Karlessi from the Italian research group Ippolita talks about the increasing data production of web users and how we contribute to measurement systems and the dissemination of real-time dataflows often discussed in terms of big data. He argues that big data is not only produced for “Big Brothers” but that the act behind the production of this data, for example tweeting, liking, sharing and commenting have become rituals inscribed in the mediation of sociality by platforms.
For Karlessi the ritual recalls the flow of water where a rite is something that flows, changes but also repeats itself in proceeding. These repeated practices can become rituals of interaction to “make things happen” in a relatively predictable manner. Such procedures, for example established rituals, are structured in a predictable manner and therewith are the very means to control crowds. In Crowds and Power (1960) Canetti describes how we do rituals to avoid open crowd eruption whereas in Religion for Atheists (2012) Alain de Botton discusses rituals as a way to organize communities (in both religious and secular states). In secular societies we still have many rituals and the inscribed mechanisms within social media platforms. Karlessi jokes how it’s very good and convenient to be Catholic on Facebook: you can just stand on the stage and explicate all your emotions where the platform records your confessions without the need of a pries. In such post-secular societies religious rituals don’t disappear at all but they are transformed and often replaced by personal and social rituals that are mediated such as liking. Social network accounts can be seen as ritualized spaces as personal belongings and habits are more and more mediated by digital devices. These habits become the rites of Religion 2.0 and are transformed by the sociotechnical assemblage of software, databases, algorithms and users.
Algorithms or the 2.0 liturgy
Algorithms are the rhytms of the online liturgy as the rites are inscribed and acted upon very often without the conscious interaction of users, or as Waldbillig describes it: “These unconscious algorithmic rituals practiced en masse become the form and function of online liturgy, or public worship, to the unconscious – presumably leading to the title of today’s talk “Minds Without Bodies”. The various forms of interaction that are becoming increasingly technologically mediated that are devoted to and developed by algorithms are carried out via directed social networks.” Karlessi describes how you don’t know how the algorithm works but “it works” and algorithms such as PageRank, EdgeRank, GraphRank and Amazon Recommendations make particular things happen. We are under an algorithmic authority that is deeply inscribed in our daily habits, including mediated rituals online, and the way out of this new control mechanism for Karlessi is to transform our rituals into new ones not governed by capitalistic social media platforms.
See also: Karlessi from Ippolita – Minds Without Bodies: Rites of Religions 2.0 by Kimberly Rose Waldbillig at the Institute of Network Cultures blog.
Article Series - Unlike Us 3
- Facebook Demetricator and the Easing of Prescribed Sociality by Ben Grosser at Unlike Us #3
- Minds Without Bodies: Rites of Religions 2.0 by Karlessi from Ippolita at Unlike Us #3
- The Future of Identity in a Digital World by Tobias Leingruber at Unlike Us #3
- Oliver Leistert and Leighton Evans on the Political Economy of Facebook Mobile at Unlike Us #3
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 dot.com-mania. His second book My First Recession (2003) describes the aftermath of the dot.com mania and looks at the transition period of the dot.com 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.
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:
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
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?
- Lovink, Geert. Networks Without a Cause. A Critique of Social Media. Polity Press, 2012.[↩]
- Mandiberg, Michael (editor). The Social Media Reader. New York University Press, 2012.[↩]
- Keen, Andrew. Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us. Forthcoming, May 2012.[↩]
On November 9, 2010 Olia Lialina presented her new book on Digital Folklore. The book describes the aesthetics of the amateur web which has been Lialina’s object of study for the past ten years. The book reflects on amateur culture as the basis of the Web; the web that has been built by us, the amateurs. The Vernacular Web refers to the aesthetics of the early web of the amateurs. Not only the World Wide Web but also the 3D amateur culture and font creators indirectly contributing to the graphics online. It is about being a “real” user that uses Comic Sans. Part of the challenge of creating the Digital Folklore book was how to translate the World Wide Web into paper?
The term digital folklore is a term where everybody seems gets the idea but it is not clearly defined. Folklore is traditionally defined as: “The “traditional,” usually oral literature of a society, consisting of various genres such as myth, legend, folktale, song, proverb, and many others.” (Routledge). But how do we translate this type of oral literature to the web genres of under construction banners and animated gifs? The book describes what digital folklore is, why it is important and why it should be studied. It presents digital folklore as a field of study.
Digital Folklore encompasses the customs, traditions and elements of visual, textual and audio culture that emerged from users’ engagement with personal computer applications during the last decade of the 20th and the first decade of the 21st century.1
The preface of the book, ‘Do you believe in Users?,’ is presented by Lialina and is shown as a Google Docs working document in Comic Sans. The preface is a historical account of the changing role of the user in the history of computers:
1940’s Vannevar Bush – imaged the Memex, the table, a personal working stage, where the user was the Scientist.
1960’s Douglas Engelbart, the user was the Knowledge Worker, Intellectual Worker and the Programmer.
1970’s XEROX PARK: Thacker, Alan Kay, Licklider (History of the personal workstation) – Lady with the Royal Typewriter, Kids, Real Users (People who are buying computers, especially personal computers)
1974 Ted Nelson – Dream Machines, the Naive User2 Two categories of users: user hackers and naive users. A user can be a developer of the system with no distinction between developer and user.
