Slides from my introduction to APIs at SETUP in Utrecht (bonus: ducks!)

Last night I gave an introduction to APIs at the API skillswap workshop organized by SETUP in Utrecht. Here are my slides, including suggested literature that deals with APIs from a humanities perspective. During my introduction I also showed some of my favorite websites, tools, and services, including:

If This Then That: Putting the internet to work for you

Programmable Web: a good source for APIs.

ThinkUp: To archive and analyze your own Twitter, Facebook and Google+ data

After the introduction Heinze Havinga taught us to create our own mashup using APIs from different sources with Yahoo! Pipesand IFTTT.


We created a Produckanator (inspired by the Procatinator) that reads out aloud tweets containing the word ‘duck’ while playing music in the background and showing duck images from Flickr. A fun way to learn how to use a variety of APIs and tools ;)

Swapping skills!

My Notes for Geert Lovink’s book launch of Networks Without a Cause: A critique of Social Media

Anne Helmond & Geert Lovink

Anne Helmond & Geert Lovink during Geert Lovink's book launch of Networks Without a Cause: A critique of Social Media. Photo by Sabine Niederer. Background image:

The Institute of Network Cultures, Eva van den Eijnde and myself would like to welcome you to the official book launch of Geert Lovink’s new book Networks Without a Cause. A Critique of Social Media. Thank you very much for being here. Today I would like to start with a brief introduction to Geert’s new book and how it relates to his previous work. Afterwards Geert will talk about his new book, followed by a few questions and comments from Eva van den Eijnde and myself, and of course questions from the audience.

Networks Without a Cause is the fourth book by Geert in his series of studies into critical internet culture. For those unfamiliar with Geert’s work, the first book in this series is Dark Fiber (2001) which deals with early internet culture, from cyber culture to His second book My First Recession (2003) describes the aftermath of the mania and looks at the transition period of the crash to the early blogging years. His third book Zero Comments (2008) looks back on the blogging hype that has commenced since and addresses blogs as an unfolding process of “massification” and blogging as a “nihilistic venture.” It also looks at the Web 2.0 hype or Web 2.0 mini-bubble that echoes the dot-com era but also differs from it as described by Geert. His new monograph, Networks Without a Cause (2012), continues where Zero Comments has left off by describing the late Web 2.0 era.

Geert Lovink's net critique series

Geert Lovink's net critique series. Publisher: Polity Press 2012 Design: Studio Leon Loes.

The introduction of Networks Without a Cause starts with the important umbrella question “How do we capture Web 2.0 before its disappearance?” The rise of the real-time signifies a fundamental shift from the static archive and handcoded HTML websites toward “flow” and the “river” as metaphors of the real-time, where the software, social media platforms, are automatically generating content flows from the input from their users. Blogs and blog software have played an important role in this shift, with the reverse-chronology of blog entries and the river of fresh content produced by RSS feeds. Real-time is a key feature of social media platforms such as Facebook with its news feed and Twitter with its timeline, where content flows by, begging the question for researchers how to capture and archive this flow in order to be able to analyze it, and for Geert also the question of “why store a flow?” related to the notion of users no longer saving their files for offline retrieval but instead moving, storing and syncing everything in the cloud (think for example about Gmail and Dropbox) but also the question of identity management because “how do you shape the self in real-time flows?” (p. 11) These and many other questions posed throughout the book are part of a “Net criticism” project that seeks to develop sustainable concepts as individual building blocks that through dialogues and debates “will ultimately culminate in a comprehensive materialist (read: hardware- and software-focused) and affect-related theory.” (p. 22)1

