oii conference “a decade in internet time”

I highly enjoyed the OII conference in Oxford over the last couple of days! Even though I don’t have enough time to write a proper blogpost about the conference I’d like to share some of my personal highlights. First of all, I really enjoyed seeing Manuel Castells speaking live for the first time! Since I’m a big fan of his writings I was glad to see that he’s not only a thorough thinker, but also an excellent speaker (the two not always necessarily go together). He was talking as part of the anniversary plenary session, which further included Vint Cerf, Wendy Hall, Eli Noam, Andrew Graham – all of them gave a great speech about the last decade of Internet research and future perspectives and challenges.

Besides this distinguished panel there were more events worth metioning. My own panel “Ethics & Values”, for example, was well assembled. Particularly Vicki Nash’s talk “Dissenting Values at the Heart of the Internet” turned out to be really useful in terms of my future research. Also, I enjoyed the discussion that followed my talk, even though it was brief because I was the last speaker in the session, which was bad as usual.. 😉

Further, I liked the panel on “Virtual Knowledge” with Sally Wyatt, Paul Wouters, Smiljana Antonijevic and others from the Virtual Knowledge Studio, which triggered the question whether this conference could have happened 10 years ago or whether new media, Twitter in particular, fundamentally changed the way knowledge is created, shared and distributed. Also, Alberto Pepe’s talk “Identity Dilemmas on Facebook” was really clever and well done. He re-enacted Pirandello’s novel “One, no one and one hundred thousand” in the Facebook age. Finally, Laura De Nardis’ talk “Technologies of Dissent” made a huge impression on me. She gave an in-depth analysis of Internet governance as socio-political practice in a global (capitalist) age. After Aleks Krotoski’s comments an interesting discussion evolved around Internet governance and the role governments, but also – and even more importantly – corporate actors such as Google play therein. I ordered De Nardis’ book “Protocol Politics” immediately after the session.

And then, last but not least, I perceived Oxford itself as a very enjoyable town. Thanks to Alberto Pepe, Jean-Christophe Platin, Juliette De Maeyer (sorry for having missed both of your presentations – shame on me!!) for their nice company, and Malte Ziewitz, who showed me his college at night.. pretty spooky! Thanks for that and see you in Hainburg soon! :)

For those of you who missed the conference: most of the papers are online here.

Upcoming travels and events

Tomorrow morning I’ll go to Oxford to participate in the OII conference “A Decade in Internet Time“. The line-up of speakers looks very promising and includes big names such as Manuel Castells, Ted Nelson, Danah Boyd, and others. I’m looking forward to present and discuss my paper “Algorithmic Ideology” in this great intellectual enviroment. That’s the abstract of my talk:

This article investigates how the “new spirit of capitalism” (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2007) gets inscribed in the fabric of search algorithms by way of social practices. Drawing on the tradition of the social construction of technology (SCOT) and 17 qualitative expert interviews I discuss how search engines and their “capital accumulation cycle” (Fuchs, forthcoming) are negotiated and stabilized in a network of actors and interests, website providers and users first and foremost. I further show how corporate search engines and their capitalist ideology are solidified in a socio-political context characterized by a techno-euphoric climate of innovation and a politics of privatization. This analysis provides a valuable contribution to contemporary search engine critique mainly focusing on search engines’ business models and societal implications. It shows that a shift of perspective is needed from impacts search engines have on society towards social practices and power relations involved in the construction of search engines to reconsider and renegotiate search engines and their algorithmic ideology in the future.

The full paper could be downloaded here. After the OII conference I’ll take part in the workshop Social Media Cultures, which will take place at HUMlab right after (26-28 September). It’s a joint workshop of researches from the Umeå University and the University of Wollongong/ Australia. Thanks to Jim Barrett for organizing this event!

