The gold mine of e-books

 [Jeff Stahler]

I had just finished reading the good news kindly sent by Amazon in a promotional email today (the first version of their cute wireless reading device, the Kindle, is on sale) when another nice email popped up in my inbox. One of the members of the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list (which is great - you can subscribe here) posted a link to the most complete list of websites offering free e-books I've ever came across. Of course I'm passing it forward here :)
I love print books and I usually spend a couple of hours every week browsing the university library shelves, but sometimes one just wants to scroll the screen instead of flipping pages, I guess. I have browsed most of the websites for academic business, consumer culture or other related topics, and there are not many books available. Still, some of the websites are really good and there are lots of interesting readings in many different categories.
So here's the list with some comments (the ones in italics are mine) and the link to the original post at Hongkiat.com.

  1. Free Ebook Download Links

  2. Free Ebook Download Links intends to provide links for downloading books available free in different format.The books are published online by their authors for free viewing and printing for non-commercial proposes only. Credit: Raj + Don't get disappointed by the small number indicated beside each category. When you click on Zen (1), for example, 18 titles come up as a result. 
  3. eBoook3000

  4. A library of free ebook downloads with over 17 categories available. Credit: Myo Kyaw Htun + Most titles relate to internet, networking, web development and programming. There are some interesting titles in Political and Social category, but most of the links I've tried were broken. 
  5. SlideShare

  6. SlideShare is the best way to share your presentations with the world. Let your ideas reach a broad audience. Share publicly or privately. Add audio to create a webinar. Credit: La Ode Adam
  7. PDF Search Engine

  8. PDF Search Engine is a book search engine search on sites, forums, message boards for pdf files. You can find and download a tons of e-books by searching it or browsing through the full directory. Credit: iphoner + No categories to browse, so it works better when you're looking for a specific title. It has PDF on the title, but you get books as .doc too :) 

  9. eSnips
  10. eSnips is the one place where you can share anything you want, about any topic: your thoughts, your photos, your music, your videos, your flash files, stuff you find on the web, and many other media types. You can search and download for free documents in eSnips as well.Credit: sandeep, syokkahwin, Suresh

  11. Book Gold Mine
  12. Book Gold Mine serves a large collection of quality e-books, lectures, notes, and other kinds of documents at no cost to the user.Credit: Gio

  13. eBooks-Space
  14. Free downloadable ebooks for computer IT, programming lauguages, software development, tutorial, database design in PDF-CHM file format.Credit: mongther +Again, most titles are internet related, and the yellow text on red background is a bit overwhelming. 
  15. drebooks

  16. The vision of the founder was to provide an online space where Medical Students and Doctors could gather to share and collaborate their information and ideas about medical books. Credit: peter
  17. E-Books Directory

  18. E-Books Directory is a daily growing list of freely downloadable ebooks, documents and lecture notes found all over the internet. You can submit and promote your own ebooks, add comments on already posted books or just browse through the directory below and download anything you need.Credit: Stam +I like its browsing system. Check their Computer and Internet Culture category, it has some neat titles. It also includes its own list of links and resources for e-books related websites.  
  19. UFindBook

  20. UFindBook offers free ebooks download more than 200,000 titles categorized in format of pdf, chm, html. Credit: sobookee
  21. Books-PDF

  22. Books-PDF provides free ebooks for .Net, 3D animation, accounting, AJAX, algorithms, ASP.NET, AutoCAD, C#, C++, Database and etc.Credit: ganesh
  23. PDFoo

  24. PDFoo.com was developed for free services to provide resources of PDF files. All files based on popular section and it short by number of the most download by people. Browse through the category section will lead you find the PDF files that you are looking for. Every time people download, or system will counting how many times it has download by people. Credit: Delaserna
  25. Free Ebook Down

  26. Free Ebook Down offers over 10,000 free ebooks in 22 categories. Credit: ebook
  27. eBooks Download Free

  28. ebooks download free is One of the biggest books sharing websites that contains large collection of pdf and chm books free download you can download free books in many categories: Computer books like free php ebooks to download, ADO.NET, AJAX, java, ajax, photoshop, javascript Exchange Server, Sharepoint , ASP.NET XML free books downloads, c# and c+ books. Credit: bookm

  29. PDFGeni
  30. PDFGeni is a dedicated pdf search engine for PDF ebooks, sheets, forms and documents.
  31. CHM PDF

  32. A collection of general interest and technical ebooks.
  33. eBook-X

  34. eBook-x lets you to download popular free ebooks, classical free ebooks, new releases and more.
  35. Spotbit

  36. Spotbit.com provides paperless solution to publishing industry which end result is an E-Book make available in a unique and standalone digital format that is different from most formats available in the current market.
  37. Ebook Share

  38. eBook Share provides free ebooks download in torrent format.You can search for an ebook in categories like magazine, programming, graphic design, networking, business and investing and the others. On the original post there was also a link for "Free e-books Canada", a website that is not accessible. I couldn't locate it on Google either. If anyone knows this website, let me know!

