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Summary of Wendy Chun’s Control and Freedom

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , on February 13, 2009 by alessandrovalente

A summary of Wendy Chun’s Control and Freedom, Power and the paranoia in the age of fiber optics

Link: Summary Chun Control and Freedom

In Power and the paranoia in the age of fiber optics, Wendy Chun explores how the internet, as a commercial medium that thrives on control, has also been conceived as a medium of freedom. According to Chun this conflation of control and freedom is characteristic for our current political situation where information technologies have become more ubiquitous, commercial and distributed over private users and corporations. Deleuze already showed in his work on the control society how such developments, with the emergence of the internet as it most important representative, challenge the traditional disciplinary workings of society. Where in the era of the cold war dangers and enemies could easily be mentally mapped, they have now become as invisible and uncertain as the new technologies they supposedly use. Furthermore these technologies also open up our private domains, resulting in a paranoia that makes us unjustifiable look for freedom in dreams of gated communities and control enabled by paradoxically these same technologies. These paranoid misunderstandings of information networks and the subversion of freedom restrict us from really enabling the democratic potentials of network technologies. These delusional rhetoric’s currently lead to paranoia and actions that undermine the democracy and freedom we try to achieve and protect. Chun responds with this work, to Katherine Heyle’s call for media specific criticism, asin ‘engaging visual and nonvisual aspects of networked machines-human and machine readings-as well as their economic and political impact’, by examining four layers of networked media: hardware, software, interface and extra medial representations. Along this way Chun explores how the internet emerged technologically and culturally as a medium through a particular series of events and contradictory discourses. By exposing these shaping forces and by subsequently criticizing them Chun allows for a better understanding of the effects and practices they engender. Through discourses around race, sexuality and freedom Chun reveals where the power of the internet lies, manifested in the ‘linking of freedom and democracy to control, and the justification of this linking through technologically determinist explanations. Chun’s critic on today’s deterministic attitude on information technologies as bringers of equality are not mend to say that such technologies have no power of their own, but rather that they alone can not solve political problems, and that the cost of such attempts is too high.

Twitter, Micro-blogging and Mcdonaldization in the blogosphere

Posted in reviews with tags , , , on October 11, 2008 by alessandrovalente

To understand the logic of Twittering or micro-blogging as a blogging practise it might help looking at the concept of ‘Mcdonaldization’. The term Mcdonaldization was first used by sociologist George Ritzer in his work ‘The Mcdonaldization of society‘ (1996). Mcdonaldization is seen as a modern extension of Max Weber’s theory of rationalization of modern society and culture. How Mcdonalds operates is used by Ritzer as an example to describe a sociological phenomenon:

“…the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.”  (Ritzer, 1996)

According to Ritzer this process has four dimensions:

-Efficiency

Getting from point A to B as efficient as possible. The goal is to get the costumer from hungry to full as fast as possible. The production process is stripped from all actions that don’t contribute to this goal.  

-Calculability

The focus is on quantity of products sold and the streamlined process of delivery.

“quantity has become equivalent to quality; a lot of something, or the quick delivery of it means it must be good.” (Ritzer, 1996)

Predictability

Service and products come in predictable forms. Employees behave according the same script and the standardized efficient way of work makes sure every BigMac looks exactly the same. 

-Control

Control is caused by the substitution of non-human for human technology. Computers regulate most what is happening inside the kitchen. All cooking temperature is regulated by computers and a zoomer goes off when employees need to flip a burger or take the fries out of the deep fryer. This leaves less room for human errors and makes sure employees don’t need allot of talent nor training to perform the necessary tasks. As long as they obey to the machines.

Twitter & Microblogging

If we look at twittering as a blogging form we can see comparable logic behind its use and success. Twitter brings a very efficient way of blogging. There is no need anymore for time consuming practises like planning and thinking to make an elaborate blog, that needs to have a certain degree of quality before publication. A spontaneous one liner is enough to get the message across in the fastest way possible. No time goes to waste to get behind a computer, a mobile phone is sufficient to write and read the blogs on the go. Twitter makes its users blogging machines, augmenting the quantity of their blogs per time to never seen before heights. A lot of blogs by a quick and convenient delivery process, means it must be good (calculability). Twitter controls the way you blog and when you blog. You can only write your blog under a box that says “What are you doing?”, also there is a 140 character limit. Pushing the blogs in the well know Twitter convention “X does / goes to Y” (predictability). Also if a user hasn’t even blogged for more then 24 hours straight there is a nice solution. Twitter will send a message to the users’ mobile phone so he or she knows its time to flip the burger.. I mean write another blog on the spot.

