Amsterdam New Media Summer Talks: Networked Content

On: July 22, 2008
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About Esther Weltevrede
Esther Weltevrede is a second year Media Studies Research Master student at the University of Amsterdam. Before studying New Media she attended the School of Arts in Breda where she received a Bachelor degree in Graphic Design. She is involved as researcher and coordinator in the recently founded Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. DMI is dedicated to developing tools and methods for researching the ‘natively digital.’ Since this summer she is a member of GovComOrg, a foundation dedicated to creating and hosting political tools on the Web. Currently she is a part-time teacher Information Visualization at Master Editorial Design, Utrecht School of Art, and part-time teacher Public Design at Interactive Media, Hogeschool van Amsterdam.


Warren Sack, Alexander Galloway, Greg Elmer and Anat Ben-David explore the contents of networks. The Summer Talks are hosted by Richard Rogers. The program is part of the 10-year Jubilee of, the group responsible for the Issue Crawler and other info-political tools for the Web. It is also part of the Digital Methods Summer School as well as the New Media Research Lecture Series, Media Studies, University of Amsterdam.

Monday, 11 August 2008, 1 – 5 pm
Location: Nina van Leer Zaal, Allard Pierson Museum, Oude Turfmarkt 129 (“Bijzondere Collecties” Entrance), Amsterdam.
Free entry, followed by drinks, 5 – 6.30pm

Digital Methods Summer Program Substance

Networked Content: Turning Away From the User
The Amsterdam Digital Summer program re-introduces the turn away from the user as content-organizing agent on the Web. Instead, it puts forward a device-centric approach to the study of what may be termed networked content. As valuable as the importation of fan studies has been in showing how a participatory culture gives rise to collective intelligence, it neglects what may be termed algorithmic consequences, that is, the manner in which content is delivered by devices in the first instance. The turn away from the user is at once a methodological as well as techno-epistemological program. Instead of placing video cameras over the users’ shoulders or affixing eye trackers, for example, a Web device diagnostics is preferred. How are the scanners, crawlers, scrapers and all other manner of content capturing devices changing the way Web effects are analysed? In engine critiques, the question remains which content is  served, when and where? In sphere critiques (websphere, blogosphere, newssphere, tagosphere), similarly the question concerns the distance of certain content from the surface, and how it may make itself known or hidden. For the new spaces, e.g., syndication and other feed arenas, content spread and coverage are under-interrogated.

Summer Talks I: Software Studies

Warren Sack
University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

From the start, computer science has been concerned with automation, the means to replace people with machinery, in other words, to move people “out of the loop.” This is evident even in the founding, theoretical document of the field, where A.M. Turing (1936) states that his focus is on “automatic machines” which can run without intervention by an external, human operator. But, as computers and networks moved out of the lab and into homes, businesses and social spaces, software and hardware designers turned to social science – psychology, sociology and now, increasingly cultural anthropology – to understand the interface between people and machines and to rethink computers as a medium of communication between people. In its initial move to articulate a new field of study, computer science focused on machinery to the exclusion of people and has, subsequently, had to supplement its focus with ideas from social sciences to engage individuals, society, and most recently culture. Lucy Suchman’s (1987, 2007) pioneering work at Xerox PARC fundamentally changed computer science (especially artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction) to the extent that now most large, industry research labs (e.g., IBM, Intel, etc.) include cultural anthropologists. Bruno Latour and other Actor-Network Theorists have argued that social science has, unfortunately, tried to limit its scope to humans and exclude technology from its descriptions. In many ways, this is the converse of computer science’s opening move to leave people “out of the loop” in order to focus exclusively on technology. ANT opens social theory to technology both in its analysis and its vocabulary. Especially in newer manifestations, ANT redeploys the vocabularies of computer science to interrogate sociotechnical couplings (cf., Latour’s (2005a) usage of “object-oriented programming” and his extended analogy between web browser “plug-in” software and the circulation of subjectivity (Latour, 2005b)). So, “translation” (a la Callon and Latour) is happening in both directions: from computer science to science studies and back. This double translation constitutes a locus of activity in which computer science is executed as science studies and vice versa. The software of Richard Rogers, Andrei Mogoutov, and others in science studies demonstrates one aspect of this activity and the software of Phil Agre, Paul Dourish and others in computer science demonstrates another. Following new media theorists, I call this area of activity “software studies.” “Software studies” is a phrase coined by Lev Manovich in his book, The Language of New Media, and is the title of a recent collection edited by Matthew Fuller, Software Studies: A Lexicon. In this paper, I propose a definition of this emerging field of inquiry, software studies, and demonstrate some possibilities by using software I have written with colleagues and students over the past decade to summarize and visualize debates and discussions that take place in Open Source Software development efforts and in newsgroups and blogs devoted to politics and culture.

