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

On: November 1, 2006
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Anne Helmond
Anne Helmond is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture and Program Director of the MA New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative research collective where she focuses her research on the infrastructure of social media platforms and apps. Her research interests include digital methods, software studies, platform studies, app studies, infrastructure studies and web history.


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?

Comments are closed.