, etsh2007, clicker900, Brother, F55, dragon4ever, boaod, Brad Pitt, black list, Vida, ebmtam, Eng-witwicky, alsugair, Emon, ELKIIF, azaher77, and elbany51, with a further spoke leading from 'black list' to '...FtA...'.

Figure 5. Expert network (close-up of image in figure 3). [View larger image.]

[5.13] In making a closer qualitative reading, however, I found that this particular sub network did not mainly have to do with coordination but with one user, or a small group of users, taking on the role of expert in relation to a specific question raised in the forum. These threads tend to be started by someone else making a query, and then a discussion follows in which the expert user plays a key role in providing help with various aspects of the problem in question. When we look once again at figure 3, it is clear that the Subscene forum is in practice constituted of a complex mixture of networks converging to shifting degrees with the coordination and/or expert network ideal types. Around the center of the network, one finds increasingly dense networks (figure 6) of users clustered around those five to 10 lead users who are heading the long tail (figure 2).

Dense network (close-up of image in figure 3). [No text in image.]

Figure 6. Dense network (close-up of image in figure 3). [View larger image.]

[5.14] The fourth condition of a virtual settlement as defined by Jones (1997) is that it have a minimum level of sustained membership. Erickson (1997) writes that virtual communities can be defined as "computer-mediated social interaction among large groups of people, particularly long term, textually-mediated interaction" (1). The existence of online discourse on a topic does not necessarily mean that an actual community exists, and it is therefore relevant to evaluate the degree of participant commitment over time on the sub scene.

[5.15] Figure 7 is based on the sample from the Open Lounge section of Subscene. The vertices show the most prolific users from each year. Looking at the visualization from left to right, the first column of vertices is based on the period from April to December 2006. The second, third, and fourth columns represent the years 2007, 2008, and 2009, respectively, while the fifth column represents January to February 2010. Users are positioned in the column corresponding to the year of their debut as contributors to the forum, and the lines between them indicate the frequency with which users have posted during the same year and month. An example is the line connecting the users Worst and Ixquic. While Worst debuted on the forum in 2007, he or she has continued to post during the same months as Ixquic, who debuted during 2009. The results of the analysis conclusively indicate that there is a minimum level of sustained membership on the scene. Even though a substantial percentage of participants make only a single post or take part in a single thread on the forum, this pattern is not true of the scene as a whole. Key contributors stay faithful to the scene.

Visualization of sustained membership: two columns of names with a web of connections to one another, also connecting to names outside of the two main columns.

Figure 7. Visualization of sustained membership. [View larger image.]

6. Conclusions

[6.1] I have analyzed the online community for creating and distributing subtitle files for pirated movies and TV series, with the aim of studying the cultural and social protocols that shape the sub scene. I focused on the linguistic and social exchange that characterizes this networked public. The analysis of the linguistic exchange showed that the sub scene is about networked collaboration, but collaboration that is still under a relatively strict social code. The analysis of the social exchange was structured according to Jones's (1997) definition of a virtual settlement. I concluded that there are (1) a minimum level of interactivity as well as (2) a variety of communicators on the sub scene. The sub scene can also be described as (3) a virtual common public place where interactive computer-mediated interaction takes place, both in the form of coordination networks and of expert/user networks. Furthermore, it has (4) a minimum level of sustained membership. The networks of coordination follow a relatively democratized pattern, whereas the expert/user networks are by definition more hierarchical. The strict social code that I identified in the analysis of written discourse also appeared in the social network analyses; they revealed that the acts of regulating and sanctioning constitute a prominent part of the interaction.

[6.2] Overall, the patterns identified may be read in terms of collective intelligence (Lévy 1999), pooled knowledge, and coordinated peer production (Benkler 2006)—but also in terms of a battle for recognition within an "ongoing process of rival generosity" (Rehn 2004, 365). Certainly many of the forum threads are about efficient coordination, but simultaneously, they are about users signaling their individual excellence (Rehn 2004) in a game of honor and responses to challenges (Bourdieu 1990).

[6.3] I arrived at the conclusion that the culture of the sub scene simultaneously bears characteristics of socialized and alienated cyberculture (Fuchs 2008). This is neither a surprise nor a contradiction. As Lovink (2002) notes, one must be fully aware that the development of Internet culture "is happening within society with all its layers of social…relations" (5). The dual process of socialization on the one hand and conflict on the other—the interplay between unity and discord—must be seen as the basis for the social integration and development of any group.

[6.4] As Simmel (1908) put it, it would be just as impossible for a group to lack any "repulsive [or] destructive…energies" as for it to be "deprived of the forces of cooperation, affection, mutual aid, and harmony of interest" (75). Social structure as such is, in fact, the result of this interplay: "Relations of conflict do not by themselves produce a social structure, but only in cooperation with unifying forces. Only both together constitute the group as a concrete, living unit" (77). And "what the observer or the participant himself thus divides into two intermingling trends may in reality be only one" (79).

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