More Free eBook resources

  1. PlanetPDF – A small collection of classic novels all in PDF format.
  2. DailyLit – Read books online by daily email and RSS feed.
  3. Wikibooks – Wikibooks is a Wikimedia community for creating a free library of educational textbooks that anyone can edit.
  4. Dwalin – Free novels in text format.
  5. Project Gutenberg – Free ebooks from producers.
  6. Adobe Free eBooks – In Adobe’s Free eBooks area, you can download, unlock, and read electronic books on your personal computer or reading device.
  7. Alive & Free – A page of links to some recent books from living authors available free online.
  8. Franklin – Thousands of free titles in text and HTML file formats.
  9. Read Easily – An ebook online library which has been designed to provide you an adaptive reading experience!
  10. PDFbooks – This new site offers around 4,700 downloadable public domain e-books.
  11. Witguides – An online source for a wide range of useful e-books that are completely free with no need to sign-up or buy anything.
  12. Diesel eBooks -Offer free ebooks formatted for both Microsoft Reader and Mobipocket.
  13. Free eBook Miners
    Free eBooks for your education, research or amusement.
  14. Planet eBook
    Free classic literature to download and share.
  15. e-Library – Plenty of free ebooks available for download.
  16. BookBoon – Provides free ebooks for students and travelers in PDF format. No registration is required. 
And...there's more!

  1. Filebook – Free eBooks download in zipped format.
  2. ebooksboard – Free eBooks download portal.
  3. Computer-Books.us – Highest quality computer books all of which are available for free download.
  4. 76eBook – Free ebooks download for IT, business and multimedia.
  5. Linux Related Free Ebooks – 68 Linux Related Free E-books.
  6. TechBooksForFreeFree books on technology subjects.
  7. Wowio – WOWIO is passion for FREE BOOKS + FREE MINDS.
  8. Freeebooks – Free ebooks are divided into different categories from business, art, computing and education.
  9. Witguides – The premier online source for a wide range of useful e-books that are completely free with no need to sign-up or buy anything.
  10. Issuu – Issue lets you find and share the web’s most interesting publications.


Fordlandia and Belterra

Currently, there are two ways to get to Fordlandia, the city build by Henry Ford in the middle of the Amazon jungle: departing from Santarém by boat (a 12-hour trip) or by car (330km of hell roads, great option for someone looking for a 4x4 adventure). Nearby is Belterra, the second village built by Ford after abandoning Fordlandia in 1934. Belterra’s rubber plantation actually reached the rubber-production stage around 1941, but the village and plantation were also abandoned in 1945-6, when the project was proved unprofitable. Both, Fordlandia and Belterra survive down to the present day, being administered by the Brazilian federal government after Ford’s exit.

In a series of email exchanges, I learned from Mario Pinheiro, who was born in Belterra, that all employees who worked for the Ford Company in both villages were admitted as employees by the Brazilian agriculture ministry department. After unsuccessful attempts by the Brazilian government to promote cattle raising in the area, the few employees who were still living in the villages were transferred to larger cities to work in governmental departments.

For decades, the Federal government administered the cities, requiring that consent was obtained for any local development, which probably hampered the growth of the two villages. It was only in 1997 that Belterra became an independent township, while Fordlandia is currently considered a subdivision of another township, Aveiro.

Belterra, Aveiro, and two other townships are part of the “Floresta Nacional do Tapajós” (Tapajós’s National Forest), a 550,000ha national conservation area. While being part of a conservational area imposes limits to external investments in the area, having an independent administration and budget has allowed Belterra to advance the local economic development and also to preserve its history. Belterra’s beautiful river beaches attract many visitors to the city, so tourism is currently an important source of income to local dwellers. In contrast, Fordlandia seems to have stopped in time, and its early buildings are in a pitiful state of conservation. Few families still live in the place, practicing subsistence agriculture, and receiving their income from government retirement pensions.

Fordlandia and Belterra were failures in terms of generating profits though rubber plantation, but the social aspects of Ford’s envisioned cities can be said to be more successful. Participants on the Fordlandia online community seem to be nostalgic of the city and its “good times”. As Mario, one of the participants, explained, in contrast to most of Brazil’s northern region, both villages had excellent infrastructure, with sewage and water treatment, electricity, schools, a hospital and a movie theatre, all of which have positively influenced the cultural development of the local population.

Many people got to know each other while living in the villages and working for the Ford Company. This was the beginning of families who, to the date, populate both places. Belterra and Fordlandia are frequently visited by researchers, journalists, and film makers. Dona Olinda, one of the few remaining people who have worked for the Ford Company in Belterra, has given countless interviews. Her 100th birthday, celebrated last month, was a community affair, as she is considered the one who keeps the city history alive.

