Tweet Button

Today Twitter launched its new Tweet Button. Like Facebook before them, the button makes it easier for users to share a website with their followers on Twitter. The good thing is that is doesn’t come attached with an explicit judgement of affection as in the case of Facebook’s “like” button. Clicking the tweet button lets you edit the tweet that is being sent out, so you’re free to like or dislike. You can grab one for your website here and it only takes a few lines of code to be copy pasted into the HTML for your website. It’s pretty much the same as the re-tweet button that has been around for a while, except the tweet button isn’t created by a third party.

So here we go

Out of context – Tweets gone wild

What happens when digital objects are taken out of their natively digital environment and put into the context of everyday life and public space? Can a digital status update migrate into non-digital space and still be meaningful? The fact that Twitter is public by default provides for interesting experimentations with the meaning of tweets and Twitter as a medium. By writing status updates and publishing them online you by default agree that these messages become publicly available. After you click the tweet button you basically loose control over your message as it traverses across and even out of the Web.

The artists Liz Filardi, Aram Bartholl and Jens Wunderling have all experimented with this public aspect of Twitter and the kinds of ruptures taking place at the intersection of online and offline. In various ways they have literally made the tweets public by taking tweets from online space to public space. Liz Filardi has worked with the meaning of status updates by remapping the format to the telephone. Jens Wunderling has taken tweets out of context and put them into public spaces, like shopping windows and cafés. Aram Bartholl’s artwork also examines the intersection between digital and public space by experimenting with Twitter and wearable computing.

In “Status Grabber”, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the artist Liz Filardi calls up various people asking them for a status update, telling them that one of their friends is requesting it.  Sometimes she would just take random people from the telephone book, or she would get requests via the webpage she set up for the project where people could file a request for a status update from someone they knew and the artist would call them up. Some of the call logs are online and the results are really interesting and fun to listen to. It’s quite telling that most people were bewildered and confused by the phone call, not knowing how to react or what to say. Liz Filardi wanted to explore the whole concept of status updating, looking at how we may accept certain conditions online but not offline or via another medium, like an unknown/anonymous audience and the notion of privacy. Saying that the person requesting the update preferred to be anonymous most often led to people to hang up the phone. In an interview that I conducted with her she said: “The updates were limited. I find that when it’s verbal people feel on the spot, and they don’t know what to say. They don’t necessarily think of something clever or they’re not doing something that they feel like sharing.”

Although tough status updates are so ubiquitous online, they don’t translate well into another context like the telephone. The following phone call is quite telling: “I’m calling to request a status update”(artist) “Oh, that’s weird…hmmm…okay…everything’s fine” (person being called up). The context collapses. The interesting thing is really beginning to think about what a status update means. Most people don’t do anything worthwhile sharing most of the time. Status updates online are often orchestrated and not really answers to the question “what’s happening”. There is also some interesting stuff going on in terms of privacy. People would feel that the phone calls invaded their privacy. However, the fact that status updates by default traverse around the Web the way they do, seemingly doesn’t provide for the same intuitive feelings around privacy.

Aram Bartholl’s “Tweet Bubble Series” takes individual tweets and puts them on T-shirts.  By putting tweets on clothing Bartholl wants to explore the connection between the message and everyday life. To investigate the deeper role of the absence of physical proximity and relative anonymous exchange in the use of Twitter, the central question to the wearable speech bubble prototypes is: What would it be like to not only show you latest message online, but also to publicly display it on your T-shirt? In all Bartholl has made four different versions of the Tweet-shirt. The first version called the Classic Tweets, works with thermochromatic fabric that changes colour or lightens up when you heat it up with only three static Twitter messages on it. The second version, Loud Tweets, uses a LED-bar connected to the Twitter feed resembling the noise of advertising. Pocket Tweet harnesses the screen most of us already carry with us, the mobile phone. By putting the mobile phone, front facing in a cut out pocket on the t-shirt, you can show display you last message easily. The last version, called Paper Tweet is meant for conferences and the like where people would go around with badges and labels. These labels have an RFID-tag embedded. People with RFID readers can then scan the label for new messages.

