Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism

Here’s a link to the book of the title of this post – a book about social media, the software that it uses, and the uses of that software.

there’s a free chapter to download at the site, so perhaps worth taking a look.

for purposes of future comprehension re the provision of this link, here is an excerpt from the blurb page:


Gehl adeptly uses a mix of software studies, science and technology studies, and political economy to reveal the histories and contexts of these social media sites. Looking backward at divisions of labor and the process of user labor, he provides case studies that illustrate how binary “Like” consumer choices hide surveillance systems that rely on users to build content for site owners who make money selling user data, and that promote a culture of anxiety and immediacy over depth.

Reverse Engineering Social Media also presents ways out of this paradox, illustrating how activists, academics, and users change social media for the better by building alternatives to the dominant social media sites.



a pre-history of social networking

here’s a several part article on the “pre-history” of social media: from email through the WELL to… well, facebook and twitter i spose….on the ars technica site
strangely, it seems we lived though it and now it’s being written about as historical narrative. certainly an interesting way to check on the discourses of history and how historical facts and beliefs get to be constructed. and of course, if we put ourselves back in the 60’s as young people, we’d also be reading about the 2nd world war, which occurred in the 40’s, before we were born, at a time when many people were alive who’d lived through the era.
of course, wait just a minute, we are not so old yet are we?
i mean, all that email list, newsgroup, and BBS stuff only really got going in the mid-90s, and so we are only 15 years or so down the track, and it’s now history for the younger generation – who by the way, at 18-20 years old are not net-savvy at all by my surveys. the only thing they do regularly is consult their facebook page, and that limited to posts among their ‘friends’ – the wider world and its concerns do not yet impinge… all those facebook ‘groups’ – they are looked on with a slight disdain even by my informants.

Creatures of Information


Penelope Trunk - blog domo at Brazen Careerist

We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and of the future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognize creatures of the information. Jorge Luis Borges The Library of Babel


[ResponseIS Tweeting Better Than Blogging?] I’ve had to think about the social ‘net as a marketing opportunity for my job. I approached this by going out and sifting through the resources about current best practices. Because I’ve long be a skimmer of the marketing world as it is situated by the internet, I have also long known the most basic, challenge is making it possible for your customers to both: find your content, and, spend a quality moment with ‘it.’

That said customer might proceed to a trial–marketing lingo for doing something that you the provider knows he or she is doing–is almost the frosting on the cake of nailing down steps one and two.

Find and capture (attention.)

When I peruse the google analytics for ND2.0 or any of my own productions, I am impressed and dismayed in equal parts by their suggestive qualification of user behavior. They found us, and they spent an average of 2:02 minutes with us. (The realization of a trial here would be a comment.)

Awash in information, yet, somewhere in this ocean is content which may be found if time is invested. Stepping back from this opaque generality, is a slightly more refined generality: an individual invests time in a manner distinctive to him or her, is motivated by an overt or tacit goal, and, his or her’s success requires a successful act of retrieval and selection.

To give this description a finer grain, we would need to know something more detailed about the conjunction of: goals, time, tool, manner/regimen, medium, media, (and more.)

In this there would arise the positive question. For example, what characterizes the user most likely to read content of some specific length? There could be all sorts of ways to break down the previously mentioned descriptive elements.

Of course I am in possession of my own subject, myself. (Netdynamics was partly rooted in reflexive accounts.) I have a good idea about that which comprises the array of my own goals, what kinds of content focus both my time and attention, and, I also have a fairly rich terminology for establishing the baseline description concerned with characterizing what kind/type/disposition I possess.

If I integrate a rough and approximate sense of goal directed search-and-retrieval with this kind of baseline description, and, I then scale this conceptually to include all persons who could be differentiated in this way, I can then blast this downward to questions about Twitter and blogosphere. I reckon the devil would be in the details betwixt, for example, two extremes. One extreme is the person who meets their goals by exclusively spending not more than two minutes with any section of content, and, another person who only uses the internet to retrieve long-form content.

