Tag Archives: network theory

Final Version

Update: Accepted.  🙂  Now just have to find a way to pay for the trip.

Thanks to Mirko for the valuable feedback, to Jonathan for encouragement, and to Pirate Cat Radio, Baghdad by the Bay, for music to write by.  I submitted this today for the MiT6 conference.

Ethereal Archives: The Evolution of Information Structures from Social Networks and Their Impact on Collective and Personal Identity

This paper explores how a collective archive may emerge from the individual digital memories of participants in social networks, facilitated by social software. Examples are drawn from social networks in northern California, particularly the SF Bay area, though being largely carried out online, these networks are actually much more widely diffused.  These structures are described as “ethereal archives” because they are widely distributed, mainly linked through blog entries, microblogs, and other ephemeral locations in which content changes over time. At they develop, standard tags and terminology begin to emerge and also a shared understanding of the objects, events, and people being described. The evolution of these ethereal archives represents a response to the disappearance of space, both storage and geographical as a contraint on archives.  Digital technology allows us to preserve our memories both easily and without the constraints of space, and at the same time to broadcast those memories through a variety of textual formats, along with photostreams, video collections and social networking sites that incorporate all of these.

Although this already huge and rapidly growing mass of information seems to have escaped the bounds of space, it is now constrained by time: the time it takes users to navigate, find, and attend to any one item. Harold Innis argued for the importance of communication over time, because these accumulations become an extension not only of personal, but of collective memory.  Both individual and community identities are shaped and preserved in collaborative ethereal archives, made up of a few people’s photostreams, another’s blog, yet another’s video collection, and many others’ microblog feeds.  While digital media allow communication of all kinds to be preserved, the volume of communication is now so great that much may be lost in a sea of texts, images, audiofiles, and videos.  Users face three related problems: how to find information, how to choose from what they find the information most relevant to their purpose, and how to manage the accumulation both of their own information, and links to information provided by others.

As these materials accumulate, they may prompt the emergence of a community that shares particular interests, or expand what was once a small and physically proximal group into a much wider and more influential network. When people connect, their linked personal collections become an ethereal archive, dependent for its organization on social connections across the network expressed through links shared via numerous platforms.  Events, objects and even people begin to generate folksonomic tagging across platforms, most often in the form of #tags and @names. Not surprisingly, clear examples of these ethereal archives have evolved around San Francisco, wherein reside not only many technophiles, but also cooperatively minded people.  In these social networks the transmission of data, along with its storage or creation becomes an important contribution from members; all three activities are required for the emergence of an ethereal archive. Studying this emergence reveals that ethereal archives both reflect and shape the communities from which they arise.

Also While in SF….

I got to hang out with people I know mainly through the Twitterverse, which was really great.  When I was there last October for Arse Elektronika (an entry I have yet to post, come to think of it) I had the pleasure of not only meeting some of the people from Monochrom, (who are Austrian) but also some people who are part of the arts/culture/tech scene in SF, including Richard Kadrey and Aaron Muszalski, better known to many as sfslim. This time when I went back, I was lucky enough to meet up with Aaron again at the LaughingSquid Unholiday Party II. This was a great party. Good music, cool space, ample, good, food and drinks.  Best of all, good conversation.

I talked for quite awhile with Jonathan Foote, Neil Girling, and Abie Hadjitarkhani and it was breath of fresh air to speak with people to whom I didn’t have to justify and interest in tech, media, culture, whatever.  Also, all dripping smarts and talent (look at their sites if you don’t believe me).  I was listening to a livestream of Howard Rheingold speaking this morning and one point he made about social media is that it allows not just like-minded people to connect–there are obvious pros and cons to that.  But, it allows people who like to create and share and cooperate to connect, which immediately gives all of them more leverage to do whatever it is they want to do.  This was really clear to me at the party.  From what I could tell, many people there had met online or stayed connected and coordinated online, most of them were “makers” and having connected, many work together on all kinds of projects.  I’m not sure how far that extends into their professional lives, but certainly all kinds of fun activities are organized with help from these applications.