The third project dealing with status updates gone wild is one of my personal favourites, Jens Wunderling’s “Default to Public”. The art project explores the discrepancy between people’s modes of self-revelation online and their simultaneous desire for privacy in the real world. What’s the difference between communicating on the Internet versus public space? While he doesn’t consider the project as a Twitter project first and foremost, the project evolves around Twitter status updates. One of the sub-projects, called Status Panel, displays tweets on people’s doorbells via a LCD screen. The question being, would you want your neighbours to know what you’re thinking about? Tweetscreen, another sub-project, is a networked projection/installation in public space showing tweets which have been written near it’s own physical location on a large projection screen. The twitter users whose tweets have been chosen receive a reply message along with the photo taken by a webcam, saying that their tweets have been shown in public. Currently the third, and last sub-project called Tweetleek aggregates tweets from nearby and “materializes” them. Online status updates traverse into public space by being printed out on paper strips. These printers are put in public spaces like cafés. Once printed other people are free to take away the status updates on stickers. Thus people can take you’re your moments away with them. Like on the Internet, people can take your content. After a tweet has been printed out the author is notified. It’s really a way to illustrate the loss of control over ones data. A blogger whose tweet was “taken away”, provided the following comment on his blog “I thought it was a cool idea. While I of course realize my tweets are public and open for the world to see, somehow it still gives off an invasive feeling by having your info put on display out in public beyond your control.Really makes you think.”

This I guess is the crucial issue. What does it mean for something to be public by default? How do we engage with such software settings as end-users? Does it make any sense to be outraged about having your public tweets displayed in public space, and if yes how so? Is there a difference between the public timeline as a display in Twitter and an urban screen displaying tweets? In either case we do not have control over who is reading the messages. It is telling that some of the reactions on Twitter after the Tweetscreen projections were : “Oh, I am public”, or “My tweet was displayed in public”. Clearly there are different notions of public. What constitutes public in one context isn’t the same in another. This is not necessarily the same as the private/public distinction or debates about the public sphere. What do default settings to public mean for rethinking not only private/public, but also public/public?

Fully funded PhD fellowships at the Uni of Oslo

The Faculty of Humanities is announcing 20 fully funded PhD fellowships again, with application deadline 1 September, 2010. The positions are for appointed for 3 years.

This is a great opportunity for anyone wanting to pursue PhD studies in any of the disciplines at the Faculty, such as Media and Communications, Philosophy, Literature, History etc. You can develop your own project (you’ll have to provide a 5 page project description with the application) and the pay is as good as it can get for a PhD position.

The positions are quite competitive but provide an excellent chance for anyone interested and enthusiastic about their field of study to come to Oslo and contribute to an stimulating work environment.

Checking out and in with locative networking media

What’s up with location-based social networks? It’s been a thing for some years now, but this year location-based social networks have gained the same kind of media attention that Twitter received in 2008 before “everybody” started talking about it the following year. If the same can be said to be true for location based social networks we’ll see a Foursquare craze in mainstream media next year. There is definitely something up with location.

The amount of location based social network services are steadily growing. In line with the increasing adoption of smart phones, the Web has becomes more and more mobile. From the early days Dodgeball, Plazes, Loopt, Brightkite, Whrrl, Google Latitude to the new and popular kids on the block, Foursquare and Gowalla, location based social networking is about broadcasting your physical whereabouts to friends and followers online. Some of these services ask you to “check-in” at different venues such as restaurants and bars, or they simply function as a status update tool for places, much in the same sense as Twitter. The whole idea of location based social networking is founded on the notion that people want to find their friends in their real physical locations, as in who is where? The value of these services is also based on finding location specific information, through recommendation and tips for restaurants and other sites of interest. Basically, instead of asking what you are doing at the moment, location-based services ask where you’re at. Just how useful and meaningful these existing services really are to users is certainly up for debate.

