Recalling RFID: Full Report

On: October 25, 2007
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About Erik Borra
Erik Borra is assistant professor in Journalism and New Media at the University of Amsterdam.


Recalling RFID logo by Leon&LoesRecalling RFID was held on Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th of October at de Balie. This unique event included presentations on RFID, debates and digital connectivity scenarios by industry representatives, academics, artists, privacy advocates, programmers and consultants. Recalling the current state of affairs and looking to the future, it turned out to be a very interesting, high quality conference.

Speakers included Katherine Albrecht (CASPIAN – Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion And Numbering, USA), Bart Schermer (privacy lawyer and coordinator of RFID Platform Netherlands), Rafi Haladjian (founder of Violet company – known from the Nabaztag Rabbit, tech entrepreneur), Melanie Rieback (Ubisec researcher who invented the first RFID virus, VU University Amsterdam), Stephan Engberg (Priway/Copenhagen Business School), Christian van ‘t Hof (researcher, Rathenau Instituut), Willem Velthoven (designer and director of Mediamatic), interaction designer Timo Arnall, and many others.

This summary and review assumes that readers have at least a vague notion of what Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is. But just to recall:

RFID makes it possible to identify and track just about any physical object you can think off – books, car tires, shoes, medicine bottles, clothing, pets, and even human beings.
The “RF” part of RFID stands for “radio frequency” and explains how RFID does its tracking: It uses electromagnetic energy in the form of radio waves to communicate information at a distance.
— Katherine Albrecht, Spychips, 2005

RFID and Police Investigation

Christian van ‘t Hof gave the first presentation on ‘RFID and police investigation’. He began by asking how many people had RFID on them at the moment, and the vast majority of the audience raised their hand immediately. He used this to assess the level of knowledge in the audience: most people in the Netherlands do not realize that, on average, they carry around three RFID tags everyday. Christian works for the Rathenau institute, a think tank that investigates new technologies and advises the Dutch parliament. His presentation thus concerned the public support of RFID and the related political debates and legal questions.

So what is the use of RFID for government? With RFID becoming a part of everyday life, it is digitalizing public space. Knowing the ID of an RFID means knowing a time, a place, and an action. In the Netherlands this is most clearly seen in public transport (a system now being implemented uses RFID for ticketing), and in new passports (where not only RFID is integrated but also some biometric data). RFID used in this way means that you leave digital traces in public space. So how, for instance, might RFID be used for police investigation? Van’t Hof takes us through a scenario involving the new transportation system.

When you have a personal travel card for public transport, the identity of the chip is connected to your personal data (and it is worth noting that such subscriptions are cheaper than anonymous tickets). Because the system knows who was where at what time, this data can be used for criminal investigation. Van’t Hof says this is a clear-cut benefit in some cases: say, when a murder that takes place in the subway, it will give police easy access to witnesses and possible suspects. But things get trickier when it goes a step further. For instance, through profiling it may also be possible to find out who is evading taxes. The person who collects unemployment benefits but is always in transit during rush hours may be flagged as a possible offender. Such profiling could also be used to find potential terrorists, but here one already runs into the problem of effectiveness versus potential misuse.

In every new Dutch passport there is some biometric data (your passport photo and, by 2009, your fingerprints). The picture on this passport needs to be taken in a specific manner: your face must match ‘the matrix’ (seriously, this is the technical term). Currently, the ORRA system (Online Raadpleegbare Reisdocumenten Administratie) is being proposed for storing personal and biometric data in a central database, with the justification that it will prevent passport fraud. But this database also provides a valuable resource for authorities as it can be used to profile, investigate and research.

Van’t Hof also discussed research into the public perception of RFID. When doing focus group research, the Rathenau institute expected to find that people would not know a lot about RFID and would be offended by the possibilities of its misuse. As much of the available information on RFID relates to technical issues, it was no surprise that their first intuition was correct. Less expected, however, was what focus groups said about RFID after hearing details on what it is:

  1. Many in the focus groups said it was only ‘natural’ for such information to be collected in a central database used by the government.
  2. When asked if travel data should be linked to a specific person, 72% said this was okay for finding suspects of a crime, 61% went a step further and agreed that witnesses of a crime should be found, and a startling 60% said that public transport should be fully personalized – meaning that the transport companies and the government would always know who was where doing what.
  3. When asked about using biometric data from passports, 55% said the photos could be used for investigations, 65% said the fingerprints could be used for investigation, 52% said it could be used for international data exchange, and 62% said it could be used to identify a person via security camera.

Christian van ‘t Hof did note that “public opinion can be slippery” and that perhaps the public first needs to fully understand what RFID is and how it can be used. Furthermore, the context of the questions – criminal investigation – might as well have influenced the results. Further research with questions related to RFID in different contexts is therefore needed to get more solid results regarding public perception of RFID. The public opinion reflected in these results did however lead him to prediction that we will go to fully personalized transport (as we have with airplanes) and that it will be used to track and investigate. What he did not touch on, however, is that there is a great difference between airlines and subways – public transport is something one has a right to, so the analogy with air transport is questionable.

Rathenau takes the RFID debate beyond privacy issues by taking into consideration the costs involved in getting this system to work effectively for criminal investigation. For the system to work, all parties involved should store personal data in a standardized way limiting errors and incomplete databases. Telephone and Internet providers already store and make available telecommunication data for a period of six moths for police investigation under Centraal Informatiepunt Onderzoek Telecommunicatie (CIOT). This law implemented by government brought with it enormous costs and efforts for providers. Implementing similar laws for the public transport system will also increase costs which will eventually be payed by the public.Researching public perception of RFID in the context of costs involved will probably lead to different results than in the criminal investigation context. Christian tells us that the RFID issue is currently only considered by the ministry for economic affairs, and that this is one of the major obstacles in taking up RFID in a responsible way. His message to the parliament is fivefold:

  1. have a clear position on centralizing biometric data,
  2. have a clear position on using travel data,
  3. do more research on effectiveness,
  4. question if there should be data retention laws for RFID or not,
  5. explain your vision on RFID, privacy, innovation, and investigation.

The question of effectiveness would be posed a couple of times today. The most famous example is that although the police knew, or at least had information on, the Hofstad network and their planned attacks, they were unable to act on it. Will more surveillance data lead to a safer society?

For more information on ORRA and the statistics mentioned, see this Dutch paper of the Rhatenau institute.

RFID guardian

VU researcher Melanie Rieback is known worldwide for her expertise on RFID and privacy, but especially for her implementation of the first RFID virus. Melanie started off with some history about RFID. As far back as World War II RFID was used in planes to identify themselves as being ‘friend or foe’ or, more accurately, ‘identify or die’. The system was ad hoc, as pilots would adjust their altitude or trajectory in a way that radar operators would understand. As such, the system suffered from ‘Denial Of Service’ attacks and a lot of ‘friends’ ended up being shot as well. From the start, then, Rieback argues that trust in a system is crucial. Later on RFID was used as a binary system against theft in clothing stores (remember the big white buttons). Such systems were easily fooled by using, for example, a bag with an inner-casing made of aluminum so that the chip could not be read. Over the last few years RFID has further been developed to contain 96 bits (enough to uniquely number every item produced on earth for the next thousand years). It is now mainly deployed under the banner of improved logistics.

Melanie is concerned with the fact that most tags do not use any privacy or security protection measures. Most RFID tags happily yell their ID to every reader in the neighborhood. In this way the tags ‘leak’ a lot of information, which is something RFID readers are guilty of too.

To improve RFID, Rieback says, we need to start thinking of it as computing. Tags are low-end computers, yes, but computers all the same. After the mainframe, minicomputers, PCs and embedded computers, there is RFID: the smallest computing unit today. If you want to build the so-called “Internet of Things”, all of the problems with the internet now will also affect the new technology. Melanie’s point is that right now users of RFID have no control whatsoever about who or what reads which tags when. Therefore she is currently developing the RFID guardian.

The RFID guardian is focused on putting security and privacy into RFID. The three main goals are to investigate the security and privacy threats faced by RFID systems, to design and implement real solutions against these threats, and to investigate the associated technological and legal issues. The RFID guardian would act as a kind of radio-frequency firewall, one that could be housed in mobile phones. The main characteristics of the device should be that it is portable, battery powered as well as provide and secure two-way RFID communication. It must act like an RFID reader, but also as an RFID tagger. It will have to imitate, spoof and simulate multiple RFID tags.

Touching on why such security is so important, Melanie points out that the new chip system for public transport was easily hacked. A group of UvA Master students hacked one of the cards within a week. Knowing how expensive this system was, this is worrying: perhaps companies behind RFID do not know where to go with their security questions?

After her presentation, Rieback was asked about the legitimacy of such a project: couldn’t it be used to attack systems? Her response was that it could of course be used maliciously as well but that turning your back on the current threats was not the solution either.

Melanie Rieback showing the RFID guardian:

The RFID guardian will be relaunched on the first of November with a completely refashioned website, wiki, forum, blog and open-source schematics. Be sure to check!

Interaction Space

Timo Arnall talked about RFID in Interaction Design. We have currently entered a phase of social and tangible computing where the focus is much more on human capabilities. The current discourse about RFID is clouded by metaphors because it does not have a single shape. Arnall calls for increased visibility of RFID in design, so as to show the different shapes and forms that RFID comes in. Every medium has its own voice, and with the right designs different RFID readers and cards would become different expressions. Such a visual language is formed culturally – in Japan for example, RFID has a very friendly face:Recalling RFID

RFID is in need of some demystification, as it is notoriously ‘invisible’. Designers must be creative and find ways to manage RFID’s visibility. While the technique is usually hidden, the experience of it does not have to be. How can we visualize what goes on behind the tag, in the network? What are the actions that are being triggered in the network when you swipe an RFID tag? How can we visualize different uses and actions of RFID?

Recalling RFID

With his presentation, Arnall showed us that RFID is not only a security risk but also a space opening up for internal action, one that designers can and will visualize, design and potentially manage.

The Library and Social Networks

Willem Velthoven heads Mediamatic, and began by presenting some RFID projects the company and foundation has been involved in. The first of these was the symbolic table. This ‘interface free” table allowed users to simply tag objects and to play with (Web) content in a tactile way. Other projects were those displayed at the PICNIC conference, such as the ‘friend finder’. This application allows conference visitors to meet up in real space and become friends on an online social network at the same time. Using RFID tokens they print out business-cards with their profiles on them. As an added incentive, they can get a free beer. So, in essence, the installation uses and manipulates digital data through physical interaction.

Another PICNIC project was iTea, which was also a conversation starter. By placing one’s tag in the teacup, visitors would receive personalized data taken from both their personal profiles as well as from a Google query of their name. This gave the users an impression of the possibilities of data mining, profiling and RFID. The Photo Booth was also very popular at PICNIC, and allowed people to get their picture taken with friends and interact with one another using RFID.

The latest Mediamatic project involves the new public library of Amsterdam. Where libraries increasingly face the challenge of ‘upgrading’ to current information and searching demands, there is also a possibility for innovation.

Velthoven was asked to reflect on the whole process of lending- and returning books, in this case by use of RFID and/or ‘traditional’ bar-codes. Although the project and implementation is just beginning, some critical questions and remarks were already clear. For instance, he noted a security concern, since it easy to gain access to others’ data. But this data could also be used differently: if a digital system for accessing lending data is already in place, why not make it possible to share that data?

The main question for the project concerns the (changing) role of a library today. Velthoven suggested that, through new technologies and social networking sites like the ones used at PICNIC, the library could become a social meeting place, where instead of reading in silence, one could meet up with fellow-readers, have book discussions, share interests etc. What Velthoven did not address is whether this should be the primary aim of a library, or whether or not there are already non-technical ways of achieving the same goals (e.g. book clubs).

