workshop “studying digital cultures” / lund

I just returned from a great workshop on “studying digital cultures” organized by Jutta Haider, Sara Kjellberg, Joost van de Weijer & Marianne Gullberg (from HEX, the Humanities Lab, and the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences). They invited me and Kim Holmberg (Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi University/ Finland) to present tools and methods to study digital cultures. Drawing on our own work we presented, explained and discussed the tools we used and for what purposes.

Referring to his dissertation work Kim presented tools, which have been developed by Mike Thelwall, the SocSciBot and LexiURL in particular. Since I’ve been reading quite some of Thelwall’s publications I found it highly interesting to learn more about the technicalities involved in these link network visualization methods. If you’re willing to invest some time to understand the various tools (and have a PC since the tools don’t work on macs) you could do some pretty neat stuff with them (including YouTube searches with LexiURL). The advantage of these tools is that they are free to use; the downside of LexiURL is that it only includes Bing searches. Besides serious research tools Kim also showed us some fun stuff including the Twitter Sentiment Analysis Tool or the We Feel Fine websites, that enables you to explore human emotions (both didn’t seem to work properly though, but try it for yourself).

© photo credits: digital cultures blog

Compared to the methods Kim presented the tools developed by Richard Rogers and his team are user-friendly and easy to use. Both the Issuecrawler and related tools, such as the Issue Discovery tool or the Google scraper, are ready-made software packages that allow the user to create link network visualizations by clicking on a number of settings (which make them appealing to social sciences and humanities scholars with limited technical skills and less appealing to people, who want to modify/ adapt the tools for their own research purposes, as I’d assume). To really understand what you see on the Issuecrawler link network maps, however, also requires a certain understanding of the software and the algorithm it incorporates, which I tried to explain during the workshop by walking participanst through the software. The log-in for the Issuecrawler is easy to get and 10 crawls are for free. After that individual terms of use may be negotiated depending on whether researchers have funding or not. For more advanced users I suggested, a network visualization tool free to use with great capacities (ask Bernhard Rieder for details, he knows all about it). Finally, we played around with Wordle, a tool that creates beautiful issue clouds out of text (with one mouse click).

After the presentations participants tried to make use of the tools for their own research purposes. It was a mixed crowd with different research interests, which was fun. Further, Joost van de Weijer showed us the Lund Humanities Lab, which appeared to be really different from the Umeå HUMlab since it mainly focuses on eye tracking, motion tracking and similar technologies (it was impressive to see their “experiment” rooms!). All in all we had a great time and a delicious dinner after a long day of digital work 😉 Thanks again to the organizers for having made this event happen & all the participants for having shared their ideas with us! Finally, I want to thank Olof Sundin, who gave me the opportunity to speak about digital methods in his methods seminar, and Karolina Lindh, who let me and Mike Frangos stay at her gorgeous apartment in Lund. You guys really made my stay – as always – a great pleasure! Take care & hope to see you again soon!!!

goodtosee #11: Petition: Austria’s Scientific Landscape in Jeopardy

According to the daily newspaper Der Standard 63 Institutes of the Austrian Academy of Sciences should be reduced to 22 in the near future. If you want to express your concern about that and protest to these drastic budget cuts then please sign the petition by Christian Balluch from Vienna. That’s an extract of the petition (more infos here):

The Performance Agreement between the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which was signed on the 4th November 2011 paves the way for the factual budget reduction of the largest and most eminent non-university research establishment in the country. The annual budget discrepancy of approx. 10–16 Mio. Euro, as part of the total budget of 74 Mio. Euro per year is leading to the threat of loss or closure of internationally acclaimed, and demonstrably excellent research organizations. In the words of the Academy Director of Finances the measures could lead to the loss of at least 300 self-financed, full-time equivalent staff members between 2012 and 2014.