1982 TRON – You believe in the Users? Big moment for the user, the user as God.
1983 Time Magazine, “The Computer Moves in.” Machine of the Year. Technology becomes the person of the year.
1993 Eric S. Raymond: September that never ended. User lacking netiquette. “September that never ended” refers to a phenomenon happening since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhytms of the Usenet used to be the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking any sense of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves. This coincided with people starting college, getting their first internet accounts, and plugging in without bothering to learn what was acceptable. (more info)
1996 The New Hacker’s Dictionary is a lexicon which contains an entry on the user:
1. Someone doing `real work’ with the computer, using it as a means rather than an end. Someone who pays to use a computer. See real user. 2. A programmer who will believe anything you tell him. One who asks silly questions. [GLS observes: This is slightly unfair. It is true that users ask questions (of necessity). Sometimes they are thoughtful or deep. Very often they are annoying or downright stupid, apparently because the user failed to think for two seconds or look in the documentation before bothering the maintainer.] See luser. 3. Someone who uses a program from the outside, however skillfully, without getting into the internals of the program. One who reports bugs instead of just going ahead and fixing them.
The general theory behind this term is that there are two classes of people who work with a program: there are implementors (hackers) and lusers. The users are looked down on by hackers to some extent because they don’t understand the full ramifications of the system in all its glory. (The few users who do are known as `real winners’.) The term is a relative one: a skilled hacker may be a user with respect to some program he himself does not hack. A LISP hacker might be one who maintains LISP or one who uses LISP (but with the skill of a hacker). A LISP user is one who uses LISP, whether skillfully or not. Thus there is some overlap between the two terms; the subtle distinctions must be resolved by context. (source)
The entry clearly distinguishes between implementors (hackers) and lusers (users). Lialina observes that twelve years later the Software Studies lexicon does not contain an entry dedicated to the user.
2006 Time Magazine: YOU!
From 1983 onwards people are designing posters in Word, praise activity of the users that are disrespected, the users that are not developers. You are now appreciated for your lolcats, your Facebook Likes. The User is only appreciated now.
An alternative history
The history of the World Wide Web is often dated in 1993 with the appearance of the Mosaic browser. It marks the year when the first users started to design the web. While Tim Berners-Lee invented the technology that build the web four years earlier, in 1989, the web was shaped by its users from 1983 onwards. In this publication (Digital Folklore) the user is pushed to the foreground. As such it provides a different history which foregrounds the users instead of the technology.
The idea of the “Rich User Experience” is one that typically accompanies Web 2.0. The term refers to all the Ajax apps with a richer interaction in the browser but also in general the claim that with Web 2.0 and social networking sites users finally have a rich experience. In the Midnight project based on Google Maps the rich user experience is hiding the real user experience. In the Gravity project navigating is done by scrolling providing a more rich interactive experience to scrolling.
The research not only about aesthetics but also about what the user could be and how to change it. One example of such a project is Trailblazers:
This is a project by Theo Seemann, a student of Russian online art pioneer Olia Lialina at the Merz Akademie in Stuttgart. Seemann created Trail Blazers as a surfing match in which the winner is the person who can find the shortest path between two sites, with only a mouse to navigate. The player has no keyboard and cannot use a search engine. The game is played with a slightly modified browser that registers every click. Besides being a lot of fun the project seems like a declaration of war on the search engine. It is a return to the feel of the early Web, in which navigation largely depended on links. In this sense it is also a return to the truly social web. In a time when the search engine, and this is usually Google, increasingly guesses the pathway (‘did you mean?’), link surfing is the digital equivalent of the six degrees of separation. (Josephine Bosma on Neural.it)
The project is based on the Memex from Vannevar Bush where he describes the (professional) users of the system as trail blazers: “‘There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.'” (Bush, 1945) Lialina shares that the most difficult part of the Trailblazers projects was how to get out of walled gardens like Facebook.
Related projects and writings by Olia Lialina
- Dragan Espenschied and Olia Lialina, Digital Folklore: To Computer Users, with Love and Respect (Merz Akademie, 2009). [↩]
- “Person who doesn’t know about computers but is going to use the system. Naive user systems are those set up to make things easy and clear for such people“. Ted Nelson: “The Most important computer terms for the 70’s”, in Dream Machines, Tempus Books, 1987, p.9 [↩]
Writing a book online and facilitating a discussion around it seems to be very popular these days. McKenzie Wark is working on GAM3R 7H30RY which will be published by Harvard University Press in April 2007, and it will contain contributions from readers of his site. Readers are discussing and participating in the writing process and the networked book is born. The Institute for the Future of the Book is concerned with issues around “the book’s reinvention in a networked environment.”1
I have tons of blogs and sites that I read on a daily basis. So a few years ago I started using Feedreader, a nice free RSS-reader, but I am not totally satisfied with it. It doesn’t allow any control over how often it updates my feeds, some posts are not displayed right and it has this annoying tendency to stay minimalized.
Since Firefox 2 came out I started using their new option the Firefox Live Bookmark. Instead of static bookmarks you can now subscribe to pages with dynamic content such as blogs. However, I don’t like the display, look, feel and handle of the Live Bookmarks e.g. it just displays the header title.
Carbonmade is a Web application which allows you to create and host an online portfolio. Creating a portfolio can be a lot of work and take up all your time. Carbonmade offers a service which allows you to quickly set up a portfolio without any knowledge of creating webpages. This sounds somewhat like a paradox, since a portfolio is supposed to be a creative expression of your work and templates are usually restricting.