That’s it! I might be planning a visit to the area in my next trip to Brazil... If you want to know more about Fordlandia, here’s an article published a couple of years ago in the Brazilian Rolling Stone (If you don’t read Portuguese, take a look at the article’s picture gallery) and a short documentary in English from the History Channel, which was part of a larger program called "Amazon Adventures". The link was posted by Scott Chandler, who recently came back from a two-month research trip to Fordlandia and Belterra.

All pictures on this post were taken by Mario Pinheiro - thanks Mario!


History is more or less bunk

The title of this post is probably one of the two quotes most of us can rightly attribute to Henry Ford. The other being "People can have the Model T in any colour - so long as it's black". Here's the first quote in full:

"History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today." (Chicago Tribune, 1916).

The reason for me quoting Ford is that I just finished reading Greg Grandin's book Fordlandia. Fascinating read for a Brazilian who knew nothing about the city envisioned and built by Henry Ford in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Given that Ford is considered the "father" of consumer culture, it's probably also an interesting read to all those who like to think critically about consumption.
Ford's plans to profit from a rubber plantation in Brazil were probably his greatest failure ever. But  Fordlandia, as the Amazonian village built on the margins of the Tapajós river was called, was not meant to be only a rubber source for Ford industries in the U.S. It was also one more of the several social experimental civilizing crusades Henry Ford undertook during his life.
Several reviews of "Fordlandia" have been published since it was released in 2009 (how can one ever catch up with all that there's out there to be read???) and the book was among the Chicago Tribune favorite books of 2009 and the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2009, and it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the category history.
Instead of trying to provide an original review here, I offer instead a bit of what is missing in the book - visual and personal information. The few photos included are posed, almost institutional - most coming from the Ford archives. Of course Greg Grandin did an amazing job in the book, yet I couldn't help but wonder: who are these Brazilians whose life stories intertwine with the history of Ford's grandiose dreams of civilization?
So I did a little research (light speed netnography?) on the town' online community on Orkut (still more popular than Facebook in Brazil), and I'll post here what I found - as soon as I get a reply of my request for consent to post some pictures of the city as it is today.
In the meantime, check Grandin's interview on YouTube (part 1 and part 2) which contains excerpts of original footage of Fordlandia made by Ford's employees in the mid 1940's. Then come back soon for more!


Give work to those who want it

A colleague recent posted a link on his Facebook wall to the Samasource website. Samasource is a non-profit social business. They offer "microwork opportunities" to marginalized people, from countries such as Pakistan, Kenya, and Uganda. The management team works by mobilizing socially responsible companies, small businesses, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and other professionals in North America to contribute by buying services from their workforce. Prices are fair, and the quality of the microwork and the allocation of resources earned through it are closely monitored by Samasource. 

A quick look at the list of services offered shows that many of these are services academics frequently outsource:
...data entry and digitization, web development, image and site moderation, application testing, video and audio services, project management, research assistance, virtual assistance...
All workers are trained and you can have transcription work, for example, delivered within 24 hours, for a very reasonable price. It's great for those who need the job done, and for those who want to do it. I plan to send some interviews to be transcribed very soon, and I write a post to let you know how it goes.
Here is a video of the founder of Samasource. Laila, speaking at TED. Take a look, give them some work, help make a difference :)

Leila Chirayath Janah: Ending Poverty in the Digital Age from TEDx Silicon Valley on Vimeo.


Conference Season is approaching!

There are several upcoming academic conferences in Marketing and Consumer Research, and I imagine that the same holds true for many other disciplines - Summer is the Conference Season!
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet other scholars, learn about the latest research developments in your area, and present and discuss your own work. Add to that a nice location, a couple of days out of your work routine, and the chance too see old friends from all over the world. Could be great, right? But could also be a nightmare...
That's why I've compiled a list of resources to help you make the best out of the conferences in the upcoming season, or at least go through them without much damage!

Conference listings:
General Advice:
What to do before, during, and after a conference
Surviving your first academic conference
On presentations:
Five golden rules
The most complete guide to a successful conference presentation

Strategies for eating well at conferences
How to hack a conference

Many of these selected sources will link to extra resources, so you'll have plenty of advice on how to prepare for conferences. For the sake of comparison (how bad it could be???) just watch the video below and make sure to enjoy your conference season!

The evolution of geocaching density

This is so cool! It illustrates the development of geoaching in Germany throughout the last decade. Each light dot is a new cache and the final density is unbelievable...Groundspeak currently displays 135.481 caches in Germany. Considering the country's small surface (357,022 sq km, slightly smaller than Montana in the U.S.), this is a paradise for intensive geocachers!

I also think the script used to create the video might have great applications on academic presentations and teaching... it would be nice to illustrate, for example, the increase in the number of competitors in a new market, participants in a community, or consumers in a given segment without recurring to the old column graphs. What do you think?

