Category: Software Studies


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. […]

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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 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” […]

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Notes from #MIT8: ‘Social Media Platforms between Private, Public and Commercial Space’ – Curation by Algorithm

On Friday, May 3rd I attended the ‘Social Media Platforms between Private, Public and Commercial Space’ panel where Tarleton Gillespie talked about Curation by Algorithm. Based on his chapter ‘The Relevance of Algorithms’ [pdf] in the forthcoming book Media Technologies Gillespie posed a few questions: 1. What do these algorithms do? Algorithms are part of the broader ‘content moderation’ picture where devices, search engines and algorithms help us sift through an enormous amount of content, for example by implementing recommendation algorithms. They also help present a carefully managed experience for first users by constructing a welcoming environment filled with (introduction) content or by guiding users to navigate them through the interface. 2. How are these algorithms understood? Algorithms are often discussed in terms of filtering or censoring content, as put forward in The Filter Bubble, but to what extent do algorithms act on or are entangled in practices of censorship by other means? Gillespie shows the example of Apple’s voice search Siri which couldn’t find any abortion clinics when searching for them. While Apple quickly responded that this was a ‘glitch’ and not an intentional omission it caused a ‘Siri is pro-life’ controversy. However, what actually happened is that Siri is a voice interface on top of search engines and […]

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On algorithmic friendship, a belated April Fools’ joke

While I was updating my DevonThink today I visited their blog Devonian Times and noticed I missed one of the best April Fools’ jokes related to my research: CareTaker for Facebook is here! Some people say that our apps are not “social” enough now with Facebook and Twitter being still the main trends in the industry. We listened and proudly present a brand new freeware app: CareTaker for Facebook. Never get your friends kicked out of your news feed again. Don’t get calls from annoyed friends telling you that you don’t like their posts. And all this without wasting even more time on Facebook. Once signed in to your Facebook account CareTaker takes care of your friends and fully automatically likes their posts or comments that match the rules you set up. Create rules based on your DEVONthink databases (likes all posts that fit your interests according to your document collection) or use RegEx for even more control. Our unique Artificial Intelligence technology not only does the matching but also creates meaningful, human-looking replies for you. Finally the Toady Mode likes every of your boss’ posts and comments on them with an AI-crafted variant of “That’s great!”. CareTaker for Facebook will be available starting today for free […]

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Dataflows en de politieke economie van sociale media platformen

Transcript van mijn lezing tijdens de studiemiddag voor alumni van de Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen over sociale media. Universiteit van Amsterdam, 5 april 2013. 1. Introductie Dank voor de uitnodiging. Mijn naam is Anne Helmond en ik ben docent-promovendus bij Mediastudies bij Nieuwe Media en Digitale Cultuur. Hier doe ik onderzoek binnen de onderzoeksgroep het Digital Methods Initiative naar het web als platform en hoe we onze onderzoeksmethoden moeten aanpassen om het web als een ecologie te bestuderen. 2. Mediatie van processen door software Vandaag zal ik het hebben over de onderliggende infrastructuren van het sociale web en hoe hiermee de economische relaties van het huidige sociale media landschap worden georganiseerd. Deze korte lezing gaat in op hoe sociale media platformen relaties en activiteiten structureren aan zowel de voorkant als de achterkant van hun platformen. Om te begrijpen hoe de relaties tussen platformen en gebruikers worden georganiseerd, moeten we kijken naar de rol van zowel menselijke actoren als niet-menselijke actoren die processen mediëren, zoals de technische infrastructuur. Het uitgangspunt hierbij is het platform-specifieke karakter van sociale media platformen waar we een assemblage zien van software, databases, interfaces, content, activiteiten, gebruikers en externe webmasters die samen het platform vormen. Dit zal worden geïllustreerd […]

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Facebook Demetricator and the Easing of Prescribed Sociality by Ben Grosser at Unlike Us #3

At Unlike Us #3 Ben Grosser presented the Facebook Demetricator which is a web browser extension that hides all the metrics on Facebook and therewith demetricates Facebook’s interface. Grosser describes his project as a piece of critical software that intervenes in the numerical focus of Facebook. The quantification of social relations: More! Ben Grosser narrates a scene from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps where Jacob asks his new boss, Bretton James: “What’s your number?” “Everybody has a number, a set amount of money that once they hit, they’ll leave the game and just go play golf for the rest of their life. What’s yours?” and his response is: “More.” The scene depicts a moment in the movie, which deals with the 2008 USA financial collapse, before the financial crisis and shows capitalist society’s fetish with increasing numbers and numerical growth which eventually came to a collapse. He describes the human desire to make numbers go higher, whether this means stocks rising, calories burned, friends added, likes accrued or comments left. Grosser states how we are obsessed with these numbers and that we’re paying more attention to the numbers than the actual content of the interaction. He defines metrics in relation to […]

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