nasty peer-reviews or “never enough”

If you’re an academic you most probably know these nasty peer-reviews rejecting your hard work. These reviews written by your „peers“, who are supposed to make a responsible decision, but use their powerful role to let off steam instead. Reviews that constist of a couple of lines without a single in-depth argument about the value of your work or lack of thereof. These are disappointing. Especially for someone like me, who takes a lot of time to write a thorough review (somewhat naive and not sufficiently familiar with the academic game yet).

However, these are even more disappointing in the context of our changing academic/ research landscapes. The more dependent (young) researchers get on these reviews – not only in terms of getting their articles published, but more importantly in terms of getting research grants and jobs – the more weight these reviews and the people writing them get. In a time of economic crisis and budget cutbacks nasty reviews might become a nail in the coffin of an early-stage researcher’s career. That is why I would like to make a plea to all the „blind reviewers“ out there – especially those who have been socialized in a university system with lifelong positions free of evaluations or agreements of performance – to write responsible reviews (not necessarily positive, but fair). For those of you, who are annoyed by unjustified review(er)s I suggest listening to „never enough“ by The Cure – I’m sure you’ll find some parallels to the absurdity of the academic world. Enjoy!

goodtosee #5: video archive of HUMlab lectures/ digital humanities 2002-?

Yesterday I gave a talk in HUMlab: “Search technology in society. Constructing search engines, shaping knowledge”. I was excited to present and discuss my research in this vibrant space and get feed-back from the wonderful HUMlab crowd! I really enjoyed the discussions that even continued after the talk – thanks for that!

Since the lab is not only a physical space, but also a highly digital space or “media place” – as the director Patrik Svensson himself often calls it – the HUMlab seminars are also live streamed and archived. I highly recommend to check out this rich repertoire of HUMlab lectures that goes back to the year of 2002 (!). The seminars are primarily dealing with research/ theories of the digital humanities, but also new media studies, digital sociology and related fields. This video archive assembles exciting scholars such as Whitney Trettien, Alan Liu, Rita Raley – just to name a few of the most recent speakers – and covers a wide variety of issues such as reading and writing in the digital age, cyberarcheology, digital modernism, online art production, file sharing communities and many more as you will find out here.. I’m really happy to be now part of this truly great video archive :)

suma awards 2011

Check out the SuMa Awards 2011 by the SuMa-eV. The SuMa-eV is a society with the central goal to assure free access to knowledge. In their doing they particularly focus on search engines, that have become central access points to the web and digital knowledge. Their central aim is to work towards a landscape of free, heterogeneous, and non-monopolistic search engines. More concretely, their goal is to raise awareness and information/ digital skills in the public and policy realm, but also to develop alternative technologies.

In addition to these activities they anually award works dealing with search engines or the future of digital knowledge in a more broader sense. That’s how they describe their call:

Our aim is to focus attention on search engines’ role in providing access to online information. The awards address all members of society: artists, scientists, journalists, parents, teachers – everyone who has something to say about the way search engines shape their information environment is welcome to send in contributions.

Our goal is to encourage public debate about the importance of our information environment for the future development of society. We want to spur innovative approaches to all aspects of search engines, not merely to the technical characteristics.

We welcome contributions in any format: text (scientific, journalistic, legal, literary, etc.), audio, video, multimedia, code, or any manner of artistic expression. They may take any style or mood, whether it be analytical, provocative, descriptive, or other. For inspiration, take a look at last year’s winners or at our project gallery. Anyone may take part – simply send your project description to:

The deadline is 30 June 2011. The prize is worth approx. 3000 EUR & the award ceremony will take place in Berlin, 28 September 2011. More infos on their website or my blogpost “my phd gets a suma award“.

Digital methods summer school, Amsterdam: 27 June – 8 July 2011

I just arranged my trip to Amsterdam to attend the 5th Digital Methods Summer School organized by Richard Rogers and colleagues. The questions that will be addressed this year are the following (according to the summer school website):

In the 2011 Digital Methods Summer School we will pay homage to cyberspace, in the opening, by presenting thought on a particular strand of media coverage about WikiLeaks, where cybergurus and cyberwar experts reappear on the scene. Just as importantly, we will ask, how to make use of the leaks, and their containers, for research purposes? From data-driven journalism to bespoke cablegate engines, does WikiLeaks spawn an online ecology of tools, visualizations and other substantive practices and outputs? Is such an ecology typical for data platforms? For comparative purposes, we will introduce and study the tool and visualization universes of Twitter as well as Wikipedia, both of which are examples of data-rich media. We would like to learn from platform media analytics and apply it to other data-rich media, so as to further develop tools for cultural diagnostics. One challenge is the question of device effects. For example, when comparing the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Wikipedia entries for the Srebrenica Massacre, does Wikipedia’s “neutral point of view” policies overdetermine the content, perhaps neutralize it, or can one read culturally distinctive views on the events?