Great check-in battle So far Foursquare seems to be slightly ahead in the running to become the Twitter of the check-in world, but still the service has to knock off the other strong competitors such as Gowalla. As Wired UK puts it in the latest July edition, there is a great check-in battle going on at the moment.

Some of the first location-based services in this genre that I came across included Dodgeball, Plazes, Brightkite and Loopt. Dodgeball, possibly the first of the bunch, was founded in 2000 by Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert and later bought by Google in 2005. Although Dodgeball didn’t survive, Dennis Crowley went on and founded Foursquare and Google replaced Dodgeball with Google Latitude. Today, Foursquare and Gowalla, both founded in 2008 and launched at the 2009 SXSW, count as some of the most popular location-based media. Foursquare just passed the 2 million users mark and surely triumphs Gowalla’s around 340,000 users. Although other services like Loopt with its 4 million users and Brightkite with its over 2 million users count more users than Foursquare, the growth rate of the latter is overwhelming with a 75 per cent every day. Gowalla on the other hand won the Mobile category 2010 in SXSW Interactive awards.

I guess it is safe to say that the time has come for location-based social networking to eventually hit mainstream. It seems the earlier services were just too early at it. In February 2008 I signed up for the now Nokia acquired Plazes. Then, as now, merely writing a status update broadcasting your location seemed pointless. Plazes is modelled around the question “Where at?” encouraging users to “plaze youself”. Simply stating “I’m at the University of Oslo” as Plazes and other early days services of this sort asks you to update, reminds a lot of how Twitter in the beginning was used to broadcast status updates of what you had for breakfast that morning. This is not to say that the microblogging format in the locative genre may eventually enjoy the same kind of success that Twitter did. While the concept of sharing real-time status updates worked for Twitter, the concept so far proves too limiting for location sharing. The early days sites that still are in the running for being the location app of choice have extended their functionalities beyond that of the sharing geo-coordinates, offering check-ins (Brightkite, Loopt), picture sharing (Brightkite) and loyalty points/rewards (Loopt). Bottom line is that it wasn’t until the concept of the check-in arrived that location-based social networking became more interesting to people. The coupling of location-based social networks with game mechanics through the check-in functionality and rewards systems associated with check-ins, clearly started to change things. Both Foursquare and Gowalla are more or less structured around “checking in” at different venues, offering rewards and badges for doing so.

And indeed, checking in at places makes more sense than just announcing your physical location through a status update. Personally I have mainly used Foursquare, particularly while in New York, and found it useful for checking out restaurants and bars. Of course one doesn’t need to check in at the different venues in order to read other peoples’ tips and recommendations but somehow I did anyway. For me it became a way of keeping track of all the places I had gone to, sort of a personal history, which I deliberately didn’t share it with anyone.

Will it ever hit mainstream? But eventually people will get tired of checking in just for the fun of it, just for showing off their exiting personal histories or for getting badges. The real utility is still out there to be found and further developed. Here in Oslo, checking in at different places is still a very marginal activity. I guess it is all about adoption in the end. So far, only 7% of the Americans are aware of location-based social networks. How the numbers look here in Norway I don’t know but that it is closer to light-years form a mainstream is probably safe to say. Enough people would have to be willing to share tips and recommendations about places they have been too and businesses would have to start rewarding their loyal checker-ins with special deals for the game to shift from curiosity to utility. In the US this is slowly staring to happen where more and more businesses offer special promotions and loyalty rewards but there is still a long way to go, not least because of the technology itself.

One of the biggest obstacles is as trivial as battery life time. Another one is access to data, which of course is a huge privacy issue. In this regard Loopt is an interesting case in point as it stared out with constantly tracking peoples’ location automatically by running in the background all the time (needless to say that this was deemed highly problematic in terms of privacy). It then changed it’s strategy to check-ins abandoning the background location-updating, only to shift slightly back towards background location again with its latest version.