There is even the risk, that up to 300 out of the Academy’s 789 self-financed full-time equivalent scientific employees (905 including admin. staff) are threatened by these financial straits. Such drastic employee cuts are unprecedented in Austrian history since 1945. The current economic climate does not serve to justify this severity, and cuts on this scale have not been made in any other areas. Since third-party funding totaling approx. 22 Mio. Euro was acquired by employees, who now stand to lose their jobs, further negative impacts are foreseeable. When project managers are made redundant and their projects are brought to a close, this will automatically lead to the loss of other project support staff. This amounts to a sustainable destruction of knowledge and infrastructure. The level of scientific excellence and the international competitiveness of Austrian scientific research are endangered.

To sign the petition follow the link below:

internet of things conference @ HUMlab

HUMlab will be hosting another exciting conference in December (8-9): “Critically Making the Internet of Things”. The speaker list is impressive: Johanna Drucker, Lisa Gitelman, Finn Arne Jørgensen, Martijn de Waal, Johanna Björklund, David Zahle, Mash, Haibo Li, Chris Speed, Bruce Sterling, Tim Hutchings, Anne Galloway, Molly Steenson, Matt Ratto, Christian Lindholm, Eric Carlsson (please find more information on the speakers on the conference website).

Besides talks there will be an art performance, workshops, and a visit to the new Umeå Arts campus (where the new HUMlab X will be located). These are issues to be addressed at the conference, according to the conf. website:

The conference will present world-class researchers, entrepreneurs, and artists for a critical and engaging exmination of ideas for a world where everything is assumed to be connected, where objects such as cars and roads communicate and where the digital has moved outside of the computer. A basic notion underpinning the conference is the transition from online computers to online things. Examples of relevant issues include; How do we build smart cities? What are the implications of the recording of our movements by GPS devices, sensors and security cameras? What do connected objects actually say to each other, and can we describe their media ecology? Can we better understand the dream of a connected world through media history? How do we design products, services and systems for such a world? What is urban computing? What is a sentient city? How is farming changed when cattle are equipped with RFID-tags and become subject to national supervision?

goodtosee #10: unlike us & disobedient data bodies

A new network initiative has been circulated in mailing lists over the past couple of days. It’s called “Unlike Us. Understanding social media monopolies and their alternatives” (Concept: Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol). Its critical approach to social media definitely deserves a #goodtosee blog post! The central aim of the initiative is to establish a network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’. Planned are a series of events, a reader, workshops, online debates, campaigns etc. By pursuing these initiatives Unlike Us intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software, as may be read on its website. In doing so it wants to go beyond the culture of complaint and ask overarching questions about how to tackle fast-emerging monopoly powers:

Without falling into the romantic trap of some harmonious offline life, Unlike Us asks what sort of network architectures could be designed that contribute to ‘the common’, understood as a shared resource and system of collective production that supports new forms of social organizations (such as organized networks) without mining for data to sell. What aesthetic tactics could effectively end the expropriation of subjective and private dimensions that we experience daily in social networks? Why do we ignore networks that refuse the (hyper)growth model and instead seek to strengthen forms of free cooperation? Turning the tables, let’s code and develop other ‘network cultures’ whose protocols are no longer related to the logic of ‘weak ties’. What type of social relations do we want to foster and discover in the 21st century? Imagine dense, diverse networked exchanges between billions of people, outside corporate and state control. Imagine discourses returning subjectivities to their ‘natural’ status as open nodes based on dialogue and an ethics of free exchange.

The kick-off event will take place in Limassol (Cyprus) and focuses on how the facilitation of free exchanges and the commercial exploitation of social relationships, which lie at the heart of contemporary capitalism, belly social media (23 November 2011). For more infos on the kick-off meeting go to this page or subscribe to their mailing list.

I’m really happy to see a more critical approach to social media and will most certainly follow their activities! The questions they pose are highly relevant in an age of monopolist, for-profit internet technologies and go far beyond social media. Similar claims could – and should – be made about search engines, as I discussed in my recent article “Algorithmic Ideology“. The initiative Unlike Us further nicely relates to discussions we had at the Symposium Knowledge Machines between Freedom & Control in Hainburg (see also this blog post), where we arrived at similar questions and the need to think about and work on alternative technologies accountable to “the common” rather than monopolist companies making profit with our content and data. If you feel the urge to articulate your discomfort and complaints about Facebook, Google & co. and their privacy policy & business models you are more than welcome to contribute to the manifesto we created as part of the Hainburg event. It’s titled “Disobedient Data Bodies” and may be found here. Enjoy reading it, sharing it, continuing it, or adding some fancy background image since it’s still a little plain & white for a manifesto, as you can see below 😉 – both German & English texts are welcome!