Velthoven concluded with a simple message, ‘Make it fun again!’ Using online social networks in combination with new technologies like RFID, he sees a different path for classic institutions like the library.

RFID in japan – Ubiquitous Network Society

Wouter Schilpzand is a researcher at the Technical University of Eindhoven. He conducted a couple of months of field-research into location-based services in Japan. With an overload of examples, from the Oyster-card and a number of mobile-phone applications for (among other things) public transport payments, the message was that the integration of technology in Japan is way ahead of Europe. The question why, however, was not really addressed, though, which is a pity. By only looking at the results of this techno-saturation, Schilpzand’s presentation missed an opportunity.

That Japanese culture is a mix of tradition and technology is well known, so the story about how gadget-friendly the early adopters are could be expected. One outcome of ‘successful’ dissemination is that the average Japanese consumer is less critical and more open to new applications and new technologies. Where the European market is interested in established products and known for watchdog-like skepticism, the Japanese prosumer is more willing to give feedback and thus contribute to the research and development of new commercial technologies.

The conclusion of his talk was that we should look more at the rapid development of Japanese RFID and mobile technology. What he did not point out is that this cannot be reproduced directly elsewhere, since there are cultural differences and problems of scale and infrastructure (Japan is a relatively secluded area and the population is concentrated in big cities with a strong, cohesive culture).

Perhaps the rise of what Bruce Sterling calls the Spime or technology Wrangler will teach us to be less afraid of upcoming technologies, and possibly without losing skepticism. That Schilpzand’s presentation was so different to the rest serves as a reminder that Anglo-American fears of big brother-scenarios still rule discussions of RFID technology. Highlighting the divide, he argued that the dangers of RFID mentioned by Rieback and others, while very interesting, are a repetition of warnings, rather than proposals for solutions.

Serious Gaming

Rafi Haladijan is one of the founders of a Paris-based company called Violet, which recently gained international fame with its product, the Nabaztag. This is (in our view) the first real consumer product that deals with widely discussed phrases like Ambient Intelligence and the internet of things. Before going into more detail on the product, Haladijan gave the audience some background information.

Violet was founded in 2003, when the internet was viewed somewhat differently; with unstable connections, low connectivity and slower modems, the goal of ‘developing infrastructure and services to link all types of objects’ was far-fetched. Nonetheless, Violet looked to move in this direction by focusing on the meaning of phrases like calm technology and ubiquitous computing.
The first instance of inspiration he mentioned is the talking teddy bear. Mixing views on Moore’s law and evolution, Haladjian explains that the teddy bear carries the statement that everything will indeed be hooked up to some kind of network via some sort of electronics. Not because of a technological drive being imposed on society, but simply an inevitable evolutionary step.

According to Haladijan, the reason why big players like Philips and Sony have not entered the market of home-entertainment / ambient intelligence yet is due to their approach. These companies focus on creating a ‘smart-home’, but do so with a naive vision on user-technology interaction. The smart home is one very expensive product with no real killer application, and thus exactly misses the point. In a time where we are halfway between the Flinstones and the Jetsons, the question is how to shape the road we are on now. We all have to do this, he says, and not leave it to bulky tech-companies. This is why Violet aims to create affordable products (20 to 200 euro) within the realm of Ambient Intelligence, with a focus on poetic and fun applications. Haladijan reasons that, by creating affordable products, people will understand the new technologies better and be able to create their own needs and values on that basis. By empowering people to do certain things with their products, a more diverse and more interesting adoption of technology will emerge naturally. What he proposes, then, is a bottom-up approach to consumer adoption of RFID.

Within a standard Western home, a person owns approximately 6000 to 8000 objects, of which maybe five of them are linked to a network (radio, phone, television, computer). The aim is to link all 8000 objects to a network, talking to each other – exchanging information, ultimately linking everything in the world together!

For the Violet company the first step was a networked lamp, a strange precursor given that their prize product now is the NaBaztag, the world’s first smart rabbit. Using an anthropomorphic shape as an interface, the NaBaztag is a more attractive way to interact with a network. In other words, it creates a portal to an internet or network without a screen, but a connection that it is more intuitive than scree-based interfaces.

Next up is the Nazbaztag/tag, which is equipped with an RFID reader. The reason behind this is that it will integrate with Ztamps, tags which you can stick on almost anything. When the Ztamps comes near the rabbit (or the other way around), content can be triggered, anything from sound, lights, website to mail. The nice thing about this very simple but effective application is that one can contextualize and confine digital content to physical objects. Again here the philosophy is to not project a function onto the user, but to give user-generated content a chance with this technology in the belief that cool things will emerge through use. As a concluding statement, Haladjian reminds us that this all really comes down to storytelling and creating new and exciting ways to facilitate it (especially where interaction is the story!).

In the short q&a, which was more of a summary, the overall message was that we have to move interactions away from the screen and shift towards a new interaction paradigm. RFID should not be used as ‘another way to load stuff on your screen’, as Timo Arnall put it.

The great advantage to moving away from the screen is that we can move away from the world of metaphors (like the desktop metaphor on screen) to direct couplings of meaning and action. According to Haladjian, ‘We have to make a bridge from screen to the real world again, where the challenge is the spreading and representation of data.’

Spy Chips

For a couple of years now, Katherine Albrecht has been on a crusade against RFID. She is well known for her book and website Spychips, and the revised version of that book written especially for Christians (where she recognized that RFID could be thought of as the biblical ‘mark of the beast’). Although some of us expected an extreme activist with little ‘content’, only the former was true. Albrecht was eloquent, and showed that she is very knowledgeable about RFID and its applications and uses.

She began by noting that the RFID industry always draws an analogy with the barcode or UPC, saying RFID just makes things easier. However, she explains, there are three major differences that must be considered when an ID is connected with a database and remotely readable:

  1. Unique Codes – think about the same UPC on each bottle of coke versus a unique code on each bottle which allows cross-referencing (and again, creating knowledge of a time, a place, and an action),
  2. Involuntary – RFID is readable without you knowing it versus handing over an item to be scanned,
  3. Fields – RFID works with an electromagnetic field

These points were elaborated upon in the rest of Albrecht’s talk. First of all she described the history of tracking items: from barcodes (for products) to loyalty cards (personal identifiers) to RFID (which allows for information on when, where and why consumers use products).

Albrecht told a couple of stories of the industry deploying RFID without letting the consumers know that they were being ‘spied’ upon. As an example you might want to look at the case of Gilette, the company that secretly took pictures of customers taking razor blades from the shelves. Apparently the industry does not want the public to know that they are using RFID and what it is used for, as Albrecht has been to various meetings where the industry was talking about strategies against consumer backlash.

Albrecht also explained the difference between a chip and a tag. A chip is a tag plus an antenna. Inkode now has a chipless tag, making RFID possible through the physical property of the tag itself – no electronics involved. With the advent of conductive ink, the packaging of an item can now become an antenna. This means that RFID can be truly invisible. And yet, no laws are in place to make sure consumers know when something is tagged with RFID. When products are tagged with RFID at the source (by the supplier), tags can be embedded deep into the object with little or no chance for removal.

Wall-Mart for example, now only works with suppliers who have RFID in their products. The company has also started item level tagging, despite the Code of Conduct they signed in accordance with CASPIAN and the privacy rights clearing house.

One result of this is that, in the near future, your trash will tell all kinds of secrets. Items will be tagged with RFID and a city may routinely scan your garbage, learning about the products you have bought and where you got them, or where you have been (you bought it in one place but threw it away somewhere else), and in that way be able to make specific profiles about you. This way your trash will be worth a lot of money! Even short-range RFID, then, can be very invasive.

Quoting from the report of Twan Eikelenboom at Viruteel Platform to give you the rest of Albrecht’s talk:

Implementation of the tag is all about hiding it: ‘You can sandwich RFID tags in shoes. And once this is done you can be identified everywhere: when you pass doorways, ceilings and floors you can be identified’. But what about RFID tags molded into tires? Or RFID tagged swipeless credit cards? The effects of implementation are still every unclear, as this article mentioned by Albrecht shows: Chip Implants Linked to Animal Tumors.

After implementation in everyday life, applications can be deployed. Some applications are already in use, for example in amusement parcs such as Alton Towers and LEGOland. You could say that this is merely in an amusement parc setting. IBM however has patented the Person Tracking Unit. This specific patent places RFID readers in the environment and as people walk around it tracks their movement and records products they carry with them. This could mean that “they” could look inside a woman’s bag to see, for example, if she carries babyfood and in turn use that for marketing purposes. Besides IBM, Bellsouth/Cingular has patented perhaps the most privacy invading example, which is about ‘post consumption information’ or simply put: garbage scanning.

The answer according to Albrecht lies in action. As an example she mentions the hidden RFID chips found at the Future Store in Germany. Metro Group had hidden RFID chips in loyalty cards and through protest, the company had to comply with privacy laws. More action is needed according to Albrecht to stop projects such as the forced chipping of Alzheimer patients.

At the recalling RFID event Albrecht premiered her final research on microchip induced tumors. Apparently RFID chips in bodies caused cancers to form around them, the technical term being foreign body tumor genesis. More information about this can be found and

Video screening The Catalogue (UK 2005 | 5’30):

Techno Optimism

The final speaker was Bart Schermer, secretary of the RFID platform, privacy specialist at ECP, and a privacy researcher at the University of Leiden. He immediately stated that he was a ‘techno optimist’ and a big fan of RFID. He tried to defuse the spychips threat as sketched by Katherine Albrecht, while saying he agreed with her on many points. He did this by asking us to go back in time and ask us if we would have stopped the internet’s development had we knew beforehand that it would also be used in morally reprehensible ways, for instance to spread child pornography. He said that no technology is inherently malevolent but that its uses may be. Although RFID is not inherently bad, he did see some possible threats: invisible data-collection, the possibilities for profiling, classifying, and tracking consumers, as well as ‘Minority Report’-style advertising. He said that none of this was likely to happen,

because the primary goal of a company is to make money; not to blackmail customers nor follow them everywhere. RFID will be used to seduce its consumers and maximize their value. Companies are bound by law and it takes two to tango. Companies are not forcing you to use it.

To further the defuse the dangers of RFID he explained that some important Dutch laws are already in place:

  • Surreptitious gathering of personal data is a violation of the data protection directive.
  • The same applies to using personal data for other purposes than for which they have been gathered.
  • Surreptiously monitoring and following people is a criminal offense.
  • Targeted advertising without prior permission from consumers is a violation of the (European) data protection directive.

Bart Schemer then quoted Francis Bacon: ‘Human knowledge and human power meet in one, for where the cause is not known, the effect cannot be produced’, meaning ‘information is power’.

If information is power, then (personal) data will be used to profile and classify consumers. According to Bart Schermer, privacy is thus a means to maintain ‘economic equality’ between companies and consumers. Consumers (should) have a say in the processing of their personal data. He dared to add “It is you who is in control of your personal data”.

However, Dutch citizens value security higher than privacy. Over 70% of the Dutch citizens is in favor of using RFID-data for law enforcement purposes, and consumers seem to value convenience, price, and speed over privacy (even if they say differently sometimes). Therefore, the single biggest threat to privacy is YOU.