Using podcasts as research data

A podcast is a collection of digital media files (mostly audio files, but some may contain images or other type of media) that is distributed over the internet for playback on portable media players, cell phones, and personal computers. The term “podcast” (so much better than audioblogging!) was inspired by the Apple’s IPod and is formed by the combination of the acronym POD (which stands for “portable on demand”) and the term “broadcast”. Podcasts differ from other audio files available at the internet in that users can subscribe to them. Subscribers have new content automatically downloaded to their personal computers or Mp3 players as soon as it is released.
There are many websites dedicated exclusively to podcasts and their themes can range from education to yoga going through news, comedy, food, music, sports and sexuality. Many of them are professionally developed. The Apple online store alone offers more than 150,000 different podcast episodes produced by big media names like HBO, ESPN, CBS Sports, and The New York Times, but also by independent creators. Any person with some ability to make use of software can manipulate the technology needed to produce and broadcast audio files. Audio-recording devices are user-friendly and tools for editing audio files can be found at the internet for free or at low cost.
Because podcasts may combine audio, images and text in a single file, many events can be transmitted in this format. Television and radio programs, lectures, concerts, language courses, sport matches are a few examples of events that have been recorded and broadcasted as podcasts. Podcasting is evolving quickly and new features for categorizing, navigating, and indexing podcasts are already offered to users.

Podcasts can prove to be a rich source of data on researching consumer related topics. The exploration of this new format of computer-mediated communication and interaction can be achieved through netnography, as endorsed by Kozinets’ reflection on the adaptation of the method to the ever-changing nature of digital environments: “Anywhere there is online consumer activity and interaction, there are interesting sources of data for consumer and marketing researchers and the potential for netnography to reveal insights about online communal consumer culture, practices, and meanings.”
Netnography may suit better to the investigation of podcasts that are based on a website or webpage. A host webpage usually offers extra channels of interaction (such as forums and comment features) between the podcast producer and its listeners and also increases the amount of online activity around the podcast’ theme. The podcast host pages can be weblogs, commercial hosting services (like Podcast Alley) or, for professionally produced podcasts, corporate or personal websites.
One of the advantages of applying the method to podcasts is that the researcher can receive automatic updates on the field whenever new content is available. Because podcast files can be easily stored, accessed, moved and manipulated, the researcher can work with the data in its original format (i.e. audio, image) without incurring on the potential loss of contextual information that may happen when non-textual interactional data is transformed into text.
However, participant observation is not easy to define or manage in this research setting. There are no clear guidelines to define what participant observation accounts for when the research field is a website comprising alternative communication channels such as podcasts, forums, and a blog-style comments section. From previous studies on other computer-mediated environments we know that people may assume several levels of involvement with an online community, blog, or website. Involvement and participation in new online environments vary largely. For instance, one can merely listen to podcasts, while others will actually create a website of their own, link it to others and actively promote conversation at the web.
In my next post, I'll tour the geocaching podcasts and discuss them as an example of research data.


Transcribing interviews

One of the most time consuming tasks related to qualitative research is that of transcribing interviews. Of course one can pay someone else to do the job, but graduate students on meager bursaries hardly have an option other than doing the hard work themselves.
People stare at me when I say that, but I actually like transcribing my own interviews. I believe listening to an interview or audio file brings much richer insights than reading a transcription. When you take the time to listen to your informants in detail (something that usually doesn't happen during the interview, at least for me), you learn a good deal more about what's being said - and what's not being said. The voice, the tones and pauses, the laughing and background sounds are all information that you can take into account when analyzing an interview. They are usually not well translated into text.
I recently spent some time testing different transcription software and decided to stick to one developed by two PhD. students in Germany (well, they've got their degrees by now), which is called F4.
The name of the software says it all - that's the key you're going to hit to pause, play, and repeat the audio. F3 rewinds and F5 forwards. Each time you pause, it will start a few words back on the audio, so you can keep a good typing pace without losing any word. You can type on a word document, use shortcuts to enter different icons for interviewer and interviewees, and it interacts with Mac, Windows, and Linux. There is also a foot switch option that goes with it.
I really like it, and recommend it. It's free (you can help them with a small donation), quick to download, and really simplifies the task. If you're doing the hard work yourself, check it out!


A postmodern puzzle

There’s only one article that I am aware of which looks at geocaching with cultural lenses, so I’ll offer a more detailed read of it. Christele Boulaire and Bernard Cova, two marketing scholars, analyse the creation and development of geocahing as a game that is used by adults to create a ludic space at the fringes of society. They understand geocaching as “a postmodern game, a tribe, experiences, emotions, narratives, passions, rituals, a whole parallel universe created and sustained by its players”*

I put together a Flickr set to illustrate this “postmodern bricolage” which geocaching really is – feel free to browse through it before or after reading this post :)

The authors affirm that this playful universe requires a liminoid zone to exist, meaning that the game is situated outside everyday life, but lacks formal boundaries and transitional stages. This situation is linked to the condition of the postmodern subject, whose complex and fragmented life is reflected in a frequent desire to escape of routine and quotidian life. However, as observed by Boulaire and Cova, sometimes individuals become so immersed in the game that they allow it to become something else, something serious, a regular part of daily life, so that it no longer works as an escape zone (and that’s my next post!). While geocaching is conceived to make the treasure hunt possible in within the constraints of everyday life, and the fantasy accessible in terms of time, difficulty levels, resources, location, challenge, and immediate gratification, it also facilitates the transformation of the game into an ordinary activity, a routinely, serious hobby.