biofuels in public spheres

Tomorrow I’ll be giving a seminar talk together with Jenny Eklöf from Umeå Studies in Science, Technology and Environment (USSTE). The title is “BIOFUELS IN PUBLIC SPHERES: How old and new media shape the biofuel controversy under the influence of technoscientific marketing”. All Umeå people are very welcome!!!

November 8, B 203, 13:00-14.30; Abstract:

While biofuels have been celebrated as an eco-friendly alternative to petrol with the potential to slow down climate change in the past, they have come under scrutiny due to their environmental and social impacts more recently. This seminar talk discusses our ongoing research project on the biofuel controversy in public spheres. The main research question to be addressed is how the controversy plays out in the Swedish press and in (Swedish) search engine results. Using “classical” (content analysis) and “digital” methods (search engine queries, link network analysis, issue clouds) we aim to show who the dominant actors are in both spheres, what visibility strategies they employ, and how actors from different sectors (industry, policy, academia) merge. In this analysis we specifically focus on blurring boundaries between different types of information (scientific, journalistic, activist, commercial etc.) and the way strategies of “technoscientific marketing” influence the staging of the controversy in the media and search engine results. This case study enables us to draw conclusions on how actors’ visibility strategies and different media (and their underlying mechanisms and business models) work in tandem to create blurred knowledge boundaries/ processes of information commercialization.

image credit ©

Internet & Society/ Berlin

The second event I attended, just last week, was the Inauguration Symposium of the “Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society” – also referred to as the Google Institute or Google-financed Institute (see its mission statement here). Even though I was a little skeptical at first, given the fact that Google sponsored both the Institute and the event, I greatly enjoyed the symposium! The first thing I realized when checking in was that a lot of technology would be involved in the conference.

The most stunning piece of technology was table cards with our names on them, but also QR codes identifying our profiles (we all had set up before going to Berlin). Whenever someone from the audience wanted to contribute something the QR code was scanned and the profile of the person was displayed on a screen (guess Patrik Svensson, director of HUMlab, would have loved this!). Right next to this screen was an even bigger screen showing the slides and an extended flip chart with a piece of paper on it – this was used to keep track of each session with a visualization, a picture summarizing the topics dealt with in the session (created by highly skilled illustrators!!). Moreover, there was a Google doc that collected notes and thoughts on the presentations, referees, and discussions. Given all this available documentation/ information a blog post on the issues treated at the conference seems to be almost obsolete.

That is why I’d like to share some unsystematic thoughts rather than a systematic summary of the conference (also because I missed parts of it). Altogether I think the four directors – Dr. Jeanette Hofmann, Prof. Ingolf Pernice, Prof. Thomas Schildhauer and Dr. Wolfgang Schulz -, together with the organizers, managed to put together a dense program with great speakers (especially on this short notice). I liked the workshop-oriented approach, even if it partly turned out to be more of an academic conference, than an interdisciplinary workshop. The combination of presentations and respondents worked out well and the chairs did a great job in general. My personal highlights were the sessions “Wisdom and Power of the Crowds“, especially Malte Ziewitz’s contribution on crowd wisdom and regulation, and “Dwelling in the Web: Towards a Googlization of Space” with contributions from Florian Fischer, Lonneke van der Velden, Robert Vogler, Tristan Thielmann; commented by Richard Rogers and others.