Bart sums up how he would like to change consumers:

  • consumers should be (made) aware of the importance of privacy
  • consumers must therefore be informed when, how and where RFID is used
  • consumers must have the option to deactivate RFID at the point of sale (opt out)
  • consumer organisations must inform their constituency about RFID on the basis of facts not on the basis of fear

The way forward for companies should be the following:

  • use RFID in a responsible manner (privacy is good business sense)
  • provide benefits not only to themselves, but also to consumers
  • provide openness and transparency about the use of RFID
  • provide a truly free choice for consumers

And for governments:

  • create tools for the protection of privacy (PETs, RFID guardians, logo system)
  • place the consumer in control
  • monitor personal shifts in the balance of power, and correct where necessary (refrain from creating more investigative powers and coercive measures)

Finally, consumers should:

  • take their responsibility in safeguarding their privacy and individual liberty
  • be wary of buying into doomsday scenarios
  • actively resist applications that violate consumer rights

To reiterate, Bart stated that no technology is inherently malevolent. It is easy to create a dystopian scenario (and way more fun) than creating a realistic one. However, we should not judge a technology solely on the basis of possible misuse or abuse.


Katherine Albrecht responded to Bart Schermer by saying that the privacy directive is limited to Europe. And even when such a legal system is in place it is difficult to find violations. It is than even more difficult to find out what has been done with the data. How can you prove something when the data is privately owned and can be deleted with a simple click? She stated that Schermer has put too much trust in the law.

Schermer responded by saying that database law is from the 1970’s, and that so far it has little to say about whether a tag in your jacket should be considered personal data. The only solution is a critical consumer that can create a backlash against companies. Information, he says, is the most important currency in information society.

Asked whether technologies can be inherently good or bad, Albrecht stated that something like RFID can invite malevolence. When looking to history, we can see for example that Hitler could coordinate the execution of so many people precisely because demographics were recorded through IBM’s Hollerith punch card technology – this made it easy to quickly identify and localize Jewish communities and others.

Albrecht says that history tells us what we don’t want to know, which is that governments with too much power kill people. She argues that in the past century, national governments have produced more casualties than any other cause. Bart Schermer responds that there is difference between a technical system in place on the one hand and the rise of a dictator on the other. If the source of the problem is evil governments then we should look to prevent them from coming to power. Katherine states that the risks of RFID outweigh the benefits, and reminds us that Hitler was democratically chosen as well.

Summing up, the moderator makes a call for value sensitive design systems. Engberg adds to this, saying that so far, those paying the bills are choosing the wrong infrastructures for using RFID. Creating data does not ensure the creation of data regulation – that needs extra work. Albrecht notes that it only takes the stroke of a pen to change policy, and a button to avoid it. She says no privacy law will be enough, and instead pushes for a guerrilla attitude. Ultimately, she say, she is against the deployment of RFID. Period. At this point she makes an emotional appeal, saying that we are in a battle for our lives and those of future generations.

The discussion shifted to the terms of debate about privacy. At present there is a false dichotomy: privacy versus security. The real debate however, accoriding to Katherine, should be about freedom versus control. In the current debate, policy-makers can point out that privacy is for those who have something to hide. When she points out that privacy is not an end but a means to achieve freedom of speech, economic equality and other democratic goals, the other participants cannot help but agree.

The videos of all presentations will be available here soon.


On Saturday two workshops on RFID were held. One was on the social uses of RFID and the other about the ‘future histories of RFID’. In the former, led by Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, a group of people went into town to take pictures of everyday objects which could be socially enhanced by RFID. They came up with an augmented chess board, with which chess pieces could be tagged and games could be played with the help of friends located elsewhere. Another project talked about tags in stickers, through which friends and strangers could leave behind (URLs for) movies for one another. Yet another project was about leaving secret messages on bench, and this kept up a common theme of ‘dislocating’ and ‘relocating’ social interaction in different places at different times.

The second workshop, led by Richard Rogers and the Digital Methods Initiative, investigated information politics on RFID. The full report can be found at the Digital Method Initiative’s project page on Future Histories of RFID and in Timo Arnall’s excellent blog post. The research includes The Substantive Composition of RFID According to Folksonomy and the Web, Wikipedia Anonymous Authorship Cartogram: The RFID Entry, Drama in Search Space: RFID and Arphid Queries Over Time, RFID Imagery: ‘Wet’ and ‘Dry’ Associations Compared, and Issue Packaging on the Web: Style Sheets for RFID Sites by Site Type. Timo Arnall wrote a blogpost about the Future Histories of RFID workshop.

All pictures were made by Anne Helmond.

For another conference summary, see Twan Eikelenboom’s great post at Virtueel Platform.

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Can Google Maps set us free? From derivé to (collective) intelligence

By: Roman Tol
On: November 25, 2007
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About Roman Tol
Roman Tol is an Ecommerce specialist. Both techical and as a marketeer. Hands on and with vision. Keyword: Innovation.


Dérive is a notion used by Guy Debord in an attempt to convince readers to revisit the way they looked at urban spaces. The concept means to aimlessly walk, or drift, through the city streets being guided by the momentum and space itself. A modern practice of Dérive is roaming the streets of your city through the satellite photographs in Google Maps and more recently Google Street View; a new feature of Google Maps that allows one to view and navigate high-resolution, 360 degree street level images of various cities (in the US). Google’s maps distinguish themselves from traditional printed maps in the sense that the user is able to interact. Besides zooming on location, the user is able to demand additional information with concern to a particular spot. This information is offered by parties collaborating with Google, as well as information from databases which Google has power over. Google Maps became vastly popular when it integrated satellite photographs (and photographs taken with airplanes) in its online maps; beside a map in conventional design containing information on demand, the map now presents a realistic bird eye view allowing the user to rediscover familiar places (such as his/her own house) from an unfamiliar perspective.

The basic premise in Debord’s theory of Dérive is that people are trapped in the practices of everyday life, by looking at the city by following their emotions they can break with their daily route, routine and enclosed space. Cities in fact are designed in ways to direct and control its publics. Cities are complex structures in which movement and mobility is managed by its plan, for instance road signs tell one where to go at what speed and where to not go between what times, when to stop and when to continue. But also the architecture controls the flow of people by means of the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires. Debord argues that people should explore their environment without preconceptions, in order to create a better understanding of one’s nature; as one becomes aware of its location, one can value and comprehend his or her existence. The idea is that people built forth from their insights and seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed. Bringing an inverted angle to the world can make people assign new meanings to familiar places, produce new forms of social interaction and make public space a place where one stops to look.

This idea of (re)discovering familiar places can be compared to taking a boat tour through ones own city. The roads beside the eight canals in the center of Amsterdam are passageways I personally frequently travel through; however, when passing through them by boat, the well-known monumental facades in the vicinity of the canals seemed foreign to me from a different angle. Similarly the satellite photographs in Google Maps changes meaning and memories attached to common places; it gives the user an experience of re-familiarity. Street View on the other hand draws on the recognizable element; the photographs are taken from street level and thereby rediscovering is substituted for virtual sightseeing. The user can now wander through New York while staying at home; moreover, the user can zoom and alter the view at any time. Instead of looking up the fastest route or determining ones location, the function seems to have shifted in the direction of roaming and aimless wandering.

In addition modern maps are coupled to databases consisting of location bound information; possibly delivering the user knowledge and ultimately awareness. A wide variety of peer-created extensions are freely available augmenting the information and increasing the amount of knowledge, such as the Wikipedia extension – which provides a sense of temporal accuracy in Google Earth because information is provided about history and coming into being of a particular place, complete with specific dates, adding to the hyper-real situation. The practice of contributing to the medium opposes with traditional one-way media institutions. Google Earth allows users to act upon their creative skills and knowledge by offering possibilities to co-create the product and make it available to anyone, also outside the community. Google Maps API is a tool which users of Google Earth can use to include whichever information to existing maps offered by Google. In addition Google offers users SketchUp, similar to Google Maps API SketchUp is a free application with which users can add content to maps presented by Google, however with SketchUp the user can do this in 3D (for example a model of ones own house). Via Google 3D Warehouse the models can be uploaded and made available for all users of Google Earth. Currently maps are circulating in 3D or data tips containing personal information or photographs taken by users from a street level (which consequently changes the perspective of the original design). Information visualization tools such as maps enable greater understanding of reality, our society, life, and in short our existence. The accessibility and popularity of dynamic digital maps should make academics and interaction designers wonder how new ways of wandering can educate, emancipate, and enlighten the masses.

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The Whatever Button – Now for Firefox!

On: April 25, 2007
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About Michael Stevenson
I am a lecturer and PhD candidate in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I've been a contributor to Masters of Media since 2006, though I now only post occasionally. A short list of papers and projects can be found here


No longer just a metaphor for how we consumers fall for anything, the Whatever Button is now available as a Firefox add-on (Great big thanks to Erik, who coded it).

Whatever Button

More about the button below.


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Twitter brings New Media student on stage with Imogen Heap

On: November 25, 2010
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About Janice Wong
Janice Wong is an Australian-born cellist and digital media fanatic living the life in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). She graduated from the Masters of New Media programme at the University of Amsterdam in 2011 and worked at adidas as a Global Social Media Manager until 2017. She is now a Music Producer & Cellist based in Amsterdam. Contact: janice[at]


Thanks to Twitter, I (Janice Wong – cellist and New Media student at the UvA) was given a great opportunity to perform on stage at Melkweg, Amsterdam last night with my idol: UK Grammy award winner Imogen Heap.

Imogen Heap feat Janice Wong on cello – Earth (Imogen and Janice only)

Imogen Heap feat Janice Wong on cello – Aha! (with full band)

Imogen Heap, an avid Twitter user with currently 1,489,043 followers says she uses social media to connect with her fans, to “break up the distance”. Imogen does not only use Twitter to broadcast information, she uses it actively to interact and involve her fans in her life, which she says “can be quite insular (while on tour)”.

At this year’s 52nd Annual Grammy awards, she was awarded Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical and accepted her award in her “Twitdress”, which displayed a live Twitter feed and a transparent handbag with an embedded iPhone displaying Twitpic photos that fans sent to her via Twitter.

Earlier this year, Imogen held cello auditions in the North America/Australia/Asia legs of the tour to perform the song “Aha!” with her. 2 or 3 days prior to each show, she tweeted audition times, where cellists would register and perform on VOKLE, a live interactive broadcasting platform (watch Imogen Heap Cello Auditions on YouTube). At the time I saw Imogen Heap perform in Melbourne, at this point in time I did not use Twitter, which I believe would have led me to know about the auditions sooner than I did.

Disappointed that I missed out, I joined Twitter (follow me @thewongjanice) and started following @ImogenHeap.

As midyear approached, I followed Imogen while she continued to experiment with social media and tweeted about the choir auditions on YouTube to perform the song “Earth” with her in her upcoming North American tour.

And then, Imogen tweeted about touring Europe in November. It seemed too much of a coincidence that Imogen Heap was to perform in Amsterdam, just shortly after I moved here to study New Media. She was to play in Melkweg, one of Amsterdam’s most popular music venues. Eager to use this opportunity, I made an audition video and tweeted Imogen about performing cello with her on stage. I shortly received an email to say that I was successful!

See below for my audition:

In conclusion, social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube can bridge the gap between fans and their idols with amazing results, which now I have experienced first hand. I would like to thank Imogen Heap and her crew for giving me this opportunity and a fantastic evening to remember. And where to from here? I’m still not sure. But looking for more opportunities to perform in Amsterdam with local and international musicians. Get in touch with me if you know anything!

Read more about the performance and see some photos on my personal blog, The Wong Janice.

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Browserwar entering the next phase? Internet Explorer 7 versus Firefox 2

On: October 25, 2006
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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.