So anyway, eventually I finally actually started talking to Aaron and that was one of the best conversations I’ve had in ages–lasted from probably midnight or so till around 4am.  With all of these people, I think everything that does not fit into 140 character tweets just overflowed.  In fact being able to talk in this extended focused way felt like a luxury, even decadent.  I think this is an upside of the fragmented and distracted nature of communication on the network.

Aaron and I ended up hanging out a bit more the next evening; Chris brought the grrrls in to see the new Academy of Sciences and then we had dinner with friends from gradschool that were in for MLA–again peopel I almost only get to talk with online now–and then Aaron met up with us toward the end.  He had really wanted to meet the grrrls; unfortunately by then they were really tired and clingy (both are just a bit over 5) so it wasn’t the best time for them.  Then I saw them all off and talked to Aaron some more.  Of course with some people you just feel like the conversation could go on forever, but Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other applications like that encourage this feeling, maybe because you get the moment by moment flow and it’s easy to pick up some little crumb that becomes another possible conversational trail to follow.

I think conversational threads are going to be a big thing soon–just came across Tweetree which shows threaded conversations on Twitter; it’s interesting, but would be better if it really looked like a tree.  Now I’m thinking about personal archives, in part because I’m trying to get an abstract together, and in part because so many people, especial technophiles, are accumulating them online.  Not just those they create, but those created through Google searches, on technorati, on del.icio.us, etc.  So there it is.  Now I have to finish cleaning the house for a party.


A quick note to thank Ritchie Pettauer (whom I met through Facebook!) for asking to publish my Facebook paper on his blog, datadirt. As he describes it:

the main focus is (pro)blogging, WordPress and online marketing with the occassional media theory twist. I also like to blog about music and funny stuff on the net – yup, it’s a wild mixture of highly personalized preferences; but hey, that’s why it’s called a blog and not a magazine.

I’ve been following it for a little while via Twitter and there always seems to be something fun and interesting posted over there. –A much cooler blog than this one! 😉

And Ritchie has reformatted my paper in a really easy way to navigate–I’ll have to steal it someday. 😉 Last, upon reading I see that in spite of my efforts, typos are plentiful in that text, and I want to make clear they are mine, not Ritchie’s.

Bernhard Rieder and Algorithmic Proximity at IR9

The last talk I saw that I’ll report was Bernhard’s, on Algorithmic Proximity. Bernhard started off with background on the work he and Mirko have done that led up to the hybrid foam model, but his main question in this talk was to look at lower level sociality, such as in sites like Flickr, where most interactions are singular, and connections are fleeting. He is trying to understand “socio-genesis” or the process through which these low level communications crystallize into a real relationship.

In reality, individuals stand at varying social distances, or in network theory terms, where individuals are linked by paths of varying lengths which represent the probability of association. Add to this the notion of homophily; that we tend to associate with those like ourselves. (on the twitter channel for IR9 a number of people agreed that while it was true, we hated to admit it because it seemed narrow-minded).

Next, it is possible to render social interactions digitally and what will that reveal? Skipping the math… we see the importance of space somewhat reduced, and status homophily seems to be replaced by value homophily, where interest factors become more important than socio-economic factors.

Algorithmic proximity is a form of social proximity produced by the rendering of many factors in order to make recommendations about friends or matches. For example, on Facebook, the number of friends you have in common with someone may lead to a friend recommendation in “people you might know.” This is most noticeable on dating sites which aim to match people based on similarity across a range of categories, and in fact is almost essential if one is to effectively filter through all the possible matches. Bernhard went through a few other examples; Last.fm, Flickr, and Delicious, and said a bit about how on these sites, similar tagging practices might lead people to start following other users.

But what about serendipity? Is homophily a feature or a bug? If we only see people who are like us, then what? I think that’s a frightening prospect myself; I can think of a lot of interesting ideas and people I would hate to have missed, but if all my encounters were based on some kind of homophily, we would never have met. A fun counter example, the Unsuggester. This site tells you what books you would hate based on books you like (and maybe by extension, the people). I’m afraid I do judge people by what they read, sometimes….

