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!!

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!

summer school season 2011

I’m excited about the summer school season that’s starting soon! My first stop will be Amsterdam, where the Digital Methods Summer School is taking place from the 27 June till the 8 July. It will be fun to meet Richard Rogers, the organizer of the summer school, and his team again and share ideas, empirical insights, and “digital tools”. The program looks amazing and there’s going to be a great number of participants from all over the world (see also this blogpost).

My second stop will be Vienna, where I’ll attend the Marie Jahoda Summer School of Sociology dealing with Economy–Markets–Organizations: The Culture of modern Economy.

That’s an excerpt from the website:

Like all economic processes, markets and organizations are embedded in social structures. Cultural values and political decisions strongly influence economic action, and economic processes follow social norms. The culture of markets transcends the homo oeconomicus. As the new economic sociology has shown, economic action, whether it takes place on markets, in organizations, in networks or as self-management, has to be understood as multi-dimensional and is not bound to an economic rationality existing outside social relations. In this perspective, current processes like the “economization” of social fields become themselves visible as cultural patterns of social organization.

The Marie Jahoda Summer School of Sociology will be set against this thematic background. We will examine competition, firms, management practices and organizations in the economic field, extending it to the arts, religion, sports, fashion, pop culture or the media – social fields, which themselves are examples of today’s “culture of markets”.

It will be really interesting to go back to the Sociology Department, where I studied more than 10 years ago! I’m sure a lot has changed in the last decade and I’m curious about the current state of the field. There will be 19 participants, mostly from the German-speaking context, and I’m happy to be one of them. The summer school will be an excellent opportunity to present my work on search engines in the context of present-day market capitalism and gain feed-back from Austrian/ German researchers. I’m particularly looking forward to  meeting Sighard Neckel, the organizer of the summer school – who kindly invited me to take part in this event – and his collaborators.

Algorithmic ideology at oxford internet institute/ oii 21-24 September 2011

I’m happy to announce that my paper “Algorithmic Ideology: How capitalist society shapes search engines” has been accepted at the OII conference in September (with thanks to Ken Hillis for the inspiration to the title). The conference “A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society” has the central goal to critically assess the last decade of social research on the Internet and identify directions for research over the next. Further, the 10th anniversery of the founding of the OII will be celebrated. The line-up of the speakers is highly impressive: Manuel Castells, Vint Cerf, Dr. Laura DeNardis, Professor William H. Dutton, Andrew Graham, Eszter Hargittai, Brian Loader, Dr. Lisa Nakamura, Dr. Victoria Nash, and last but not least Professor Barry Wellman. I’m particularly looking forward to discuss my paper in the audience of Manuel Castells or Vint Cerf – who both will certainly have to say a lot about the development of search technology/ Google in the context of capitalist society/ the information economy. For further information on the conference topics, speakers & registration, please go to the conference website (credits for the image OII).

media places: from the gardens of versailles to spatial robots

The media places conference at the HUMlab has come to an end. It was a highly inspiring three-day gathering of international scholars in the broad field of digital humanities. Besides researchers from the humanities and the social sciences, software developers, architects, advertisers, musicians, and a bunch of people from the digital media and gaming industry have been part of the tight program. The juxtaposition of all these different types of actors and their perspectives on the mutual shaping of media, technology and place made this event mind-blowing indeed.

It enabled our minds to travel from the historic gardens of Versailles and smart homes from the 50s to future scenarios in architecture and spatial robots telling us when to water the plant. The opening talk of Chandra Mukerji reminded us of the fact that power and authority is not only exercised by social action, but also by materiality and architecture. Her detailed analysis of the gardens of Versailles and the beautiful fountains, statues and mazes provided a theoretical framework for the politics of place, which I found applicable to a lot of the talks that followed thereafter. Most impressively, probably, in Erica Robles‘ analysis of Californian Megachurches. The glassy facades and huge screens mediating the congregation to a global TV audience may be seen as a manifestation of authority (and capitalism).

While most of the talks, such as these two, might be neatly woven together, others pointed to contradictions and misunderstandings, most particularly between critical analysis and software developers. I found it most striking, for example, that Lynn Spigel‘s gender clichés embedded in historic advertisements of smart homes and TV may still be found in demonstration videos of the fascinating information systems and spatial robots Miles Kemp presented. Is the “future of the past”, as Lynn Spigel called it – the white nuclear family and the woman taking care of the kinds – still applying to the future of the present? Or is it rather time to create new societal visions along with new technological possibilities?

Photo credits: The Univesity of Chicago Press & Variate Labs

Since pretty much all the talks I’ve heard were highly inspiring I could go on forever here. To avoid that I would like to invite you to check out the program and speakers in detail on the conference website. There you can learn more about Molly Steenson‘s analysis of Cedric Price and his imaginations of information architecture, Zephyr Frank‘s network visualizations of the spread of diseases or the mobility of Rio de Janeiro’s slave population, Jesus de Francisco‘s advertising films and music videos from Motion Theory, Simon Lindgren‘s networks of file sharing and other social media communities, Jeffrey Sconce‘s reflections on schizophrenia and delusional media, Nicklas Nygren‘s fantastic video or rather “audio” games, Carter Emmart‘s simulations of the universe and much more. Not having been in an observatory for ages Carter Emmart’s tour from Mars to the Moon and back to the Earth was most impressive to me!! Thanks for that!

