Visualizing the network

As a result of the course information visualization, a public screening was organized where all project teams involved got a chance to present their work at the Waag Society venue. Within a tight 6 minutes, concept explanation and implementation had to be given, in an almost pitch-like setting.
All projects result from a collaboration between the courses MHKU Editorial Design, MA Computer Science UvA and MA New Media UvA. Within this multidisciplinary setting, the assignment was to create an information visualisation application concerning the themes ‘visualizing the network’ or ‘browsing images within a network’. After a short introduction by Yuri Engelhardt and presentations by the hosts Mediaguild and WaagSociety, a hour of non-stop visualizers were shown. All projects are shortly described below, in a both textual and visual manner.
The projects (the first four):

MyDataBody

This DataBody comparing application starts with a metaphorical depiction of the user his or her own databody. The databody in this case is everything that is filled in on a MySpace profile. This can exist of for instance: Background Information, Comments, Interests, General Info, etc. Because the application starts ego-centric with the user as default it will encourage the user to explore his or her own databody. A magnifying glass can be used to zoom in on the DataBody and actual personal MySpace data is depicted.

Besides exploring his or her own DataBody, MyDataBody allows a user to compare their personal databody with the databody of his or her individual friends, the average body of all her friends, or a selected group of friends. Furthermore the average databody of 2 different countries or continents can be depicted. The application even allows the user to filter out a specific group of MySpace users based on Age, Location, Gender, or Interests.

MyDataBody serves several goals. First of all it will increase the awareness of MySpace users. It will make users think about online identity and data they have put on the web. We do not condemn anything about people their data online. Maybe this application will even encourage users to fill in their profile even more extensively in order to catch up with their friends or a countries average. Besides awareness MyDataBody also creates interesting insights in the different ways people use MySpace; with this application we can create insights in how users with specific cultural or demographic characteristics use MySpace in a different way.

Vriendjespolitiek.net (might be translated as ‘politics and pals’).

Since the coming of online social networking sites, lots of people have, quite unconsciously,
their likes and dislikes, on public display. They not only show with whom they affiliate, but also what kind of music, movies, food, or even brands they prefer.

Since 1998 (and on paper since 1989), each general election in the Netherlands spawned a variety of so called voting recommendation machines. These systems typically ask the user to answer some questions after which they give the user a voting recommendation, based on the compatibility between his or her answers and the political parties. These questions are either based on party programs, or on the actual voting behavior in Parliament of the political party concerned over the last few years.

We have developed a post-demographic recommendation tool derived from these digital life software systems, while at the same time addressing them – based on the aggregated profiles of friends of political party leaders as they appear on the biggest Dutch online social network, Hyves. By providing appropriate visualizations we make both the demographics and relations of a group of friends apparent, and replicate the existing, arguably anti-participatory democratic, voting recommendation machines. Ultimately the goal is to create awareness of one’s digital public self – one’s data body (CAE, 95) – to create conscience of simple yet powerful profiling techniques, and the possibilities of the surveillance and control society. (Bogard 96, Deleuze 02). It is on purpose that we chose to highlight the entertaining quality and lightness of peer-based behavior this society is so immersed in.

vriendjespolitiek website

Friendscape

Friendscape is a new way to arrange photos on which you are together with your friends. It shows relationships between friends, the strength of their friendship and it shows changes in friendship over time. By using Hyves’ gespot-function, Friendscape produces an aggregate photo-album of a person. In this aggregate, not only the pictures put online by a Hyves-user will show, but all pictures in which he or she is spotted. Very much in line with the Hyves-spirit, where your identity is created by means of the network, so is you photographic identity. By turning the concept of friendship into a visualization, we aim to make Hyves-users reflect about who their friends are.

Kaboom

In this project we are dealing with the problem of image browsing. The problem is that we see different kinds of image browsing locally and online. Where online image browsing is mainly text based, with all limitations of text, we need to search for new possible alternatives. In order to make claims about possible alternatives we will take Flickr as object of study.
Without going to deep into local browsing systems the focus will be on different ways of browsing in Flickr. Our main research question will be whether visual browsing can have an added value over textual browsing.

For our Kab00m visualization we intend to use the new geographical property of multimedia data and combine it with color information we extract. By combining the geographical information of a set of pictures with specific information about the colors of these pictures we are going to draw a color map of the world. A map colored with region-specific-color-schemes provided by Flickr users from around the globe. Our chosen image repository, Flickr, is a popular online community for photography.

A tag’s life
A tags Life is a is a tool to make quick and clear visualizations of trend development. It shows you how many times a certain tag is being used and viewed and how these numbers developed both over time and space. It takes it information from the largest on line photo database, Flickr.
The interface consist of four windows. The time line on the bottom shows the uses over the entire lifespan of Flickr, starting in February 2004 and ending today. Each bar represents one week. With the slider you can choose the selection you want to see in the main window. With the two triangles one can make the selection larger or smaller.
In the main window the selection you made in the time line is visible. On the bottom of the bars is the most popular picture of that week. Clicking on either the picture or the bar links you to the Flickr web page of the picture or all the pictures from that week.
Here you can also see how many times the pictures of that week have been viewed, by clicking on the view tab. In the view window, the light blue area represents the amount of views that the most popular picture has. The dark blue area represents the views of all the other photos of that week.
The third window is the map which visualizes the geo-data, if provided with the pictures. Here you can see how the uses of the tag develop in space. Finally there’s a window with some quick statistics.
With this tool you can easily see when and where people are uploading certain photos and what people are looking for when browsing the Flickr website.

LoOSN

LoOSN which is abbreviation of ‘Languages of Online Social Networks’ is an information visualization project created to show where languages and online social networks are situated globally and to what extent the offering of a certain language by an SNS correlates with the presence and the popularity of that SNS in a country where that language is spoken.
The goal of this visualization is to give a view of the importance of languages within the social networking community.

The demo can be viewed and explored here.

screenshot of project \"LoOSN\"

screenshot of project \"LoOSN\"

Match Maker
The MatchMaker is a Hyves application that makes the rather static information about your friends and other Hyves-users more playful and interactive. With the MatchMaker, users can compare their profile information with the information of other hyves users in an attractive and visual way.
When clicking on the Matchmaker button on your profile page, a screen will pop up. In this overview one can see all their friends in a scatter plot. Every friend is represented by a small circle with the profile picture of that friend. The position of the circles will not only tell how many interests a user and his friends have in common (vertical axis) but will also tell how many friends the two of you have in common (horizontal axis).
Users can also click on specific tabs, which changes the horizontal axes to indicate only the match within the selected category. Individual friends are also clickable, which makes the complete section on the right change to indicate the detailed match information between the user and the selected friend. All these features make it possible for Hyves-users to navigate visually through the interests of their friends.
Screenshots in PDF can be found here:
overview-vol
mm-music

and a project movie can be found here:

match_maker_movie

An impression of the venue and the presentations can be found via this link.

Trying to provoke a discussion here. Why do conferences and other events costs so much money? All access to PICNIC would have costed you more than €1200, getting involved in BlOG08 conference €195, with a discount still €95. ‘Ridiculous’, says MoM coordinator Geert Lovink, ‘these events shouldn’t cost more than €20.’ Edial Dekker, one of the organisers of BLOG08 admits that €195 is a lot of money (for students). ‘We would love to make it less pricey, but our budget is very limited.’

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Micro-blogging is a minimalistic form of blogging which has been integrated in most of the popular social network sites. It allows users to write and post short messages. This has important implications for the content of a message. Usually these messages only consist of text, but in some cases users can include pictures as well. Most of the time these message are about what the user is doing or about to do at the particular moment of posting the message. Some social network sites even allow users to post messages through their mobile phone. Because of the popularity of these services it is interesting to investigate the effects of these services on its users and on society at large.

Twitter and the concept of secondary orality
The best place to start when talking about the effects that technologies can have on people and on society are the theories of Marshall McLuhan. In one of his most influential works, The Medium Is the Message, he argues that ‘the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.’ (McLuhan 1964, p. 7) As a result of this it lead McLuhan to believe that the use of technologies such as the printing press transformed society from an oral culture into a visual culture. New electronic media – at the time of writing television in particular – were thought of to reunite us with oral culture, thus shaping society along the lines of tribalism and at the same time also as a collective.

As a student of McLuhan, it was Walter J. Ong who introduced the concept of secondary orality. New electronic media introduced us to computer mediated communication. He argues that the immediacy that one experiences with this form of communication is similar to the immediacy experienced in oral culture. Secondly, this form of communication is also able to unite people in groups, another process that can be traced back to oral culture. Therefore, Ong refers to this relation between computer mediated communication and oral communication as secondary orality. Based on this concept of secondary orality, I will try to outline the affordances and possible detrimental consequences of micro-blogging services such as Twitter. This research might give an insight to the effects of micro-blogging on individuals and on society at large.

Twitter and its affordances
Several researchers have studied micro-blogging, and in particular Twitter, with the theory above as basis for their investigation. For instance new media researcher Carlo Scannella who has written on the orality of Twitter and argued in a paper that blogs become a technological prosthetic for its users. Blogs can be seen as an extension of human memory, a shared memory system. All communication in such a system accumulates to knowledge, reputation, trust and ultimately it shapes and represents identities. Therefore, Scannella argues that blogs can be seen as an extension of man, a cyborg memory.

According to Lance Strate secondary orality, such as micro-blogging, can have a leveling effect on people. Computer mediated communication that is made possible through the technologies of chat rooms, instant messaging and micro-blogging are more of an informal nature than communication in a primary oral culture. People are usually addressed by their first name or nickname. We can argue that this leveling effect goes even further in that it gives everyone the idea that their opinion matters. Because you blog, you exist.