Following through with this sketch it seems we land in the interdisciplinary flux of psychology, anthropology, sociology, and, information science.

From this, there could be a folksy supposition: there are those users who are tend to express attention deficit disorder. This user’s time is easily waylaid. What would a causal hypothesis be once we establish that some users operate like this?


ND2.0’s two-to-four hundred visits per month are somewhere on the continuum of quantifiable responsive agency and activity. Our blog is more active than all the dead and lesser blogs. We haven’t invested the time to elevate its activity, yet the default is not completely shabby at all. Yet, we’re not aiming to address the complex problem of how to make our content retrievable, vital, and, incidentally, formulate its distribution in ways which match the various ways users deploy to meet their goals.


In three different feedreaders I have subscribed to a total of over 2,000 blogs. I keyword search through the blogs using the RSS client. Another way to look at this is that I have created a subset of blogs and severely limited the base data set. This would be contrasted with searching via Google. In the case of using Google, I am looking through a humongous data set, but, I also have to invest the time in wading through the false positives. My experience is that there’s lots of gold deep in the pages of a Google search, yet the time investment is often too much.

I don’t know what the actual figures are, however, for argument’s sake, say I spend 25% of my time ‘after retrieval,’ on average, using up 5 minutes per retrieved item. This is a somewhat complicated vector, right? This includes the twenty to sixty minutes–or so–I might spend reading a journal article or long magazine article. The other side of this measure is that I spend 25% of my time using time at the rate of less than five minutes per retrieved item. Leaving the 50% I require to search and retrieve.

(No matter what the actual distribution of time is, it shifts were I to drop out, so-to-speak, “off screen,” dealing with content I print out, or listen to.)


One last observation; when I look at my Twitter stream ( and or at blogs, I’m impressed by the implicit time investment of other users. And, I can make distinctions, such as the difference between Twitter users who are mostly scattering links, and, Twitter users who mostly are interacting with each other. Likewise, on blogs, I’m fascinated by comment threads. Not for their content, but because of their group relations and social-psychological context.

I’m very impressed by the blog Crooked Timber, where something like three dozen people are expressing (day in and day out,) deeply thought responses to sophisticated thinking.

There are many extremely successful blogs produced by a single person. Take for example Brazen Careeristfrom Penelope Trunk. It gets hundreds of thousands of hits per month.

A blog requires users who possess the right combination of traits, motivation, goals–as long as the blog is oriented to users. Obviously, there is the other side of the equation: those who develop and produce and distribute content for users.

As for Twitter, comments will follow. I will say this: it’s not well matched with my disposition. I prefer to manage serendipity rather than simply be subjected to it!

WikiLeaks. Which Level, or, Levelling?

The Evolution of FCC Lobbying Coalitions

Pierre de Vries, “The Evolution of FCC Lobbying Coalitions”

source: The Journal of Social Structure | DeVries

This is from Volume 10. Its contents are not yet posted to the JOSS web site, but the directory for the issue is wide-open. Go figure.

At the bottom is Peer Review Comment No. 1.

This visualization captures the formal connections between lobbying organizations in the fight over telephone transfer fees. This representation suggests that the companies lobbying the most, or the most well connected, are not necessarily the most structurally important, or the most influential. Smaller companies can play important lobbying roles if they connect particular lobbying subgroups to each other. This visualization offers a clean picture of the lobbying network but provides little information about the companies: perhaps a different color scheme, combinations of shapes, or more exaggerated node sizes could have told a clearer story about the kinds of companies playing different roles.

Suggested point; discussions about WikiLeaks, and about other internet-centered phenomena, inhabit the various levels discussants are able to utilize.

There are, aside from discussions themselves, all the mediums and modalities that serve to capture the language of descriptions and explanations and operating mechanics, etc..

So, how do we wish to speak of, for example, WikiLeaks, today? In effect from what system of awareness do we wish to view those other systems of awareness, each of which is not necessarily discrete from one another?

(Yup, been revisiting Gregory for the last three months.)

