Ask the masters: Top down = control & bottom-up = action?

On: November 1, 2006
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About Anne Helmond
Anne is a New Media PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She graduated on software-engine relations in the blogosphere and continues her research as an analyst-designer in the newly found Digital Methods Initiative of the University of Amsterdam. Anne is also a freelance photographer for various Dutch media including VPRO 3voor12.


Anthony Townsend argues in his essay ‘Locative-Media Artists in the Contested-Aware City‘ that the technology of context-aware computing (of which locative media is a part):

will be characterized by an interplay between top-down systems for command and control and bottom-up systems for collective action.

Characteristic features of top-down systems are:

  • a highly formalized vocabulary a centralized database
  • a strictly controlled and closed system
  • barely aware, simple awareness for command and control
  • context is determined a priori

Example: highway patrol system.

Characteristic features of bottom-up systems are:

  • an informal and open vocabulary: content tagging
  • a decentralized database (?)
  • a less controlled and more open system
  • aware through context derive context from smarter, more open and informal processes

Example: Still thinking of a good one.

Annotating Google maps seems to be somewhere in the middle of these two systems, since the Google maps database itself is closed, but you are able to build upon it’s API.

The openness of the bottom-up systems allows for connecting different databases thus opening up a whole range of posibilities. E.g. Adding your Flickr photos to Google Maps, which is actually already being done. Control versus action.

What I am wondering is: Are there examples of top-down systems that are used for collective action and bottom-up systems that are used for command and control?

One Response to “Ask the masters: Top down = control & bottom-up = action?”
  • November 2, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    just heard Esther say: Wiki of Winker Prins

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