On the 5th of October I’ll go back to Austria to join the symposium “Knowledge Machines between Freedom and Control” in Hainburg, which is organized by IMA, Institut for Media Archeology, in cooperation with Theo Röhle. It’s the final event of the exhibition “insight-Tower – A World Machine“, where you can “stick your head into the net” (concept: Seppo Gründler, Nicole Pruckermayr, Elisabeth Schimana, Martin Schitter):

© photo credit IMA

The symposium aims at initiating a discourse on search engines between researchers, technicians and artists and closes with a public event, which seems exciting to me! From Vienna I’ll  most probably go to the inauguration symposium of the new research institute “Internet and Society” in Berlin (25-28 October). Since the institute is financed by Google and renowed German Universities have started to collaborate with them I expect it to be a truly interesting conference/ workshop (some of the details are still fuzzy though).

Finally, in November, I’ve been invited to participate in the workshop “Studying digital cultures – tools and methods for Humanities scholars” in Lund; organized by Lund University’s Humanities Laboratory, the Humanities Experiment Group (HEX), and the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences (24 November). I’m already looking forward to seeing Jutta Haider, Olof Sundin & Karolina Lindh again, who made my last stay in “the south of Sweden” incredibly enjoyable!! Finally, in December, there will be another HUMlab conference called “The Internet of Things”, more infos will follow!

In between all these exciting events I hope I’ll get some writing done, another grant proposal out, and to pursue my research project on the biofuel controversy in Swedish media and search engine results (together with Jenny Eklöf), a project I’m really looking forward to!! :) We’ll present our work at the beginning of November as part of the Umeå Studies in Science, Technology and Environment seminar series. Stay tuned!

goodtosee #9: Scroogle

I briefly talked about Scroogle in a previous blogpost, but it deserves its own post since it’s such a great tool! Scroogle was developed by Daniel Brandt and basically figures as a proxy for Google search.

That’s how it works according to their website:

Scroogle randomly grabs a Goo IP. Google issues a new cookie with a new ID, and sends the search results. We trash the cookie and save the results in a file that is deleted within the hour. Google records Scroogle’s IP address, the search terms, and the date and time. We parse the file and send the results to the searcher. We don’t use cookies, we don’t save the search terms, and logs are deleted within 48 hours.

Using Google through Scroogle hence protects users’ privacy because it disables the logging and archiving of cookies and IP addresses, which capture users’ search activities. It allows users to enjoy the full search service without feeding user data into the search engine. Contrary to reconfiguring browsers, deleting cookies and other strategies of “digital self-defense”, which often trigger inconveniences, Scroogle maintains the full service (except from Google’s annoying ads). Accordingly, Scroogle may  be seen as exploiting Google. In my perception this is only fair since Google exploits us too by using our web content, linking strategies and, most importantly, our data to create profit. The so-called “user profiling”, the creation of “profiles” out of users’ search terms, search history and locations, is the basis for user-targeted advertising that made Google one of the most profitable companies on earth.*

Scroogle thus enables users to opt out of this economic exploitation scheme, while still providing the benefits of Google search. A clever move! Besides, Scroogle is entertaining too. Its homepage shows a new comic each time you reload the page. Most of the comics make fun of Google, and some of them are truly hilarious:

But check it out yourself, it’s worth risking a look! Another great tool is the Firefox Add-on „TrackMeNot“, which messes up user profiles by sending random search queries to the search engine.

* For an academic discussion on Google’s exploitation scheme within the broader context of capitalist society see, for example:

Fuchs, Christian (forthcoming) A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of Google, Fast Capitalism, vol. 8, no. 1.

Mager, Astrid (2011) Algorithmic Ideology. How Society Shapes Search Engines, Conference paper for the OII conference “A Decade in Internet Time” (Oxford, 21-24 September).

Pasquinelli, Matteo (2009) Google’s PageRank. Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and Rentier of the Common Intellect, in Deep Search: The Politics of Search Engines beyond Google, eds. K. Becker & F. Stalder, Studienverlag, Innsbruck, pp. 152-162.

swedish wood

Going into the wood shows that academics are not the only ones working hard. It also impressively demonstrates that life is truly gorgeous outside the office. And yes, the title is a reference to the beautiful Beatles song Norwegian Wood.

Even construction sites have their own charm. Sometimes.