Notes on Media


Just another weblog. Lasse Bo Timmermann.

The ‘Flow’ of the Web 2.0 – Cyberspace Revisited?

In a talk at the Web 2.0 Expo Danah Boyd provides a nice overview on how social media could shape the way of experiencing the ‘flow’ of information on the Web. The speech is published on her blog and reading it something came to my mind which keeps puzzling me since. Boyd basically describes the shift from broadcast media to networked media. The goal for us then seems to be in achieving a state in which one is actively embedded into a constant flow of information. Further, tools should be used to distill the relevant parts of this information stream. The summary she provides gives comprehensive overview on the goods and bads we can expect of the described development. Four core issues are pointed out that arise from the increasing use of social media and personalized media streams. Towards the end she calls for an active participation in this process and also to help people to reach this state. What keeps puzzling me, however, is the somewhat utopian tone of her address that reminds me of the old cyberspace days.

“[…] to live in a world where information is everywhere. To be peripherally aware of information as it flows by, grabbing it at the right moment when it is most relevant and valuable, entertaining or insightful. Living with, in, and around information.”

she writes. For my sense her words are strikingly close to what William Gibson writes about cyberspace in Neuromancer.

“A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts […] A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

There are obvious differences of course. The ‘flow’ of the Web 2.0 is certainly not a hallucination and not described like that. However, it seems rather abstract to me. The idea of information everywhere and a peripheral awareness brings one close to Mark Weiser’s idea of ubiquitous computing, so rather the opposite of the cyberspace’s virtual reality, but not necessarily less utopian. The general tone of being within the stream of information, being surrounded by it and hence liberated from the constraints of the centralized broadcasting model nevertheless leaves me with an uncanny feeling. It leaves me uneasy because it seems too passive from the user’s perspective. Just plug in to the ‘flow’ and dive into another realm?


Filed under: Conference, Cyberspace, Web 2.0

YouTube: A Website History

For a seminar in Digital Methods we did a short film on the history of YouTube and its googlization. From a community (actually more a dating service in the very beginning) it turned into a search engine for videos. The video tells the entire story of this process and points to the most prominent changes leading there. Unfortunately does not allow to embed anything but YouTube and Google videos – what irony! Instead I will link to Simeona’s post on the Masters of Media blog which also includes a more elaborated version of the theoretical background of our research.

Filed under: Amsterdam, Digital Methods, Google, University, Video

Alternative Search

Society of the Query FlyerVisiting the Society of the Query Conference I had the chance to listen to many interesting talks on the impact of search engines (not only Google) on our lives. The two sessions on alternative search recalled Alexander Galloway’s call for the creation of alternative algorithms to my mind. In Mary Joyce’s blog I found a nice entry on Power & the Network that points out the relevance of such an endeavor. She writes that

“[…] the challenge for people who want to encourage more effective digital activism is to figure out which content will both assist activists in creating effective campaigns and which can be disseminated most effectively online.”

One way to do so and also to account for her second request, namely to provide people with

[…] digital content that not only inspires and directs citizens to act, but also tells them how to act[,]

could be in the creation of the algorithms mentioned above. It would hence not only be the content, as Joayce writes, but also about the techniques of dissemination. Rather than merely adapting to the protocols and pathways provided by the Web one should also open the eyes for alternatives. The Society of the Query conference provided some interesting hints in this direction. Particularly interesting to me were the misspelling generator that can for instance be used to temporarily circumvent censorship and the anxiety monitor, which provides a tool to visually compare the connotations of different keywords towards diverse cultural backgrounds. While these examples fall more in the first category and are dealing with using the available tools to provide alternatives to the default search options, the approach presented by Daniel von der Velden was different. His main argument for alternative search is that the interesting challenges to main stream assumptions are found at the periphery of the usual search results. The problem with thos results is that they

“[…] are often not directly connected to the statement and exist isolated as isolated worlds away from the powerful, reigning opinion. Metahaven wants to develop a search engine that connects these different spheres, to provide different points of views on particular issues and be able to put emphasis on the marginal forces.

To achieve these goals Metahaven strives to create maps that reveal the networks of power and provide a better overview on where the information can be found and how it is distributed. Through this they want to open up the black-boxes of cloud-computing and current search engines. Even though Metahaven attempts to provide a truly alternative search and wants to provide a greater visibility of alternate accounts something from Joyce’s requests seems to remain open. It is certainly not enough to provide the people with the information. Alternative algorithms also have to show their users how to act, the next step so to say. This is what will be one of the great challenges for alternative search in the future.

Filed under: Activism, Algorithms, Amsterdam, Conference, Engines, Internet, Politics

Of Phones and Food

I already stumbled upon the number of 4.1 billion cellphone subscriptions worldwide quite a while ago. My feeling, however, was that the indication for a reduction of the digital divide is flawed by the fact that many of the people in Western countries are subscribed more than once. A remarkable fact, pointed out by Bruce Etling on the Internet & Democracy blog, seems to allude to the opposite. He points to an announcement by the UN which states cell phones will be used to distribute 22$ vouchers among Iraqi refugee families in Syria. This indicates that we have indeed reached a very strange point at which cell phones seem to be more accessible than food as Matthew Cordell points out. For me this significantly questions how important the discussion about a digital divide still is and how telling the numbers of worldwide cell phone subscriptions really are. What is it worth if the whole planet is connected to global communication networks if many still don’t have access to food or water? What does this tell about the potential of the Internet to improve everyday life?