Twitter and the possible detrimental consequences
Micro-blogging has a strong connection with technologies such as instant messaging and text messaging over mobile phones. Especially the latter of these two technologies imposes a restriction on the length of a message. The length of a single text message is usually restricted by most service providers to a maximum of 160 characters. We can also argue that the length of a message is influenced by the input method, the keypad of the mobile phone. The combination of these constraints has resulted in the use of all kinds of acronyms in writing these short messages. People abbreviate words to avoid exceeding the character limit and they also reduce the time spend on writing these messages. The adoption of acronyms in writing messages is not entirely new, they are also used in chat rooms that have been around for a couple of decades. Therefore, the use of these acronyms is commonly referred to as chat room slang. The widespread use of these communication technologies involving chat room slang in contemporary culture raises questions about the impact on our literary capabilities, that is our reading and writing performance, and our ability of critical thinking.

As mentioned before, the theories of McLuhan were written with the technology of television in mind. Although McLuhan argues that the change from a visual culture to a more hybrid oral and visual culture with the rise of television can be understood as something positive, he is also aware of the more pessimistic consequences it can impose on people. By arguing that ‘electronic technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement’ (McLuhan 1967, p. 8-9), it also implies that people who use these electronic technologies will neglect information that threatens this process of unification and involvement. In other words, people tend to ignore information that challenges their perspectives, avoid critical debate and will resort to so-called ‘fast’ information. This is probably also the case with micro-blogging services such as Twitter. People can read all kinds of short messages written by others, but most people will probably never reply to these messages. If they disagree with a particular message, they will just ignore it and move onto the next one, similar to ‘zapping’ between television channels.

Caleb Crain also addresses the implications of this tendency to resort to fast information in his article Twilight of the Books: What will life be like if people stop reading?. In this article he draws upon the research of Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research and Professor of Child Development at Tufts University. Wolf suggests that ‘the secret at the heart of reading is the time it frees for the brain to have thoughts deeper than those that came before’. Experience can improve our literary reading skills. When progressing from an illiterate child to a literate adult, our brain activity changes as well. As we improve our literary reading skills, at the same time we reserve brainpower for other activities, for example the proliferation of critical thinking.

A study on the effects of watching television performed by Herbert Krugman in 1969 indicate that while watching television our brain waves shift from beta waves to alpha waves within thirty seconds. Alpha waves indicate a state of mind that is unfocused and lacking cognitive attention. When switching from watching television to the activity of reading, we can see a reversal of this change in brain wave activity. In other words, beta brain waves that proliferate when reading exemplify a logical and analytical process, whereas alpha brain waves that proliferate when watching television exemplify an uncritical and dreamlike process.

Concluding
The question now is how do the above observations relate to micro-blogging. Because both television and micro-blogging can be explained according to the concept of secondary orality, does this also mean that the effects of micro-blogging, such as reading and writing short messages on Twitter for instance, are similar to the effects of watching television? Can we argue that micro-blogging is detrimental to our reading skills and therefore our ability of critical thinking and engaging in debates? Does micro-blogging lead to the same kind of unification or groupthink as television does? Probably the answers to these questions can be found in neurobiological research.

References
Cohen, Noam. ‘The Global Sympathetic Audience’ from New York Times. 4 November 2007.
<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/fashion/04twitter.html>.

Crain, Caleb. ‘Twilight of the Books: A Critic at Large’ from The New Yorker. 24 December 2007.
<http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2007/12/24/071224crat_atlarge_crain/>.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill, 1964.

McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. New York: Bantam Books, 1967.

Scannella, Carlo. The Orality of Twitter. 9 April 2008.
<http://cscannella.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/the-orality-of-twitter/>.

Scannella, Carlo. Virtual Memory: The Blog as Technological Prosthetic.
<http://www.nssrmemoryconference.com/Abstracts.pdf>.

Wright, Alex. ‘Friending, Ancient or Otherwise’ from New York Times, 2 December 2007.
<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/weekinreview/02wright.html>.

IE6 is my grandmother on her deathbed and she just won’t die. Her skin is obviously wrinkled and dated, she doesn’t have any recollection of the past, and she is sucking the life (and money) out of everyone around her. God, can you please pull the plug!?

ie6IE6 is a seven-year old technology. It was released in 2001 and predates Windows XP, Gmail, Facebook, Safari, Firefox, 9/11 and the iPod. In the days before Web 2.0, the two most popular browsers were IE6 and Netscape. Choosing between those two browsers is like choosing between a Ford Pinto and a Hairy Firetruck, but back in 2001 we were just happy to go for a ride. So….SEVEN YEARS later why is IE6 still one of the top two browsers? Why is (roughly) 25% of the world still using IE6?

Market Share Data

Why IE6 Sucks

  1. IE6 doesn’t support CSS standards
    IE6 complies with (roughly) only 55% of CSS 2.1 Basic properties, compared with Firefox’s 98% compliance.
  2. IE6 Is Destroying The Economy
    Web developers spend hours (sometimes days!) optimizing CSS and HTML for IE6. This is an enormous time suck for the developers, a drain on the client’s budget, and wasted resources for the company. As a developer myself I can attest to the hours of painful labor spent solely on fixing IE6 bugs, and there have even been initiatives to Save The Developers. A poll on CIO (from of over 500 voters) shows that 40% of developers still optimize for IE6.
  3. IE6 Is Unsafe
    a) “Using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser to surf the Internet has become a marked risk — even with the latest security patches installed”, says USA Today.
    b) “THE US GOVERNMENT has sent out a warning out to internet users through its Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), pleading users to stop using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.” according to The Inquirer.
    c) New York Times, Slate and others have similar stories
  4. IE6 Doesn’t Display Pages Correctly
    Many sites don’t render correctly on IE6. Here are two sites off the top of my head that don’t look quite right:
    a) Google Documents has never worked for me in IE6; they have stopped supporting IE6 on Vista.
    b) Facebook chat constantly fails for me in IE6. Meanwhile, they ask you to “…switch to another browser”
  5. IE6 is the 8th Worst Tech Product of All Time says “PC World
  6. IE6 doesn’t have tabbed browsing

Why IE6 is still around

  1. Ignorance: most people don’t know or don’t care
  2. Beauracracy: Universities, companies, and large organaztion have IE6 preinstalled on millions of computers around the world and they are unwilling to upgrade. I noticed this trend last summer as I traveled around parts of the US, Asia and Europe: public computers default to IE6. What is even worse is that many of these comptuers are controlled by system administrators, so the user can’t install new programs or browser upgrades! So as I sit here, a New Media student at the University of Amsterdam computer lab, IE6 is my only browser option.

What You Can Do

In addition to the obvious things we can do…

  1. Spread the word to friends
  2. Stop developing for IE6 compatibility

…to kill IE6 we need a top-down approach:
If your organization defaults to IE6 then contact your boss or the IT department and let them know that they are using a seven year old technology to run their business! Tell them exactly why IE6 sucks! They’ll probably thank you for being so “cutting edge and innovative”.

Upgrade To Another Browser Now:



*This post comes after a long line of other frustrated people trying to make the web a better place: End6, StopIE6.org, BrowseHappy, BrowseSad.

e-paper
LG Digital has announced that a full A3 sized e-paper that will be introduced in April. The novelty in LG’s latest marvel, is that it makes the physical distribution and the every day hustle of printing millions of newspapers obsolete. The Gutenberg era of mechanical reproduction is changing into digital reproduction. The smell of ink and the touch of fresh paper soon will be nostalgia. Newspaper corporations are sluggish and conservative in their approach to new media. The distribution costs rise dramatically and the product is a static, disposable, environmentally unfriendly medium. What is the USP of a news paper? Is it the content? The Smell? Selling Paper? Selling emotion? A combination of these elements? In this post, I will briefly elaborate on the contemporary distribution. And I will propose a distribution model that is based on digital reproductivity and its positive effect on the contemporary environment, distribution and costs.
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YouTube does not endorse infringement of copyright. But with so many newly uploaded videos per day, YouTube has had to come up with alternatives to terminating the accounts of every poor 14 year old who decides to make a slideshow to their favourite Lady Gaga song. Now on certain videos, there are advertising links to iTunes if you use an available song.

This raises many questions: is it or is it not an infringement of copyright if YouTube allows advertising on your video? How does one get a link from iTunes? Is it automated? If the link does not appear, does this mean my video infringes copyright more than a video that has a link? Does a user upload copyrighted material in ‘hope’ that their video gets a link rather than their account terminated?

In May this year, Nuffic held a video contest on their YouTube channel Study in Holland,  to promote Holland as a destination for higher education. The winning prize was a 13″ Apple MacBook Pro.

The task was simple. To create a video/ slideshow/ animation between 1-5 minutes of what the ultimate student experience in Holland is. And the following rules:

  • All entries must be the original work of the entrant and must not infringe copyright or contravene the rights of third parties.
  • Entries that do not meet the requirements (length, deadline, etc.) cannot be accepted.

No problem. Right? Until I sent a link of one of the entries [Video Contest entry by Jeanette Calder] to a friend living in Germany, but it was unavailable* due to Sony music content – Jordin Sparks – This Is My Now. [note: *YouTube blocks certain videos in Germany because “GEMA” (the German collecting society) is asking too much for their broadcasting licences. A similar restriction exists in UK.]

This got me thinking. This entrant had used copyrighted content that belongs to Sony, and unless the entrant was Sony, the composer of the song or even Jordin Sparks herself, the video did not contain all original content.

A few days later, the winner was announced: Claudia Jarufe Montagne from Peru with DISCOVER HOLLAND 2009. It was a brilliant video, which well captured the student life in Holland in a creative way, and one that deserved to take the cake.

But what did I see there?