Another strand of study is networked content, which is thought of as online content held together, maintained or even co-authored by software and bots. The interplay of search engines and content interests us this year, not just because Wikipedia articles are routinely at the top of Google results. (The relationship between Google and Wikipedia remains understudied.) But there is also content seemingly authored for engines first and readers only second, as in the case of “demand media.” We would like to study efforts that seek to fill in engine results with content, reopening the question of engine epistemology. Presentations will include work on engine log analysis. Apart from (Google) flu trends, are log analyses able to identify and geo-locate cultural and political preference?

More infos on the summer school and some sort of online tutorial on the methods and visualization tools used – such as the Issuecrawler identifying and visualizing link networks – may be found on the Digital Methods Initiative Website or on the Website of the Foundation.

I’m especially interested in the second cluster of questions since I’ll further pursue my research on search engines and their information political implications while being at the summer school. Concretely, I’ll investigate how the controversy around biofuels plays out in search engine results, a project I’m working on together with Jenny Eklöf from the Umeå Studies in Science, Technology and Environment. In this project we basically aim to analyze how search engines structure and stage the controversy, what actors succeed in occupying one of the “top ten seats” and what their positions on the issue are, and what conclusions may be drawn in terms of search engine politics and the commercialization of information. In addition, I’d like to compare search engine results with other web spheres such as Google news, blogs, and social networking sites and their way of ordering, filtering and hierarchizing information on biofuels making use of all the fancy “digital methods” and tools.

I’m already looking forward to the summer school and to work with Richard and his wonderful team again! Not to speak of lovely Amsterdam..

goodtosee #4: “take action” digital grassroots initiatives/ Germany

I came across a couple of really interesting grassroots initiatives in the context of net politics recently, which I’d like to share today. In the course of the annual re:publica conference (Berlin, 13-15 April) quite some net initiatives have been launched in Germany. First of all, the Blogger Markus Beckedahl from and others have created the non-profit association “Digital Society”. Its main goal is to launch critical campaigns concerning issues such as data privacy or the widely debated law on Vorratsdatenspeicherung (data retention). If you’re interested in this newly constituted association you might want to watch the interview with Markus Beckedahl on the re:publica channel here (in German):

– Amongst other interviews such as the one with Maxwell Salzberg, the founder of the social networking platform Diaspora (see also blogpost goodtosee #1). Concerning Vorratsdatenspeicherung I also recommend to check out Florian Klenk’s blog post “Bringt dieses Gesetz in Brüssel zu Fall” or the Facebook group “Stop Vorratsdatenspeicherung“.

Moreover, Wolfgang Sander-Beuermann from the “SuMa-eV, Verein für freien Wissenszugang” (see also this blog post) has formulated a proposal against the increasing “dominance of the Internet by global online companies”, as may be read on the SuMa-Ev Website (in German again):

Google im Bereich der Suchmaschinen, Facebook bei den sozialen Netzwerken und Apple im Musikgeschäft sind die Symbole einer zunehmenden Monopolisierung des Internets. Die Idee einer offenen Plattform, einer Agora, auf der sich die Bürgerinnen und Bürger des globalen Dorfes treffen und austauschen können, ist durch die zunehmende Monopolisierung und Segmentierung bedroht. Gerade in Bereich der Suchmaschinen droht hier die Balance zwischen Öffentlichkeit und privaten Unternehmensinteressen außer Tritt zu geraten.

He put forward his suggestion to the newly installed Enquete Commission “Internet and Digital Society” of the German Bundestag. If you would like to support this initiative you can vote for it here:

Finally, the book “Datenfresser. Wie Internetfirmen und Staat sich unsere persönlichen Daten einverleiben und wie wir die Kontrolle darüber zurückerlangen” by Constanze Kurz (Chaos Computer Club) and Frank Rieger may be interesting to read. It treats an increasingly important issue, the collection and commodification of our data by Internet companies, but it also seems to go beyond that by showing us ways to protect ourselves. That’s the impression I got from their website at least.. I guess I’ll order it soon. If you come across similar, or also different initiatives, – please do post them in the comments! I’m sure there is more out there, also beyond the German border hopefully! (What about Austria or Sweden?)