Last but not least I would like to refer to the talks of my HUMlab colleagues: Jim Barrett, Jenna Ng and Mats Deutschmann gave a wonderful presentation on second life as a media place for learning, symbolic representation and cinematic experience. Mike Frangos was talking about archiving and social media featuring Machfeld‘s M1+1 performances (I personally love to advertise ; ). And Lisa Swanstrom presented her really interesting book on new media places and environmental consciousness hinting at the blurring boundaries between nature and technology. Good luck with your book! We’ll miss you here Lisa!

Last last, but not least: I would like to thank Patrik Svensson and Emma Ewadotter and all the helping hands from the HUMlab crowd for the wonderful conference, and the Julbord and Glögg party, of course :) I would love to see more events mixing people with different backgrounds and creating a media place for fruitful thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries!!

Patrik’s reflections on the use of space during the conference and more interesting material on all that may also be found at the HUMlab blog.

“Media Places” conference at HUMlab

Preparations have already started for the upcoming conference “Media Places”, that will take place at the HUMlab, Umeå University/ Sweden, 9-11 December 2010. Within the broader context of what has been labeled the “Digital Humanities” this conferences aims to investigate the interplay between media, technology and location. “A basic premise is that the social, cultural and spatial are deeply embedded, and that space is constantly structured and produced by those of who occupy it”, as may be read on the conference website. To approach phenomena at the intersection of media, technology and place the conference brings together cultural historians, architects, screen researchers, art and creative directors from digital media production industry, visualization experts, design researchers, sociologists, gender researchers, and game industry representatives. This broad range of scholars with different backgrounds shows the interdisciplinary dimension of topics the growing field of Digital Humanities deals with.

Details on the program and international guests from top-class institutions in the field of Digital Humanities may be found here. I’m already looking forward to an exciting three-day conference in the far north of Sweden 😉

What needs to be done

These are some thoughts on the SuMa conference in Berlin, that I originally posted on the HUMlab blog:

Last week I spent a wonderful time in Berlin. I went there to pick up the SuMa Award my PhD “Mediated Knowledge” (download) received from the “SuMa-eV – Verein fuer freien Wissenszugang”, which makes me very happy!! The society annually awards works dealing with the future of digital knowledge ranging from scientific research, artistical approaches, to technical contributions such as search engines (check out the application deadline in spring!). Besides my PhD, the search engine “NewsClub im Bundestag“, the online dictionary “Linguee“, the scientific search engine ”BASE” and the satire “Google Home View“ were awarded this year. More Infos on the SuMa society could also be found here.

The award ceremony took place on the 6 October as part of the SuMa conference. The central goal of the conference with the title “what needs to be done” was to find ways how the German/ European civil society may shape the future of the world wide web. The title of the conference indicates that the conference organizers, most importantly the director of the society Wolfgang Sander-Beuermann, do not only aim to discuss, but rather to actively participate in the shaping of digital futures. Guiding questions for this challenging undertaking are how could free knowledge exchange be assured? What do we, as a society, know when knowing is equated with Googling? How could transparancy, data security and privacy guaranteed? And what is the role of civil society?

To answer these questions different actors were invited to the discussion including information scientists, policy makers – both German and European, as well as members of the civil society such as activists, bloggers and journalists (for details check the conference programme). While the morning sessions were primarily concerned with the way network technologies change institutions and concepts such as libraries, magazines and knowledge/ information in a broader sense, the afternoon sessions were mostly dealing with privacy issues, data security and legislation. The collision of these different viewpoints clearly showed the challenges involved in creating a digital future meeting all our needs.

One of the challenges is to harmonize local regulations with global trends. US American companies such as Google or Facebook pose privacy issues, that reach the limits of European and local legislation, not least when thinking of contemporary debates around Google Street View. Another challenge seems to be the fact that politics is increasingly overruled by commerce. Regret was expressed amongst some participants that German legislation would be too strict and thus prevent German search engines to grow and compete with global players. But should the answer to that be a liberation of local regulations to compete with the US American economy? Or could (should?) countries such as Germany not rather figure as a critical voice in the global concert and strengthen alternatives to money-driven developments?

This question closely relates to the final discussion on the role of civil society in shaping our digital future/s. While the panel “what politics can do” did not really provide answers, the panel with proponents from the civil society seemed more promising to me. Initiatives such as the European hacker association “Chaos Computer Club” aim to bridge the gap between technical and societal developments, a gap that is no longer filled by science according to the speaker of the CCC Constanze Kurz (an interesting thought that needs further consideration when thinking of Google as a search engine, that originally grew out of the scientific arena, for example). As time went on the discussion crystallized around the question how to strengthen such initiatives. Lars Reppesgaard, the author of the book “Das Google Imperium”, asked whether a bigger, more prominent actor is needed.

Referring to Greenpeace he suggested “DATAPEACE” as a powerful actor, that may better fulfil the role of critically reflecting and actively contributing to the shaping of our networked world. I want to conclude with this suggestion and leave it to the readers to think it further. Since these discussions took place in the German context, it would also be interesting to hear about debates in other cultural contexts such as the Swedish one. Are there similar/ divergent debates? What could we learn from different contexts? Answers are highly welcome..

Personally, I really enjoyed the conference and all the interesting conversations! I want to thank the organizers for inviting and awarding me, and all the participants for sharing their thoughts – both in public and private discussions! Good luck with all your future initiatives and events, it’s important to keep asking “what needs to be done”, even if there are no simple answers to this question. Finally, I also want to thank my friend Axel for letting me stay at his place and showing me all the great restaurants and bars. Berlin is always worth a visit!