Conceptual challenges But most importantly I think are the conceptual obstacles that need to be thought through more thoroughly. The question shouldn’t be so much about optimizing the existing model of check-ins or getting more businesses to reward their loyal customers (although this certainly is important too) but one about conceptualizing the locative and the social. Many of the location-based social network services should get a better sense of what location means or should mean in terms of connectivity and sociality. Not just in general but develop a service-specific conceptualization of the parameters location, social, friends and mobility in order to built a meaningful and useful site service for the users. Take Foursquare for instance, in its two minute video intro to the service it mentions at least four different things that seem to be key to the service. For one, Foursquare declares it is a service that let’s you become more aware of your world. It let’s you discover where your friends are. Foursquare wants you to tell your friends where you are. It let’s you check out tips and recommendations. “The more you use it the more you will get out of it”. Then there are the game mechanics with badges and points for checking in. Also, you are told to try to check in at a place more than anyone else in order to become the “mayor” of that place. “You don’t get a key to the city, but you might get rewards from certain businesses just for being a loyal customer”. This is all well and good, but there are just too many half-hearted assumptions about what constitutes a location or place and how people want to connect to these locations in a meaningful way. Do people first and foremost want to find each other, and if yes who do they specifically want to find? Surely not all “friends” are equally desirable to find. Do people want to be found? And if yes, when and where and by whom? I am sure there have to be distinctions drawn here. Especially in terms of being located as a “friend” or as “data” or “commodity” by companies and businesses.

How artists use social media

Artists use social media in a variety of different ways but at least two main categories come to mind. Social media is either used as a canvas or as a brush to use rather simple metaphors. Artists using social media as a canvas use social media mainly as the material and space of their work, whereas the brush metaphor refers to the leveraging of social media as a source or inspiration for the work. Then of course there are the different modes of using social media as with all technologies in which people (artists) either embrace it or critically question it (and as always there is also the in-between). What seems to be evident however, is how many artists use social media as a type of performance art, either by staging a performance on social media platforms, or using social media as a component in a performance, for instance by letting the audience decide on the course of the performance. Some of the many ways in which artists are using social media include:

  • Interactive art created on basis of input from active participating users in which an audience determines the work: Examples include the inter.sect Art Collective who has created several exhibitions where random status updates are sent to the artists who then translate it visually and post it back into the social media stream. In the case of Dance Theatre Workshop’s Twitter Choreography they create dance and performance almost entirely based on Twitter users directions and suggestions.
  • Artists using social media to generate ‘crowdsourced happenings’: @Platea is a good example here and I’ve written about it before. It’s an online art collective doing online performances using social media in which everyone that wants can participate.

Ellsworth Kelly Hacked My Twitter
  • Art created on basis of user input from unwitting participants: Whereas a lot of work asks users to provide input as to how a particular piece of art is to be made, or progress in the case of many performance pieces, other artists also use the large amount of user input, or user generated content that is out there as the content and  the material of their art. On my recent visit to Vancouver the Diane Ferris Gallery showed a social media art exhibition called Twitter/Art+Social Media. Brian Piana, one of the artists in the show, exhibited several pieces created by using actual Twitter data. For instance the piece “Ellsworth Kelly Hacked My Twitter”, creates a color grid based on the most recent tweets from people he follows, or Journal of the Collective Me” that presents a real-time chronicle of anonymous tweets that contain the word “me”.
  • Many artists also use social media to reach out to people and get them engaged in their work. In these cases social media is used to create communities and facilitate interpersonal interaction. Social media becomes a means for artists to connect both to a potential audience as well as to other artists. This is particularly valuable as many artists work rather isolated and detached from their audience.
  • Art that explores the social and cultural aspects of social media by using social media as its canvas: Lauren McCarthy’s project Showertweets used tweets from the shower to question the limits of our public private lives, or Rachel Perry Welty’s Facebook-based performance “Rachel Is” in which she attempted to give an accurate status update on Facebook every sixty seconds from 7:30 in the morning to 11 at night to explore the ways in which people craft a persona online. One of my favourite examples is the I’m Not Stalking you; I’m Socializing project by artist Liz Filardi in which she critically explores several aspects of social networking such as status updates, and “following” somebody

