Essay on Identity 2.0: Constructing identity with cultural software

Presented at the DMI mini-conference, University of Amsterdam, day 2.

Introduction to my paper on Identity 2.0
Yesterday we talked about the web having technological eras, or periods of the web that have specific providers, software and templates. This is also what I indirectly undertake in my study into the reconfiguration of identity in the era of search engines. By studying different software platforms for presenting the self online through their medium specific qualities we see what Fuller calls “digital subjectivity – that software constructs sensoriums, that each piece of software constructs ways of seeing, knowing and doing in the world that at once contain a model of that part of the world it ostensibly pertains to and that also shape it every time it is used” (2003: 19)

The reconfigured relationship between the user, the platform and the search engine is studied from what Manovich calls ‘cultural software,’ a genre of software that is cultural through its use and because it carries atoms of our culture. It is an undertaking that looks at the different software platforms that have been developed over time to allow us to understand how the configuration of the ecology the software is embedded is in has changed with the advent of the search engines. The platforms: the homepage, the blog, the social networking profile, the micro-blog and the lifestream are not presented in a chronological order in order to create a teleological account, rather they are presented in more or less the order in which they came into being. All platforms for presenting the self online still exist, while one may argue that the homepage is slowly disappearing, and some platforms even co-exist in the hands of the user who integrates her Twitter account into her blog.

In general, the Digital Methods Initiative researches society through the online, however, what I aim to do is research online web culture through the online software and devices that shape it. How is this research placed within digital methods? At first it seems an ethnographical account of my Web 2.0 being placed within the studies into identity but what it aims to do is to look at the medium specific qualities of the platforms and determine their web native elements, such as the permalink or the status update, in order to see how these tie up to search-engines. In a first small casestudy, it was shown that platforms relate to each other and that some platforms are closer together than others through their entanglement of structuring natively digital objects such as site feeds and embed codes. The question then is, how to operationalize the relationship between the platforms and their distance (topological).

This paper is based on the Networked book chapter ‘Lifetracing’1 commissioned by Turbulence. Rewritten for the Digital Methods Initiative mini-conference January 20-22, 2010 at the University of Amsterdam.

Identity 2.0: Constructing identity with cultural software.

ABSTRACT: This essay deals with the change of identity on the web as a result of the assemblage of social software platforms, engines and users. It can be stated that major platforms for presenting the self online have developed over time: the homepage, the blog, the social networking profile, the micro-blog and the lifestream. They each have their own specific way for presenting the self online. The advent of the search engine has had a major impact on both the construction and the presentation of the online identity. Search engines not only index the platforms on which identity is performed, but they also organize and construct identity online. They act as a central point where identity performance is indexed. Since identity construction and identity performance have significantly changed with the advent of these engines, identity must be reconsidered. It can be argued that the assembly of platform, engine and user has constructed a new type of identity: Identity 2.0. This type of identity, placed within the period of Web 2.0, is always under construction, never finished, networked, user-generated, distributed and persistent.

Download PDF: Identity 2.0: Constructing identity with cultural software.

  1. Helmond, Anne. “Lifetracing. The Traces of a Networked Life.” Networked: a (networked_book) about (networked_art). 2 July 2009. Available online: http://helmond.networkedbook.org/[]

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