Filed under: Cyberspace, Internet, Mobile, Politics

The Politics of Algorithms

A political critique of search engines never is an easy thing. It is widely accepted that the top results provided by the search engine follow the stance of the mainstream media and that minorities quickly get buried within the back of the results. Similar assumptions are argued extensively, for instance in Matthew Hindmans The Myth of Digital Democracy, but to me their conclusions seem too easy. Mareijn de Vries Hoogerwerff nicely sums up the issues that arise in his blog post Democracy of the Algorithm. He remarks that the search results are created by the links (or votes) of the users and thus reflect the popular accounts for certain issues.

“Seeing the Google search engine as producing information that represents the diverse sets of opinions needed for true democratic debate (if we for the moment assume this is at all possible through media) thus ignores the way the technology operates. It is not so much Google search engine serving a misleading presentation of facts, but more so a misunderstanding of what it is. The search results are returning exactly what could be expected and the service works just fine.”

He is certainly right about the assumption that the role of search engines is misunderstood by many. Currently search engines are not tools to provide us with different realities and tend to filter the unexpected. He concludes that the Western faith in technology, or what he calls information determinism earlier in the post, might have lead to the somehow naiv belief that the information that is returned by the engine accounts for all the available voices. The result of such a perception would be the belief that the sheer availability of information and its universal accessibility could solve complicated social problems. His suggestion, as I understand it, is that we have to learn (again?) to read the distortions caused by the engine, like the Chinese do with the results returned for Tiananmen square on

But to whom will such an awareness be available? Will it be only the well educated or scholarly working? There certainly are reasons for the misunderstanding of what the engines are serving. Instead of accepting the apparent bias of the algorithm we might also look at the creation of alternative algorithms. As Alexander Galloway writes in an article:

“[…] I call for the creation of an experimental school of alternative algorithms modeled around a variety of political and social goods. We need a viable critique of collaborative filtering.”

I believe that technology critical movements can gain a significant political influence over the coming years. The success of the pirate party over Europe has already been compared to the green movement of the 80s by some. Taking Galloway’s call seriously their politics would thus not necessarily be limited to a single topic (the Internet), something they are accused of very often. They would rather stand for a certain way of living; the critical dealing with and the conscious use of alternative algorithms could become something like the new green in 20 or 30 years. ‘Green’ algorithms that admittedly stand for more fairness and require some more work to find the results one is looking for. In return they allow more voices to be heard and are able to surprise me as a user. This might be utopian, but its certainly something to think about.

Filed under: Algorithms, Engines, Internet, Politics

Googlization, Cyborgization or What?

2012 billboard in Amsterdam

Filed under: Amsterdam, Cyborgs, Google, Photography

with:public – Google Wave as the New Live?

From static websites, to personal blogs, to status updates on Facebook or Twitter. Reading and working on the Web seems to speed up. Earlier this week I had the chance to have a first look on Google Wave. Without many people using it I can not really say much about its use in everyday life. However, typing ‘with:public’ into the search box reveals some of what wave is able to do. One immediately sees a rush of communication; numerous waves floating across the screen, much faster then they can be read. A stream similar to what one can receive through Twitter, but everything is ‘real-time’. It is not a flow of static messages but the text is still being typed while it flows by. I think it is yet impossible to predict where it will eventually go and what the main purposes of Google Wave will eventually be, but reading Nicholas Carr’s article Is Google Making us Stupid there is an interesting aspect to it with respect to its live character . In the article he is more generally dealing with ideas of how the Internet changes our way of thinking and how it becomes increasingly difficult to stay focused. At one point he argues that,

“[t]he last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.”

Could Google Wave thus be perceived as the next step in this process? Yes and No. Paradoxically many people perceive it as a tool of faster, easier and more convenient form of communication, especially if it comes to collaborative work and organization of things. The answer would thus be ‘No’ as forms of communication, hitherto provisionally realized through e-mail, really seem to be able to find a better platform. Also the live aspect of Google Wave certainly has an appealing aspect. But, the distraction seems to sneak in through the backdoor. If everything (in terms of communcation) is always live and thus changeable, replayable and commentable the static seems to fade a bit more. An aspect of also mentioned with respect to Twitter by Jeff Jarvis in his post on The temporary Web in which he states that,

“Twitter is temporary. Streams are fleeting. If the future of the web after the page and the site and SEO is streams – and I believe at least part of it will be – then we risk losing information, ideas, and the permanent points – the permalinks – around which we used to coalesce.”

I do not necessarily share the rather dark prophecy, Carr’s seems to put forward, in all its aspects. The different temporality, however, seems to pose questions for the consistency of out living environment. There certainly is a paradoxically situation in which we keep ever more information about ourselves e.g. in our mailboxes, while on the other hand the streams of data become increasingly temporary.

Filed under: Google, Internet

Hello world!

Blog is set up. Time will tell if I use it or not.

Filed under: Uncategorized