Notes on Media


Just another weblog. Lasse Bo Timmermann.

Urban Screens – Visualizing the Rhythms of the City

Visiting the urbancreens conference in Amsterdam provided some interesting insights into the connections between urban culture, architecture and media spaces. Most interesting in view was Martijn de Waals’s talk on Improving Cultural Public Spaces. In his talk he was concerned with urban screens, mobile media and urban culture. In his terms the city is a space full of strangers in which we only know a small fraction personally. He asks how we shape and express our own identity in these spaces and how we relate ourselve to others?
real-time rome visualization taken from
De Waal then turned to the analysis of different urban practices that are fundamentally reshaped by the use of mobile communication devices. The space of the city can hence serve as a space for political debate and the encounter of different people and perspectives. The cultural public space offers a bodily experience of collective rhythms, performances and habits. Wearing particular clothes and visiting shared places leads of the creation of patterns. Just by being in space a person creates a specific urban space. Over time the same persons encounter each other frequently which can build a sense of trust, similarly to social networks and recommendation systems. The sense of belonging to a collective can therefore be argued to be based on a shared space. This sense of belonging can further lead to what de Waal terms dwelling and that describes the process of making oneself at home in a city. In his talk de Waal provides a comeplling way of describing urban life in the time of the increasing use of mobile communication devices (and their screens). I really enjoyed his descriptions of actively formed and constantly re-formed spaces in an urban environment.
The examples introduced show current projects that support the creation of the spaces described by de Waal. In a project called citysense one can download a cell phone application in order to find people and places with similar interests based on one’s own habits. The inhabitants of the city are placed into different tribes, hence pointing towards a future possibility to form and bring together dynamic groups of people. A second example introduced was MIT’s SENSEable City Lab which includes several different projects. In one of the featured projects the cell phone data is combined with public transportation data to provide a real-time visualization of the collective rhythms and flows of the city of Rome (see visualization above).
Plastic Container of Liquid Soap in New York
Obviously most of the current projects are more aesthetic experiments pointing towards a certain direction. If, however, the concepts described by de Waal and realized in many different projects can be lifted to the next level the will most likely have a tremendous impact. Imagine local political discussion based on these technologies. New forms of collaborative action and new ways of living together might become available. Projects like Trash|Track (see visualization above) can help to create an awareness of spatial relations. If we can manage to solve issues of privacy that are arising from the collection of large amounts of data, which is certainly not an easy task, the metaphors introduced by de Waal point to an interesting future.

Filed under: Amsterdam, Architecture, Conference, Mobile, Visualization

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

Googlization, Cyborgization or What?

2012 billboard in Amsterdam

Filed under: Amsterdam, Cyborgs, Google, Photography