Question 1: Web 2.0 versus social media
Is it a coincidence that a number of books dealing critically dealing with “social media” are coming out at the same time? This book Networks Without a Cause with its subtitle A Critique of Social Media, also The Social Media Reader a volume on the topic with contributions by well-known authors on the subject where, in the introduction the term Web 2.0 is called a buzzword, that on the one hand has been “emptied of its referent, it is an empty signifier: it is a brand.” (p. 4)2 but on the other hand encapsulates an aspect of the phenomenon of social media. And finally, the upcoming book by Andrew Keen called Digital Vertigo that addresses the threat of the social and the tension between the collective social and the individual in “today’s creeping tyranny of an ever-increasingly transparent social network that threatens the individual liberty.”3 Geert also addresses related issues in his book when describes “The social as a feature.” He describes how “Social media as a buzzword of the outgoing Web 2.0 era is just a product of business management strategies and should be judged accordingly.” (p. 6)

Is Web 2.0 a thing from the past? As a lecturer in the first year of Mediastudies at the University of Amsterdam I was surprised to learn this year that my students were not familiar with the term Web 2.0 at all! Everyone had heard of social media, everybody except for one privacy conscious student, was a member of Facebook, but none of them had heard of the term Web 2.0. This is also illustrated in the following image:

Social Media versus Web 2.0

Social Media versus Web 2.0

What is the relation between Web 2.0 and social media when thinking not only about terminology but also about software, practices and critiques?

Question 2: Comment cultures
While in Zero Comments Geert focused on the average blog with its zero comments, in Networks Without a Cause he focuses on the other end of the Power Law diagram and looks at blogs that have reached a critical mass. In the introduction he writes how in Web 2.0: “Current software invites users to leave short statements but often excludes the possibility for others to respond. Web 2.0 was not designed to facilitate debate with its thousands of contributions. […] What the back-office software does is merely measure “responsiveness”: in other words, there have been that many users, that much judgment, and that little debate.” p. 19

Measuring responsiveness

Measuring responsiveness

While blogs offers a form of facilitated debate by offering the possibility of comments, it is highly hierarchical due to the strict separation of content and comments. On top of that bloggers are continuously debating how to improve the old blog comment infrastructure in order to deal with the “tragedy of the comments” that have caused some bloggers to shut down their comments.

Geert argues that thinking about the software-architecture to design the comment ecology is important because software co-produces a social order. Could you further elaborate on current comment cultures, your ideas to go beyond taming the commentators, and the increasing splintering comment ecology with the conversation also moving to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook with no proper way to connect all these distributed comments back to the original text?

  1. Lovink, Geert. Networks Without a Cause. A Critique of Social Media. Polity Press, 2012.[]
  2. Mandiberg, Michael (editor). The Social Media Reader. New York University Press, 2012.[]
  3. Keen, Andrew. Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us. Forthcoming, May 2012.[]

Video: Reworking the fabric of the web: The Like economy

Conference presentation at Unlike Us #2: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives. Session 4: Software Matters

Anne Helmond (NL) and Carolin Gerlitz (UK) – Reworking the fabric of the web: The Like economy. Conference Day 2: March 10 2012 Amsterdam, 11.00 – 12.30

In recent years, Facebook has increasingly expanded beyond the limits of its platform, first through social buttons and the Open Graph, and more recently through new possibilities of app development, frictionless sharing and differentiated Facebook actions. These digital devices allow Facebook to turn user interactivity instantly into valuable data, creating what we have described as a Like Economy. In this paper, we explore how the platform produces a very particular fabric of the web with its software design by focusing on social buttons, apps and actions. The introduction of social buttons and social plug-ins allowed for a partial opening of the platform as walled garden – carefully regulated by its Graph API – and led to an increasing decentralisation of the web. Yet, the new apps, sharing possibilities and actions introduce a recentralisation as content and user activities are designed to remain within the platform. By tracing the data- and content flows enabled between the platform and the web, we suggest that the Like Economy cuts across straightforward ideas of Facebook as a walled garden but instead creates complex spatial relations, organised through a number of new relationship markers beyond the hyperlink which create new multi-layered dataflows.

