Zombie accounts clogging the tubes of the interwebs

CNET recently published an article on how ‘Bots now running the Internet with 61 percent of Web traffic‘. Such bots include search engine crawlers or automated search engine optimization tools but also what I refer to as tools enabling the circulation of zombie content. XKCD illustrates this with an image that draws our attention to the fact that “the internet is filled with derelict accounts aggregating news about friends long forgotten.” Once you set up an account you may set in motion automatic content aggregation and circulation practices that may continue once you abandon your account. Guilty as charged.

XKCD – Old Accounts

I still have a FriendFeed account that has a life of its own. After Facebook acquired FriendFeed in 2009 it did not shut down the service but simply left it on its own. FriendFeed was a once popular social aggregator to gather your feeds from multiple platforms into a single feed that you could share with and comment on with friends. In a way, it presented itself as a central realtime commenting system for your social content in feeds from your distributed presence on various social media platforms across the web where “Your friends comment on the things you share, and you see their comments in real-time.” Moving beyond adding the ability to aggregate your distributed self into a single stream, enhanced with comment and share features, it also introduced us to ‘liking’ content. Even before acquiring FriendFeed, Facebook had already ‘repurposed’ some of FriendFeed’s features and functionality, such as the “like.” After acquiring the company and the team behind these realtime aggregating technologies it but never shut it down but simply left it going. So now my account is still automatically gathering content from across the web therewith contributing to the automated content practices filling the tubes of our interwebs.

Article Series - Automated circulation of content

  1. Zombie accounts clogging the tubes of the interwebs

International M.A. in New Media ­at the University of Amsterdam: Call for Applications for­ Fall 2014

International M.A. in New Media ­at the University of Amsterdam

Call for Applications for­ Fall 2014, rolling admissions open on December 15, 2013 and close on 1 April 2014

One-year and two-year New Media M.A. Programs available. For the two-year “Research Master’s Program: New Media Specialisation,” see below.

International M.A. in New Media & Digital Culture (one-year program)

Overview

The MA Program in media studies New Media and Digital Culture offers a comprehensive and critical approach to new media research and theory. It builds upon the pioneering new media scene that Amsterdam is known for, with an emphasis on the study of Internet culture. Students gain an in-depth knowledge in new media theory, including perspectives such as software studies, political economy, and other critical traditions, and applied to such topics as social media, data cultures, and locative devices. They engage with the emerging area of digital methods, an ensemble of Internet research approaches and techniques that are specific to the new media and the study of natively digital objects. Additionally, students can choose to train in the areas of issue mapping, information visualization, digital writing and publishing, or social media research. The MA program combines a variety of teaching formats, ranging from lectures and group projects to lab sessions. Interested students are also supported in undertaking research internships. Students produce a wide portfolio of work, including theoretically engaged essays, empirical research projects, new media experiments, blog and wiki entries, in addition to organizing symposia. The program thereby enables students to contribute to timely discourses on digital culture, to conduct innovative research projects, and to critically engage in new media practices. The International MA in New Media and Digital Culture is an up-to-date digital humanities study program.

Students maintain a new media issues blog, recognized as among the leading academic blogs on the subject of digital culture, where they critique and discuss books, events, and new media objects. Students also get involved in a lively new media culture, both at the university, where internationally renowned speakers present their work and collaborative research projects are developed, and beyond. Cultural institutions, such as the Waag Society, the de Balie Center for Culture and Politics, and Mediamatic regularly host inspiring events. The Institute of Network Cultures, initiators of such events as UnlikeUs, Society of the Query, MyCreativity, and Video Vortex, regularly collaborates with the program. Digital media practitioners, such as Appsterdam, various Fablabs, and hacker festivals regularly open their doors to interested audiences. Finally, students are also encouraged to participate in PICNIC, the creative industries festival.

