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 []