Firefox IconAnd so at last the beast fell and the unbelievers rejoiced. But all was not lost, for from the ash rose a great bird. The bird gazed down upon the unbelievers and cast fire and thunder upon them. For the beast had been reborn with its strength renewed, and the followers of Mammon cowered in horror – from The Book of Mozilla, 7:151 (type about:mozilla in the address bar)

Microsoft and Mozilla just released their new browsers: Internet Explorer 7 was released October 18 and Firefox 2 was on October 24. What can we expect?


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Big Brother Award of 2007 goes out to … You!

On: September 25, 2007
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About Erik Borra
Erik Borra is assistant professor in Journalism and New Media at the University of Amsterdam.


Friday the 21st of September, the annual Dutch Big Brother Awards were held at the Balie in Amsterdam. It was organized by the – unfortunately no longer existent – Bits of Freedom, an organisation which came up for your digital civil rights.

The Big Brother award went out to You, the Dutch civilian, who according to the jury is the biggest threat to privacy. Because of the indifference – “I don’t have to hide anything” – and the disinterest at who looks to your personal data, the civilian is responsible for the demise of privacy in the Netherlands. Where Time praised ‘You’ last year as person of the year, de BBA-jury warns you with this price for the ease with which you take far reaching intrusions to your privacy for granted.

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PICNIC 08 – Secrets and Lies

On: September 25, 2008
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About Jasper Moes


Genevieve Bell: on Secrets and Lies

After the Clay Shirky speech there is no time for questions because it is time for Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist working for Intel (apology accepted), to talk about secrets and lies. She wants to provoke us and immediately does so by telling that lies are everywhere; in tv shows, in advertising, stories of most movies, in religions, and so forth. She mentions here catholicism, being raised a catholic, which distinguishes between sins of ommision and commision; it is sometimes permissible to tell a lie for instance when you can save a life. (Great ‘lie’ example is the one Shirky gave earlier about the wikipedia article on Galileo Galilei which is closed for modification because of the ongoing flame war about the role of the catholic church.)

To lie or not to lie
When is it permissable to tell a lie? And why do we lie? When you tell your wife she doesn’t have a fat bottom in that jeans, is that permissable? How do you answer a simple question like “how are you”? Most of the time you will answer these with lies like “fine”, or “I’m doing ok” just to avoid conversation (which makes sense if you’ve reached your Dunbar number that day).

We tell a lot of lies. According to Bell, an average person will lie about six to ten times per day, but sometimes even up to 200, when you’re pathological. Men tell more lies than woman, although they are less good at it. Men & woman tell lies for different reasons. Men lie about their cars, their jobs, about sizes, where woman lie about weight, age, and stuff they’ve purchased. All in all, most of the time we lie to become more popular, to increase our status.

Genevieve Bell tells us that lies and truth are not opposites: we need to understand lies as a part of reality, and not at the other end of the truth. Lies are often a form of self deception, but also a way of coping with the outside world. Children telling they’re seven when you know they’re three are just testing the boundaries of the possible. How far can they go? Students lying about grades are actually telling you what they’re aiming for, what they aspire, want to become.

Next to lies there are secrets. Bell grew up in an aboriginal community where knowledge is divided between man and woman. She tells how secrets are interwoven with aboriginal life, and that woman will not tell the men what they have been doing all day at home, much unlike our society.

Online Lying & Secrets
We’ve taken all of this lying and the secrecy online, even though we think that the online world is a space where the truth floats freely. It is a conflicted space where we’re operating between cultural practice and cultural ideal. That lying is bad is our ideal, but the practice shows that we lie all the time

Take Flickr for instance; Genevieve Bell forgot her password and can’t get in flickr anymore because she told a lie about here age to Yahoo. Online we lie about who we are, where we are, about our height, weight, and age, with whom we are, … about almost everything. And it seems that we’re enjoying it. Danah Boyd, who has done research on myspace, found out that there are a lot of people over the age of 100 hanging out there… With online dating men lie about their height, and woman always about their weight.

This keeping of information, simply not telling, is a form of privacy protection. The problem with this is that our technology (most of the time) is not able to tell a lie. Phones can be tracked and traced. In Korea there’s a service where you can track any mobile phone you want. Parents checking on children, wives on husbands, and so forth. Of course this development has given rise to counter-surveillace. Technology that creates stories that aren’t true. Alibi services, which create a story of you’re (fake) whereabouts with the photo’s to prove it.

Technology Design
So our intentions and that of devices do not always match. We use lies to protect certain kinds of information, as a privacy strategy, but this can, as was the case for Bell and Flickr, become a problem. The weird thing is that online we celebrate the secret and the lie. For instance in Twitter where we don’t show everyone who we really are. We create a story about us, of who we really want to be. Now what does this mean for technology design? Technologies are designed towards the ideal that lying is bad, but lying seems to be what we like, and frequently practice… This raises all kinds of interesting questions: What about e-government if we always lie online? What about about online tax papers? How to track people that lie to us? How do they impact social security, social media sites, social networking sites, secrecy? What does it mean if we replace our conversation about privacy and security, with a conversation about secrets and lies?

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Research blogging do’s and don’ts

On: October 25, 2006
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About Twan Eikelenboom
One of the first Masters of Media to crawl upon this blog (2006/2007)! Still following (and at times contributing) to this great project. Working at Dutch sectorinstitute for e-culture Virtueel Platform. Special interest in stories resulting from new media product use (think: sat nav gone wrong) and independent gaming. Also blogging at


I’ve been thinking a bit what to publish about my research on my weblog, and went to search for other examples of research blogs to give me some guidelines.

I stumbled upon this website by Jill Walker who has written a valuable paper on blog usage and research together with Torill Mortensen. A very good read for anyone who is in doubt on what to blog and what not to. The following quote presents an interesting view:

“Blogs exist right on this border between what’s private and what’s public, and often we see that they disappear deep into the private sphere and reveal far too much information about the writer. When a blog is good, it contains a tension between the two spheres…”

The paper by Walker and Mortensen can be downloaded from the website, or directly from here: Jill Walker and Torill Mortensen, Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool (February 2002, PDF).

If you’re going to run a research blog or already have one up and running, what will you be posting and also what not? On the one hand you want to discuss things with your readers, on the other hand maybe you don’t want to have them run off with your ideas? Where is that balance?

(also posted on

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Broadband/HD Innovation Lab – day 5

On: November 25, 2006
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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.


Winners Innovation LabThe Innovation Lab 2006 winner of the 10.000 euro price for further development is Blendid. Chairman of the jury, Frank Alsema, presented the price to David Kousemaker and Tim Olden, with their project ‘Sound World: Audio-Augmented Experiences’. This Innovation Lab has been realized by Media Guild assigned by ICTRegie.

Projects description:
Walk around in real life and enter a magical world as you hear your surroundings come to life. Audio-augmented experiences offer users a natural and intuitive way to tap into extra layers of meaning in their environment. It enables the user to navigate audible information by simply walking through a space. Sound World aims to implement these experiences in the context of cultural institutions. However, in the near future this medium could be of use to anyone that wants to provide new and exiting ways to convey content.


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Super 90s Hacker Video Mash-up

On: November 25, 2009
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About Morgan Currie
I’m an American with eight years of experience in video production, but today I'm a student in Amsterdam, thinking a lot about mediums, the Media, technology, and humans & machines communicating in their specific, special ways. I'm finding methods to give these thoughts a space of their own.


New York based curator Laurel Ptak strung together this mash-up of Hollywood films from the 90s and early 2000s depicting the moment of the hack, that roller coaster ride through the computer’s dark neon tubes in pursuit of some financial system’s collapse, some code to decode, some bad guys to shut down, some nuclear holocaust to thwart.

I interviewed Laurel while she came through town this week. (Look for her upcoming hacker-themed exhibit “Free Kevin” at Bard College if you happen to be in upstate New York this December.)

Why do these images feel so nostalgic to us now?

From our contemporary perspective, these movies depict a certain kind of anxiety towards technology. By now these technologies have become so normalized in contemporary culture, even banalized, it’s hard for us to understand all the weird uncertainty that shaped these narratives and their aesthetics back then.

Except for Wargames these films were all produced from 1992-2001, when venture capital is flowing in, when any kid who graduates from college gets snatched up by Internet start-ups. Of course in the 90s, deregulation and neoliberal capitalism are also running rampant. So it’s no coincidence that the mass media starts to portray these people as a serious threat and dangerous. The earlier generation of hackers were arguably shielded by academic culture in order to develop what computers would become today. They weren’t yet a threat, because there was nothing at stake; they could just fuck around. It wasn’t until investments in the internet as an economic structure that the media started portraying the hacker as a threatening character.

Also, you can see this imagery in relation to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in ’98. The DMCA marks a sharp transition into the information age. The notion that information itself is threatening is absorbed into mainstream culture by the 90s.

Why do you think cyberspace took on this form across so many movies? Where did this imagery originate?

Well Tron is probably the earliest one, so it set the style to a degree, but Wargames is the most influential depiction of the hacker as we came to know it.

I also noticed once I started taking stills from the movies, that they all represent the body in relationship to technology in these cyborgian ways. It seems to reflect a fear that the machine could overtake the body.

And these films take incredible creative liberty in depicting software and cyberspace. They just make up what the operating system looks like. Computer technology didn’t correspond to what technology actually looked like at the time. It’s the hollywood effect.

You don’t see the internet looking like some futuristic galaxy of wires and tubes so much today.

Right. And it shows how a minority of the population used it at that point. It didn’t become a mass-owned phenomenon until around the early 2000s, when computers enter into many Americans’ homes. Back in the 90s, not enough people had access to know the difference.

Another fascinating aspect is that the hackers are always white, upper middle class teenagers in their bedrooms. Their privilege becomes a part of the hacker landscape. Usually we don’t depict white suburban kids as frightening or powerful, but by owning a computer they become a threatening image. Any other Hollywood movie representation of that period (think Home Alone) depicted that demographic differently of course.

It’s that the whole cyberspace notion of a computer dispersing power to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it?

Yeah, and in a couple of the movies the female is a hacker figure. Angelina Jolie in Hackers, Sandra Bullock in The Net. Hollywood was ready to put forth a more gender balanced narrative, but none of my research material or critical texts echoes this. Hacker culture is almost always exclusively depicted as a male culture. But Hollywood was ready to make it something that women participate in. These female depictions are still a minority across all the films, but they’re ahead of the other discourses in terms of gender.

Do you have a personal interest in hacking as a concept?

I’ve come to think of the hacker as a undervalued, underrepresented figure since the past two decades. My project is to recuperate it. The hacker in media is usually either a villainous figure or a super hero. I’m interested in creating a more complicated narrative.

I think we romanticize the ethic and manifesto of the earlier generation of hackers. For some that political ethic was meaningful, but for the majority of people hacking it’s an impulse to have fun, of pranksterism, of defining yourself in relation to authority. I love the idea of every hacker sitting there believing in the manifesto and its ethic, but i’d be surprised if even the last generations of hackers was thinking much about that.

I’m also interested in open source culture in general. And I desperately wish i could be a hacker, but sadly my technical skills underplay that.

How would you define the hacker today?

I’ve been looking at the early history of hackers in university culture, during the days of early computing at MIT, on through its media representations in 90s and early 2000s. Now the dominant mass cultural narrative recedes into cyberterrorism, into Obama’s task force. It’s become much less about teenage boys or individuals who can start nuclear wars and more about governments interacting across large networks.

Is there a contemporary hacker aesthetic we’ll laugh about some day?