Phoenix – Lisztomania              Download This Song: iTunes

Just like the video with Jordin Sparks, this was also not a video with original content; original video footage yes, but the audio is owned by WMG, performed by the French band Phoenix, not Claudia Jarufe Montagne from Peru.

YouTube allowed the video to stay, in exchange for iTunes advertising link for the song.

As a musician with interests in Copyright, IP and now a student of New Media, even before the winner was announced, I decided to flag the issue with Nuffic, to advise them that not all entrants were using ‘original’ music (is anyone paying attention to the rules?), and students in Germany for example were unable to view videos with copyrighted material [in other words: entrants with copyrighted material are not eligible to win].

This is the response I received:

from Study in Holland <————–@nuffic.nl>
to Janice Wong <——–@gmail.com>
date 28 June 2010 13:10
subject RE: Study in Holland video contest

Hi Janice,

Thanks for the warning. We got an email from YouTube stating that we did not have to take any action. When I open the link here, I can see the video, and its linked to iTunes for downloading the music. But it’s a good thing to keep in mind when we publish all the entries!

Best wishes,
Study in Holland

I am no expert in copyright, but I do believe Nuffic, as an official body representing Holland worldwide in higher education should have taken more responsibility with copyright. The issue is, even though YouTube allowed advertising for using copyrighted music, the Nuffic contest rule stated “All entries must be the original work of the entrant and must not infringe copyright,” and should have been judged fairly and accordingly.

Perhaps if I knew in advance that an entry would not be disqualified with copyrighted music I would have made a video with a soundtrack from the likes of Ms. Gaga and asked Youtube, to please give an iTunes link!

Thoughts and funny incidents on… contemporary ways to lose your job

(  via Blogspot/ WordPress, Facebook, Twitter)

There are many valid reasons for an employee to lose his job: the pretense of economic crisis, the company closing down, the employee’s lack of punctuality or failure to keep up with deadlines; to be more precise, there are countless reasons why an employee would be fired. And as our workplaces and professional lives follow the trends of the ages, it only makes sense that the social-networking-mania would affect the… route towards unemployment.

*Blogging your way out of business

I guess there is nothing new about that: there have been many cases of bloggers getting fired because of what they posted on their personal blog: being it because they violated their employer’s media policy, because they complained about their managers, because they published a post that interferes with their work etc. Out of the many examples that one can find online, I find this case as the most interesting, as it basically concerns a case of a media professional getting fired because of violating CNN’s strict media policy: back in 2008 Chez Pazienza, CNN producer, was fired because of his nonymous involment in “opinionated blogs” and blogging on his personal research, closely connected to his CNN work.

At least, in my personal view, this case is still not clear enough: it does sound primitive to fire someone because of his revealing his personal work/opinion under his own name. However, a pre-existing media policy gives your employer an official excuse to release you of your duties (no matter how cruel this might sound to the ears of a digital native).

*Note to self: Nothing is private on Facebook


It seems that it is practically verified that a proportion of SNS users is not aware of the privacy issues concerning social networking profiles[i] and uploading too much personal information on a “high risk” environment. Well in most of the cases on Facebook (examples: here and here) users cannot be justified for… biting the hand that was feeding them. You simply do not insult your boss or your brand on Facebook. And you should never “play sick” when your Facebook status or profile pictures contradict your word.

In my opinion, what is worth examining is the “privacy leak” that appears according to users on this Facebook group. The question still remains: how do you know who can access your profile when someone who is not on your friend list can dig out data from a private profile?

*Losing your job in 140 characters or less

Again, too-much-information-alert! There are plenty of examples (or instructions, it depends on the way you see it) from the world of microblogging. Apparently, the “think before you print” motto should be substituted by the reminder “think before you tweet”. It is obvious that the merge of the public and private sphere through the connection capabilities offered by Twitter is confusing to a number of users who transfer their personal private thoughts on the super visible world of Twitter.

Continuing on Twitter, my personal research led me to another controversial case, regarding the convergence of a media professional’s private and public life. It is true that when you are involved in the media and you express your views on hot topics, your public image is affected. However you are free to do as you choose, right? Well, apparently not in (ex CNN’s) Octavia Nasr’s case; the aforementioned journalist was said to be fired because of a tweet on a (misunderstood?) personal remark on the highly debatable Middle East conflict. The question raised again concerns any user’s right to express his views publicly, without them affecting his personal or professional life: can this be possible? More specifically, when you are a media professional in this over connected world what can you state, what should you state and what should you not?

*The media professionals and the rest: What should we do?

it is an undeniable fact that it is socially acceptable, in real life, to complain to your offline network (family, friends, coworkers) about your job, your boss, your paycheck. However, it is still a highly debatable issue if it is alright for your online self to do so, on a profile (mostly disregarding the degree in which blogs, Facebook, twitter have penetrated into our lives, disregarding  the fact that Social Networking Sites have marked the spirit of our times).   

I can understand that the vast majority of the readers would agree that it is mostly the user’s fault for letting their private views emerge through Facebook or Twitter. Despite that fac,t it is not always clear that the users/ bloggers are to be blamed for letting their views affect their occupation status. There are some cases in the media world that make an individual  feel that it is worth opposing to the company’s decision, sometimes even worth fighting for a different situation.

For example, meet my Greek friend, The Stranger, on WordPress since 2006, young journalist, currently unemployed. Actually, for the sake of accuracy, only a couple of weeks ago he was temporarily employed and fired within days because of this post, where he complained about his salary, simply because he would receive 300 Euros, for a home-based/8 hours per day/ 7 days per week/monitoring gossip TV shows/ reporting about gossip shows job. Let me explain an important fact: average media professionals in Greece are underpaid. Young media professionals in Greece face an even worse situation ( as young professionals in general). Everyone is aware of the black market- no social security- no salary de facto situation going on and yet no one is willing to speak up and express any kind of opposition. And yet, one could use his blog to express his agony on the fact that he is about to work with the smallest monetary reward possible; and he is fired for that fact as, according to the manager’s view “no one is forced to accept our offer”. (Which is not exactly true, after 100 days of unemployment in your late twenties, you may not have the luxury to not accept the job).

Yet, to return to the initial subject: what can you say and what can you not on your blog? When should it immediately affect your profession? Is speaking up for an important matter that affects your professional life ethical or immoral towards your brand/ your employer? Where does the right to speak up for yourself start to tranform in the cause to lose your job? And last, what is the new code of ethics on professional behaviou, as formed for media professionals in the time of social networks?

ps: Interesting debate, here.


[i] http://petworkshop.org/2006/preproc/preproc_03.pdf, last accessed on 31/10/2010.

Imogen Heap, two-time grammy award nominee and known for her innovative online practices to connect with her fans, has just kicked off her fourth studio album with sounds from her fans, called ‘seeds’.

Last year in 2010, Heap engaged with cellists online and auditioned them for her US, European and Australasian tour (see my performance with Imogen here!). Another project in which Heap wrote the film score, called Love The Earth Film received more than 1000 video submissions from 100 different filmakers worldwide. Participation and crowdsourcing has been a way to keep her 1.5million twitter fans (and many more offline) interested and coming back for more.

The first song temporarily called HeapSong1, of the new album (which will take approximately three years to finish in total, with every single being released on completion), has attracted 327 sound snippets uploaded to SoundCloud in which Imogen reviews and comments live through online streaming site Ustream.TV.

Imogen Heap - heapsong1 on Ustream

Through the submissions, so far, she has decided for the key of C#minor, and saved sounds of swans, ball on a bat and this track ukulelegranulate.mp3 (below) by rdponto as the key scene-setter for the track.

There is still one more session of live streaming that will take place today, and fourteen more days of composing, reviewing, writing, blogging, chatting before the release of this first track.

New media technology makes this all possible and it is interesting which artists embrace the power of social media. It’s an exciting time for musicians and fans alike. This collaboration, so-called co-creative labour (see the work of Banks & Deuze) through digital means has been instrumental in transforming relationships between artist-fan. Artists like Imogen Heap more easily reach out and connect with fans, and fans have more input and more of a voice than they did previously.

This is a topic I am currently researching for my Master thesis, so please feel free to comment if you have further insights on co-creative labour, participatory cultures and crowdsourcing.

And watch this space (or Imogen Heap’s space http://imogenheap.com) to see how this new adventure unravels.

Hi all,

I started working on our t-shirts, here are my first two suggestions:

T-shirt 01: Tetris style

T-shirt 01: Tetris style (t-shirt_mom01.pdf)

T-shirt 02: Floppy style

T-shirt 02: Floppy style (t-shirt_mom02.pdf)

Comments? Suggestions? (Black and white & vector-based)

PS: Too bad we don’t have our own URL yet, we could print it on the back.

philosophers in new media

I want to post a discussion question here about the use of the classic philosophers (ie Aristotle, Plato, etc.) and the link with New Media studies. And also a call for links on this subject, if anyone knows any.

This question came to me when I was reading ‘The Six Elements and the Causal Relations Among Them’ by Brenda Laurel. She talks about the links between Aristotle’s Poetics and Human-Computer interaction. She does give us some striking examples, like the link between characters in a play doing things “out of the blue” and a word processor with an automatic correction doing things “out of the blue” (see your T9 mobile textbook perhaps).

I’ve also blogged about Plato’s Republic and the history of the internet. And the links are quite remarkable when you read the original text by Plato. I thought I was reading the history of the internet itself, written by Plato himself. But the question is, are we seeing things they never really meant while writing? Is that even relevant? Or are we seeing patterns that dominate life through the ages? Or…?