Very crudely put, how do we locate diverse effects of a document dump into the public domain within the means for consideration of those effects? For example, how would one bring to bear on this, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, and, to clump together more fuzzy social science, political-economics?

I would extend this thought problem (posing as an invitation,) to studying the internet itself. Which is to suggest how do we choose to wrap are head around the unfolding social-political-economic development discoverable in the mash up of communicative and performative modalities given by cyberspace?

And, we understand the development and articulation of individual perspectives happens within the particularities of the context our individual awareness gives up.

Then there are all those spun discourses which obtain some gravity in ‘one scheme of things’ yet are, so-to-speak, the part objects of much more complex schemes and meta-schemes. For example, we can learn that Assange is a horny meglomaniacal anarchist with a messianic mission to embarrass the powers-that-be in the U.S. and West. Maybe he’s a hero depending how one contextualizes and defines heroism.

However, my suggestion here is: meanwhile sophisticated networks such as the one depicted in the above social network map, are working 24-7 to obtain goals likely more complex and with weighty ‘effects’ which are more–how shall I put it–subtle than ’embarrassment.’

Too Much Time?

Having read resources offered by Frank, I’d like to elevate one. Clay Shirkey: Gin, Television and Social Surplus. April 23, 2008.

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would’ve come off the whole enterprise, I’d say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time.

And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.
And it’s only now, as we’re waking up from that collective bender, that we’re starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We’re seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody’s basement.

Questions about how people use time, these days, may be framed (and analyzed,) within the rubric of behavioral economics. (I can’t do this myself, like Mr. Shirkey, I’m only able to offer phenomenological intuitions.) Still, I bring the frame of ‘time investment’ up because I suppose a finely differentiated analysis of how people actually deploy their time, with various internet utilities comprising part of the picture, would enrich intuitions.

For example, as I’ve mentioned before, a music fan can acquire more music (mp3s) than this fan can expect to deal with in the old sense of ‘dealing.’ This is true for other resources, such as ebooks, articles, movies, software; is true for any ‘object of potential interest’ discovered in the web, (or candy shop,) of intended and unintended distribution.

Time deployment exists in various contexts. These contexts can be described too. (I’m fairly sure Shirkey’s idealization doesn’t wash, were it to be suffer the details.) I wonder if cognitive surplus is accompanied in specific cases with its own surplus-derived stress?

What would constitute a robust conceptual ecology with respect to the factors of time investment and anticipation of benefit? Each of these is a very broad brush. For example how would time spent commenting on blog posts be accounted for were some benefit to figure into the account?

Another feature–these days–I term, truncation. Twitter exemplifies this, yet, also there are the short form messages tacked to Facebook walls, terse emails, blog and forum comments, abbreviated annotations of various sorts, and, of course, text messages.

I reckon truncation is not the result of having too much time.

A Long Way Out of the Well & the End of Elitism

Jeff Han – touchscreen demo – 2006!

Jaron Lanier faces the tail. (His home page on The Well.) Wikipediabrochure

The Geek Freaks – Why Jaron Lanier rants against what the Web has become.
By Michael Agger SLATE Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010

In Lanier’s eyes, there is no longer a middle realm in which musicians can make music according to their own standards, sell it directly to fans, and not starve. Musicians are either kids in vans making just enough money for the next gig or dilettantes with a vanity career. The Facebook generation gets its music for free and doesn’t expect to pay for it, and this has helped bring about a musical Dark Age. That’s not a crazy idea, but it’s just Lanier’s hunch. When you start to poke around for data, you get a sense of the landscape. According to this U.K. study, artists now make the majority of their money doing live performances, and the total revenue accrued by artists has increased. Today’s theoretical middle-class musician would probably have to travel more, but he or she could still make a living.

There’s also the problem of the counterexample: What great artist has been left unrecognized by the Internet? Who hasn’t found a niche? Lanier, to his credit, is not a simple pessimist. He does propose a solution to the difficulty of how to compensate artists, artisans, and programmers in a digital era: a content database that would be run by some kind of government organization: “We should effectively keep only one copy of each cultural expression—as with a book or song—and pay the author of that expression a small, affordable amount whenever it’s accessed.” Again, not a bad concept, but a platonic idea that sounds great in theory. I don’t see the government opening an iTunes store anytime soon.