Curriculum

The New Media and Digital Culture program is a one year MA (60 EC) that begins in early September and ends with a festive graduation ceremony at the end of August. It is divided into two semesters:

First Semester (September – January)

Students follow a course in New Media Research Practices, which addresses doing research in and with new media. It engages with recent methodological debates around big data, realtime research, and software analysis. As part of the course, students conduct experimental new media projects, run a wiki, https://wiki.digitalmethods.net/MoM/, and the Masters of Media site, http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl, regarded as a top blog for new media research and nominated for a Dutch award for best educational blog.

Concurrently, the New Media Theories class introduces students to major theoretical frameworks in new media studies, including cybernetics, software studies, digital labor theories, network criticism, media ecology, and cognitive/communicative capitalism. An important aspect involves reading influential texts on media forms and digital networked technologies, addressing key thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan, Norbert Wiener, Vilem Flusser, Friedrich Kittler, Alexander R. Galloway, N. Katherine Hayles, Matthew Fuller, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, and Jodi Dean. Through a variety of individual and group assignments, including a symposium presentation, students gather the relevant skills and resources for writing a critical research paper that concludes the course.

The final first semester class, New Media Research Methods, taught by the program Chair, Richard Rogers, trains students in digital methods research, a set of novel techniques and a methodological outlook and mindset for social and cultural research with the web. (see http://www.digitalmethods.net) Students use “natively” digital methods to investigate state Internet censorship, search engine rankings, website histories, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, and other web platforms by collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data through various analytical techniques.

New Media Research Practices (6 EC), week 1-8
New Media Theories (12 EC), week 1-16
New Media Research Methods (12 EC), week 9-20

Second Semester (February-June)

In the second semester, students have the opportunity to further specialize by choosing between theme seminars on issue mapping for politics, information visualization, social media and value, the digital book, new media literary forms, and other courses offered outside of new media. Issue Mapping for Politics is concerned with mapping online discourse, and is a member of the international network of mapping courses following, amongst others, Bruno Latour’s methods. The finest student work is entered into the annual controversy mapping award in Toulouse. New Media Project: Information Visualisation is a joint theoretical-practical collaboration between designers, programmers, and analysts, where the product, showcased in the annual ‘show me the data’ event (http://showmethedata.nl), is an online tool, digital visualization or interactive graphic. The Value of the Social – Studying Social Media is a theoretical/empirical module which addresses the valorisation of social life in digital media, including concerns around data mining, platform politics, the numerification of affect, and digital economies. The Digital Book investigates how the concept of the ‘book’ is translated into new media forms that coincide with transformations in the contemporary publishing industry. The subject contains both theoretical and practical components. New Media Literary Forms explores new forms of writing for and in digital media and practically engages with the production of creative, interactive, or collaborative texts.

The program of study concludes with the MA thesis, an original analysis that makes a contribution to the field, undertaken with the close mentorship of a faculty supervisor. The graduation ceremony includes an international symposium with renowned speakers.

Elective (12 EC), week 1-16
MA Thesis (18 EC), week 1-20

Career perspectives

Graduates in New Media and Digital Culture will have gained the critical faculties, skills, and outlook that will enable them to pursue a career in research as well as in the public and private sectors, ranging from NGOs, government, and cultural institutions to online marketing and the growing field of creative industries. Various alumni have also started their own successful new media businesses. As the exposure to the Internet and related technologies continues to grow, new media researchers are in demand in a variety of sectors. With digital technologies becoming the preferred platforms for business, information exchange, cultural expression, and political struggle, research skills focusing on these complex and dynamic environments are becoming central to working in these fields. In addition, advanced students can pursue academic careers in research and teaching.

Student Life

The quality-of-living in Amsterdam ranks among the highest of international capitals. UvA’s competitive tuition and the ubiquity of spoken English both on and off-campus make the program especially accommodating for foreign students. The city’s many venues, festivals, and other events provide remarkably rich cultural offerings and displays of technological innovation (see https://wiki.digitalmethods.net/MoM/NewMediaAmsterdam). The program has many ties to cultural institutions and companies active in the new media sector, where internship opportunities and collaborations may be available, in consultation with the student’s thesis supervisor. Students attend and blog, tweet or otherwise capture local new media events and festivals, while commenting as well on larger international issues and trends pertaining to new media. The quality of student life is equally to be found in the university’s lively and varied intellectual climate. New Media and Digital Culture students come from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and across Europe; they draw from academic and professional backgrounds including journalism, art and design, engineering, the humanities, and the social sciences.