I’m getting rather tired of people ranting on about the inferiority of text-based conversation such as MSN, ICQ, AIM, Yahoo! messenger, G-talk and IRC. The prevailing opinion seems to beFace to Face vs Instant Messaging that face to face communication is hands down superior to online text conversations, because face to face includes body language, intonation, facial expressions, physical contact and so on. The story goes that consequently there is a huge information loss during online communication because of the aforementioned features lacking in text-based conversation. Efforts to bridge this gap, like the usage of emoticons in text-based conversation, merely constitute a poor substitute.

Another notion going hand in hand with this view is the belief that it is ‘better’ that a person spends time outside of the house, meeting people face to face at bars, clubs, fraternities, sports teams and so on. I think this trend has been going on ever since television addiction became a social issue, of people ‘wasting their time’ on their own as opposed to being socially active. It is the reigning (conservative) way of viewing human contact, to a point that everyone can’t feel but a little guilty or ashamed that, when asked where you were last saturday night, you have to answer “behind the computer”.

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You should really check out Photosynth, a new piece of software which creates 3d models using regular 2d photos of a certain object, for instance San Marco square in Venice. No I’m not biased! ;-) This thing really rocks…

http://labs.live.com/photosynth/default.html

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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Partly in response to that stumper from a while back, ‘What’s a blog?’, this is another: What is interactivity?

I’ll start with the top result from a “define: interactivity” google query:

If your Web site is not interactive, it’s dead.

I really like this definition. It gives a sense of urgency – as in, “I want my website to be alive!” – without really saying anything. With its knowing inadequacy, the definition serves as a reminder that I don’t just want an interactive website, but also an interactive phone, an interactive television and of course – with every reference book I buy – a ‘free interactive CD-ROM’. The list goes on: I prefer interactivity when it comes to education, to politics, and to my social life. And more than anything else in this world, I really want an interactive pet robot.

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The Game of WarOn Thursday night Alexander Galloway, NYU assistant professor and founding member of the Radical Software Group, gave us a peak at his latest project, an online version of the Game of War.

This is a ‘remake’ of a board game created by French Situationist Guy Debord in 1978, a somewhat forgotten departure by the filmmaker and writer so closely associated with the Paris riots of 1968.

Antagonism and algorithms
Before showing the work in progress, Galloway spoke some about his interest in games research, as this relates especially to the ways games model antagonism. He asks whether these can help us think about social and political forms of conflict and struggle. Traditional games assume symmetrical forms of conflict, with two opposing sides of equal ability, but is it possible to model different forms?

Here, Galloway is thinking specifically about the distributed networks he theorized at length in his book Protocol. Such networks recall the rhizome and the radical politics of French Post-structuralism, but also describe the material organization of the Internet. If there are games that simulate the swarm-like behavior of the distributed network, do these provide any clues as to how progressive this organizational form is, or can be?

Modeling the network economy: Starcraft and World of Warcraft
Real time strategy games can be distinguished by a couple of traits: they are continuous and not turn-based, they are often played with a bird’s eye view of the action and they tend to be about resource-gathering in some form or another. For Galloway, the best example is Starcraft (image), which he discussed alongside World of Warcraft. Both of these games clearly display some of the swarm characteristics he mentions, but the key is how and why they do so. Galloway argues that simulation of the distributed network goes hand in hand with that of a different kind of economy.

As Fleur noted, cooperation on World of Warcraft depends on an engineered scarcity. It makes certain types of collaboration possible and necessary. And one can draw comparisons between, for instance, the strategies the games facilitate and the project-based work of ‘Tiger Teams’ and other post-industrial forms of labor. What the games suggest is that such distributed behavior is not an abstract, ideal form superimposed on reality, but something that emerges from specific material and economic conditions.

Galloway points out that the relationship between contemporary gaming and the network economy goes deeper than this level of ‘play’. It is no coincidence that the machines we work on also house our games: informatic labor and informatic play are continuous, meaning each can seamlessly transform into the other. And while this echoes theories about the dissolving boundaries of ‘private’ and ‘public’, Galloway’s argument stresses the materiality of this shift.

What is the effect of having such a strong connection between a medium (the Internet and gaming) and a means of production (post-Fordism)? Isn’t the multi-tasking, team-working World of Warcraft player ‘training’ to be a better ‘knowledge worker’? Maybe so, Galloway says, but this would be very different to training in a disciplinary sense. Rather, these games are about liberation and desire. They promote autonomy, even if this must be achieved paradoxically through cooperation. So instead of thinking of games as making us better workers, Galloway argues we should look at how they make us better bosses.

Guy Debord and the Game of War
In the last part of the presentation Galloway talked about Debord’s Game of War, its history and about the project to remake the game in online form (what Galloway calls “a massively two-player online game”).

Here is the original version of the game, which Debord brought out in limited edition, fine silver:

The Game of War

Game of War is strangely traditional: it resembles chess in that the board is square and there are two evenly matched opponents, each with the same set of class-based pieces. However, there are also some twists. On the one hand, the board has an uneven topology, with mountain ranges and immobile defensive forts, and on the other there is a strong emphasis on keeping pieces within lines of communication with command centers, or ‘arsenals’ (the communication lines are visible in the online version). In short, not all squares are created equally, and the degree to which a particular area of the board is strategic changes throughout the game.

Alexander Galloway’s java version of the Game of War, which is not finished quite yet:

The Game of War

Debord wrote that he first came up with the idea for the game in the 1950s, and that it “embodied the dialectic of all conflict”. He was fascinated by it, and saw it as an abstraction and perfection of war. Some now go so far as to say it was his most autobiographical work, though it has received considerably less attention than his films and writings. But Galloway says this is changing, and Debord’s game is especially interesting from the perspective of New Media and Game studies.

Game of War leaves behind some questions. Why would a filmmaker like Debord turn to the politics of the algorithm? Given his involvement in the radical politics of the 1960s, what sense did it make to privilege the strategic and logistical aspects of such a game, when he could have developed something more along the lines of the rhizome? In an age of asymmetric warfare, why the fascination with something so symmetrical? Perhaps the Game of War has a surprising move or two waiting to be discovered.

(Photographs courtesy of Anne, see also her summary of Galloway’s presentation)

Introduction

Yesterday the workshop, this morning the start of the two-day “Video Vortex – responses to YouTube”, an international conference organized by the Institute of Network Cultures at PostCS11, Amsterdam. A good crowd fills the hall at the 11th floor of the ex- Dutch postal service building, all waiting for the first session to kick off. When everyone has found a seat, Geert Lovink opens the session and the two-day conference has started.
Video Vortex: opening session Friday January 18
[all photos by Anne Helmond]

This session covers, as the program booklet states, the YouTube era we’re living now, where video content is produced bottom-up with emphasis on participation, sharing and community networking. But as companies like Flickr being consumed by Yahoo, YouTube by Google, the question rises what the future is for the production and distribution of independent online video content. How can a participatory culture achieve a certain degree of autonomy and diversity outside mass media? What is the artistic potential of video database and online filmmaking?

Tom Sherman @ Video Vortex
Tom Sherman
The first to speak is Tom Sherman. Sherman is an artist and writer and professor in the Department of Transmedia at Syracuse University in central New York. He has represented Canada at the Venice Biennale, performs and records with the group Nerve Theory, and received the Bell Canada Award for excellence in video art in 2003. His most recent book is Before and after the I-Bomb: an Artist in the Information Environment (Banff Centre Press, 2002).

Vernacular Video

In his presentation, Sherman gives a nice overview of the forty years of “video evolution”, in which video art has lived many lives. Born out of television, video decentralized this medium by allowing consumers to electronically capture, record, process, store, and reconstruct a sequence of still images. The evolution of video has been fuelled not only by this capturing and storing, but also by the development of display techniques of which the future will bring us thinner displays (as thick as paper), which makes the ubiquity of displays possible (video watches, videophone (iPhone)), etc.). Distribution and exhibition of video is transformed into file sharing and transmission.

Is video a tool or an art medium? According to Sherman it is both. Video can be an art medium, just as it is used for video conferencing, video dating, video surveillance, video gaming etc. So video art is a way in which the “tool” video is being used.

In the late 60-ies, video was a process not a product. You’d capture the moment, analyze this in the initial playback, and then re-record over it. Videotape is not television (VT = not TV), but now with the overwhelming online video that is available, and people watching tv-episodes online next to “home made” videos, television is loosing its higher ground. As in many forms of art, video art as an art based on aesthetics is now in a period when “life waltzes over it”, like a tsunami, depriving it (perhaps) of its aesthetics, its rules.
As Sherman is talking about the history of video art, he shows that video art has had a repeated near death experience, as it is difficult at times in its 40 year existence to commodify and only kept alive by the following ongoing life support systems:
– Educational institutions
– Festivals
– Museums and galleries
– Television network cable and the web
– Video publishing
– Collectors
– Governments and foundations
– Nightclubs music video and video culture hybrids

Video Art vs Vernacular Video: art becomes conservative

Video Art started the development of its aesthetics (internal logic, set of rules for making it) as a response to television. It was then avant garde. But with the rise of vernacular video (peoples video from their points of view), video art seems to attach itself firmly to traditional visual art, media and cinematic history in attempts to distinguish itself from the broader media culture. Video art becomes “rear garde”, it becomes conservative.

The characteristics of vernacular video (according to Sherman):
– Displayed recordings will continue to be shorter and shorter like tv and advertising
– Use of canned music will prevail
– Video diaries will become important, voice over will replace writing
– More road films, travelogues
– More extreme films

Where Video art “is” aesthetic, Sherman sees vernacular video as anesthetic: we don’t follow rules with recording. As said, video art was response to television, now the Internet is replacing TV, thus video art will be a response to the web.

Read Sherman’s article Vernacular Video.

