Polyvore Experiment - Field notes #2

First off let me apologize for the total lack of blogging that's been happening lately.  My only excuse that I can offer is that I am now entering that horrible wonderful(!) part of the semester when classes do a complete life takeover.  Add to that the fact that I am 1) applying to PhD programs, 2) teaching two classes, 3) designing costumes for a musical (yes, I am crazy), 4) co-running programs for the Arizona Costume Institute and serving on both the board and executive committee for the ACI.

So, you know, I have TONS of free time!  Or not.  :/

Anyways, one post that I can not delay any further (lest I want my professor to be severely cross with me) is my update, including research questions, for my Polyvore project/experiment (that I first mentioned here).

I've been playing around on Polyvore for over a month now, seriously marveling at the fact that it counts as homework, and having a ball.  It's such a fun site and I know I'll continue participating in the community and building sets long after this class project is done.

Alright, so here are my observations so far as I fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole that is Polyvore:

1) Community

One of the things I've been really interested in looking at is the community aspect of Polyvore.  I'm still getting into that and have only just begun to engage in a dialogue with other users but I'm realizing that there definitely is a community within the site in general as well as smaller communities that form around groups of users and relationships between individual users.  I'm slowly but surely beginning to get more involved with that.  My current stats include 37 followers, 700+ set views, 70 set likes, and 2 collection likes.  The Polyvore notification system is pretty good so I know when a set is liked, when I have a new follower, etc.  Something I've noticed as far as following is concerned is that if you follow someone they typically follow you back.  I've had a basic rule of following back anyone who follows me but I've noticed that when I follow someone (because I like their sets and their style) they 99% of the time follow me back.  Also, if you like a lot of sets on someone's page, that also tends to lead to being followed.  Of my 37 followers I'd say it's fairly evenly split between people I followed first and people who followed me first.

Another thing I've noticed is the idea of sharing "items".  So, for example. I added a still photo from the upcoming Bond film Skyfall to make a set for a Bond Girl look (final set is posted below).  Two separate users later used that image in sets of their own.  In my last post on this experiment I mentioned how you can import items to use in your sets.  When you do that you (if you're helpful) add tags so that if people do a search they can find that item.  But if you were the person who added it you'll get notified when someone uses it.  So far this has happened several times to a few of the items I've added, almost every time it's resulted in mutual following.  I mean, if you're using items that I'm importing we probably have somewhat similar tastes, right?

I have yet to join any groups or participate in any contests, but it's still be interesting watching my little circle get just a tad bit bigger as I get more involved in the site.  I've also been interested to see the profiles of the people I follow, some are students (undergrad and grad), others work in fashion in one capacity or another, some are military wives, some stay-at-home moms, all different ages and backgrounds.  It's been interesting to see the diversity of the Polyvore community.

2) Alternative uses

As I've gotten further into this project I've been curious to see how Polyvore users are using the site.  I wondered if they are using it beyond the basic premise of the site.  Well, seek and ye shall find.  And here's what I found:

a) Art work/clipped collages

A really cool concept.  Users are taking images and clipping/cropping them into certain shapes and arranging them in the collage to create completely different images.  The effect is a collage "painting" of sorts, with pictures of chocolate wrappers being used to create hair for an image of a woman.  Sometimes they will include an unaltered image of a necklace or other accessory to create a photo meets illustrated look.  The overall effect is really cool and very artistic.

In addition to the collage idea other users are also creating other artistic images using the various effects available combined with one or two images pulled from the database.  Much less fashion and much more art.

b) Costume Design

One thing I became interested in as I started to learn my way around building sets was how could I use it outside of just creating fun fashion collages.  I wondered, could I use this in my work as a costume designer?  I'm currently designing costumes for a local production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Paradise Valley Community College (beginning Nov 9th, shameless plug!)  I found myself in a position where the cast/crew meet and greet was less than 24 hours away and I had no research, no sketches, nothing to present.  Not good.  So I had the idea, since I'd be shopping most of the show anyway, to create sets for each of the characters and show that to the cast and director.  This is one of the results:

This is what I came up with for Rona Lisa Perretti, the character who organizes and runs the spelling bee.  By creating this collage I was able to show the director and actors the basic color scheme and silhouettes I would be looking for when designing this character.  It worked brilliantly!  And was so much faster than doing it the old fashioned way.  This wouldn't work for every show and I probably will go back to old fashioned research boards and sketches next semester when I do You Can't Take It With You but for a modern show that will be shopped and pulled this turned out to be an excellent method for creating character collages.  The full collection can be viewed here.

c) RPG character design

After posting my sets for Spelling Bee I logged on one day and found that a wallet chain I had used for one of my characters had been used in another set.  Curious to see how this particular item had been used, I clicked on the set to view it and found that the other user had created a set for one of their characters in a role playing game (RPG).  So I wasn't the only one using Polyvore for character purposes.  Cool!

3) Privacy 

In my class we've talked about issues of privacy, and in my last post about this project I addressed how I wasn't as concerned about privacy in the context of this project.  I wouldn't want to include anyone who didn't want to participate, so if I were to move forward and actually do the research project I would solicit people who wanted to be involved, and leave the rest alone.

So I was very happy to receive a comment from a user on one of my sets, who said she enjoyed the set and wished me luck on my project (having read the last blog post, which I link to from my Polyvore profile).  This was very encouraging and makes me think that if I did move forward on this project it wouldn't be too difficult to find people interested and intrigued by the project and willing to participate.

4) Convergence 

In class we were also reading Henry Jenkins' book Convergence Culture, which got me thinking about how Polyvore is an example of convergence.  Jenkins explains that convergence isn't just new technology taking over an old way of doing things (ie. e-readers aren't taking over books, they're just providing a new way of reading).  Polyvore demonstrates a certain amount of convergence as well.  It's not taking over the fashion industry, nor is it taking over even just the fashion publication industry.  Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Elle, etc are not going to be put out of business by Polyvore, but Polyvore is providing a different way to view and consume fashion.  It's providing a way of not only passively receiving fashion and trends but also a way of actively participating in the industry.

5) Copyright 

Today we were reading Remix by Lawrence Lessig.  I really love this book!  Anyway, the book focuses on issues of copyright and Lessig primarily looks at the film and music industries, many of his arguments apply to what I'm seeing on Polyvore.  First, the term "remix" fits perfectly with Polyvore as what the users are doing is taking a variety of images and "remixing" them to create these collages (a term that is also used by Lessig).  Users are combining these images and fashion items to create a new image, much the same way as a music remixer might take three different pop songs and combine them to create a new song (for some reason the new film Pitch Perfect comes to mind).  However this remixing has it's limits.  It's ok to mix images from the internet or from the sites database, but not to infringe on the work of other users.  Which leads to the second application of Lessig's book to Polyvore.

The site's users have created a campaign to "be original".  I also mentioned this in my last post.  I find it interesting in regards to Lessig's book that the site's users have noticed that copying is a problem/issue to be tackled and have found a way of addressing it.  Lessig worries that criminalizing copyright infringement will damage the creativity of our youth, however Polyvore users are actively asking and expecting each other to respect the work of others and to push themselves to find their own creativity.

6) Research Questions

Ok, so after playing around on the site for a little while now I'm noticing a few questions have risen to the surface.

- How are Polyvore users creating a unique fashion and style identity that is visible throughout their sets, collections, and likes?

- How/in what ways is Polyvore democratizing fashion and/or the fashion industry in a way that isn't as readily apparent in mainstream fashion publications?

- Using Lessig as a starting point, how does "copyright"/copying effect the Polyvore community?

- How does the sense of community effect the Polyvore users?  Is it a big part of the average user experience?  Also, what does the "average" user look like?  Where are they from, what do they do, how to they use the site for their own purposes?

I'll be looking at Polyvore from the perspective of these questions for the rest of the semester.

Time for the sets!

And now, for those of you less interested in the research, here are some of the sets I've created since my last update:

Another Bond Girl fantasy. :)

London and Ted Baker...what more could a girl want?

This, or something like it, just might be my travel outfit come December 26th.


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