Rune by Matt Held
  • Lastly, and this may be the most common way to use social media for artists, is to use it as an inspiration or source for their artistic projects that are often crafted in other more traditional media. Artists still paint oil paintings or use printed matter with different motives taken from the social media world. The artists Matt Held for instance paints Facebook portraits , as does the Brooklyn based artist Nic Rad

Battle of the features, it’s question time

These days Facebook has launched a new feature called Facebook Questions. Basically it lets you ask and answer questions from your extended circle. But Facebook is not the only one experimenting with the potentials of the Q&A communicative and informational form. Yesterday I signed up for a service called Replyz that integrates with Twitter on leveraging the amount of questions asked on the popular microblogging platform by mining all tweets that seem question-related. The service also lets people ask questions or give answers beyond their Twitter network. At the moment Replyz is in a semi-private beta trying to figure out how to make the most out of what appears to be the latest trend in social network features – questions.

Facebook even seems to consider questions to be an important part of the company’s future. Beta testers of the Facebook questions feature have been asked to “ask great questions and provide great answers about their favourite topics. Economics? Skydiving? Relationships? Mexican Restaurants? Now it’s “What do you want to know?” and “What’s your question?” instead of “What’s on your mind?” and “What’s happening?”

I’ve tried both Facebook and Twitter’s questions feature. While the questions feature is not directly promoted through the Twitter website, any questions posed via Replyz (provided you have logged on via your Twitter account) gets automatically posted on Twitter. Facebook on the other hand has integrated its questions features as part of the toolbar on the left and promotes it as a preview right above the news feed these days. However, both social network sites still have a long way to go before the questions feature seems to be useful. Right now it all comes across as rather confusing and messy. In the case of Facebook I can’t seem to access the question I posed yesterday. It merely states that I have participated in asking a question but the question itself and potential replies have disappeared out of sight. The questions feed consists pretty much of the question “What is the best restaurant in Cambridge?” repeated 13 times along with different answers. There are two other random questions in the feed right now and all three questions have been posed by a friend of a friend. Unfortunately I am not overly interested in restaurants in Cambridge at the moment.

Likewise, my question posed in Replyz hasn’t received any replies yet, although the service boosts with the promise of getting replies in real-time. Now I can’t see how Replyz is any different from a normal Q&A feature. Inquiring the ‘view conversations’ tab on Replyz for the most recent questions, looks rather unpromising in terms of actually getting questions answered. The tab reads just like any other Twitter feed where questions quickly disappear as new questions appear, all of them with 0 replies. The service lets you search for questions, but this seems somewhat counterintuitive. Who searches for questions when what one wants is an answer? Those likely to search for the same things that you are interested in are also the most likely to wonder about the same things.

Questions is an attempt to have a say in the market for search online. As a feature, both Facebook Questions and Replyz deal with social search, that is, search that leverages the knowledge base of a social network. The idea is that there are certain types of questions that a normal search engine cannot answer properly because they don’t have a single right answer. Social search is therefore about subjective questions, advice and opinions. Social search and Q&A services have been up on the rise lately with Google purchasing the social search service Aardvark in February 2010, Yahoo Answers, and Quora and Formspring as merely the latest additions. The fact that Facebook calls the beta testing of its feature ‘a help for building the future of Facebook’, attests to the ways in which the Internet is first and foremost about getting questions answered, i.e. about information retrieval. Status updates may provide the main feature of Facebook right now, but it remains to be seen how long other people’s moments can uphold peoples’ interest in the long run.