Application and Deadlines

Rolling admissions from December 15, 2013 to April 1, 2014 for Fall 2014 admission.

More Info & Questions

- International M.A. in New Media & Digital Culture – University of Amsterdam – http://gsh.uva.nl/ma-programmes/programmes/item/new-media-and-digital-culture.html for admission details, including fees.

- Student information website – http://student.uva.nl/mnm/

- Graduate School for Humanities, General Information – http://gsh.uva.nl

- Further general questions? Please write to UvA’s Graduate School of the Humanities, graduateschoolhumanities-fgw[at]uva.nl.

- Specific questions about curriculum and student life? Please write to Dr. Carolin Gerlitz, New Media Program Coordinator, University of Amsterdam, c.gerlitz[at]uva.nl

 

Research Master’s in Media Studies, New Media Specialization (two-year program)

Overview

The New Media Research Master is a specialization within the Media Studies Research Master’s Degree Program, and focuses on the theoretical, artistic, practical and methodological study of digital culture. The New Media Research Master has two ‘routes,’ the theoretical aesthetic and the practical empirical ones. In the theoretical aesthetic route, students focus on contemporary media theory, with a concentration on critical media art, including areas that have been pioneered in Amsterdam (tactical media, distributed aesthetics). The other route is the practical empirical, which is the other specialty of new media research in Amsterdam: digital methods and information visualization. Students also may combine coursework from each of the two routes, putting together a course package that treats aesthetics and visualization, on the one hand, or media art and digital methods, on the other.

As a crucial component of the Amsterdam New Media Research Program, the New Media Research Master encourages fieldwork and lab work, which result in a ‘new media project’ and also provide materials for the thesis. In undertaking fieldwork, students are given the opportunity to spend a period abroad for structured data collection and study, doing either a ‘research internship’ or an independent project, supervised by a staff member. For example, in the past students have studied ICTs for development in Africa, and electronics factories in China. The lab work, which fits well with the practical-empirical route, would result in a research project that combines web data collection, tool use and development as well as visualisation. It often addresses a contemporary issue, such as Wikileaks Cablegate, and brings together a group of researchers in a data sprint, hackathon or barcamp, intensively working to output new info-graphics, blog postings and research reports on the state of art of the subject.

Outstanding New Media research master graduates are expected to compete favorably for PhD positions nationally and internationally, and have skill sets enabling new media research in scholarly and professional settings.

The New Media Research Master Specialization has as its target 15 students annually.

Curriculum

Year one

1st Semester: students follow courses in new media research practices and digital methods, which provides in-depth training in Internet critique and empirical analysis of the web. The research practices course is an introduction to and overall resource crash course on searching & collecting, social media data, journals in the field, blogging, the Amsterdam Scene, new media events, academic writing, (data) collections, data tools, data visualisation, new media methods, key works, collaboration & coordination. Concurrently students take new media theories, a course that introduces students to some of the major theoretical traditions in new media, including perspectives such as software studies, political economy, and other critical traditions, and applied to such topics as social media, data cultures, and locative devices. (For more details on these courses, see the one-year MA description above.)

2nd Semester: the student follows media & politics, which places both historically crucial and contemporary political manifestos in relation to media analyses, encouraging a consideration of concepts such as labour, spectacle, the machine, identity and affect. Students also have an elective, and may choose between theme seminars on issue mapping for politics, information visualization, social media and value, the digital book, new media literary forms and other courses offered in the research master’s. (For more details on theme seminars, see the one-year MA description above.)

Year two

1st Semester: students may pursue a “research internship” or a study abroad program with partner universities. They may undertake fieldwork for a research project, or join a digital methods lab project. Students also may follow an elective course, taken from the broader Media Studies offerings.