We don’t even bother to visualize it much anymore. We know what the internet is, we live intimately with computers, so we don’t have to make some fantastical representation of it all. Part of why these movies were made is because there was so much anxiety about immateriality and invisible forces. In contemporary life we’ve had a decade of participating in a mass way in immateriality and virtuality, and we see it hasn’t ruined society. That’s why the conspiracy theories posited in these movies feel so dated. We’ve become culturally more comfortable with immateriality than we were back then.

This video originally screened on November 21 at Lost + Found in Amsterdam.

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Web 2.0 review: Webjay

By: Eva Kol
On: September 25, 2006
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About Eva Kol
I recently got my MA degree at the VU studying CIW (in my case a combination of Dutch literature, Italian and communication sciences). At the moment I'm happily working to become a Master of (New!) Media at the UvA. My thesis will be about the social networking website Hyves.


WebjayWhat’s it for?
On Listible I found the website Webjay which is a so called ‘playlist community’ from Yahoo. The site introduces itself as ‘a tool that helps you listen to and publish web playlists.’ People can upload songs from the web or from their own pc to create lists of songs of their own taste. Those lists can be listened to by every visitor of the site, using MP3 players like WinAmp, iTunes, RealOne or Windows Media Player. There are two tabs in the menu option browse: one is a ranking of popular playlists, the other one of new playlists. Users name their lists, they can give an indication on what to expect of the style. On the right side of the page the most popular or newest songs are highlighted and there’s a link to the creator of the list. The website claims to be legal, ’cause it does not store or transmit music itself, it just provides the links to the music.



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PICNIC 08 – The Sheep Market by Aaron Koblin

On: September 25, 2008
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About Hannah Biemold
Artist and blogger who wrote a novel last year in the NaNoWriMo program (National November Writing Month). The book, called 'In het hooi', has been published by Uitgeverij Vuurpapier in june 2010. Hannah finished the master New Media program in 2009 at the University of Amsterdam. She wrote a master thesis on Twitter implications (twesis). Besides this, Hannah is trying to visualize ideas about the world through conceptual art, she is looking for confrontation with these borders and wants to know of they're stretchable.


Yesterday afternoon Aaron Koblin (creator of software and architectures to transform social and infrastructural data into artwork) presented some of his art projects on Picnic 08. He started with a graphic of air traffic in America so the viewer could see when and where the most flights were taking place. Every flight was a thin white line and more flights meant a brighter and thicker line. Like between Washington and New York showed the most white and in the middle of the United States it stayed kind of dark. In this lecture, that was also broadcasted through a stream, Koblin showed us a few examples of his work like an incoming Yahoo e-mail graphic with peeks in major American cities on the east coast. The image consisted of a 3D map which he could turn around like Google Earth and the e-mail was visualized by vertical cylinders where the color symbolized the intensity of the sent e-mail.

He then showed the project behind the title of his lecture, a project of live drawing of 10.000 sheep on a collaborative website using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. On this particular website every visitor was invited to draw a sheep and was paid 0,02 for every sheep drawn, although this was limited to 5 sheep per person (based on IP address I think). Thousands of volunteers drew a sheep and all the data was collected and now presented in this lecture. Koblin showed us a playback from some drawings, as if the spectator was the person who drew the sheep. Some data was about the number of sheep per minute and the fastest (4 seconds) and the longest it took to draw a sheep (64 minutes). if you go to this site now you can actually see how people drew their sheep. The idea was to bring people together through the Internet and collaborate. 

Another great project was the making of the video of ‘house of cards’ for Radiohead with a laser. 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. The video was created entirely with visualizations of that data. On the site you can play with the image with your mouse and turn it around, this must look amazing on a big screen! He then made a tread on YouTube so other users there could play with the format and post their version of this video clip. Then another project is the visualization of text messages sent in Amsterdam on new years eve and queens day. Just like the Yahoo mail visualization the amount of messages was made visible in cylinders of different color where the yellow ones had the highest intensity. At certain times the cylinders were really peaking, also this map could be turned around like Google Earth. The 100 dollar billet project where a billet was cut in thousands of pieces and every user had one little piece that he or she had to copy by hand on the computer through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Like the sheep project this was all recorded and can now be played now like small movies which show the development of the copy of the original 100 dollar billet. Not every user did the right copy though, one of Koblins favorite was a user who just wrote the text ‘0,01$!!! really?’.

This morning, also on Picnic 08,  Clay Shirky mentioned the lecture of Aaron Koblin when he talked about motivation of volunteers who participated in art projects online. Why are people working together on a project like this? Why do people do a lot of pieces or just one? These users are not employees but they are in fact working for Koblin, thus helping him with the artwork. And you can not recruit people, but just invite them to join.

In another lecture given by Raul Niño Zambrano with the title ‘Diagrams fo the masses’ given about two weeks ago at the University of Amsterdam, data was made visible though the use of interactive media on websites. The reason here was increasing public awareness of political issues. Examples that were given were a presentation of Al Gore on global warming and an extra layer of information on Google earth with information on the political situation in Darfur. In these examples two people can only view but in the next example of Gapminder people can actually participate by selecting different criteria. Zambrano gave three different levels of participating, these are viewing, interact and explore and create and share. In the next example he gave was on reporting crime on the website Ushahidi. Here people can actually report crime and thus make a difference. Although the date collected this way is not 100% secure or reliable. Going back to the projects of Koblin, people can also just view projects or interact with the Turk program or create their own video for Radiohead. Also here date is made visible although the purpose is different but it’s very nice to compare them with each other as they have a different purpose.

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Final T-shirt design

On: September 25, 2006
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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.


T-shirt: Floppy style

Print templates:

T-shirt front (Set printer to landscape! Acrobat: File – Printsetup. Choose landscape/liggend)

T-shirt back : good for 2 t-shirts (Set printer to landscape! Acrobat: File – Printsetup. Choose landscape/liggend)

And of course we need some business cards:


Masters of Media business cards (suited for HEMA 150 Visitekaartjes 90×51 mm)

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Research Project: ICT 4 Uganda

By: Ben White
On: February 25, 2009
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About Ben White
I am a media professional with several years of international experience. I have worked on media projects in Europe, Central/Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I have a particular interest in the rise of internet and mobile tehnologies in emerging markets. This interest is an important part of my master's program at the University of Amsterdam.


New media is coming to Africa. With the fastest growth rate of mobile telephony on the planet and huge investments in fiber optic cables competing with satellite technologies, investors are bringing broadband connections to the continent. Africa is on the verge of joining the global network, the cables that will provide high speed information exchange can be literally seen from the shores; yet the social implications of these technologies are less obvious.

Research Project: ICT 4 Uganda

Research Project: ICT 4 Uganda

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says that the mobile phone industry in Africa is growing at twice the global rate and remains the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. This growth is also reflected in the spread of Internet connections that have increased by 1,031.2 % between 2000 and 2008. (UN World Investment Report, The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Internet World Stats – June 2008).

The breakneck pace of development in African connectivity entails important changes taking place on the ground. How do the man and woman in rural and urban Africa engage with new ways to communicate? To what extent is ICT already incorporated into local activities and cultures and what are the motivations behind their usage? What are the new opportunities and challenges ICTs afford civil society and what does this mean for the future development of ICTs on the continent?
To answer these questions the Mambo Mpya group, consisting of five master students, decided to pick up the topic. Combining Business, Economics, Journalism, Development Studies and Anthropology with a common interest and expertise in New Media, we are planning to go to Uganda and set up a social research project that touches five distinct fields; Entrepreneurship, Politics, Development Cooperation, the Informal Sector and Print Media.

By doing this research the aim is to better understand the significance of ICT from the ‘end user’ perspective. The vantage point of our research will be on the “man on the street” as opposed to an organizational or governmental approach. Given this focus, the aim is to classify five distinct groups of users and to study them using ethnographic research techniques. The aim is to sketch different profiles of end-users based on various research methods. The profiles will provide a framework for further analysis and will be put in a historical perspective. In this way the project aims to develop a model and approach that might be replicated for further research.

Next to the individual research questions the group will work together on a general research which will focus on some broader issues concerning business outsourcing, media convergence and general connectivity. These themes will be discussed and presented as a group and will be build up off the groups knowledge and experiences in the field.

Follow this research project on

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PICNIC 08 – Commercial Collaborations: Tools, Things and Toys

On: September 25, 2008
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About Ali Balunywa
I have 20 years experience in the print media in Africa and Europe. I am in possession of a Bachelors degree in social sciences from Makerere University in Kampala and a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Media management. I am currently following a Masters of Media in New Media studies at the University of Amsterdam.


Michael TchaoPresenter: Michael Tchao, General Manager; Nike Techlab/ Nike+, at Nike which connects physical products with virtual online services and athlete communities.
11.55 AM, 25 September 2008

Mike Tchao started his presentation by introducing Nike’s digital collaboration with Apple computers called Nike+.


He added that through digital innovations, sports will be transformed. Doing so would turn information into inspiration. Nike is looking for an emotional demand connection by re thinking running. Digital technology provides information to runners on how far, how long, how fast one is running or how many calories have been used.

This technology has evolved since 1987 (sonar technology), 1999 (tumour), 2002 (a modern system; emotional experience.)

Nike made an analysis of runners and grouped them into a pyramid. The apex with a few people had the core runners who are self motivated. The rows below have fitness runners, walk runners and the inactive. These people according to Nike need motivation. Nike took it upon itself to come up with a solution.

Nike in another survey established that today 75% of runners run with music and 40% would not run. It has also been established that over 150 million Apple Ipods have been sold and that Nano is the most popular. A connection was thus made between sport and music. Thoughts of a link were important.

Two years ago, Nike and Apple launched a partnership. A GPS sensor was placed in a Nike shoe. It links with an Ipod transforming it into a system that records how you are running, where, how long and other services. It congratulates a runner on completing a run or achieving a target or breaking a record.

After the run one can log into the Nike website for more information. Once logged in, you can set goals; targets etc and Nike will assist you to achieve them by offering information through the Ipod.

A social community network has been established virtually connecting all runners all over the world. It provides information on who is ahead, who is behind or who is buying lunch! The application also allows you to set up a goal before running and provides you real-time data on your run.

The Nike community is thus connected!Nike has gone further to start organizing international runs; women marathons, a digital running community! On 31 August 2008, Nike organized the human race which took place in 26 cities in 26 countries all over the world. Some of the proceeds of the race were donated to charity.’

The question Mike raised at the end of his presentation is what if Nike got the whole world to run?

My answer is that Nike would hundreds of billions in sales! Nike has strategically placed itself in a position to be the leading sports shoe seller. This is one thing Mike did not tell us. A running Nike shoe costs around US $100.00. With a virtual community tightly connected, who needs any other advertising medium? The income that Nike is reaping from its technological innovation is quite enormous. Music and sports are 2 things that today’s generation has embraced fully. If they can be tightly knit in a social community network, no sale could be easier.

For purposes of the New Media studies, Nike’s virtual social community and the Nike+

chip in the shoe are of special significance.