I really need to get the whole paper because I think the math would be interesting, and also, Bernhard makes very strong but closely argued points, and a lot of the details have to be left out of such a short talk. So I’ve emailed Bernhard and if I can get more details, I’ll update this entry later because this seems important to me, thought it’s a tangent to Bernhard’s work.

If I am to figure out how people connect and stay connected, I think this could be a really important piece of the puzzle, and also suggests measurable data I could look at in order to see patterns — for example, what kind of proximity, exactly, seems most important? Are there certan values or other shared chracteristics that correlate more strongly with connection than others?

A really thought-provoking talk.

Marianne van den Boomen at IR 9.0

The next talk I saw was Marianne’s; a much more developed version of the research she presented at New Network Theory in Summer ’07. The title this time was “E-sociability metaphors:
From virtual community to social network and beyond,” and looked at the evolution of metaphors used to describe social relationships on the Internet.

The most interesting point for me was the really concrete way she identified ways that Web 2.0 platforms in their technical workings actually might be described as undermining the previous kinds of online communities that were so much glorified.

As she puts it, Internet communities were once like this:

  • localized social aggregation on the Internet
  • based on shared practice, interest, or value
  • gathering at a collective place
  • having a core of recurrent active users
  • engaged in on ongoing group communication
  • and so developing a common frame
  • of reference

But, Web 2.0 technologies create this:

  • the page is dissolved as unit for collective gathering
  • on the fly aggregation and reassemblage of user enriched data
  • interacting data entities rather than interacting users
  • no common collective place of gathering
  • no ongoing debate between a recurrent group of users

At least in part these changes occur because of technologies–scripts, usually–that allow dynamic html content to be generated, saving time and bandwidth by not serving page after static page or creating whole new pages from scratch. This means that users don’t have to interact with each other or with other real people (web-mistresses, sys-admins, site owners or whomever). Instead the system can answer most requests.

While this is true, in fact, fora still exist, and people often interact through blog comments, wall-posts on Facebook, etc. But it’s probably true that the focus is not any more on centralized “gathering places.” Insteadit seems more like visiting neighbours, to me. Occassionally you all get together socially, but most interactions are one to one. But that is often what we do in person too, isn’t it? Phone calls, meeting for coffee or lunch, sending email. Historically we might say that this is more typical, so I don’t know that we can really blame web 2.0. On the other hand, I haven’t researched the whole history of human intercation (yet!), so maybe this is so. SHould have asked about this at the talk, but I guess I can just send a message… 😉

Talks at IR 9.0 — Mimi Ito Keynote

Ok, I’ve had some more sleep and will start commenting on talks I saw. Honestly, I didn’t see as many as I would have liked or register them as clearly as I should, because I was exhausted and sick for the whole trip, but I did at least see a few. I’ll just mention the high points–otherwise know as the talks I can remember having attended!

In her keynote, Mimi Ito reported on a really large project being carried out at USC to look at youth culture and the internet, and she identified two kinds of participation, and focused on discussing the second. The first kind is not so different from kinds of socializing that have existed for a long time, but the latter is newer, or at least the extent to which it is available to teens is new and is allowed by the Internet.

1. Friendship-driven learning and participation

–hanging out
–overcoming limitations in local social network
–highly motivating to participants — who are producers of knowledge and social reality
–social life becomes more public and persistently remembered.
–capacity building, jumping off point for…

2. Interest-driven learning and participation (Example, Naruto fans)

–expanding social networks beyond local groups
–unprecedented opportunity to connect with like-minded peers.
–learning new skills
–higher publicity potential

Naruto Fans who produce Anime Music Videos (AMVs) and who engage in Fan-subbing exhibit:

–high degree of collaboration and reciprocity
–mastering esoteric knowledge leads to status
–peer-based ecology of review and critique
–directed outward mainly to other subbers, but also to “leechers”
–become media creators–a moment of recognition and identity creation when they see something produced by another fan
–competing with industry

In general they found fans enjoyed:

  • Diversity of genres of youth participation
  • peer-based learning, participation, and reputation building
  • small scale, local networks and communities
  • accessing broader publics and audiences
  • routing around traditional gatekeepers such as parents and teachers.

