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 []

5 Replies

  1. Mél Hogan Reply

    Thank you for this! This is a really great question and the issue of the global/local is something I will now expand on in the full length article. Yes, the Lulea site was built to accomodate its non US citizens, but as you point out, those boundaries are not definitive.

    What I have so far: “This offshore storage center is made to metaphorically accommodate the 70 percent of Facebook users who live outside the US. Facebook also leases server space in nine or so data centers bicoastally (Miller 2011).”

    That “metaphorically” needs to be explored in more detail…

    Miller, R. 2011. “Facebook Cuts Back on Generators in Sweden” accessed 3 November 2012, http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2011/10/31/facebook-cuts-back-on-generators-in-sweden

    • Anne Reply

      I’m looking forward to read the full paper! I was trying to find the “metaphorically” quote in the above mentioned linked, but I cannot seem to find it, have the edited the article since?

  2. Mél Hogan Reply

    Sorry for the confusion – that’s a quote from the longer version. Have I sent it to you?

  3. Bernhard Reply

    Very interesting.. I am digging a bit deeper into cloud data computer generated visualization. couldn’t find much about it.. hmm.. not sure if anyone has some more clue about this topic, but would be great if someone has more info, websites, blogs, sources, etc. thank you very much !

    • Mél Hogan Reply

      Hi Bernhard. I’m interested in hearing more about what you are working on… have you looked into Lev Manovich’s stuff?

      I also recommend the work of Jennifer Gabrys, Wendy Chun, Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller, and journalist Andrew Blum. Few others listed below. These are more about the materialities of the internet and web waste but might be interesting nonetheless.

      Jane Bennett (2010) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (a John Hope Franklin Center Book) Duke University Press Books.

      Jody Berland. (2009) North of Empire: Essays on the Cultural Technologies of Space. Duke University Press Books.

      Jennifer Gabrys (2011) Digital Rubbish: A natural history of electronics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2011.

      Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller (2012) Greening the Media. Oxford University Press, USA.

      Andrew Blum: http://andrewblum.net/

Reply