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PICNIC 08 – Let All Things Be Connected

On: September 25, 2008
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About Maggie Badermadjian



Let all things be connected
Lecturer: Rafi Haladjian

Raffi is one of the co-founders of Violet, which was founded in 2003, its main aim was and still is connecting things to the Internet and by things I mean everything.
But what seems to be different with Violet is that it doesn’t only emphasise on the network and how to connect things to it but also the emotional perspective, how we interact emotionally while connecting to the internet and being able to access a variety of information through our screens, being able to make ideal images of us on the web; how real is that and how does it affect us.
He starts by describing a product they made called “Nabaztag” in Armenian this means rabbit. Nabaztag was the first Internet connected rabbit, it has a variety types of expressions. He moves his ears, he speaks, he reads text, he plays music, he even lights up with every color imaginable. He can give you all types of services, messages, and content his owner asks for. He scours the net endlessly to do these very things. Rafi Sais people usually ask “Why a rabbit?” His answer is that the point wasn’t just to make another device or source of information that would require us sitting in front of a screen, but to make an actual point they wanted to take something extreme like a rabbit, removing all the technology aesthetics and coming up with something cute, something that would attach people emotionally and enlarge our attention bandwidth by experiencing an emotional relationship with an actual interactive robot. So the whole concept behind this lecture is that by taking something so extreme as a rabbit and connecting it to the internet, prove is given that everything else can be connected. He refers to the above as a two step strategy- one : connecting the Rabbits and -two: connecting everything else.
Since step one was already implemented with the Nabaztag, on October 23 Violet is planning to launch step Two, a new product called “Mirror”: The Mirror RFID reader is a USB-pluggable little platter that can read RFID tags and launch an assigned action on the computer when it spots a tag it knows, one of the examples Rafi mentioned was that you can Tag an umbrella with stamp and put it on the mirror and it can give you the weather forecast. I guess much more information will be provided once its out on the market. Personally I find the whole concept behind violet extraordinary and fascinating the way it can combine so many things and even look at the emotional aspects at the same time.

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PICNIC 08 – Conducting Creativity by Itay Talgam

On: September 25, 2008
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About Stephan Barmentloo
My name is Stephan Barmentloo. I hold bachelor degree in Business Information Systems and a BA degree in Media and Culture. I'm a student of the New Media MA at the University of Amsterdam.


Through different examples of conducting an orchestra Itay Talgam, highly acclaimed Israeli conductor and founder of the Maestro program, explores some of the aspects that are related to the practice of collaboration. In his presentation he addresses aspects such as authority, creativity and interpretation.

Talgam begins the final presentation of the first day of PICNIC 08 with a brief explanation of the role of a conductor in leading an orchestra. Before a performance starts, the members of the orchestra settle themselves on the stage and perform some sort of warm-up, resulting in a incoherent mixture of all sorts of instruments, a cacophony. When the conductor is ready to start the performance, this chaos will change into a coherent composition only by making a small gesture with his hand. Talgam argues that this is an example of the authority that is exhibited by the conductor. He asks the audience to demonstrate this point by trying to clap synchronously, only to find out that this will happen synchronously when someone steps up as a leader and directs everyone to clap at precise moment in time.

But there is more to the role of the conductor as someone who is exhibiting authority than the example above shows us. The authority also stretches to the specific interpretation that the conductor draws from a certain score. He directs the members of the orchestra to play the score according to this interpretation. Talgam suggests that this kind of relationship between the conductor and the members of the orchestra bears strong similarities with a top-down process, because the conductor takes all responsibility for the interpretation of the piece. This point is illustrated by Talgam with the example of Richard Strauss and his obsessive turning of the pages of sheet music of a score he wrote himself and beyond doubt doesn’t need any sheet music to while conducting. This sends a clear message to the orchestra that they’re not allowed to add any other interpretation to the piece.

Now what would happen when a conductor leaves large parts of this interpretation up to the members of the orchestra? Talgam shows several examples of Leonard Bernstein conducting an orchestra. Through facial expressions Bernstein only sets out the mood of the piece and thus leaving large parts of interpretation up to the members of the orchestra. Talgam argues that it is probably more rewarding if there is some sort of symbiosis between the conductor exhibiting authority and the members of the orchestra adding bits of their own interpretation to the performance thus having more responsibility. This way of conducting stands in contrast with the aforementioned mode of conducting by Richard Strauss, and as a result this method can be seen as a bottom-up process, which is similar to many practices of collaboration on the internet.

The general idea behind this insight into the world of conducting is to give the audience an example of the different relations that exist between leadership, management, and teamwork when it comes to the practice of collaboration. Authority, creativity and responsibility are important aspects in the practice of all kinds of collaborations. As Talgam concludes, we learn that the success and amount of reward of a particular collaboration depends on the experience of these interconnecting aspects by its practitioners, and in a position of leadership there is a limit to what you can achieve on the basis of authority alone.

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Manifesto for a Schizo-analysis of Media Culture

On: May 25, 2008
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About Patricia Pisters
Patricia Pisters is professor of film studies at the department of Media Studies of the University of Amsterdam. Her teaching and research interests focus on questions related to multiculturalism, interculturality, political cinema and media activism, mainly looking at North African cinema and Arab media. Another focus is on film-philosophical questions on the nature of perception, the ontology of the image and the idea of the ‘brain as screen’ in connection to neuroscience.


1. Contemporary media are characterized by a stammering stream of an ever growing
schizophrenic ‘logic of addition’.
2. ‘Old’ mass media like television and cinema are not dead but undead.
3. Schizophrenia points to clinical and critical symptoms of a/v culture.
4. The delirium is socio-political and world historical.
5. The cinematographic regime is already schizo-analytic in conception; this becomes
more evident and widespread in contemporary a/v culture.
6. The schizo-analytic regime of the image acknowledges ‘the reality of illusions’.
7. Immanent powers of the image present them selves in heterogeneous ways.
8. The virtual is a real power.
9. Images have the power to act.
10. Affect is an autonomous power.
11. Forgers, magicians, charlatans, tricksters, conmen and delusional characters are
symptoms and diagnosis makers of the powers of the false.

Machines of the Invisible

It is argued with good reasons that digital technology has changed the media landscape
completely: old mass media like film, television and radio have been replaced by more
fragmented, non-hierarchical, rhizomatic forms of media. This is, however, only partly
true. By looking at the level of image-production in contemporary a/v media, I will take
the changes in the cinematographic apparatus, or the cinematographic regime, as a
starting point for a manifesto for a schizo-analysis of media culture.

The apparatus theory in the 1970s famously proposed to see cinema as a ‘machine of the
visible’. The underlying idea of this approach is that cinema produces ‘impressions of
reality’ or ‘illusions taken for reality’. Cinema is thus seen as a mass medium that invites
us into ideologically determined subject positions. However, in contemporary media
culture the paradigm has shifted: the audio-visual image in digital culture no longer lures
us into taking ‘illusion for reality’ but gives us the ‘reality of illusions’.

At the heart of this change is the cinematographic apparatus itself, which now could be
conceived as a schizo-analytic producer of heterogeneous and multiple connections that
is tightly connected to other forms of a/v media. The digital cinematographic-apparatus
has to be seen as a complex constellation of schizoid ‘machines of the invisible’.

1. Contemporary media are characterized by a stammering stream of an ever
growing schizophrenic ‘logic of addition’.

Laptops, mobile phones, webcams, ipods, satellite television, web 2.0: new forms of
media grow like wild plants without deep roots (rhizomes) in between older forms of
mass media (newspapers, film, radio and television). Undeniably, ‘old mass media’ have
changed by this but it doesn’t mean that they have disappeared completely in the
rhizomatic network. The television news is no longer the only source of information, CNN
competes with Arab satellite channels, bloggers and civil journalism, hypes emerge
online, Youtube and Twitter turn everybody into a media producer. But deeply rooted
trees are not that easily overgrown. The media have become individualized and
fragmented and specialized and opened up

and they are also still mass medial. So no either… or-logic but an ever growing process.
Contemporary media culture can only be thought in the stammering stream of an
and…and…and logic. A schizophrenic logic of intensity and multiplicity that begs for a

‘We’re tired of the tree because we have grass in our heads’, Deleuze and Guattari argue
when they introduce non-hierarchical rhizomatic thinking in A Thousand Plateaus. At the
same time they indicate that out of every rhizome a tree can grow, and that trees can
behave rhizomaticly. So it is not a matter of saying: old media are tools of capitalist
ideology, whereas new media free us from ideological interpellation. ‘Old’ and ‘new’
media are two different ways of thinking and behaving that can have both positive and
negative effects, produce the most beautiful creations and the most horrible suffocations.
The media are complex and interwoven networks of grass roots and tree-structures.

2. ‘Old’ mass media like television and cinema are not dead but undead.
Like zombies or vampires ‘old mass media’ have strong regenerative powers as indicated
by the fact that for instance,
a. Programs such as ‘Idols’, ‘Dancing on Ice’ and other popular shows are still able to
keep a mass audience on a Saturday night in front of the television set. Not to mention
the Dutch BNN-program ‘The Big Donor Show’ that attracted a million audience, 30.000
potentially new donors and was Breaking News all over the world. Cinema retains or
regains its multiplex attractions.
b. Mass media are indeed no longer the most important makers or distributors of the
news, but still have a huge filtering function. Only when an internet hype is reported by
the 8 o’clock news it becomes really popular and widely followed (such as the ‘jumping’-
dance hype in the Netherlands). In this way traditional media have become the ‘curators’
of the internet.
c. Mass media use new forms of media as well: podcasting is also still radio, the 8 o’clock
news on demand is still the 8 o’clock news. Did you miss an emission? ‘Were you too
afraid to watch (the ‘Big Donor Show’)? Try again’, broadcast company BNN says on their
website. In this way new media do not weaken the power of the traditional media but
reinforce it. And beside all fragmentation and multiplication, the internet becomes a huge
store, database and audiovisual archive of the mass media.

3. Schizophrenia points to clinical and critical symptoms of a/v culture.
By arguing for a schizo-analysis of media culture I am not proposing to pathologize
culture, nor calling for insanity. However, the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia do point
to important characteristics of contemporary a/v culture and criticize them at the same
Positive symptoms: an overflow of energy, intensity, everything is connected to
everything, liberated and recreated, explosion. As Deleuze and Guattari say: ‘Connecticut
– Connect-I-Cut’: machines and bodies, bodies that liberate themselves from their
normative organization (BwO).
Negative symptoms: intensity turns into catatonia, inertia, apathy, implosion. Every
production provokes its own anti-production. That is the core (axiom) of the immanent
system of ‘capitalism and schizophrenia’, indicated by Deleuze and Guattari. Our image
culture is more like a schizoid delirium that like the psychoanalytic dream.

4. The delirium is socio-political and world historical.
The schizoid delirium is situated at the other end of the individual Oedipal dream. The
delirium is in the first place collective, socio-political and world-historical. In Alienations
documentary maker Malek Bensmail has filmed patients and doctors on a psychiatric
ward in Algeria.

The patients are moving between hyperactivity and a stream of delusional words and
catatonic states. But at the same time their remarks are incredibly sharp, addressing
socio-political issues all the time.

This documentary also shows that the difference between doctor and patient is not that
big anymore. Everybody feels the insanity of the contemporary situation. Doctors and
patients, but also filmmakers and spectators are implicated – we all share the collective
deliria of our audio-visual media society.

5. The cinematographic regime is already schizo-analytic in conception; this
becomes more evident and widespread in contemporary a/v culture.

As Ian Buchanan has argued the tripartite schizo-analytic conceptual schema of ‘body
without organs’, ‘assemblage’ and ‘abstract machine’ informs the basic matrix of
Deleuze’s account of the cinematic image. It follows the logic of the ‘frame’, the ‘shot’
and ‘montage’. The frame selects and deterritorializes the image, presenting it in new
ways (BwO), the shot unites elements in a closed set (assemblage), montage joins
together the powers of the frame and the shot (abstract machine).

But the cinematic image also operates in a larger ‘abstract machine’ of media culture,
where it can join all kind of hegemonic and resisting forces.