Rosemary Comella @ Video Vortex
Rosemary Comella

The second speaker is Rosemary Comella who has been working since 2000 as a researcher, project director, interface designer and programmer at the Labyrinth Project. As part of Labyrinth, she developed the interface for Tracing the Decay of Fiction, a collaborative project between experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill and the Labyrinth team, and she helped direct The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Current of the River, an interactive installation with filmmaker Peter Forgács. She also developed Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles, an interactive installation and DVD-ROM, in collaboration with cultural historian Norman Klein and the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Germany. She directed and served as photographer for Cultivating Pasadena: From Roses to Redevelopment, an installation and DVD-ROM, including catalog, exhibited at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in 2005. Comella is currently creative director for ‘Jews in the Golden State: A Home-Grown History of Immigration and Identity’, a public on-line archive and museum installation that hopes to illuminate one hundred and fifty years of Jewish history in California through a visually engaging project that invites users to supplement official history with their own histories and memories using text, home movies, photographs and ephemera.

Home-Grown History

In her presentation Comella put emphasis on the relation between narrativity and the database. As content on YouTube seems rather chaotic, a role for artists is to create order out of this chaos in picking and choosing, editing and shaping an anti-thesis of YouTube with discipline spaces that are coherent. Many of Comella’s projects have been participatory but in a more disciplined way. Participation of specialists and non-specialists.

Comella shows some of her work, of which two I will mention here. The first is a project she made in collaboration with Pat O’Neil, known for his participatory-style work, called “Tracing the Decay of Fiction”. The interface of the interactive DVD let’s you navigate through the rooms of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It contains the now locked ballroom where Sirhan Bishara Sirhan assassinated Bobby Kennedy. J. Edgar Hoover, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes, Jean Harlow, John Barrymore and Gloria Swanson once lived there, and with this DVD you can see footage that was shot over the last 30 years (numerous movies and scenes have been shot there). For generations of moviegoers and television consumers, these names and events have seeped into our consciousness, have become our memories.

Another project is called Home-Grown History. It is a software tool that is being developed at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, in collaboration with a number of partners. The Home-Grown History, software concept stems from earlier projects that combine personal and public archives to visually and aurally represent cultural histories of a particular place over time. In this latest incarnation, the software will be applied to the project Jews in the Golden State: a Home-grown History of Immigration and Identity that will work both as an on-line archive and traveling museum installation. The tool and concept can easily be applied to other communities. The concept is to facilitate the creation of a profound social space and structure for encouraging a productive dialogue between personal stories and public histories, in a way that will be useful and pleasurable to both the academic historian and the general public.

Florian Schneider @ Video Vortex
Florian Schneider

This session ended with a presentation by Florian Schneider, a filmmaker who has been involved in a wide range of projects that deal with the implications of postmodern border regimes on both a theoretical and practical level, over the past ten years. He is one of the initiators of the campaign Kein Mensch ist Illegal at documenta X in 1997 and subsequent projects such as the Noborder Network and the online platform kein.org. He developed and co-organized several events, including Makeworld (2001) and Borderline Academy (2005). Currently Schneider is working on Imaginary Property, a series of texts, films and video installations researching the question: “What does it mean to own an image?” He has lectured at museums, galleries, art academies and conferences worldwide. Since 2006 he has taught art theory at the art academy KIT in Trondheim and he is a member of the PhD program “research architecture” at Goldsmiths College, London.

Imaginary Property

Schneider gave a very good, yet very long presentation of which I will try to give a summary here. After the talk, Schneider promised me to put the transcript of his lecture on nettime somewhere next week, so make sure to read it (and check my summary for mistakes;)

The summary: Digitization of our ‘lives’ has irrevocably changed our image of ownership, and property. Self and ownership have a whole new arithmetic. Was the old, bourgeois conception of property characterized by anonymity and objectivity, (the relation between you and the object you may or may not own), today’s immaterial production, digital reproduction, and networked distribution create the need for property relations to be made visible in order to be enforced (now the relationship between you and property has changed to you and other users who can play with these images). We need to believe that property is still around in order for capitalism to work.

Property exists first of all as imagery (logo’s, branding, images as someone else’s property) and rapidly becomes a matter of imagination. A contrary way of reading “imaginary property” could also be understood as the expression of a certain form of possession or ownership of imaginaries: It opens up to the question: “What does it mean to own an image”?

Schneider sees a problem in the massive expropriation of images that is presented to us as web2.0: as soon as you upload, you sign the agreement to give the rights to a corporation. This massive expropriation is a response to p2p networks (they basically do the same) But what is at stake here? Ownership. The new imaginary ownership: replace ‘intellectual property’ with ‘imaginary property’, and see what happens then…

Restaurant/sleeping compartmentFinally, after a 24 hour delay due to an annual trade fair in Guangzhou I am on my way to Shanghai. While listening to the snoring of my opposite bunk bed neighbor, smelling the noodles of the next door restaurant compartment and watching the rice fields blended with factories pass by, I will summarize some of my experiences and findings so far.

My research started in Hong Kong where I stayed for 4 days. Back home I had arranged a meeting with some legal experts that have been consulting prominent foreign IT companies operating in China. During an extensive dim sum lunch they told me a lot about the current possibilities or rather restrictions that Chinese companies with international ambitions have. It is difficult especially for the smaller companies to expand overseas because it is rather hard to get money out of the country unless you are in a joint venture or listed in a different country. An interesting remark that one of the legal experts made, was:

“The Chinese government is only capable of making restrictions, it is simply too busy to encourage companies to go international”

The 3rd day of my stay in Hong Kong after meeting several experts and people that could possibly help me with some relevant guangxi (connections), I realized that I needed to have some business cards made. Naturally this is very easy to arrange in Hong Kong. In a back alley somewhere in Central my cards where finished within a day. The next morning it was time to head off to Shenzhen where I could proudly present myself as being an official ‘New Media Researcher’.

QQ In Shenzhen I had set up appointments with Tencent’s Richard Chang, Technology Strategist U.S.Office, Tristan Han, Sr. Product Manager International Product Center, and Thijs Terlouw, a Dutch developer working at Tencent’s innovation center. Tencent is one of China’s biggest Internet service portals. One of Tencent’s most popular products, QQ, an instant messaging platform, is used by tens of millions of Chinese Internet users. Furthermore Tencent offers community aplications, search services and game oriented products.

After a 1 hour drive from the center of Shenzhen where I was staying, I arrived at the Shenzhen High-Tech Industrial Park (SHIP) where Tencent’s head office is located. After Thijs showed me around on his department and blew me away with some of the new applications he is currently working on, it was time to start my interview with Richard and Tristan.

Tristan started by providing me with a brief overview of all international activities of Tencent till now. This was all very interesting, but the reason for my visit was to find out more about the future international developments of Tencent! After enquiring about this, Triston was surprisingly open and told me among others, that Tencent is planning on expanding its activities in Vietnam, India, Thailand, HK, Macau, South Afrika, Japan, Indonesia, the U.S., and in the near future also Eastern Europe. To avoid possible cultural differences for certain applications Tencent makes use of a distinct strategy for every single country it is planning on entering.

Because of the length of this post, but also because I don’t want to disclose too much information of my thesis results I will sum up a few of the more general findings I did during my visit.

– There seems to be a gap or indifference in the amount of people that play games in Asia and in Western countries.
– This gap is resonating through into the culture of applications: Asian applications are heavily influenced by gaming culture, such as collecting icons, dressing avatars, or earning activity points. In the West this is only starting to catch on.
– In general online entertainment is more advanced in Asian countries when compared to the West. In China this is probably due to the relatively low age of Internet users. Western Internet use tends to be more focussed on obtaining information.
– Since the US and European IM market is already mature, Tencent will use a strategy that is primarely focussed on cooperation with local companies and mainly focussed to gaming.
– Tencent will unlikely go international with its mobile services – very popular and in China – because the Chinese technology differs too much compared to other countries; “it is a unique technology” developed by the government (China Mobile).
– Richard Chang has launched internal innovation contests; employees can send all their ideas and win money. Thijs told me that in general the management is very open to new innovative ideas, creativity is encouraged.

These are only a few outcomes of the very interesing interview and tour. An interview that ended with Tristan showing me a roadmap of all Tencent’s international innitiatives, unfortunately I was not allowed to take a picture of this!

Before saying goodbye Tristan showed off one final application: QQ Pet and during loading he tells me

“I haven’t started QQ Pet because in our meeting it will die!”

Nationalistic QQ PetTalking about increasing the engagement level…… Feeding a QQ Pet will cost special QQ coins that can be obtained through special QQ cards. You can buy these cards almost everywhere including post offices, kiosks, software stores, Internet cafes, supermarkets, convenience stores, and so on. Read more about it here.

In general I was truly blown away by the level of innovation, the emphasis on employee created innovation, but also the determination of Tencent’s employees. Also the company culture an atmosphere came across as relax, with stuffed QQ animals and ping pong tables everywhere. After the tour and interview I had lunch with Thijs and his girlfriend (who also works for Tencent). We talked about the companies culture and how Thijs likes working in Shenzhen for a much lower wage than most developers in the Netherlands.

Shenzhen High-Tech Industrial ParkAt 14:00 I had set up a meeting with a government official in charge of international relations of SHIP. After the lunch I headed off to the Virtual University that was located just 15 minutes down the road. I will not discuss this meeting too extensively. All I can say is that it felt as if I was an important international investor; a huge boardroom was prepared with luxurious sofa sized chairs and plenty of drinks and snacks.

After being overloaded with a bag filled with 2 kilos of background information (unfortunately most of it in Chinese), and the usual exchange of business cards (two hands!) I was able to briefly interview, Li Xiaodong, SHIP’s international spokesperson, only an hour before a big Korean delegation was expected in an even bigger boardroom next door.