The most interesting point (to me) was the extent to which these interest based communities resembled similar communities typical for adults, such as acdemic discipline– the AoIR being an obvious example of course, except maybe that the line between industry and fan scene is blurrier for adults because many adults are in the industry. Of course there are plenty of adults in hacker groups, demoscene groups, filesharing groups etc. –this last point is mine, not hers though.

It was a nice talk with fun video examples, but I really wish she had done more than just describe the Naruto fan scene.

More about Facebook

Since I am speaking at two different conferences about the way people participate in Facebook, I have been (believe it or not) reading about Facebook, about relationships online, about what motivates participation, and so on.

here are a few things I’ve noticed:

  1. Though it was noted at least 5 months ago that many faculty are now using social networks and that 25-34 year-olds is the fastest growing segment of users, no one seems to be looking at how or why they use FB. Some articles have been written about faculty disclosing too much online, but so far I have found nothing else.
  2. Almost every academic study (and there are many) concentrates on either how kids/teens use FB, class, racial or ethnic differences in who uses FB, how to use FB to teach, or how to use it to make money.
  3. There are lots of non-academic slideshows and articles comparing FB and MySpace about how to make money or seduce women with FB. –I mention this because my search efforts are hampered by these kinds of documents cluttering the web.

But I have found some very interesting stuff about online relationships from Jonathan Marshall who has published about a concept he calls ‘asence’ including this one in Fibreculture. In brief, he argues that particpants in online communities experience asence, which he explains:

In offline societies, it is generally possible to tell whether a person is present or not. Presence and status are acknowledged by others making, at the least, eye contact or grunts in a person’s direction, or by their pointedly ignoring that person. Identity is reinforced by reaction. People are generally aware of who is listening to the conversation and of their reactions to each other. Online this is usually not the case. It is possible for a person to be present without others being aware of them: there is no marker of existence beyond the act of communication itself. “Asence” is the term I have coined to express this almost ontological uncertainty, or suspension of being between presence and absence.

Marshall goes on to argue that in an effort to overcome asence, participants will exaggerate gender characteristics and may also use romance and even netsex to reinforce intimacy. He developed these ideas from studying the Cybermind mailing list, but I think asence could explain certain behaviors I’ve noticed on Facebook. –more details on that soon.

Two other useful possibilities involved Fluxus and the theory that humans have evolved to be ‘infovores’ –love that term! But I’ll save those for the next entries…

And by the way, apparently Twitter addicts are 61.3% more likely to visit Barcamp.org than the average internet user. –Not directly related to anything, but it caught my eye. 😉

"Appropriate " use of Facebook and similar sites

In a recent talk, Danah Boyd said that she doesn’t use these social networking sites the way teenagers do, nor should she. Now the first point is inarguable, but the second struck me as rather odd. I don’t see that there is any “should” about it. I mean, call me immature, but while yes, I am studying Facebook and will write about that, I’m also having quite a lot of fun with it.

I spend time sending my friends “drinks,” “throwing sheep” at them, plus messaging, sending links, videos, etc. Not to mention playing that goofy vampire/zombie/werewolf/slayer game. In fact, if it weren’t for my enjoyment of this new channel for social play, I don’t think I’d bother with it at all, though a number of professional and activist groups now have a presence there. That would feel too much like work, and I work all the time anyway.

I’m also trying to explore Second Life, but I find that I’m not very interested in exploring because while the world itself is interesting, since no one I know is there, I’d rather spend my time in virtual locales where I can talk to my friends. Does that make me immature? Is that an inappropriate attitude for a scholar? Well, I don’t think so and given who else is on Facebook and using just as playfully as I, I’m pretty confident in my position.