Facebook and Twitter have some advantages over other Q&A services that keep popping up though. Many people probably trust their Facebook friends more than anonymous people on Google or Formspring. Facebook Questions could have a real potential in terms of asking for opinions and recommendations rather than proving facts. The downside is of course even more information. Asking questions is easy, getting people to answer them much harder. Unless there is a way to heighten peoples’ incentives about answering questions it seems somewhat unlikely that a service like Replyz will actually be useful.


see also article on Replyz by Search Engine Land

Podcast from SXSW 2010 on social search

Angels and bionic ears – on the whereabouts of German media theory

Angels, viruses, the Greek alphabet, time tables anno 1900, chaos theory and huge ambitions; or just one attempt at summarizing a recent conference on so-called German Media Theory. Two weeks ago I went to the Media transatlantic conference in Vancouver, I admit, just as much for the city as for the conference in itself. Although the subtitle of the conference described it as being about “Media theory in North-America and German-Speaking Europe” it would have been more correct to replace the ‘North-American’ part with ‘Canadian theory’, or simply the ‘Toronto school’; that aside I went mostly for the ‘German-speaking part’, which also turned out to be the most represented side of the transatlantic endeavour. Here, I’ll just give a brief account of my impressions as to the whereabouts of German Media Theory as far as the conference goes.

First of all, there is a lot of interesting and inspiring stuff going on in German-speaking Europe, which only rarely reaches the shores of Norway, or any other non-German speaking country I suspect. Secondly, and probably needless to say, German media theory is much more than Friedrich Kittler, who does not even see himself as a media theorist (any more). Some of the most well-known German media-theorists were indeed present at the conference, giving fascinating keynotes, including:

  • Sybille Krämer : Krämer is professor of Philosophy at the Freie Universität of Berlin. Her work revolves around the philosophy of language and performativity and how it applies to media and particularly the computer, as well as to questions concerning mediality and the figure of the messenger as basis for a media theory. This latter aspect of her research and the topic of her latest book “Medium, Bote, Übertragung. Kleine Metaphysik der Medialität” was the focus of her talk at the conference as well. Krämer was concerned with developing a path for media philosophy beyond insisting on its a prioriness, arguing for a revisiting of the topi of transmission based on a messenger model of media. For Krämer the messenger embodies the structural properties of transmission. Messengers mediate between heterogeneous worlds, not through speaking but by making one side visible for the other. Messengers such as angels, money, viruses, psychoanalysis and witnesses according to Krämer must be seen as media in the sense that they, in acting as messengers, create the world by bridging something and making visible. Angels transmit or mediate holy messages, viruses transmit diseases and property is transmitted through money. The emphasis of the messenger and transmission allow for a media theory based on processes and thirdness (Mitte und Mittler) rather than on the technical apparatus as the condition of possibility as her other Berlin colleagues will have it.
  • Dieter Mersch : Mersch is a philosopher and professor of Media Studies at the University of Potsdam. Like Krämer he focuses on media philosophy, philosophy of language and performativity. He areas of research also include philosophy of art, aesthetics, hermeneutics and semiotics. As a media philosopher Mersch works with questions concerning the medium and its conceptualization as such; what media is, how media influence perception, communication and knowledge and the constitutive nature of the specific structures of media as they relate to the image, language and mathematics. In his talk, Mersch argued for a third way of approaching the question concerning the conditions of media. In sketching out two dominant modes of thinking about media that he regards as problematic, media as technical means and media as metaphor, he argued for a performative mode, or for the usefulness of approaching media as practices. Whereas the technical mode belongs to the Kittlerian realm, to calculation and mathematics, in short to pure instrumentality, media as metaphor is associated with the Swiss media theorist Christoph Tholen. By means of an etymological excursion, Mersch argued for a move from “meta” as in metaphor or the Greek metapharin (meaning transfer and transmission) to “dia”, or the Aristotelian diaphanis (meaning a through something, by means of light). For Mersch the move from meta to dia provides for a more useful approach in accounting for media, as meta always implies rupture or a leap, which needs to be accounted for, while dia accentuates a throughness and thereby does a way with an idea of an unbridgeable gap. A media theory based on dia rather than meta, highlights the performative and practice based approach that Mersch wants to end up with. Dia as in by using, or by doing, rather than media as rupture, better accounts for the conditions of media according to Mersch. Essentially what Mersch seems to suggest is that the medium cannot be grasped in itself and so we must attain to its practices instead.
  • Hartmut Winkler: Winkler is professor of Media Studies at the University of Paderborn and probably the most relevant theorist for my concerns, as he focuses on digital media and the computer. His talk revolved around the third and often neglected media function – processing.  Media for Kittler have basically three functions: transmission, storage and processing, but as Winkler observes, this third category of processing has been remarkably under-explored. Winkler argues that processing can be seen as a general media function, not just as an integral part of what the computer does. Processing plays a fundamental role in manufacturing media products of all kinds from video, photography to writing, all encompass a certain processing of the message. Winkler further explores the relation between processing and communication, by suggesting that what is now at stake is the relationship between a sender as producer and the product, rather than the senders relation to a receiver. As such, the concept of processing highlights how a communicator today intervenes with the message, or the product, through processing it (e.g. editing a YouTube video, formatting the content etc.). For Winkler, a focus on processing rather than communication prompts us to having to ask different sorts of questions regarding media, which have to do with the ‘logistics’ of media and the organizing principles of structuring certain worldviews. Processing ultimately deals with questions concerning translation and transformation, and Winkler thus proposes that processing can be understood as interfering modification on the one hand and as switching/forwarding on the other.