We mainly talked about the international future of the park, encouraging innovation domestically and some other relevant topics. When the Koreans started pouring in it was time for me to leave. I had to catch a train to Guangzhou where I had set up a dinner meeting with an American entrepreneur that consults foreign companies on SEO (for Baidu) and Internet marketing in China.

Un till now my research trip has been very satisfying and I have already gained a deep insight in the situation. I am looking forward to visit more Chinese web companies in Shanghai and Beijing to find out how they are taking on the future!

I would like to conclude this post with a typical remark that Li made:

“in technology we have to follow for now, but we will dominate”

Unfortunately for some very mysterious reason I am not able to access my thesis blog in China. But not to worry, I have been invited by Gang Lu to write about my experiences on his MObinoDE blog, expect some posts there soon!

<update> Please read more about my Tencent visit at MobinoDE! – Pieter-Paul (added: 22/04/08) </update>

A few weeks ago I created a Facebook pseudonym in order to follow the News Feed of the real “Chris Castiglione”. Too often I hear stories from friends who hadn’t realized that by default Facebook broadcasts almost every update anyone makes to an account. Most notably when friends unknowingly transmit a relationship status messages (e.g. “Chris is no longer single”) or try to call out sick from work. I wanted to know what information Facebook was displaying to my friends, so I’ve been using a test account to see how well the privacy settings on Facebook actually work.

Recently, I uploaded my old photos onto my Facebook account. As I uploaded each album, I “deleted” it from the wall feed on my profile page assuming that it would also remove it from my friends’ News Feed. Yet, regardless of my effort to remove the “story”, my friends were inundated with over 10 notifications about my various photo albums! (And the same goes for deleting events, videos, joining groups or any “story” transmitted via the News Feed).

Facebook News Feed Privacy

Facebook News Feed Privacy

Similar issues have been brought up regarding the “hide story” feature that existed in “Old Facebook“. The current “New Facebook” that launched in September has a new design, a new enhanced interface, and new ideas for how to mislead users.

It has only been two years since Facebook implemented the News Feed, and a lot has changed on the internet regarding how we view our own privacy. Early issues concerning the Facebook News Feed were noted back in 2006 by danah boyd in her article “Privacy Trainwreck” where she was concerned with the amount of information we share with friends on the internet. She notes the new confusion and the “icky” feeling that comes from this new sense of exposure, or as others see it invasion.

But like I said, a lot has happened in two years, we’ve become more comfortable sharing our personal lives, and most days I’m Twittering, FriendFeed-ing and Pownce-ing my life to strangers. So… why am I so shocked and upset about Facebook sharing my “stories”? Because it feels like an icky invasion of privacy. Now when I use Facebook I feel like I’m being watched by someone else who is the same room and recording all my actions. I’m much more hesitant to click or update my settings nervous that Facebook could be announcing it to everyone without my knowledge.

The major problem with the Facebook News Feed is that most people have little knowledge of how it works. boyd has refers to this as “Facebook’s ‘opt-out’ precedent”. Citing that Facebook continuously imposes new defaults unbeknown to the user with the defense that users can “opt-out”. boyd goes on, “Given what I’ve learned from interviewing teens and college students over the years, they have *no* idea that these changes are taking place (until an incident occurs).”

I think the bottom line is that Facebook – as the industry leader – needs to be more transparent with what is being done with our data! If I “delete” one of my stories, then (of course) intuitively it should “delete” everywhere.

There are a few Facebook groups that have been raising awareness: Students against Facebook News Feed and Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy! But perhaps if you really want to be safe then the old adage about abstinence is truly the safest. Of course we could stop using Facebook all together, but maybe that is a bit extreme. So instead here is how you can completely opt-out broadcasting to the News Feed:

How to Opt-Out of Facebook’s News Feed

1. Go to “settings -> privacy settings” at the top of your account.
2. Choose “News Feed and Wall”
3. Opt-out of all these boxes on the left. Save. Then click on “Edit Application” there on the right.

Facebook Out-out News Feed

4. Once you come to the application screen you’ll need to click “Edit” and select “Never publish any stories….” for each application.
Facebook Out-out News Feed 2

Wikipedia is widely known as an online text dictionary. At the same time visuals are hardly used. Since it has been founded in 2001, not much has changed in the appearance of the pages.

The editors are generally well schooled and used the same way of defining their entries. I rather call them ‘text/code readers’. They generate the major contents on Wikipedia with textual information with little visual support. On one hand they contribute expertise on the WWW, on the other hand this knowledge amounts to a lack of visibly attractive elements to the big population of the Internet users.

There are about 740,000 Wikipedist globally [1], and more than 300,000,000 active users on Facebook [2]. The number shows the popularity of two revolutionary web 2.0 sites obviously, but what is the key factor for the numerical difference between Wiki and Facebook?

As we commonly reckon, the unique advantages of digital platform are not only instant deliver, widespread and interaction, but also multi-media. What make Internet far more appealing than textbook? Easy approach to endless information in various formats: text, image, sound, flash and video. You may easily get bored of the 20-page essay, but you can hardly leave Myspace with countless videos from all over the world. Here we are not just talking about the visually attracted teenagers, we also refer to adults. One Facebook user analysis reveals that the percentage of elder-age groups between 25-34 and above 35 is increasing by year. [3] Maybe this is not convincing enough for Facebook’s core function as social network, let us see YouTube. The age of an average YouTuber is 27, with 20% being 35 or older. By the way, Nielsen NetRatings suggested that one-third of YouTube’s audience is over 45. [4]

Yes, Picture Era is now. From what I know, Navify, branded itself as multimedia encyclopedia has already launched [5]. Though Wikipedia is now publishing its beta version, which offers relatively more modern interface, it is far from engaging the rest of the world to join the wonderful journey of sharism. Is Wikipedia forcefully going against the trend? They seem to have reason to go.

navify

Navify’s interface combining the function of Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, and commentary.

-Legality. Wikipedia greatly respects copyrights. As it clarifies “do not quote more than a couple of sentences of text from anywhere, and document any references you do use. You can copy material that you are sure is in the public domain, but even for public domain material you should still document your source.” [6] It works for text easier than images or videos. Because visuals are external and independent, even you are the drawer of your illustration you can’t assume everyone knows but to prove the external visual attachment is under your copyright, since all self-published work must have been licensed by their creators before they are uploaded. What is more, legal issues are complex. Image copyright laws vary from country to country.

-Technique. Needless to say that for common users, to type some words is much more approachable than to draw a picture by computer. Creating an image or a video requires certain skills, tools, and of course, time and efforts. ‘The following elements affect image contribution: 1. Equipment, 2. Image storage, 3. Image reusability, and 4. Image editing.” [7]

-Source. There are mainly two sources for visual references: self-published and public domain sources. As noted above, for publishing, some skill is required. Public domain is normally the first choice. Scanning from public readings is also allowed. However, it is largely inconvenient to double-check the validity of each reference you shall use for editing Wikipedia. The consumption of knowledge, time and energy on the proof of source becomes a barrier for a good number of grassroot users.

However, Wikipedia is not the only website confronting these problems. Besides objective causes, Wikipedia itself also has its responsibilities on the present status. With the academic look and feel of their module and organizational structure, Wikipedia intends to prevent from the so-called amateurs to participate. Meanwhile, from the homepage to the user pages there is nothing to catch the attention of a 13-year-old kid. Their text-oriented interface compared with any other well-known web 2.0 network is with no doubt not user-friendly. The lack of delicate consideration of design and layout increases the irritation of over-load information.

Before we name Wikipedia the symbol of user-generated knowledge and icon of new democracy, we’d better think twice. There are still a lot of limitation and questions in Wikipedia. To see it positively, there is big space to improve for this international encyclopaedia to really become universal, meaning to cross culture, age, intelligence, etc. Possible solutions are discussed below.

-Set up association with the main video and image provider. In terms of video, Youtube for international, Hulu for America, Youku for China, etc. For images, websites like Flickr can provide wealth of photograph source and Ffffound with continuous updates of high quality work by illustrators/designers. Legal issues can therefore be carried by multiple communities and the ability for Wikipedia to deal with copyrights will then be strengthened.

-Visual database should be constructed on a global level under the management of Wikipedia. Users with visual creating capability or legal access to existing visual resource can contribute their collections for the free use of any Wikipedist.

-Interface of Wikipedia should be designed with stronger graphic support and for the benefits of users, a bit fun and creativity. Also there is an intensive ignorance of contributors’ characteristics. If there can be slightly more freedom to present the users’ individuality, Wikipedia should to able to draw interests to wider potential members.

The endeavor to make Wikipedia a better-visualized platform is so far very little notable. It claims great professional knowledge on visual communication, legality, technology, psychology, etc, and not to forget: passion. It is worthy to believe that Wikipedia can become as tempting as those mass popular networks.

[1] Tables Wikipedians Contributors
http://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediansContributors.htm
[2] Facebook Statistics
http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
[3] Facebook Users Up 89% Over Last Year; Demographic Shift
http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/07/06/facebook-users-up-89-over-last-year-demographic-shift/
[4] Are You an Average YouTube User?
http://mashable.com/2006/10/30/are-you-an-average-youtube-user/
[5] Navify=Wiki+Flickr+YouTube?
http://www.watblog.com/2009/06/16/navify-wikiflickryoutube/
[6] Wikipedia: Your first article
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Make_a_page
[7] The Visual Side of Wikipedia, Fernanda B. Viegas

The Dutch organization Buma Stemra, monopolist in collecting copyright-remuneration for artists, announced a new price-plan today. In it’s brochure Buma Stemra proudly explains the model which starts at the 1st of January 2010. Although the brochure isn’t really clear, it comes to this: embedding 6 videos will cost a blogger 130 euro a year, 30 video’s will cost 650 euro. For company’s (with sales above 6500 euro a year) the price will be even higher.

buma stemra fair playIt’s totally vague how Buma will use this price-plan in practice. Bloggers with embedded video’s will receive a warning-letter from Buma first. Buma told the VPRO small blogs are not their first priority. (So you don’t have to delete your videos immediately ;-)). But what Buma treats as small remains unclear. I’m also not totally sure about what will be seen as a Dutch weblog. Hosting your website in another country seem to be not enough. It is also questionable how Buma will charge big websites like Hyves, and Blogger.nl (and what about Blogspot?). If these organizations will be charged for all the embedded video’s uses post, they will probably delete or prohibit this functionality at all. The technical aspect seem to be a problem too. To search for embedded video’s in source-code is not hard, but how do you determine what music is used (and what about remixed content?).