We’ll see what happens when I stand up and say this in front of a bunch of other scholars at SLSA this week…

Later last Friday

So those first parallel sessions ran so late–well, the whole schedule was already running behind–that when we got down to lunch there was almost none left, and by the time it was refilled, I had about 5 minutes to eat before I had to find the session where I was speaking. But I did find it. I did have a nice if brief chat with Mirko Schäfer before/during that abbreviated lunch. He says he’ll be at the Piet Zwart graduation show; I hope we meet up there and can talk further. Anyway. My panel was ok; the other talks were interesting, and mine went fine, but we each only had 15 minutes, which is a nuisance, and our moderator didn’t cut people off, so we lost most of the time we could have used for Q & A. We still had some, but a couple of people took all of it up…

Anyway, then I had to dash in order to catch the 5:26 train back to Rotterdam, so I could be in time for the opening of the Piet Zwart MDMA first-year show at V2. Except that there was some big accident on the line right outside Rotterdam Centraal, so no trains could go through Rotterdam… Well, after scrambling around trying to figure out another route, finally it’s announced that anyone bound for Rotterdam should go to this other track…so I get that train and get to R’dam at 7:15 instead of 6:30. The show was scheduled to start at 7, so I run through the station and grab a taxi, and get there at 7:30. Luckily (for me) they are running late too, so I didn’t miss anything. –But it was strange because I thought the Dutch were so punctual!

The show was really good, an impressive demonstration of hardware hacking and in some cases reflection on the web/internet, or on our relationships with “new” media. I had the chance to speak at length with a student about to graduate, which was really informative and gave me a very good impression of the program. –Also good to see that graduating students would come to the first-year show. I will post pictures or links to others’ pictures later.

At the show I got to meet Jaromil, which was an unexpected treat. He’s a hacker/artist/activist from Amsterdam who has released a lot of free software specifically designed for media artists and also has been a teacher at Piet Zwart. We had a really good conversation about teaching; what students need or don’t. So I ended up staying until about 10 or 11, and then I was starving because I never really got any dinner during my mad dash back to R’dam. Luckily some people, including Jaromil and Florian, were going for Roti around the corner, so I went along. It was yummy, and we all talked more about US politics and political activism (or lack thereof). A bunch of the students wandered in and it was like the show was spilling into the neighborhood. Good thing I could sleep in on Saturday.

More on Saturday later. Now I need food.

NNT, Day 2

Here I am again and this time I’ve snagged a seat near one of the few electrical outlets in this lecture hall. I’ll try to catch up some of my earlier notes before the morning plenary starts–we’re already 15 minutes late though…

Yesterday I also saw Tiziania Terranova and she had interesting things to say about immaterial labor, capturing customers and harnessing collective intelligence. She compared Yochai Benkler’s ideas with Maurizio Lazzarato and Gabriel Tarde. Mainly she was arguing that social networks and even more online communities are about relationships, not economics, even though they have real economic consequences. One of many instances when it was unclear whether a speaker really meant to talk about networks or communities–this is a problem in my paper as well. Also some trouble just with the microphones hampered her talk, which was too bad, because I think she was getting at an important idea.

Next was Wendy Chun talking about imagined networks. This was the best of the first three presentations. She started with some questions: what needs to happen so that we think of interactions as networked; how do social and technical abstractions coincide, interact, etc; and a third question I missed because my jet-lag made me fuzz out for a minute… Maybe it was the most basic: are networks communities?

An important point to note before she gets started: public/private has shifted to all private that are open/closed. Her primary example (which unfortunately is not so well known in Europe) was Facebook which she argued is a profoundly nostalgic in its drive to create a feeling of intimacy. And, people join networks when they feel excluded. –probably true, but I think almost everyone feels that to some degree, or in some arenas, so is it a useful distinction? She went on to describe Facebook and how it works and eventually got to the idea that these networks are enduring though ephemeral. But, they aren’t memory, they are just data storage. Memory requires “diligent regeneration.” I’m sorry to say that by this point I was really getting unfocused, so I hope her paper will be available online–it seems that hardly anyone turned one in on time for the proceedings CD.