Summer Talks II: Alternative Algorithms (On Method)

Alexander Galloway
New York University, USA

It happens from time to time that a certain amount of reflection becomes necessary, not simply concerning the objects of the mind, but as to the actual manner in which intellectual work is done. This typically comes under the heading of methodology, which today has a distinctly liberal profile. With method, it is often more a question of suitability than existential correctness, often more a question of personal style than universal context. Hence methodological discussions these days often devolve into a sort of popularity contest. Who advocates what method and for what purpose? Which general equivalent trumps all others–is it race, or is it class, or is it the logos, or the archive, or the gaze, or desire, play, excess, singularity, resistance, or perhaps life itself–elevating one methodological formation above all others in a triumphant critique (to end all future critique)? In this paper I examine what sorts of methodological approaches make sense today, making the case that the proper methodological position for those working critically within techno-culture is the creation of alternative algorithms.

Summer Talks III: Code Politics: Networking through Traffic and Tags

Greg Elmer
Ryerson University-Infoscape Research Lab, Canada

This presentation provides an overview of the theory, tools, and methods developed as part of the three year SSHRC funded Code politics project housed at the Infoscape Research Lab, Ryerson University, Toronto. The presentation will review the scrapers, analytical tools, data sets and visualizations that were developed from three case studies: 1) a blog analysis tool underdevelopment for the forthcoming Canadian federal election, 2) a YouTube study of networked/embedded videos during the Australian federal election and 3) a study of political issues circulating on Facebook groups during the Ontario provincial election in 2007. The presentation concludes with a discussion of cross platform, networked forms of analysis that highlight both users and researchers abilities to map and perform politics in the webosphere.

Summer Talks IV: The promised Cyberland: Does the state of Palestine already exist on the Web?

Anat Ben-David
Science, Technology and Society Program, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Whilst the current status of Palestine is that of a “national authority”, “(occupied) territories”, but not a state, one can say that the state of Palestine already exists on the Web since March 2003, when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) delegated the country code Top Level Domain, after the two-letter suffix was officially included in the U.N. list for recognized countries and territories (ISO3166-1). The official representation of Palestine on the Web was seen by many as entailing a great and unprecedented potential for creating a “promised cyberland”, an idealized and imagined cyberspace which will be used as a model for the anticipated state on the ground. In a complex geographic reality of unconnected Palestinian territories, and restraints put on Palestinians from physically contacting each other caused by derivatives of the Israeli occupation and the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict such as the physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank, the Separation Wall, curfews and checkpoints, the Palestinian Web takes the discussion of the “imagined” in cyberspace beyond imagined communities and identities, to imagined places and geographies. Facilitated by ICTs, the Palestinian cyberstate bypasses the geographic reality on the ground and provides both continuously demarcated space and communication means for advancing public debate, polity, and establishment of the kind of statehood the anticipated Palestinian state wishes to realize on the ground. From a Web-studies and information politics perspectives, the .ps top level domain forms an unprecedented opportunity for studying relationships between the Web and the ground. Which is mirroring which? Which is anticipating which? Do they behave differently? This paper will describe an ongoing research project of the Palestinian Web as representing and anticipating Palestinian statehood, performed by in collaboration with the Advanced Network Research Group, Cambridge Security Programme. The various analyses examined different aspects of Palestinian statehood on the Web, touching on the physical vs. virtual location of Palestinian Websites, Palestinian politics, academia, civil society, etc. In an attempt to demarcate and characterize the Palestinian Web, we often asked what kind of project has the .ps Web become: who is coming to use the .ps domain?  If not demarcated by the .ps top level domain, where can the Palestinian Web be found, and how can it be defined?  After providing some answers to these questions, this paper concludes by discussing the unique contribution of Web studies and non-biased, automated internet-based tools in mapping politically sensitive issues such as the Palestinian case in particular, and asymmetric conflicts in general.

Digital Methods Summer acknowledges the generous support of the Mondriaan Foundation’s Interregeling Fund. The Digital Methods Initiative is coordinated by Sabine Niederer and Esther Weltevrede, PhD candidates, Media & Culture, University of Amsterdam. You can mail us at

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