2nd Semester: students follow an elective course, where again the choice is between theme seminars on issue mapping for politics, information visualization, social media and value, the digital book, new media literary forms and others. Students also write the thesis, which is expected to be original and make a contribution to a discourse in the field. The research master’s degree program concludes with a presentation and defense of the thesis.

Application and Deadlines

Rolling admissions from December 15, 2013 to April 1, 2014 for Fall 2014 admission.

More Info & Questions

- International Research M.A. in Media Studies – University of Amsterdam – http://gsh.uva.nl/ma-programmes/programmes/item/media-studies-research.html for details, including fees. When applying, indicate that your application is for the “New Media Specialization.”

- Student information website – http://student.uva.nl/mmic/

- Graduate School for Humanities, General Information – http://gsh.uva.nl

- Further general questions? Please write to UvA’s Graduate School of the Humanities, graduateschoolhumanities-fgw[at]uva.nl.

- Specific questions about curriculum and student life? Please write to Dr. Carolin Gerlitz, New Media Program Coordinator, University of Amsterdam, c.gerlitz[at]uva.nl

New Media M.A. Faculty – University of Amsterdam

Richard Rogers, Professor and Chair. Web epistemology, digital methods. Publications include Information Politics on the Web (MIT Press, 2004/2005), awarded American Society for Information Science and Technology’s 2005 Best Information Science Book of the Year Award, and Digital Methods (MIT Press, 2013). Founding director of govcom.org and digitalmethods.net.

Bernhard Rieder, Associate Professor. Digital Methods, software theory and politics. Current research interests include search engine politics and the mechanization of knowledge production. http://thepoliticsofsystems.net

Jan Simons, Associate Professor. Mobile Culture, gaming, film theory. Publications include Playing The Waves: Lars von Trier’s Game Cinema (AUP, 2007). Project Director, Mobile Learning Game Kit, Senior Member, Digital Games research group. http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/j.a.a.simons/

Carolin Gerlitz, Assistant Professor. Digital research, software/platform studies, social media, economic sociology, topology, numeracy and issue mapping online. http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/c.gerlitz/

Niels van Doorn. Assistant Professor. Materialization of gender, sexuality, and embodiment in digital spaces. http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/n.a.j.m.vandoorn/

Thomas Poell. Assistant Professor. Social media and the transformation of activist communication in different parts of the world. http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/t.poell/

Yuri Engelhardt, Assistant Professor. Computer modeling and information visualization. Publications include The Language of Graphics (2002); founder and moderator of InfoDesign (1995-9); co-developer of Future Planet Studies at UvA. http://www.yuriweb.com

Erik Borra, Lecturer. Data science, digital methods, issue mapping online. Digital methods lead developer. http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/e.k.borra/

Esther Weltevrede, Lecturer. Controversy mapping with the Web, temporalities and dynamics online, device studies. http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/e.j.t.weltevrede/

Mark Tuters, Lecturer. New media literary forms, avant-garde media history, locative media.

Michael Dieter, Lecturer. Media art and materialist philosophy. Critical uses of digital and networked technologies such as locative media, information visualization, gaming and software modification. http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/m.j.dieter/

Paper: The Algorithmization of the Hyperlink

My article “The Algorithmization of the Hyperlink” has just been published in the third issue of Computational Culture: a journal of software studies.

Abstract
This study looks at the history of the hyperlink from a medium-specific perspective by analyzing the technical reconfiguration of the hyperlink by engines and platforms over time. Hyperlinks may be seen as having different roles belonging to specific periods, including the role of the hyperlink as a unit of navigation, a relationship marker, a reputation indicator and a currency of the web. The question here is how web devices have contributed to constituting these roles and how social media platforms have advanced the hyperlink from a navigational device into a data-rich analytical device. By following how hyperlinks have been handled by search engines and social media platforms, and in their turn have adapted to this treatment, this study traces the emergence of new link types and related linking practices. The focus is on the relations between hyperlinks, users, engines and platforms as mediated through software and in particular the process of the algorithmization of the hyperlink through short URLs by social media platforms. The important role these platforms play in the automation of hyperlinks through platform features and in the reconfiguration of the link as database call is illustrated in a case study on link sharing on Twitter.