6. The schizo-analytic regime of the image acknowledges ‘the reality of

The classical film theoretical notion of the filmed (or mediated) image as an ‘impression’,
‘effect’ or ‘illusion of reality’ has modulated into the image as a ‘reality of illusions’. This
insight translates schizophrenic (and neurobiological and Deleuzian) findings that the
image has its own immanent power to do something (in our mind, in the world).

A schizo-analysis of media culture takes into account at least four immanent (and
autonomous) powers of the image: the power of the virtual, the power of the
performative speech act, the power of affect and the power of the false.

7. Immanent powers of the image present them selves in heterogeneous ways.
These powers do not provide an unequivocal model of analysis. They present themselves
in all kind forms and on different types of levels, they metamorphose in good and bad,
nobel and base and everything in between.

8. The virtual is a real power.
‘There is no actual image that is not surrounded by a mist of virtual images’. One of
Deleuze’s last aphorisms seems to grow in relevance every minute. Every image we see
resonates in all kinds of ways with other images: images from our personal and collective
memory, fantasy images, film- and other media images.

Memories are stored on film, a film-image becomes a memory-image. Fact and fiction
chase each other, virtual and actual form a circuit as in the hall of mirrors of The Lady
from Shanghai. Hitchcock’s fiction has become a collective memory. Collective memory
has been colored by fiction (Stone’s JFK). And where is Laura Dern in Inland Empire: in
the present, the past, in Poland, in America? In which layer of reality or fictions is she
moving… or trapped? And in this film, isn’t it precisely that scene of her death, explicitly
indicated as fictitious because we see an enormous camera appearing in a suddenly
widening frame, that is the most raw and social-realistic?

9. Images have the power to act.
Another power that is acknowledged by a schizo-analytic approach of media culture, is
the power of the speech act, ‘act de parole’ as Deleuze says. Or better still we should
perhaps speak of an ‘act de l’ image’. Philosophers of language have since long
demonstrated convincingly that words have performative power: the power to do
something or to have something done. In this way words operate in reality. Images have
the same kind of (or maybe more) performative power of the speech act.

Even if everybody knows that an image is staged, it has an effect: it penetrates our mind
and puts itself somewhere in the flux of images. Of course this effect is not new.
Propaganda images have been used like this for a long time. But this power goes beyond
conscious propagandistic means. All images have this creative power of the speech act.

So, in a similar vein the image can be used to tell stories that call a minority group into
existence, ‘creating a people’. The active power of the image is not to be underestimated.
The Battle of Algiers has become the Algerian War of Independence.

On the level of the contents of the images the Algerian women in The Battle of Algiers
are very conscious of the power of the performative: with bleached hair, speaking perfect
French and in an elegant dress the French barricades in the city are no longer closed.
And in a recent French movie the message is cynical: a simple French man all of a
sudden sees the absurdity of random (and not so random) identity checks and the whole
social system: he ends up in a police cell, then in a psychiatric hospital and finally looses
his job. But with a fake cv and following the social ‘rules of the game’ without too many
critical questions, everything turns out all right: ça va? tres bien merci!

10. Affect is an autonomous power.
The schizophrenic feeling of a too much of everything, too much injustice, too
unbearable, too many images – it all reduces our sensory-motor capacities. But it creates
more room for the affect. Deleuze has demonstrated how the affect is connected to the

The close-up is one of the most typical and most striking stylistic features of the
cinematographic/audio-visual image. In that way cinema has contributed to the power of
affect. Faces and other bodily parts or objects in close-up obtain affective impressive or
expressive qualities. The eyes loose their perspectival overview, disoriented the image
touches us directly. ‘The affect has autonomous power’, Brian Massumi has elaborated on
this. It works independent of story or context.

On a political level the power of affect takes on a different guise. Helen Mirren as Queen
Elisabeth gradually discovers that the representative powers of the ‘Queen as the
Country’ has modulated into the affective power of the ‘Queen of Hearts’.

11. Forgers, magicians, charlatans, tricksters, conmen and delusional
characters are symptoms and diagnosis makers of the powers of the false.

Finally the schizoanalytic lesson of Orson Welles, again first noted by Deleuze. In F For
Welles performs as a magician to introduce the stories of other charlatans. Master
forger Elmyr de Hory draws a Picasso in ten minutes: no museum in the world that
distinguishes it from an original one. The magician knows like no body else how to play
with the reality of illusions. The art forger undermines the difference between copy and
original. The conman plays a game with our expectations and conventions (Sawyer in
Lost). The artist plays this game most creatively and most generously.

What is demonstrated in the power of the false is that the truth is very difficult to
retrieve and most of the time is based on a choice. An affective choice, even if it is often
wrapped in rational arguments, moral principles or dogmatic convictions. But the true
ethical evaluation should be the affirmative creative potentiality, the ultimate motivation
of the ‘charlatan’. In The Illusionist we don’t really know how Eisenheim has conjured his
plan. But inspector Uhl decides that he knows what happened. And real magic or just a
trick, it actually doesn’t matter, Eisenheim’s motivation (love, life) is what counts.

The media are an immanent system that feeds itself. An abstract machine that always
grows, expands, produces: from the most cruel and horrific to the most beautiful and
sublime. Production and anti-production. Schizo-analysis not as a disease but as a
process and method to understand the immanent powers of the image, to play with
them, and break through them (without breaking down).

The brain and the screen maintain an intimate and complex relationship. The camera has
penetrated our mind, for the best and for the worst. But the brain also determines for a
large part what we see on the screen, for the best and for the worst. The
cinematographic apparatus is no longer a machine that renders the visible, a machine of
the visible.

The new cinematic regime of digital a/v culture points to the fact that the screen is that
thin membrane between world and brain and that the mediated image, in producing all
kind of ‘invisible’ powers, should be conceived as ‘machines of the invisible.’

With thanks to Jasper Moes for help with this post.


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Creative Commons License

By: Heleen
On: September 25, 2006
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About Heleen


I have looked around for the creative commons “problem” and I have found out that the best way to show that all posts are under creative commons is to add the logo to our header. Does everyone agree?



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Picnic Virtueel Platform Hot100 Day

On: September 25, 2010
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About Philip Man
Technology should be centered around a meaningful experience: understand behaviour not technology, think people instead of device and. Don’t make products, make experiences. Like Huxley said, “to give organizations precedence over persons is to subordinate ends to means.” Technology changes fast, but people do not. The fun part does not happen in the device, but on the road from the screen towards the mind. The challenge is to understand the user’s motivations; what drives him or her, culturally and psychologically? People often don’t know what they want until you show it to them. My main ideas involve developments in new media technology and I am particularly interested in how new media is inherent to new ways of communicating, to what extent that requires and generates new kinds of data and how this can be used to improve relations between people. I like the challenge of difficult problems and to act as an idea catalyst /


I was pleasantly surprised when a few weeks ago I received an invitation for the Virtueel Platform Hot 100. Present at this event are 100 alumni from different media and art institutions with the goal to get in touch with each other. The invitation was quite flattering and inspiring:

“The HOT100 are the creme de la creme of the Dutch art academies, universities and universities of applied sciences in the fields of art, design, theory, communication or development skills related to e-culture […] The HOT100 Academy has the goal for new talents in e-cultural disciplines from the whole country to bring them in touch with each other, and to forge inspiring connections between the HOT100 and interesting cultural organisations and creative companies.”

Last Thursday was the event taking place and it focused on meeting each other and thinking about new ideas for several cases that they have selected. Even the lunch was focused on sharing and meeting new people as one lunchbox contained lunch for two persons and you had to share it with someone you didn’t know. The Hot100 attendants had to select a few keywords that they thought would be characterizing their work, these words were then wrapped around the wrist and they became a cool way to visualize who was working in which field and it was a nice tool to start conversations with co-Hot100’s.

The day started off with an introduction of Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, program manager of Virtueel Platform, and two keynote speakers, Anab Jain from Superflux and Sebastian Chan from The Powerhouse Museum. Both very interesting talks about design and change, especially Anab Jain who showed a lot of projects that she had worked on that seems to be ‘researching without a research question’. One project that she mentioned really caught my attention, which was about a fifth dimensional camera to understand how living in a world with quantum computing would be like.

After the lunch the Hot100 were divided into seven different cases that presented a problem to be solved. In a workshop of three hours containing heavy brainstorms and fierce discussion we were expected to present a brilliant solution to the problem. I was in the SetUP Utrecht case. SetUP is a medialab similar to the Waag Society or V2_, but they wanted to do something different because they thought that the medialandscape consisted too many of these knowledge centres. So instead of focusing on knowledge production, SetUP focuses on knowledge distribution or sharing knowledge. Their problem however was that they got too little attention and now government funding, which is the main income of these kind of institutions, is running out. They asked us to find new ways to revive the SetUP concept of sharing knowledge. How would we want a institution like them to look like and what are important features?

Surprisingly enough, after three hours of brainstorming and discussion the team had come with a solution that was mainly physical. We agreed that there had to be a communal space, but a lot of us focused so much on getting a physical building that I thought there is not much different than how SetUP already is. Instead of thinking on a conceptual level of how to share knowledge using new media tools, we centred ourselves around a building with spaces for rent. By placing costly tools in the buildings workshops that most of new media artists and researchers have to use but can’t have at home like laser cutters and 3D printers, they become an incentive for getting the building filled. The brainstorm and the discussion was very informative, but in the end I feel like we were trying to make a business plan for SetUP instead of trying to find new ways to share knowledge.

It was very nice to attend this event and I am glad that I did. Meeting and talking with a lot of different people who are active in the field of e-culture was very inspiring and interesting. I want to thank Virtueel Platform for giving me the opportunity and I want to thank Richard Rogers for selecting me as one of the few representing the UvA.

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Information Visualization and Conflict

On: May 25, 2010
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About Thomas Wielemaker
Graduate of UvA's MA in New Media New Media and Digital Culture, Thomas Wielemaker currently works as new media strategist whilst also pursuing his interests in information visualization.


The visualization of information has long been a tool for generals and historians alike to go over military strategy and to materialize the concomitants of battle. As military operations continue within an increasingly data-rich environment, we must ask if more can’t be done to implement and improve upon the tools that may have the power to aid in conflict resolution. The use of infographics in the past has shed a lot of light on the reasons why even the best laid plans have failed and the valuable lessons gleaned from their creation has powered the creation of what should have been a more efficient war machine. In this post we will explore the successes of past conflict-inspired infographics and the role of information visualization in conflict interpretation and resolution today.
Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l'Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813

One of the most famous references to the beginnings of information visualization that is used over and over again is Charles Joseph Minard’s Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813 which represents the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army during the invasion of and subsequent retreat from Russia, the general direction the troops took, and the average temperatures during each portion of the campaign. This early infographic has often been labeled the “best statistical graphic ever” by the statistician and information design scholar, Edward Tufte, among others. In his book, Beautiful Evidence, Tufte uses Minard’s work to help illustrate his “Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design”:

1. Show comparisons, contrasts, differences
2. Show Casuality
3. Multivariate Analysis
4. Show Evidence
5. Document everything

Minard’s efforts in his infamous infographic clearly satisfy the five principles listed above. Minard’s work was also groundbreaking in his day for his uniquely multivariate style; a style that has become easy to emulate today with the use of the intuitive interfaces offered to us by highly customizable programs such as Swivel, and Google Maps.

Another interesting infographic from around the same time period as Minard’s and which follows many of Tufte’s principles is Florence Nightingale’s now famous coxcomb diagrams. These diagrams were created to show the ridiculously high numbers of deaths that were occurring during the Crimean War due to preventable and communicable diseases as opposed to the relatively low numbers of soldiers dying as a result of their combat injuries. Nightingale used her infographics to highlight the poor sanitation conditions and practices that plagued the infirmaries established and to prove definitively that the armies themselves were their own greatest enemy.