Lanier is a survivor and has good instincts: We need to be wary of joining in the wisdom of the crowds, of trusting that open collaboration always produces the best results, of embracing the growing orthodoxy that making cultural products free will benefit the actual producers of those cultural products. But his critique is ultimately just a particular brand of snobbery. Lanier is a Romantic snob. He believes in individual genius and creativity, whether it’s Steve Jobs driving a company to create the iPhone or a girl in a basement composing a song on an unusual musical instrument.

The problem is that the Web is much bigger now, and both Jobs and the bedroom oud player must, in their own ways, strive for attention from the hive mind. And the results can arrive like lightning: Just a few weeks ago, a man in Uruguay was given a $30 million dollar movie deal after posting a sci-fi short on YouTube. No one likes to become obsolete or cranky, but my sense is that Lanier doesn’t want to play on this new field. The talents and insights of Lanier and his peers were aimed at a tech-savvy elite whose impact will never be the same again. The innovative momentum is now about democratizing the Web and its uses—Flickr, Twitter, and, yes, Facebook. It was a lot of fun at the beginning, but virtual reality has moved on. It’s time to take off the goggles and gloves, and join us here on Earth.

Lanier appeared on PBS’s News Hour this week. My immediate impression was that he doesn’t have very developed television chops. In fact, I could personally relate to his rambling style and to his brave attempt to dare being expansive in the old medium. Lanier strikes a paradoxical position. On one hand he achieved one of the most public profiles of all those who could be said to represent the first wave of post-Mosaic web celebrity. (Howard Rheingold, Larry Lessig, Tim Berners-Lee, Meg Whitman, Sherry Turkle, and many many others achieved his kind of celebrity.) On the other hand, his pushing back against the ‘wild west’ of the internet is reactionary, is maybe even naive.

Mass behavior may be the most difficult-to-grasp impetus for internet trends. Being a social psychological phenomena, such behavior may especially befuddle the code warriors and technologists. That the behavioral and monetary costs have tended to depart from each other, with the former typified by how much time a user invests, while the latter in many examples approaches zero, do not constitute anything able to be put back in the box.

Take the example of music. The biggest challenge for the “sociopathic” consumer is managing their time, whereas the cost of content–in the world’s biggest record store–is already realized to be zero, free. Yet, at the same time, advertising space is utilized by, for example, global Fortune 100 companies in the form of pop-up and widgetized ads splashed at the very sites where the sociopathic takings are occurring.

european commission report on web2.0

announced on a sociology of computing mailing list recently, a comprehensive report on the implications of social networking. have only scanned through the report as yet, but it looks of interest.

The European Commission JRC, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies released a comprehensive report on social and economic implications of Social Computing [aka Web2.0, social media].

‘The Impact of Social Computing on the EU Information Society and Economy’
(Eds.) Yves Punie, Wainer Lusoli, Clara Centeno, Gianluca Misuraca and David Broster Authors: Kirsti Ala-Mutka, David Broster, Romina Cachia, Clara Centeno, Claudio Feijóo, Alexandra Haché, Stefano Kluzer, Sven Lindmark, Wainer Lusoli, Gianluca Misuraca, Corina Pascu, Yves Punie and José A. Valverde

Report (a large .pdf document also avaliable from…)
News release

This wide report covers different thematic areas. In addition to a cross-cutting analysis across areas in
Ch1: Key findings, Future Prospects and Policy Implications

It contains thematic analysis:
Ch2: The adoption and Use of Social Computing
Ch3: Social Computing from a Business Perspective
Ch4: Social Computing and the Mobile Ecosystem
Ch5: Social Computing and Identity
Ch6: Social Computing and Learning
Ch7: Social Computing and Social Inclusion
Ch8: Social Computing and Health
Ch9: Social Computing and Governance

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