The blogo- and Twittersphere responded furious[i][ii][iii][iv] and question if the Dutch-law allow remuneration for embedded content at all[v]. If you would like to protest against this proposal you can this here or here , or you can also help Bits of Freedom writing a letter. Political party CDA already made a statement against the plan of Buma Stemra.

I’m personally curious how other countries and organizations like Buma Stemra see (and charge) embedded video (and other content)? Maybe the foreign MoM students can tell something about it? Will it have impact on the blogosphere at all, or will we deny it at large? Will be continued for sure…

P.s. Sorry for al the Dutch links, I hope Google Translate is your friend.


[i]http://www.marketingfacts.nl/berichten/20091002_BumaStemra_melkt_blogs_verder_uit/

[ii] http://webwereld.nl/nieuws/63859/buma-maakt-muziek-embedden-onbetaalbaar.html

[iii] http://3voor12.vpro.nl/artikelen/artikel/42560165

[iv] http://news.google.com/news?client=safari&rls=en&q=buma&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&hl=nl&tab=wn

[v] http://tweakers.net/nieuws/62829/rekening-buma-voor-embedded-content-blijkt-juridisch-discutabel.html

There’s a lot to be said about Twitter and alike, even though few have done so from a humanities perspective. Today, I would like to pose some thoughts that might inspire more new media researchers to move forward in this field.

In 1977 Foucault wrote a book called ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ in which he describes how we’re moving from a disciplinary to a control society. One interesting part of that book is when Foucault describes the working of Panopticism, in which he sees the way disciplinary societies work.

A Panopticon is a type of prison where the guard is able to see all prisoner activity from a singular location, although he does not need to do so all the time. The main idea behind this is that the prisoners are aware of the fact that the guard is able to watch their every movement at every moment but that they are unable to tell when exactly they are being watched. According to Jeremy Bentham, who designed the Panopticon in 1785, this gives “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind.

Bluntly put, the panopticon prison model establishes control by presuming the prisoners will adjust their behavior to proper norms because of the possibility they are being watched. Even though they may not actually be watched at a specific moment and are unsure of the watchers attention for them, they can’t ‘take the chance’ so to say and will fall in line automatically. Well, in theory that is.

Foucault uses this panopticon model to describe how institutions like school, churches, the army or factory’s in modern day disciplinary societies operate. Here, the interesting question is how the ‘gaze’ of the few control the actions of many.

To me it seems that the popular microblogging service Twitter follows a similar yet slightly different model. In Twitter there is strictly speaking no single human watcher who watches all. The system itself is of course capable of surveillance, but let’s save that topic for another time. What is present in Twitter, or most microblogging platforms for that matter, is a number of ‘followers’ or ‘friends’ who subscribed to your status updates.

Followers create an omnipresent ‘gaze-like’ feeling because you’re never quite sure whether they are following your actions. They might (the term ‘follower’ implies this much) but considering the decentralized nature of conversations on Twitter and the ridiculous amount of tweets by some users it’s understandable this might not always be the case. You can’t be entirely sure, so you assume it’s possible you’re being watched.

Now the difference between Twitter and a Panopticon is that Twitter is not a prison, obviously. Twitter is a platform you voluntarily use (not counting work-enforced usage of course) to tell the world what you’re doing in 140 characters. Still, it is interesting to set aside this difference for a moment and think about how this ‘inversed panoptican’ model might help us better understand the way users use Twitter and how we can best research this phenomenon.

To me, it seems quite likely that users present an ideal self-image to the world trough Twitter. So it’s not actually a ‘real’ person we are talking to, nor a ‘digital frozen copy’ of someone. In stead we see a sophisticated avatar; someone who is playing with their own identity in a complicated way.

Let’s say this would be something worth researching in more detail. Which theorists would you recommend? Any ideas on specific research methodology’s that are suitable for research into this field?

‘Problems are not a monopoly of the South and solutions are not a monopoly of the North’[1]. Particularly the latter part of this quote struck me, since within many studies on developmental aid and ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) prevails the idea that the solutions will come from the north, that is, from the developed countries. However, the (technological) inequality, often called the digital divide, is a consequence of the increasing (digital) technologies in developed countries. Ironically we are now trying to solve this problem with the same technology that has caused the inequality in the first place, upholding the idea that ‘our’ western solutions are the most appropriate.

The problem is that the digital divide is not only a matter of unequal distribution of technology; it is a complicated economic, social and political issue, whereof the rules need to be changed before actual development and the fight against inequality can be accomplished. ICTs do not play a determining role in this process. To my opinion we should move beyond the idea to use ICTs for societal and economical development and first start to focus on its potential to locally improve the lives of excluded and on how it can bring about social transformation for a particular user. Thereby we should rethink questions such as ‘what does it mean to be digitally included and what are the advantages for the to be included?’ or ‘to what state of being should we strive in the process of digital inclusion?’ and it is of great importance and interest to observe how cultural and social values and characteristics are reflected in the local appropriation and use of technology, instead of simply overloading the excluded with the newest (western) ICTs.

In Brazil, a country that has embraced FLOSS and adapted government policy on copyrights (see RIP, a Remix Manifesto), many projects and initiatives (governmental and non-governmental) aim at digitally and socially including marginalized groups by offering them access to digital technologies, e.g. cybercafés, school labs offering free computer access, etc. Several projects based on the same principle, which are widely spread throughout the country, use alternative technology to achieve social transformation for marginalized groups and minorities whereby digital inclusion goes beyond simply providing access to excluded groups, but tends to ‘improve’ the quality of their lives.

Those initiatives work from a bottom-up process, encouraging the excluded to develop their own ICTs independently from western interests. An example is the project called MetaReciclagem, which teaches and stimulate users to remanufacture hardware and garbage to create appropriate technology that runs free and open source software, pursuing a participative methodology for education, social engagement and innovation[2]. They argue that digital inclusion does not consist of simply providing access to the Internet and it, in that manner, will certainly not enhance social engagement and innovation; neither does it close the digital divide.

Instead of teaching a user how to co-op with basic ICTs, they rather stimulate the formation of people who can create technologies that are appropriate to their values, norms and cultural beliefs, and which improve the quality of their lives and the life within the local communities eventually[3].

One of the basic principles of the initiative is the stimulation of entrepreneurship, self-management and the creation of mini-companies and corporations, thus encouraging autonomic communities. The use of alternative appropriated technology and FLOSS should encourage and complete this process. They learn how to create something they actually ‘need’, something that fulfils their needs, based on the philosophy of the ‘free movement’; creating free technologies and software, independent from western hard and software companies and their licenses on intellectual property and in a sense circumventing the capitalist logic of the Internet. Therefore, the (re)use of garbage and hardware and FLOSS play an essential role within this project and thus distinguishes the initiative from many other attempts to achieve digital inclusion.

The project is broadly applied in Brazil for over five years now, and I think it is time to answer the above questions in order to move on within the general debate on digital inclusion, which has, to my opinion, come to and ever repeating ‘everybody needs to be connected’, and for those who claim that digital inclusion is nothing more then ‘digital capitalism looking South’ the main argument remains that ‘FLOSS is the solution’. However, there is a lack of case studies done on the appropriation of alternative technologies and the way in which social transformation and self-autonomy is achieved within the process of digital inclusion. It is, therefore, of great importance that we reconsider the above questions, locally, instead of speculating how to bring those excluded into ‘our space’, that is, the space of the included. A case study on one of the bases of the MetaReciclagem project, called Projeto Puraqué, located in the south of the Amazon, will hopefully bring me new perspectives on the digital inclusion debate.


[1] http://community.eldis.org/?13@256.eKNPcBfe85q@.598d3322!discLoc=.598d54eb, accessed on 29/11/2009

[2] Felipe Fonseca – Sica – Mapping e-culture in Brazil (2008)

[3] Interview with co-founder Felipe Fonseca

De Balie’s Electrosmog festival this week argues that in the age of hypermobility, staying put can be a tactic of sustainability in itself. The festival self-consciously explores the ways we might reduce our carbon footprint by substituting technology for physical presence. Implementing a ‘no fly’ rule, the festival links panelists and performers around the world via live internet stream or, for anyone in Amsterdam, on LCD screens at De Balie’s theater room.

But the carbon traces of the hypermobile are a mess made by only a few – most people on this planet can’t afford to travel even if they wanted to. For many the Internet substitutes as the portal to the rest of the world. Yesterday’s panel “E-mobility versus Immobility” acknowledged this and discussed the challenges specific to online terrains, where the problems aren’t gas-guzzling engines, but surveillance and censorship. Online activists especially are too often unaware of the digital footprints they leave behind them, and in some countries this can have serious consequences.