Boulaire and Cova refer to the concept of “ludic agency” to explain players’ capacity of total immersion in a game while keeping the ability to exit from it and to alternate phases of play and non-play. With the maintenance of the contrast between play and non-play, value is constantly added to the game. The authors also look at the role of the Internet in contributing to the quick dissemination of new possibilities for the game and simultaneously increasing the impact of new rules and additions to the activity. Similarly to other games which largely depend on the internet to develop, geocaching is interactive, open, participatory and collective. Boulaire and Cova highlight these characteristics and understand online interactions between players as attempts to expand and constantly develop the game. The authors observe that with an exponentially increasing number of caches, managing them becomes time consuming and demands more technological capabilities. Therefore, the continuance and maintenance of the game require that some players make a central life activity of it or, at least, be willing to work in order to improve parts of it. Isn’t this interesting?

Looking at the narratives present in online texts available on websites dedicated to geocaching, Boulaire and Cova conclude that geocaching is an ongoing narrative to which all players contribute as part of a “collective of production-consumption”. Focusing on discourses, they describe the neologisms created by players as examples of bricolage. Other salient post-modern traits of the activity are, as pointed by the authors, the reinvention and repurposing of items; and the bridging between opposites (for example outdoors and indoors, offline and online). Boulaire and Cova suggest that geocaching also bridges indifference (play) with responsibility (maintenance of the game). It links children and adults (or the child and the adult in one’s self); loneliness and togetherness; nature and advanced technologies; objects and subjects; past (treasure hunts) and present (location-based games). All these characteristics conflate into three different liminoid zones: experimental theatres, narrative forests, and home ports, in which the “fire of the game” is kept alive by the collective of players.

So you geocachers out there, do you think this is a fair description of the game? Why? Speak up :)

*All quotes in this post are my liberal translation, since the article is originally in French


Improving (the already oh, so useful!) Google Scholar

A nice tip from Doug Belshaw (one of the nice blogs I've added on my reading list) on how to link your library account to Google Scholar. You'll be able to get full papers without having to search for them twice.


Play in consumer research

Individuals' experiences and hedonic motivations have been frequently explored in consumption contexts. In a seminal article published almost 30 years ago, Hirschman and Holbrook relate playful consumption to other intrinsically motivated activities (e.g. leisure, creativity, hobbies) and find that satisfaction, enjoyment, fun, and other internal, affective and hedonic elements (in addition to personality traits and player performance) motivate consumers to play. Since then, many authors have explored different aspects of play in its relationship with consumer consumer behaviour and consumer culture.
I will offer short reviews of some of these articles, hoping this can be useful for those interested in similar topics. At the end, some extra references!

1. Mathwick, C. and Rigdon, E. (2004). Play, Flow, and the Online Search Experience. Journal of Consumer Research, 31 (2), 324-332.

Emphasizing the motivation, cognitive aspects, and psychological characteristics of playful activities, Mathwick and Rigdon introduce the notion of “perceived play” while investigating the antecedents and experiential outcomes of flow (see Csikszentmihalyi work for more on flow). They define perceived play as a compound of two dimensions: intrinsic enjoyment and escapism (a state of full engagement, or psychological immersion). Perceived play is, then, conceptually similar to “the affect- and arousal-based indicators typically associated with the flow state”. The authors conclude that play (in the adjective form of “perceived play”) serves as a link between the experience of flow and the consumer attitude formation.

2. Unger, L. S., and Kernan, J. B. (1983). On the meaning of leisure: an investigation of some determinants of the subjective experience. Journal of Consumer Research, 9: 381-392.

A similar definition is the conceptualization of leisure developed by Unger and Kernan. These authors understand play and leisure as intertwined concepts, particularly because both are frequently defined in more subjective terms. In a review of the literature on leisure studies, they identify six determinants of subjective leisure, all of which have also been used to define play: (1) intrinsic satisfaction, (2) perceived freedom, (3) involvement, (4) arousal, (5) mastery, and (6) spontaneity. The authors investigated all six variables across a variety of contexts using survey data and found three of them to be the basic determinants of subjective leisure experiences: intrinsic satisfaction, perceived freedom, and involvement. The other three variables are found to be more activity-specific.
They also point to intrinsic satisfaction as “the quintessence of leisure”, observing that leisure activities are intrinsically motivated and seen as an end in itself. Perceived freedom, as the authors properly acknowledge, has also been proposed and empirically proved by several researchers as the single precondition of subjective leisure.