Continue reading at Computational Culture and/or download [pdf]

The Materiality of Facebook and Localizing the Cloud

Photo: Cascade Creative Media for The Node Pole

Photo: Cascade Creative Media for The Node Pole

In “The Like economy: Social buttons and the data-intensive web” colleague Carolin Gerlitz and I looked into the way Facebook uses the technical infrastructure of social buttons buttons to create a data-intensive web. In this study we aimed to go beyond the interface level by analyzing the infrastructure of the Facebook Platform (API) itself. Recently, Mél Hogan from the University of Colorado-Boulder pointed me to a blogpost where she wrote about the material infrastructure of Facebook by focusing on its data centres. In her post ‘The Node Pole as the Archive’s Underbelly‘ she points to the materiality of Facebook by describing how “these dislocated centers heighten the distance between users and the data they generate as necessary to maintain the archival illusions of continuous uninterrupted access.”

While the cloud consists of dislocated datacentres there seem to be two tensions at play in the discourses around ‘the cloud.’ On the one hand the tension (or paradox) between immateriality and materiality, where the datacentres in place create the idea of continuous uninterrupted access. On the other hand the tension between the global and the local, where the previous tension of the cloud is played out not in the (im)materiality of hardware but through the geography of this hardware. In other words, the cloud which represents the global in its ubiquitous access is being localized through its data centres. While this is nothing new in legal studies concerning the cloud where the question becomes the jurisdiction of the cloud through its material infrastructure (see Metahaven’s series on Captives of the Cloud) this materiality of the cloud requires further research.

There may be distinct mechanisms of the local cloud in place; Facebook for example now operates three data centres of which the Node Pole is the first outside of the US.  It is not known however what data is being served from these three data centres: Is European data served from the Node Pole in Luleå, Sweden? This points to the second tension in cloud services between the global and the local. Most CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) use so-called edge servers which serve the content hosted on most cloud services (think for example of the images on Tumblr) from the nearest server based on your DNS/IP. In other words, the cloud localizes you to determine the optimal path for delivering content through its CDNs. This further complicates not only the jurisdiction of the cloud but also any discussions about the cloud as an infrastructure that relocates computational resources1 on a local level.

  1. Franklin, S. “Cloud Control, or the Network as Medium.” Cultural Politics an International Journal 8, no. 3 (November 21, 2012): 443–464. doi:10.1215/17432197-1722154 []

Notes from #MIT8: ‘The Work of Algorithms’ – Knowing Algorithms

On Saturday, May 4th I attended the ‘The Work of Algorithms’ panel where Nick Seaver talked about Knowing Algorithms. In his talk Seaver discusses the issue of dealing with proprietary algorithms within research and how a focus on this proprietary or ‘black box’ aspect has skewed our criticisms of algorithms. Strands of research dealing with proprietary algorithms, such as Google’s PageRank or Facebook’s EdgeRank, focus on user experimentation and engaging systematically with the system in order to derive findings. Seaver argues how this is problematic since algorithms do not only adapt over time, where in the beginning algorithms behave differently then when they have adjusted to the user,1 but also how algorithms are unstable in themselves as may be seen in the case of A/B testing:

Over the past decade, the power of A/B testing has become an open secret of high-stakes web development. It’s now the standard (but seldom advertised) means through which Silicon Valley improves its online products. Using A/B, new ideas can be essentially focus-group tested in real time: Without being told, a fraction of users are diverted to a slightly different version of a given web page and their behavior compared against the mass of users on the standard site. If the new version proves superior—gaining more clicks, longer visits, more purchases—it will displace the original; if the new version is inferior, it’s quietly phased out without most users ever seeing it. A/B allows seemingly subjective questions of design—color, layout, image selection, text—to become incontrovertible matters of data-driven social science. (Christian 2012)2

At the moment there might be 10 million different versions of Bing because of A/B testing with algorithms and their results in realtime, so even if we engage systematically with Bing for research purposes, which Bing are we talking about? Algorithms also change over time as Facebook and their EdgeRank algorithm are constantly in motion: You cannot step into the same Facebook twice.