The Irrationality of Rationality

Ritzer believes like Weber that systems that are rational within a narrow scope can lead to outcomes that are irrational or harmful for a bigger picture:

“Most specifically, irrationality means that rational systems are unreasonable systems. By that i mean that they deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of the people who work within or are served by them.” (Ritzer, 1996)

We are well informed of the “irrational” effects Mcdonald’s rational behavior can have on the individual and society as a whole. Obesity, environmental degradation, poor working conditions, etcetera (Play the Mcdonalds game to learn more!). But what could Twitters irrationalities of rationality be? Getting flooded with useless information? Users wasting time, stuck in the endless inviting flow of micro-blogs?

Stickam an analysis

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , on September 21, 2008 by alessandrovalente

Founded in 2006 by Advanced Video Communications

popularity: More then 500k visitors a month

Stickam is just like most other free web 2.0 social network applications, such as Facebook and Myspace, but it differentiates itself by also offering the ability to communicate through webcams. Making it a live streaming social network. These live communications go though a webbased Stickam player:

Its interface consists of multiple screens. The biggest video screen contains the webcast of the host of the the videochat. This video window is accompanied by a chat window, that everyone that watches can use to type instant messages on. The other smaller video screens are slots for people that want to join the broadcast, by transmitting through their own webcams. This function, to communicate through a webcam by using the Stickam player, can be used to have a private one-on-one or group video-chat with people you invite. But there is also the option to just “Go live” which makes you host a webcam transmission, open for everyone to watch and participate in. This way Stickam can be used to make an online live (24/7 if you want) webcast channel, that is accesible to everybody on the Internet. This broadcast is also open for other Stickam users who want to join broadcasting by taking one of the smaller video screens. An additional feature is that the owner of such a channel can also distribute his or hers broadcast from other web pages on the internet, just by copy pasting a HTML string into their source code.

Social network + webcam communication

I think the merge of these two services, into one free web based application is a very interesting one. It can add a live face to face type of communication to the practises social networks are currently used for. Think about the added value of this for social network practises like meeting friends, selling/buying objects, dating, applying for a job, education, sharing knowledge, roleplaying or just to keeping in touch with friends and relatives. I can see employment recruiters using social networks to find people searching for a job and doing the job interviews live. Sellers meeting people interested in their product to give a live demonstration of the state and working of it. Amateur guitar players united in a sub community for musicians inviting each other to get a live demonstration on how to play a certain piece.

Having said that, the implementations needed to help facilitate most of these practices aren’t there yet. Stickam seems to focus on the younger Youtube crowd and emphasises on live entertainment broadcasting and socializing. I found some information about a beta test for additions like a marketplace and a job application space, but this beta-test site seems to be down, without any of its these features being implemented. An other approach would be offering the Stickam player as a built in application for other social network companies to use, to enhance their product. Also this doesn’t seem to be that easy. Big companies that own succesfull social network aplications don’t want to embed the communication functions of Stickam in their service, because its too hard to monitor, control and regulate whats going on in these live video streams. This aspect of live video communication in combination with the fact that Stickam doesn’t verify the age or identity of its users has made Stickam a somewhat lawless wild west space. Commonsensemedia.org reviewed the site extremely child unsafe:

“There’s no filter of what is aired and no 30-second delay. This site is also a minefield of somewhat pornographic content (suggestive photos), predatory behavior (users asking others to take off their clothes), violent images (guns, knives, blood), and anti-social messages about everything kids shouldn’t do on the Internet.”

This doesn’t seem to hurt the popularity of Stickam. This kind of unfiltered unmonitored space with its maybe inappropriate content, could be a selling points for the young Youtube audience that are most responsible for Stickam’s current popularity. Just like Youtube’s controversial content was one of its selling points.

Television 2.0?

Besides enhancing already known web 2.0 practises Stickam’s technology brings us something I haven’t seen before. Its setup and interface, shown in the picture earlier, can result into interactive viewing spectacles or “Stickam shows”, where the lines between producer/consumer and performers/public are getting very blurry. An example is the the channel ‘karaokeking‘ where the host of the channel has his webcam and microphone pointed at a karaoke machine, so everybody can hear the music and see the lines of the text in their main screen. Then the host invites people who joined in by broadcasting themselves from one of the smaller windows to karaoke the lyrics of the songs the machine plays. At the end of the show the host gives prizes to the best performers based on the reaction of the crowd, visible in the chat screen and the other little broadcast windows. I think this shows us a preview of interactive television, we can expect to see more of in the future. Television in its traditional meaning, broadcasting distant events live on your screen. But Instead of just watching, you can be part of the audio visual content of the show through your own broadcast, while still sitting on your couch. This type of television is not about bringing a spectacle to its audience. Its about bringing its audience together on the screen, to make a spectacle.