3. Holbrook, M. B., Chestnut, R. W., Oliva, T. A. and Greenleaf, E.A. (1984). Play as Consumption Experience: The Roles of Emotions, Performance, and Personality in the Enjoyment of Games. Journal of Consumer Research, 11 (September), 728-739.

Subjective perspectives on play also have appeared in the marketing literature as a dimension of experiential value. Holbrook and his colleagues have produced a series of articles investigating play, enjoyment, and hedonic experiences. Holbrook also offers a typology of consumer value in which play is seen as self-oriented, meeaning “actively sought and enjoyed for its own sake” behaviour that is intrinsically motivated and typically involves having “fun” (the opposite of boredom?).

4. Grayson, K. (1999), The Dangers and Opportunities of Playful Consumption in Consumer Value: A Framework for Analysis and Research, ed. Morris B. Holbrook, London: Routledge.

Looking at the relevance of the concept of play to marketers and consumers, Grayson affirms that definitions of play centered on subjective dimensions lead to the convenient conclusion that virtually all products and services can be sold and consumed as play, depending only on the consumer approach to them. The confinement of play in a subjective realm of “self-oriented activities” or “states of mind” is problematic in that it does not clearly trace the boundaries between the concept of play and similar others (e.g. flow, leisure, aesthetic consumption) and situates it almost exclusively on the mental engagement of the player.

5. Holt, D. B. (1995). How Consumers Consume: A Typology of Consumption Practices. Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (June), 1-16.

A less subjective conceptualization of play appeared in Holt’s taxonomy of “how consumers consume”. Observing spectators at baseball games, Holt distinguishes play from other related concepts (such as experiential consumption) by adding an interpersonal dimension to it. From his perspective, play occurs when consumers use objects to socialize or commune with other individuals having no other end beyond the interaction itself. However, reactively watching a sport is different from actually playing a sport. The various reactive aspects of consumption included in Holt’s typology blur the phenomena he classifies as play with aesthetic consumption experiences. While emphasizing the relevance of the consumption object to playful consumption, Holt also downplays the relevance of the object, which is considered a mere (and substitutable) resource used by consumers who engage in autotelic interactions. In this sense, any object (e.g. the weather), not only a consumption object, could serve as basis for a playful relationship between consumers.

6. Deighton, J. and Grayson, K. (1995). Marketing and Seduction: Building Exchange Relationships by Managing Social Consensus. Journal of Consumer Research, 21, (March), 518-526.

Departing from Holt’s typology, Deighton and Grayson rethink the interpersonal aspects involved in the definition of play while maintaining the subjective dimensions of the concept and analyzing it as a prerequisite to relationship building. In their perspective, playing represents “an agreement (or social consensus) among two or more individuals to follow a unique set of rules; rules that players consider to be different than those which govern their everyday lives.”
The authors look at the formation of exchange relationships between marketers and consumers. The authors contrast broader forms of social consensus (e.g. socialization) with the narrow and mainly inconsequential consensus which constitutes play. Another example of activity sustained by narrow social consensus is the con-game, in which, contrary to play, the gains achieved by some participants are lost with the discontinuity of the consensus and the participant who faces loss (in their analysis, the consumer) is said to have been “conned or defrauded.” Ultimately, the distinction between con-games and play proposed by Deighton and Greyson relies on evaluations of the intentions of marketers and the legitimacy of their actions.
Play involves following or deviating from the norms and expectations implied in a situation. It is important to note, however, that given the essential role of intrinsic motivation and self-orientation in determining play, it is possible that not all instances of following or deviating from social expectations will result in play.

7. Grayson, K. (1999), The Dangers and Opportunities of Playful Consumption in Consumer Value: A Framework for Analysis and Research, ed. Morris B. Holbrook, London: Routledge.

Looking at the rule-following characteristics of different activities, Grayson reviews Caillois’s (check last post’s reference list) typology of play and adapts it to the understanding of playful consumption. Callois defines play as essentially free (“voluntary, a source of joy and enjoyment”), separate (“carefully isolated from the rest of life”), uncertain (“the course of which cannot be determined”), and unproductive (“it creates no wealth or goods, thus differing from work or art”), yet regulated (“by precise, arbitrary, unexceptionable rules that must be accepted as such”) or make-believe. His typology categorizes playful activities in four groups, depending on whether competition (agôn), chance (alea), simulation (mimicry) or vertigo (ilinx) is the dominant characteristic. The four types are arranged into separate quadrants each containing games of the same type. Within a quadrant, however, the activities can be organized in a continuum: at one extreme is ludus, representing calculation, and subordination to rules; at the other is paidia, which is active, exuberant, spontaneous, rule-breaking.
Grayson further relates the types of play discussed by Caillois to a catalogue of consumer activities to determine seven ways in which consumers play with (or along) marketers. Four of these are subtypes of ludus: (1) imitation, (2) initiation, (3) participation, and (4) competition. The remainder three are types of paidia: (5) deception, (6) subversion, and (7) innovation. Relating these playful activities to role-theory, Grayson analyzes the dangers and possibilities of paidic and ludic playful activities in the context of marketing and consumers relationships. He concludes in observing that play can be “harmlessly pleasant or threateningly subversive”, depending mostly on whether consumers follow or break the rules expected (proposed?) by the marketer. It is important to observe, however, that sometimes marketers and consumers do not agree on whether an activity is rule-breaking or rule-following.