Florence Nightingale's Coxcombs

Otto Neurath, famed founder of the Isotype Institute, also contributed significantly to the use of visualization techniques in periods of war. Through the isotype picture language that he had helped develop along with Marie Reidemeister, Neurath translated complicated data into easily readable pictograms. Due to his experience in analyzing political and wartime economy, Neurath was well suited to see which areas of wartime activity needed to be communicated to the populace. Over the years at both the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in Vienna and the Isotype Institute, Neurath and his colleagues developed effective methods of visualizing the costs that past wars had had on society, particularly World War I, and later, along with Paul Rotha, created films that would stress the importance of the conscious use and recycling of materials in order to support the allied war effort during World War II.

Since the development of Neurath’s isotype it has played a recurrent role in the calculation of the great economic and personal costs that conflicts have incurred over the years. The rise of the digital age has seen new developments in the analysis of these costs of conflict on a more interactive and engaging scale. The most recent conflicts to be evaluated in this way are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have been going on since 2003 and 2001, respectively. Two of the most impressive visualizations are The New York Times’ “Casualties of War” and “Map the Fallen,” an independent project created by Sean Askay, Google employee and Google Earth Outreach specialist in educating non-profits on how to visualize dense spatio-temporal data sets using Google software. “Casualties of War” focuses on the Iraq War and analyzes death tolls by age, race, branch of military and type of duty. The deaths are placed on a timeline and broken down by province in which they took place and home states from which the deceased originated. “Maps the Fallen” takes a much more personal approach to both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Each casualty is plotted on Google Earth using an overlay. The markers can be identified easily by gender and upon exploring the markers information such as name, age and cause of death can be determined. For each marker representing a casualty a corresponding marker pinpoints that person’s hometown. These visualizations help put the losses of war into perspective as they bring the events occurring in a geographically isolated region closer to home.

But to what extent has visualization worked towards resolving the conflicts in the Middle East? A recent article in The New York Times elaborated on the issues the army was having internally with its attempts to visualize the challenges it faced in establishing lasting peace in Afghanistan. Although the article focused mostly on the military’s over-use of Powerpoint, blaming the reliance on the Microsoft Office product for creating an “illusion of understanding and illusion of control” (Bumiller 2010), one particular slide, meant to illustrate the complexity of the American mission in Afghanistan, received a lot of media attention. The mangled, spaghetti mess meant is meant to show all the challenges facing the Allied troops but it’s poor design makes the biggest obstacle actually deciphering the diagram.  Since then the Fachhochschule Potsdam has created a much more straightforward, flowing map, simply called “The Afghan Conflict,” which presents every calculated eventuality of the Allied troops future actions. Even though this project doesn’t necessarily fulfill Tufte’s principles of analytical design

Although the negativity of war can be a consuming endeavor to visualize for those opposed to its consequences (especially with death being its most tangible result), the field of visualization should be employed more often as a means of discovering solutions as Florence Nightingale did during the Crimean War. And, even if times of conflict aren’t known for being boons of data transparency, greater efforts need to be made to evaluate the real costs of conflict to present real solutions.

UPDATE: CNN has created its own impressive Iraq/Afghanistan casualty visualization. Check it out HERE!

Bonus Material:
Check out this fantastic visualization created in processing depicting the evolution of the four largest maritime empires. Any shaking or colliding of the bubbles represents some kind of conflict or colonial battle for independence.

Bumiller, E. (2010). We have Met the enemy and he is powerpoint. The New York Times, Retrieved from

Tufte, E. (2006). Beautiful evidence. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

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Cyberpunk movies

On: December 25, 2007
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About Erik Borra
Erik Borra is assistant professor in Journalism and New Media at the University of Amsterdam.


Christmas time is mostly a homey time. After dinner and cosiness, there is time for a good movie or two. To get you inspired, here is a good list of cyberpunk movies – most of which can be found as streams through or Enjoy.

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The Diorama Revisited: Erkki Huhtamo at Sonic Acts

On: February 25, 2008
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About Twan Eikelenboom
One of the first Masters of Media to crawl upon this blog (2006/2007)! Still following (and at times contributing) to this great project. Working at Dutch sectorinstitute for e-culture Virtueel Platform. Special interest in stories resulting from new media product use (think: sat nav gone wrong) and independent gaming. Also blogging at


Erkki Huhtamo’s recent work deals with media archeology, an emerging approach he, according to his website, ‘has pioneered (together with others, like Siegfried Zielinski) since the early 1990’s’. At this edition of Sonic Acts, Huhtamo, together with the audience, revisited the concept of the Diorama. The keynote proved to be a valuable trip down memory lane with Huhtamo showing many examples and elaborating on their cultural context.

The Diorama was invented by Jacques Louis Mande Daguerre and Charles Marie Bouton and consisted of fast paintings, which were ‘slightly larger than an iMac screen’. Moreover, paintings were made in such a way that parts were translucent. In the early days, these diorama’s had to be visited and therefore it became a new element of urban landscape. Huhtamo mentions the Paris Diorama in this regard.

But why would the diorama be interesting for us, now, Huhtamo asks himself. Bruce Sterling mentioned the concept of “dead media”, Huhtamo however does not believe media is capable of dying: ‘I believe that it is more a transformation and adaptation. My research deals with understanding the materiality, discursive manifestations and how these layers coexist in culture, as the culture changes and evolves’. One of Huhtamo’s big inspirations to venture into the realm of media archeology, is the fact that artists sometimes seem to be aware of the traditions, go back to these ideas and draw inspiration from them.

In its purely mechanical form, The Diorama is a large viewing machine, an actorless optical illusion theatre, comprised of two main features, being firstly giant translucent and transforming paintings and secondly a mechnically rotating auditorium. Culturally the Diorama provided the world with a new word, a neologism, that many of these new spectacles had. The Diorama is no different, combining “dio” (transparent/through) and “rama” (view). Because it is actorless, Huhtamo sees a valuable connection between the rise of CGI possibilities and the Diorama: ‘Actors are more in the scenery’.

Continuing on the linguistics of the Diorama, Huhtamo mentions Balzac, who picked up a linguistic pattern from the hair salons and the cafes of Paris. Balzac provided his own list of “ramas”, including health-o-rama, frozenrama, soupe-au-rama and the goriorama. Images shown by Huhtamo of various Diorama’s and Daguerre’s paintings are available at R. D. Wood’s MIDLEY essays on the History of early Photography. An interesting development is the portable diorama, like the “desktop” version of the computer, the ‘huge and gigantic’ is eventually brought to the desktop.

Now, Huhtamo continues, ‘we are in the beginning of this dioramic transformation I’m trying to sketch’. Most important for this transformation is that ‘reality is not conceived as given, but as a construct. Reality as a product of new spectacles such as the diorama, panorama, wax museums, paris morgue, etc. This is the culture from which the diorama appears. In turn, Diorama’s themselves start to appear in painting’.

New Spaces and Urban Mobility
The Diorama in an urban context is ‘not like a home, but also not like the city screen outside. It is a place for the flaneur and movement in new spectacles’. Huhtamo mentions various examples of these flaneur-like places, such as the cosmorama. All share that they are about a mobile mode of spectatorship. Huhtamo: ‘The only way of viewing the panorama is to keep on walking / moving. Being physically in motion was taken over by cinema, however, the motion becomes virtual.

The audience is virtually moving with the scenes seen in the cinema’. Huhtamo sees a return to physical movement in the advent of portable devices. Interesting in the mixture of Diorama and movement is also the the idea of the “trottoir roulant”, the moving walkway, which was presented as a novelty in that time at the Paris world fair.It turned Paris into panoramic scene, the platform is enough to define the surroundings and change the identity of the surroundings

The Diorama even shaped its own popstar. Albert Smith travelled around with the moving diorama. His “hit” was ‘The Ascent of Mont Blanc’ which was shown an astonishing 2000 times. Objects used to create a reality effect include dogs and a Swiss chalet. In later years, various people played with the idea of the diorama. Examples of these include the 1939 Futurama by General Motors, which exhibited GM’s utopian vision of the world with streamlined buildings and, of course, as Huhtamo mentions, GM cars. In the futurama, the audience is traveling through the show. It is not static, like the diorama by Daguerre. The Diorama has been revisited.

Report by Twan Eikelenboom –
Photography by –

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PICNIC 08 – All Media

On: September 25, 2008
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About Annewil Neervens
I hold a Bachelor's degree in journalism and recently graduated with a Master's degree in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. I am particularly interested in online social networks, software and digital influence.


Today’s themes in the E-Art Dome – presented by Virtueel Platform – are ecology, online life/social networking and mobility. The second presentation of the day is All Media, by Mieke Gerritzen and Koert van Mensvoort, which definitely fits those descriptions. Koert van Mensvoort starts off his presentation with a video of a bird making incredible sounds, some sounding not unlike a car alarm. He stresses that this video ‘is not media art, it’s an actual bird’. Next, is ‘the biggest visual power show’, an intellectual show that’s posed as a visionary statement, where the next nature is presented. Meaning that nature is increasingly controlled by man. Van Mensvoort calls this ‘a culturally emerged nature.’

Van Mensvoort says that our relation with nature is changing. Nature and culture are increasingly blending. He illustrates this with a few examples, like a picture he took on a nature walk of an odd looking tree, that actually turned out to be a cell phone antenne disguised as a pine tree. Or the fact that some people buy land from farmers and make this land look like it would have looked two thousand years ago. Nature becomes culture, and it’s also becoming progressively more of a product.

Later on in the presentation Van Mensvoort brings up several concepts like biomimic marketing and visualization. He claims that scientists these days are doing a lot of interesting things, like creating non-allergic cats or ‘victimless meat’ (meat grown in lab dishes). We are reshaping nature for commercial objectives. We are creating our own mix between nature and culture.

Van Mensvoort: ‘The born and the made are fusing. The born were already there, the made is what we are creating. We’re all messed up on our concepts nowadays.’

Then he comes with a proposal: a fresh definition of nature and culture. Being: culture is what we control, nature is everything that’s beyond our control.
We cause the rise of a ‘next’ nature. An example of this is the mobile phone. Without it – if we accidentally left it at home for instance – we feel like we’re missing an extension of our body.  If we go back to get it, we feel whole again, like we’re complete.

He concludes by saying that ‘real nature is not green’. On the All Media website he writes about this: ‘Human actions are not nature, but it can cause it; real nature in all its functioning, dangers and possibilities. In spite of all our attempts and experiments, it is still hardly practicable to mold life. Every time nature seems to have been conquered, it rears its head again on some other battlefield. Perhaps we should not see nature as a static given, but as a dynamic process. It is not only humans that are developing; nature, too, is changing in the process. Thus, I am proposing a new approach to distinguish nature and culture. At first– as is usual with paradigm shifts – it takes some getting used to, but after a while things become clear again. Real nature is not green.’

Even though Van Mensvoort raises interesting questions about the difference between nature and culture, he doesn’t quite seem to make a clear point on this. His presentation is somewhat vague and rushed and he has difficulty answering questions from the audience. Furthermore, is what he is saying right? Is culture actually what we control? And is nature everything that lies beyond our control? I for one, am not sure of nature being everything beyond our control. Perhaps it can very well be within our control, just as culture can be out of our control. Where are the boundaries, and how are they blurring? We should try to find concepts of nature and culture, but maybe the main focus in this question should be on the implications it might have.

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