Back to the present

After thinking of the possibilities of this web applications, one can only become extremely disappointed, when doing a browse through stickam’s content. Most of the live ‘interactive shows’ are broadcasts of bored teenagers in their bedroom watching the computerscreen, with other bored teenagers joining in to do the same. There are some Youtube stars that use Stickam to connect with and entertain their fan base in a more personal manner. Starring in their own private reality show from their bedroom. Allot of these practises seem very time consuming, even wasting to me. People sitting in front of their computer for hours just waiting for something to happen. Teenagers broadcasting themselfs live for hours straight, not getting enough of the attention they are getting from other users that pass by to join in. There are also a couple of more professionally produced shows using a format and a certain theme to structure their show. These have interesting content, but almost never make good use of the interactive features, most even turn these off. This all is not very surprising considering how new the medium is and the type of users Stickam focuses on to get a solid user base. I have good hope this application (or similar ones in the future) will mature over time and better content will appear. Anyway an interesting and impressive web application that for now has allot of trouble living up to its true potential. Worth checking out or keeping an eye on to see how it or similar apps will evolve in the future.

“Get to the top on Google” book review

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2008 by alessandrovalente

Get to the top on Google: Tips Techniques to get your site to the top of search engine rankings and stay there.

By David Viney

Nicholas Brealey Publishing (2008)

 

Get to the top on Google is a search engine optimization (SEO for short) guide. SEO is the art of making your website easy to find for search engines and higher its position in their rankings. The importance of this for a website is explained with an analogy of the physical location of a traditional store. Having your site come up in the top of Google’s search results, is like having your store right on Main Street or near the entrance of the biggest shopping mall in human history.

David Viney the author of the book is a leading SEO expert and a graduate of the London school of Economics. He does a good job providing practical hands on information, while at the same time rationalizing these actions by explaining the internal dynamics of the Google search engine. The practical information finds the right balance between being understandable for people with little technical experience in building websites, whilst not being dull to the more experienced web builder. The more technical parts are made instantly visible for the reader, by the black borders that surrounds them. Making it possible for the non technical reader to skip these parts on sight, without harming the flow of the narration what so ever. As a media studies scholar with no technical background, I could easily understand most of these parts. Just a basic understanding of HTML will be enough to grasp what is being explained. The information dealing with the working of the google engine are insight full and thorough, without boring the reader with algorithms and other mathematical formulas. These two types of information are accompanied by a case study that is used throughout the whole book to help illustrate the described techniques and theories. This way the book pleasantly guides you through seven steps to built an search engine optimized site. From building your site up from scratch, till all the way to the faze where its about monitoring your traffic and tweaking the site based on the information you get out of it. 

This figure gives a good overview of the content of the book and the logic of how it is divided:

(click on the image for full view.)

The book also addresses the morals of SEO. But it doesn’t go further then SEO technique’s that are desirable or accepted by Google (white hat SEO), versus techniques that will get you penalised by Google (black hat SEO). Google punishes black hat SEO activities by setting a  website lower in their rankings or remove it entirely from their index, if they find out about it.

In my opinion this book is an excellent read for anybody interested in SEO and how Google’s search engine works, but probably not suited for the SEO expert looking for the latest cut of the edge technique’s. A negative note is that the links in the books, to get the free software needed for certain techniques, are outdated or not useful for everybody. For instance the Keywords SEO software Tool the book links to, you need to research how popular certain search queries are, doesn’t work well for analysing non English keywords. Google in the mean time decided to make the exact numbers of the search queries done on their site accesible for everyone, with an update of their Adwords keywords tool. So before using a piece of software the book suggests, its better to look around if something more usefull is available. An other thing is that the author leaves no chance pass by to promote his website through out the book. Readers can get free access (for 3 months) to an online SEO community site. This site has a forum, links to software and the possibility to ask questions to experts. It would be interesting to see if going there would work as a next step in expanding on the knowledge you got from the book by sharing your experiences with others. I like the idea of it, so I still have to go look what the site has to offer and add my finding to this review. Anyway, a good written and useful book for anybody interested in the subject.