Nick Seaver jokes about changing algorithms at MIT8: "If this (EdgeRank) is what Facebook is doing, then what is it doing the rest of the day?"

Nick Seaver jokes about changing algorithms at MIT8: “If this (EdgeRank) is what Facebook is doing, what is it doing the rest of the day?”

Some researchers argue that the solution to knowing the algorithm is “behind the wall” and that we can only explain “the outside” or the workings of the algorithm if you have access to the “inside” or the formula. But, Seaver argues, there is no “inside” the algorithm and there is no “knowing” the algorithm without understanding the context in which algorithms are made. We have to understand the context algorithms are created in, which may serve as moments of stabilization as social details become translated into technical details. Therefor, Seaver wants to do an ethnography of engineers to get to know the algorithms.

During the panel discussion Nancy Baym states that we are talking about “the” algorithm, indicating a singular and stable object, while it has become clear that we may be talking about 500 different algorithms, created by 1000 different engineers. Should we talk of algorithmic systems instead of algorithms? This may be a good way into discussing the various objects and variables within algorithms that may each be connected to different databases (through APIs) and therefor become part of various algorithms themselves.

mit8_seaver2

My schematic notes of Nick Seaver’s MIT8 talk

 

  1. Algorithms are different in the beginning to “welcome” the user and to come to “know” the user to be able to a serve certain results or recommend objects.[]
  2. “The A/B Test: Inside the Technology That’s Changing the Rules of Business | Wired Business | Wired.com.” 2013. Wired Business. Accessed May 13. http://www.wired.com/business/2012/04/ff_abtesting/.[]

Notes from #MIT8: ‘Labor and Technologies of Surveillance’ – The Aesthetics of Objectivity and Computational Objectivity

On Saturday, May 4th I attended the ‘Labor and Technologies of Surveillance’ panel where Kelly Gates talked about ‘Professionalizing Police Media Work: Surveillance Video & the Forensic Sensibility.’ Gates, who has gone through an extensive training program in the field of video forensics as part of her research, discussed how raw video is not evidence despite video’s aesthetics of objectivity. The imagery of video and audiovisual material are perceived as evidence but instead they are pointing to an indexality which is produced through the media production and in the process of post-production. Gates argues that “the status of video evidence as an index of real events—a sign or representation that offers a direct, empirical connection to material reality—is the result of an intentional process of production” (2013).1

MIT8 Gates

Temporal indexicality, where a timestamp in the video seems to point the moment in which it happened, is perceived as “objectivity” but Gates gives two reasons why a timestamp on a video cannot be considered objective evidence in court: First, the recorded surveillance video material may come from old VCRs and the time settings of the device may not be accurate.2 Second, you can use a time-code plugin to insert the timestamp afterwards.

Gates introduces the notion of “computational objectivity” as “an avenue to objective analytical results that aims to translate certain aspects of trained judgment into computational systems” (2013: 12). She builds on Daston & Galison’s Objectivity (2007) who historicize objectivity as an epistemic virtue related to specific periods: from truth to nature to mechanic objectivity through trained judgement. She updates Daston & Galison’s notion of “mechanic objectivity”, which was related to photographic and other visual forms of media, to “computational objectivity” to describe the production of objectivity using visual media within the computational turn. Computers are not replacing the professionals, but professionals are learned to look at images with a computational eye:

The emerging field of forensic video analysis is one site where an epistemic virtue of ‘‘computational objectivity’’ is taking shape: the belief that neutral scientific image analysis can be achieved by translating certain forms of professional trained judgment into computational processes or, in this case, through the application of computational techniques by police professionals retrained as video specialists. (Gates 2013: 304)

 

  1. Gates, Kelly. 2013. “The Cultural Labor of Surveillance: Video Forensics, Computational Objectivity, and the Production of Visual Evidence.” Social Semiotics 0 (0): 1–19. doi:10.1080/10350330.2013.777593. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10350330.2013.777593.[]
  2. Consider, for example, a power outage resetting the VCR or summer and winter time.[]
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