To publicize this threat, Global Voices has created Threatened Voices, “a collaborative mapping project to build a database of bloggers who have been threatened, arrested, or killed.”  Their advocacy director Sami Gharbia presented the online map over video chat. As a crowd sourcing platform, anyone can submit a report to add a dot on the map, or can link to grassroots campaigns aiding specific cyber activists. The map ties to a time-line visualization of arrests, typically spiking around election cycles. This data “helps us understand where and why bloggers have been repressed,” said Gharbia, “and helps them prepare a strategy to predict this.” But could this visibility only make them more vulnerable, asked Eric Kluitenberg, the festival’s director? Gharbia explained that Global Voices first contacts the family to ask if they can make case public. Also many bloggers are happy to have their stories told and possibly picked up by mainstream media, putting more foreign pressure on their countries.

Laurent Giocobino from Sesawe, next presented a book called Circumvention Tools, a freely downloadable floss manual on how to bypass censorship. The book addresses users’ naivety about online filtering and surveillance; its counter tactics include hiding IP addresses or installing web proxies. The manual, downloaded 9000 times already, comes in Chinese, Burmese, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian translations.

Tactical Tech, a tech NGO helping human rights advocates, also wrote an anti-censorship manual called “Security in a Box.” It teaches you to build “a secure digital presence,” said Ali Ravi who presented the booklet, and also fosters an online community of users who constantly update its information. And like FLOSS’s Circumvention Tools, it’s generally useful for anyone who wants to track their online data or route around surveillance.

The rest of the presentation unfolded as a debate about the overall effectiveness of these interventions. Reinder Rustema, an activist himself who took part in Amsterdam’s publicly funded Digital City project in the 90s, responded with skepticism. Rustema criticized the Internet as a politically weak tool and shifted the emphasis from protecting individual freedoms and online privacy to the more ambitious project of regime change. He mentioned the ebullient 90s, when activists thought the Net could overthrow governments, only to realize that mass mobilization wasn’t possible through web-only campaigns.  His concern is that bloggers and e-activists stay in the margins, while “the thing is to reach mass public…We need to a hijack TV station. Overthrowing regimes is difficult and requires a lot of people, even millions to get anywhere.” At the end of the day, only states can “flip the switch” and demand telecomms to do things their way, so if activists really want to protect privacy, they need install new laws through the court system.

Gharbia countered that government censorship of social websites or deep packet inspection is itself an indication that states fear the internet. Also, the web is changing citizen behavior – look at the youth in the Middle East, China, and Iran who are accustomed to expressing themselves with computers.  “If you take away their freedom to publish what they want, or use video sharing websites, they would protest. There is a theory about this, that people who not politically active will be when they face censorship.”

According to Ravi, what matters isn’t regime overhaul at all, but the empowerment of individuals. “In post election in Iran, people have said they would have died if someone outside had not heard about it. The purpose of Twitter and Facebook isn’t to mobilize masses, and that’s not possible, but for the empowerment of four or five people who know the outside world knows…Governments want to marginalize activists by saying their voice doesn’t exist. It’s an existential empowerment, as opposed to a blanketing media power.”

And sometimes the Internet publicizes information that could never wind up on the radio or TV, pointed out Giocobino, such as a women’s rights campaign in Iran petitioning for relaxed clothing laws. Menso Heus, also on the panel and a consultant on internet innovation and hacking, said the notion that the internet could bring down a regime was certainly naive, but so is thinking the mass media could do the same. Instead, internet resistance should be viewed as a small signal letting people know they’re not alone. “In the second World War, for instance, the voice of underground was always repressed, but it was still important. During the Iran election, the mainstream news in the West would have dropped coverage much sooner if it weren’t for the persistence of online media hype.”

To conclude, Kluitenberg evoked Lyotard’s call to “open all the databases,” something the 01.org art project put into practice with their Life Sharing project by converting their private computers into servers, exposing their life’s minutiae, social security numbers and all, to the web. Can total openness be another kind of resistance? “What’s important,” insisted Ali, at the close of the session, “is that the choice between anonymity and transparency isn’t removed.”  Ideally we’d have it all.

Introduction

Imagine yourself in the following situation: You, a scientist pur sang, are busy researching and analyzing A and you are having doubts about the values in the model, suspecting a technical error. Without hesitation, you compose a tweet describing the research and the problem, attach a photo made of the model, add a hashtag (e.g. #science or #labhelp) and send it to Twitter.  A few moments later six people have replied with an answer and your problem is solved.

While this looks like a fairytale, computation in general has become more and more embedded and is starting to play a fundamental role in science in the last couple of years. Scientists have always been among the first to adopt and use new communication technologies into their field of work; technologies such as wiki’s, e-mail and instant messaging (Sonnenwald, 2007).

It can be said that computation in the field of science will become even bigger, due to the new upcoming generation of “social media-scientists”: scientists who grew up in the age of Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter, and who are used to collaborate and communicate globally online.  Not only do our “future scientists” already generate an enormous amount of data, also referred to as the data tsunami[1], but will only continue to increase this amount, since more forms of collaboration with social media are appearing.

While more data isn´t necessarily always better data, James Surowiecki argues that we are now living in the age of “the wisdom of the crowds”. Here, the larger the group of people collaborating and communicating is, the better the results will be. A classic scenario of one and one is three.

Wisdom of the scientific crowd

There are currently already a few tools that are providing in the creation of collective wisdom, making possible scientific collaborations through (social) media. A first group of examples can be seen in the rise of collaborative analysis tools such as IBM´s Many Eyes and Chartle. Here, people create graphs and charts of big amounts of data and are able to share and discuss them with others. By first choosing a dataset, a user can then choose a visualization, customize it and then publish it to the internet for everyone to see [2].

A second, better known example is Wikipedia: a collaborative digital encyclopedia launched in 2001 by Jimmy Wales. At the moment of writing the English version of the website contains a total of 3.622.868 articles and more than 450 million collaborative edited pages [3]. While the encyclopedia is open and accessible to everyone, the adding and editing of articles isn’t: to do this one needs to have a registered account on the website. Also, studies have been done on the reliability of the entries in Wikipedia, mostly ending up quite positive (Magnus, 2008 & Schiff, 2006). Furthermore, it has also been researched that a majority of college students use the website for course-related research, mostly by providing background information (Lee, 2010). Wikipedia is a general form of encyclopedia, containing articles on many different subjects. How these subjects can be categorized is displayed in figure 1.

Figure 1: Differences in Wikipedia's category structure and the Universal Decimal Classification

The classification in Wikipedia is however a bit different than that of the more taxonomy based Universal Decimal Classification (UDC). In Wikipedia the structure of classification seems to be more wide-spread and focused on Arts & Entertainment. Also, we can see that science (light and dark blue) is practically anywhere in the Wiki-sphere, where in UDC they are more clustered together.

Why Twitter and Why Not

In short: I do believe Twitter can play an important role in the field of science and in scientific collaboration. As argued by Mark Granovetter, who wrote about the effects of social and professional networks on information diffusion, innovation often travels most effectively via weak connections (Grannovetter, 1973). In order for scientific collaboration to happen, information must thus be able to diffuse among people or groups.

I hereby argue that Twitter enables this form of information diffusion. In Twitter, a user has “followers” who aren’t necessarily “friends”. Unlike other social media, followers don’t have to be approved by the one that is being followed (but of course can be blocked). This means that everyone can follow everyone, and can then read everything that is being ‘tweeted’ by the followed user without any real acceptance. In order to find users of interest, Twitter has implemented a powerful search mechanism that makes it easy to search for a specific topic and see all tweets on that topic. If someone likes what another user has said, he or she can choose to follow the user and read all future tweets. Retweeting a tweet then spreads the message across their own networks, creating a cascade effect of information and showing that the diffusion of information indeed travels via weak ties.

A scientist can thus reach a huge amount of people, when for example he/she is in need of help, by simply composing a tweet and sending it on Twitter.

There are currently already networks of scientists on Twitter, as for example can be seen in figure 2.

Figure 2

An interactive version of this can be seen on Many Eyes. The figure is generated from a list of Scientific Twitter Friends of David Bradley and is visualized by 2020 Science. The bubble-chart shows how influential a Scientific Twitter User in the list might be and that Twitter can indeed be used for the connection (and collaboration) between scientists.

While this does sound like a perfect tool for scientific collaboration, there are some downsides in using social media and Twitter according to a survey held under 300 lab managers[4]. They explain that the reasons for not adopting social media are:

  1. Blurring of the boundaries between private and business use
  2. Loss of productivity
  3. Security: the danger of confidential information being leaked

These all make a point of course, but these ‘downsides’ can all be avoided when carefully using these social media and by paying attention on what information is being spread.

Footnotes:

[1] http://thesocialcustomer.com/peterauditore1/37255/social-media-data-tsunami, accessed on 27 april 2011

[2] http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/page/create_visualization.html, accessed on 28 april 2011

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Statistics, accessed on 27 april 2011

[4] These results were published in Lab Manager Magazine and can be found online at http://www.labmanager.com/?articles.view/articleNo/4496/

References:

Granovetter, M. S. (1973), “The Strenght of Weak Ties”, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78, No. 6 (May 1973), 1360-1380.

Sonnenwald, D. H. (2007), “Scientific Collaboration: A Synthesis of Challenges and Strategies”, Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Vol. 4, Blaise Cronin, (Ed,), Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Surowiecki, J. (2004), “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations”, Little Brown

Auditore, P. (2011), “The Social Media Data Tsunami”, The Social Customer, 27 April, accessed on 27 April 2011, http://thesocialcustomer.com/peterauditore1/37255/social-media-data-tsunami

Magnus, P.D. (2008), “Early response to false claims in Wikipedia,” First Monday, 13(9), September, accessed on 27 April 2011.
http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/2115/2027/

Schiff, S. (2006). “Know it all. Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?” The New Yorker. 31 July, accessed on 28 April 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/07/31/060731fa_fact/.

Lee, A. (2010), “Science students more likely to use Wikipedia”, The Daily Princetonian, 23 March, accessed on 28 april 2011. http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2010/03/23/25575/