Performativity, Practice and Processing are the three P’s that seem to characterize a certain theoretical affinity between the different media theorists, all highlighting media’s capacity to act, of doing something. While there are certainly differences in opinion as to the extent to which media are instrumental or have causal power in themselves, terms like translation, transmission, messenger and process attest to understanding media as thirdness, middle and in-between. While Winkler seems to be working on a conceptualization of processing that synthesizes media’s capacity to both change by interfering and delivering without interfering, Mersch would like to distance himself from an instrumental approach to media all together. Both Krämer and Mersch efforts are drawn towards accounting for the invisibility of media in its transmission process, that is the making visible by being invisible. For both a solution seems to lie in aisthesis, which for Krämer is to be found in the logos of transmission and the figure of the messenger while or Mersch it implies a dealing with late Wittgensteinian concepts like practice and language-games.

However, as the only outside expert of German media theory present, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young stressed in his keynote, we must be vary about using a term such as German media theory as if it were some unified category. There is neither a theory to which most German media theorists subscribe to, nor is there a consensus as to what constitutes a medium. Not to mention the construct of ‘German’, which is in itself problematic, which is as Winthrop-Young reminds us just an observer construct. For who counts as German, and do I have to identify it as German if writing from elsewhere? He furthermore talked about the language problem and the academic bureaucracy of getting the works translated to English and disseminated to an international audience. In responding to what he saw as particularly pressing issues to discuss within the international context, Winthrop-Young mentioned the stakes of ‘post-humanism’, a broader reception of Luhmann and what exactly the Germans understand by ‘cultural techniques’.

The huge ambitions referred to in the beginning of the post can be said to characterize the recent project underway by the mythical ‘founding father’ of German media theory. Till Heilman briefly outlined Kittler’s new endeavour of presenting the entire cultural history of the Western world in four volumes. In what still remains a relatively unknown project outside Germany, “Musik und Mathematik” has still to move on and progress from dealing with the ancient Greeks and their alphabet. Although Kittler was remarkably absent from the papers presented, his presence was all the more recurring during the discussions in which several of the conference attendees expressed their disdain towards the equating of German media theory solely with Kittler and Berlin. The fact that the conference didn’t really attract many others than the few conference presenters and the Germans themselves attested to the relative unknown field of German media theory in the North American context.