8. Kozinets, R.V., Sherry Jr., J. F., Storm, D., Duhachek, A., Nuttavuthisit, K. and DeBerry-Spence, B. (2004). Ludic Agency and Retail Spectacle. Journal of Consumer Research, 31 (December), 658-672.

Building on the theorization of play and consumption proposed by Grayson and relating it to theories of consumer agency, Kozinets and his colleagues investigate the roles of consumers and marketers in creating and subverting rules (for playing) in spectacular environments. Adopting a celebratory view of agency, in which producers and consumers negotiate meanings and practices equally serving the interests of both parts, the researchers found a more nuanced conception of play than the opposition paidia-ludus. The authors illustrate the complex allocation of agency between marketers and consumers by observing that, in the spectacular environment investigated, “play involves ceding great latitude of freedom to consumers, who use their freedom to work within the rules of play, to break other rules, and to create new rules”. These observations indicate that more than following or breaking rules put forward by marketers (as suggested by Grayson), consumers can also create new rules – where there is space for rule creation and rupture of the initial consensus between marketers and consumers, there is also the possibility that the marketer is tricked – facing losses in the relationship which is no longer play, but a con-game.
Kozinets and his colleagues acknowledge that in corporate, commercialized contexts such as the spectacular themed environment of ESPN Zone Chicago, consumer creative and subversive actions are promptly co-opted and appropriated by the marketer as only another feature of the spectacle intended for commercialization. In this sense, the consumer may play the “trickster”, but the marketer is never deceived. On the one hand, while the “ontological setting apart in real space” of spectacular environments represents a liminoid zone in which consumers can manifest their playfulness, it also allows the marketer to control and re-appropriate whatever subversion might happen within the boundaries of the enticing spectacular environment. The question remains of whether outside spectacular environments it is possible to observe similar dynamics of agency between consumers and marketers in determining rules of play.

9. Celsi, R. L., Rose, R. L., and Leigh, T. W. (1993). An exploration of high-risk leisure consumption through skydiving. Journal of Consumer Research, 21, (March), 518-526.

In their ethnography of a sky-diving community Celsi, Rose, and Leigh investigate the experiences of consumers seeking high-risk leisure activities. While exploring the context of high-risk experiences, the authors observed that individuals have been increasingly convinced that their jobs should provide them with a strong sense of self, autonomy, and self-efficacy. In the current state of social specialization of the workplace, however, most people find themselves distanced from the outcomes of their labour. This paradox, according to Celsi, Rose, and Leigh the authors, provides “tension to be released, and the means, such as discretionary time and income, to seek denouement through play.” Despite focusing exclusively on high risk leisure as a form of releasing the tensions originated in the workplace, the authors suggest that feelings of catharsis, identity generation, mastery, flow and community may also be obtained from less risky activities such as running or biking.

10. Belk, R.W. and Costa, J. (1998). The Mountain Myth: A Contemporary Consuming Fantasy. Journal of Consumer Research, 25 (December), 218-40.

Belk and Costa identified several positive outcomes related to what can be considered an extreme, or serious form of play. In their ethnographic study, the authors describe the re-enactments of the Mountain Men rendezvous as a transient consumption community characterized by a fantastical time and space. They identified elements of primitivism, mystification, and nostalgia for simpler times and values in the participants’ discourses, which motivate their active engagement in the creation of a consumption enclave in remote natural settings. The intense involvement of participants in the Mountain Men community and the effort and resources they invest in producing and acquiring the objects and abilities necessary to this recreational activity suggest that the re-enactments are a form of serious leisure (more on this in the next post). The modern mountain men studied by Belk and Costa repudiate work and find in the mountain men fantasy the necessary elements (including work and play) for a meaningful life. Belk and Costa (1998) also pay close attention to the playful elements of the rendezvous. The authors find on the mountain men community all elements of play as defined by Huizinga, including freedom of choice, rules and order, some level of competition, a delimited place and time, and the awareness of a make-pretend. In relating play to serious leisure and a world of fantasy, Belk and Costa extend the realm of play to cover not only fun and enjoyment, but a site for the pursuit of meaning, the development of identities, and the expansion of possibilities for self-transformation. The authors suggest that the same “sacred and fantastic time and place, providing escape, renewal, play, and a sense of community for its participants” created in the modern mountain men rendezvous can be found in other consumption enclaves or alternative realities.