Blog post on our talk: Anne Helmond and Carolin Gerlitz Explain the Like Economy

Blog post containing the visualizations shown in our talk: Visualizing Facebook’s Alternative Fabric of the Web

Photos Unlike Us 2 Conference in Amsterdam

Unlike Us

Geert Lovink

“Unlike Us #2 is the second event on ‘alternatives in social media’, where artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers gather. This international research network examines the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications, the Unlike Us network intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.” Continue reading by downloading the program booklet in pdf. Photos taken at the Unlike Us 2 conference, March 9-10, 2012 in Amsterdam.

Unlike Us

Question from the audience

Unlike Us

Jodi Dean

Unlike Us

Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media

Unlike Us

Max Schrems from Europe versus Facebook

Unlike Us

Walter Langelaar

Unlike Us

Marc Tuters

Unlike Us

David M. Berry

More photos from the Unlike Us conference in Amsterdam on Flickr. Blogposts from the conference are available at the Institute of Network Cultures Unlike Us blog.

Visualizing Facebook’s Alternative Fabric of the Web

On March 9, Carolin Gerlitz and I presented our paper Reworking the fabric of the web: The Like economy at the Unlike Us conference in Amsterdam. We showed the outcome of some empirical work, building on a previous Winterschool project with the Digital Methods Initiative called Track the Trackers. For Unlike Us we visualized the relative presence of Facebook trackers in the top 1000 Alexa as a way to make visible the alternative fabric of the web Facebook is creating. More information about the tool and method to create these maps can be found on the Tracker Tracker tool wiki page.

Websites using Facebook Social Plugins and Facebook Connect in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, 02/12/2012.

Click image to enlarge or download full PDF.

Websites using the Twitter button in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, 02/12/2012.

Click image to enlarge or download full PDF.

The third map shows Google presence, which is the biggest of all three because Google is an established player in multiple categories with Google Analytics, Google Adsense/Adwords and the Google+ button. Facebook, although not the most dominant player, is still present on 18% of the websites with the most traffic.

Websites using Google trackers in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, 02/12/2012.

Click image to enlarge or download full PDF. Download combined Facebook, Twitter, Google image (not displayed) as PDF.

The following map shows the overall presence of different types of tracking devices and allows us to draw more general conclusions about the organisation of value and the fabric of the web. The presence of analytics, beacons, trackers and ad services create alternative connections, not between websites themselves as enabled by links, but connections to the associated tracking providers either enabled by simply visiting a website or activated by user activities such as liking. What emerges are clusters organised around the key players – Facebook being one of them – that form an alternative fabric of the web, operating in the back-end and enabled by a range of actors, including webmasters, web users and others.

Different types of trackers in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, 02/12/2012. Purple: analytics, blue: widgets, orange: ads, green: trackers – categorization provided by Ghostery.

Click image to enlarge or download full PDF.

New media student Lisa van Pappelendam wrote a blog post about our talk at the Unlike Us conference.


The Like Economy has been published! Gerlitz, Carolin and Anne Helmond (2013). ‘The Like economy: Social buttons and the data-intensive web.’ New Media & Society. Online First. [link][pre-peer-review version]

Video Bobcatsss 2012: The Like Economy and the Politics of Data in the Social Web

Photo by: Katja Schadee

On the 23rd of January I had the honor to give a keynote lecture at the Bobcatsss 2012 conference. I talked about ‘The Like Economy and the Politics of Data in the Social Web’ based on a co-authored paper with Carolin Gerlitz titled ‘Hit, Link, Like and Share. Organizing the social and the fabric of the web in a Like economy’ (2011). After providing a medium-specific take on Facebook’s way of organizing the social web through a data-intensive infrastructure enabled by social plugins and the Social Graph I moved into the politics of data and dataflows. How can Facebook users and non-Facebook users respond to their (un)willing contributions to the emerging Like Economy? What is the current state of data-mining practices of social media platforms and what tools, techniques and alternative platforms are available to make these these practices visible, address them and possibly subvert them? During the talk I showed some tools that will disable dataflows between websites, users and social media platforms, including: Facebook Disconnect, Disconnect, Ghostery and the Facebook Privacy List for Adblock Plus.

The whole talk (40 minutes) is available as a web lecture.

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