In the latter session the role of Max Senges, working in Google’s policy team and mediating between the new Institute and Google, as it seemed to me, attracted my attention. Whenever criticism of  Google was raised (e.g. its policy of border drawing in regions such as Tibet) Max Senges started to defend Google, which I found interesting and made me wonder what the overall agenda may be that Google followed with funding the Institute (an aspect that is still not entirely clear to me, but will only get clearer in the upcoming years, I guess). In this context an interesting question was raised by Senges at the very end of the symposium: How could the Institute and its research be evaluated beyond classical academic impact factors? (This question is not easy to answer, of course, but Cornelius Puschmann put up some interesting thoughts for discussion in his recent blog post)

The format of the last day was a little challenging. The idea was to have round table discussions in small groups debating/ reflecting results from the first two days together with stakeholders, who might not have been part of the symposium. Since the schedule was really tight this didn’t turn out so well, I thought. I thus decided to attended a workshop, where Cornelius and David Pachali presented the online platform (to-be) Regulation Watch and discussed it with the workshop participants to figure out what such a platform could/ should provide and who might contribute/ and why – which was fun. Besides the academic insights I got, I appreciated the really good food, drinks and, of course, the boat trip through Berlin by night, one of the highlights I got to experience together with Katrin Weller, René König, and others :)

And, last but not least, I loved to be back in Berlin, which is a truly great and vibrant city. Thanks to Axel Volmar for letting me stay at his place again, in lovely Kreuzberg!

If you got interested in the event more information could be found online: First, all the draft papers created for each of the sessions organized along the four directors and their topical foci. (The Google docs created at the conference and summarizing all workshops are only accessible to participants of the conference unfortunately). Second, blog posts on selected sessions, e.g. by Axel Bruns (SnurBlog), Judith Schossböck (Digital Goverment & Society) or Cornelius Puschmann ( Blog). Third, the visual representations of the sessions provided by Esteban Romero-Frías on his blog. And, finally, a link to the videos of the keynotes of the four directors and Eric Schmidt’s contribution.

Knowledge machines between freedom and control/ Hainburg

I’ve attended two great events in October. The first one was a symposium organized by the Institute of Media Archeology (IMA) and Theo Röhle, author of the book “Der Google Komplex. Über Macht im Zeitalter des Internets“. The symposium/ workshop took place in the beautiful Kulturfabrik in Hainburg.

© Kulturfabrik Hainburg

The idea of the event “Knowledge machines between freedom and control” was to bring together researchers, artists and programmers dealing with search engines and new media in a more general sense. I really enjoyed working together with artists and net activists, who have both similar and different viewpoints on the matter. Accordingly, on the first day, we tried to identify our positions on the issue, discuss possibilities and challenges in terms of search engine developments, think about utopias, but also concrete policy actions and implementations. In my workshop group the focus was on user profiling, personalization of search results, user data collections, or our “data bodies”, and their implications. While we easily found various issues to criticize (the filter bubble and privacy issues first and formost), we – or at least I – had trouble developing utopias or thinking outside the present socio-political contexts and structures. Hence, we ended up writing a manifesto on our data bodies, which I found liberating and fun! (thanks to Theo for putting this up). Thinking outside of the box and outside of academic requirements leads to pretty interesting results sometimes! Hence, the combination of researchers, artists and programmers really worked out in terms of having triggered creative ideas, writings and drawings, that wouldn’t have popped up in a merely academic arena.

The second day was meant to be a public event, the public, however, was sort of limited unfortunately. We presented and discussed our workshop results along the lines “index”, “algorithm” and “profile”. Finally, we had a round table discussion. Konrad Becker started out with a critical comment, which was followed by a lively debate on Google and Facebook, monopoly formation, alternative indexes and technology, business models, societal implications and potential futures regarding our knowledge machines and their relation to society and business. Moreover, the art piece “Insight Tower – A world machine” enabled us to stick our heads into the net – a piece by Seppo Gründler, Nicole Pruckermayr, and Elisabeth Schimana. In my viewpoint, it was a truly successful event! I especially liked meeting Theo Röhle, Malte Ziewitz, and Katja Mayer again, who all work at the intersection of search engines and science and technology studies. Moreover, I met really cool people like Seda Gürses doing research on social networks and (EU) policy making, and Joris van Hoboken working on search engines and law/ freedom of expression, as well as the media artist Nicole Pruckermayr and the musician/ performer Reni Hofmüller. And, last but not least, the artist/ performer Elisabeth Schimana, who organized the event and does a great job of leading the IMA . Thanks a lot for putting together this amazing crowd of people and ideas!!