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and I am back to the game!

“The spirit of play is the source of the fertile conventions that permit the reinvention of culture. It stimulates ingenuity, refinement, and invention. At the same time, it teaches loyalty in the face of the adversary and illustrates competition in which rivalry does not survive the encounter. To the degree that he is influenced by play, man can check the monotony, determinism, and brutality of nature. He learns to construct order, conceive economy, and establish equity.”
(Caillois 1958-2001, p.58)

When I first started thinking about geocaching as a research topic, I thought it was plain fun, so I started all things published about “play”. Soon enough, the task of simply reviewing the literature on play in all social science and humanities disciplines revealed itself a massive (if not impossible) work. Expanding the overview to include related concepts such as leisure, entertainment, fun, amusement, games, pleasure, and fantasy – and oppositional ones such as boredom, work, earnestness, and seriousness is a task even the most relentless researcher would very likely give up accomplishing.
So I read as broadly as I could and, let me tell you, there are some fascinating texts in this literature... The theoretical notion of play was initially developed in the fields of sociology and history (see, for example, Caillois 1961 and Huizinga 1955 from the reference list below). The definition of play is ambiguous and varies according to the perspective adopted by the author (e.g. cultural, educational, or psychological). Despite a cumulative body of interdisciplinary literature on the topic, play as a concept still intrigues and eludes many researchers. Nevertheless, most authors providing overviews of the literature on play refer to the definition written by the historian Johan Huizinga in 1955 as one of the most relevant ones:
Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’, but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an ordered manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means. (1955, p.13)

Checking the definition against the main characteristics of geocaching raises many interesting points:
Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity...
I haven’t heard of anyone being forced to do geocaching (though I suspect some kids or spouses may see it as an unpleasant task...). It is indeed a free activity – you only do it if you want to. And, at least so far, it is free of charge (assuming one already has the basics: a gps and an Internet connection).

...standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’
Geocachers frequently joke about using a multi-billion dollar satellite system to find Tupperware hidden in the woods. Plus the events, the gear, the “geocaching backpack”... I get the feeling that once the GPS is on, the ordinary life is really put aside.

... but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly.
It’s easy to spend a whole afternoon looking for that multi cache....In fact, for many geocachers, this is a serious leisure activity (but I will discuss this in another topic)

It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it.
This is a more complicated match, because some geocachers have started their own business out of the game, like these guys here: http://landsharkz.ca/ http://www.cachingcontainers.com/ http://www.todayscacher.com/ http://t-shirts.cafepress.com/geocaching . Not so sure if they keep playing with the same freedom and intensity (is geocaching still a hobby for them or did it become work?)

It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space (checked) according to fixed rules and in an ordered manner.
There are controversies here – some people play according to their own rules (or their team rules), but the basic guidelines stated at http://www.geocaching.com are the ones most people consider valid when playing geocaching. I think these rules have been evolving organically with the development of the game and naturally adopted or abandoned by the community of players.

It promotes the formation of social groupings

Definitely! There is a large number of associations, groups, teams, and events related to geocaching. I actually think this is one of the main pillars of the activity. Meeting other geocachers is always great fun.

which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means.
Caching names, acronyms, intriguing t-shirt sayings, and disguising from muggles... this is what geocachers do best.

So yes, geocaching is play – according, at least, to one of the most traditional definitions of play. What then? Because I am a marketing researcher, I narrowed the focus of my theoretical search to, well, the marketing literature. But that’s the topic of my next post!

I leave you with some references on play – all of them very interesting and worthy checking out.

1. Ackerman, D. (1999). Deep Play. New York: Random House.
2. Björk, S., J Falk, R Hansson, & Ljungstrand, P. (2001), “Pirates!-Using the Physical World as a Game Board”, Human-Computer Interaction – Proceedings of Interac 01. IOS Press: IFIP.
3. Caillois, R. (1961). Man, Play, and Games. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.
4. Caillois, R. (2001). [1958]. Man, Play, and Games.University of Illinois Press.
5. Castronova, E. (2005). Synthetic Worlds: the business and culture of online games. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
6. Ellis, M. J. (1973). Why people play, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
7. Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo Ludens. Boston: Beacon Press.
8. Kline, S., Dyer-Whiteford, N., and DePeuter. G. (2003). Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
9. Lauwaert, M. (2009). The place of play: Toys and digital cultures. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
10. Michaelis, B. (1985). Fantasy, play, creativity and mental health. In Recreation and Leisure: Issues in an Era of Change. T. Goodale and P. Witt (eds.). Venture Publishing, State College.
11. Poole, S. (2000). Trigger Happy: Videogames and the entertainment revolution. New York: Arcade Publishing.
12. Taylor, T. L. (2006). Play Between Worlds. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.