Interestingly, the younger generation of the German presenters were quite representative of what Winkler saw as a tendency in German media theory of scholars concerning themselves increasingly with the theory and history of science and theories of cognition. Markus Krajewski presented a paper on the global transit system around 1900 as basis for a media theory of the time table while PhD candidates Mueggenburg and Samuel presented on bio-cybernetics in the 1960s as well as on Otto Rössler and Chaos theory respectively.

If we were to judge the whereabouts of German media theory by this conference alone some recurring concerns, theoretical affinities and approaches come to mind. One of the things that kept coming up in presentations and discussion was a concern with questions of the visibility and invisibility of media, and with the visual in general, even up to the point where conference co-organizer Richard Cavell remarked his surprise of this “turn” of attention to the visual. The non-German theorist mentioned most often as a point of reference was the French philosopher Michel Serres, maybe not so surprising taken into account his concepts of the parasite (as a third and as the appearance of the medium) and well as his theory of translation based in large on the figure of the angel as messenger. German media theory if I may still use this term seems more invested in media as they occurred 100 years ago, even with ancient Greece than with contemporary media, say with social media. Cybernetics, cognition and the computer linger strongly and debates about what really constitutes a medium and what they do are actively debated from philosophical and theoretical perspectives.

Web default to social

There is a lot of buzz out there right now about the “new” Facebook. Facebook just announced that they are starting their journey towards becoming the social center of the web at the Facebook developers’ conference in San Francisco two days ago. The new components to the Facebook platform show a move towards a connection-based Web, from being a destination site to a distributed site, and a gradual shift from search to more sharing (like Twitter’s retweet and Google’s buzz), and from lesser privacy to more personalization.

Basically three major changes were announced:

  • Like button: the social plugin allows website owners to embed a like button to their webpage. With one click users share their approval, or likes, with their friends on Facebook. Stories about the “likes” are published on the newsfeed and on the user profiles. Users don’t have to be logged in to Facebook, the likes are automatically syndicated to the users profile. Levis is one of the first companies to adopt this plugin right away. On its website Levis promotes the “friends store” for “like-minded shopping” with what has the potential to become the Web’s new slogan “Declare your likes”! Users can declare their likes towards a particular pair of Levis jeans, say the low skinny something jeans and see who else also shares that enthusiasm. But do I really care that a girl named Chloe Hanson also likes the same pair of jeans? Maybe, time will tell. At least it is taking the whole friend concept to another level. Surely many people care about what their friends like, and I guess even what strangers like. But what about products that nobody likes? And what kind of taste hierarchies will evolve out of it? As it looks right now, you can see how many people also like the same product but not who these people are unless they are your friends on Facebook. The like button is really a major effort to follow the users around the Web. Facebook isn’t satisfied with being the principal destination site of the web anymore, rightfully taking its measures of precaution. While many previous social networking sites had to see their users move on to the next big thing, introducing a like button for the entire web is Facebook’s way of franchising, or as Mashable puts it: “Rather than aiming to be the coolest bar in town — and losing its clientele when they leave for a hipper spot — Facebook plans to become the Starbucks of the web, with a Like button on every corner.” What’s more is the simplification of embedding such functionality by adding a simple iframe snippet to a line of html. This social plugin also plays a decisive role in the other major announcement of Facebook.
  • Open Graph: This protocol allows developers to see the social connection between people and their interests. The idea is that a person or object is defined by the other people/things they’re connected to. So what the open graph model aims for is not only to connect people with people but also people with things. Every web service does its own social mapping of its users. Pandora maps taste in music and Yelp maps business recommendations. Instead of creating multiple social graphs, the open graph allows for mapping the connections on top of each other, feeding participating services with social interest data across sites and back to Facebook. So whereas user tastes and interests previously would surface on the stream without Facebook holding on to it, now this data is stored and permanently available on Facebook, and maybe more importantly, also stored and accessible across the web. In the first instance the open graph protocol launches with 30 partners, including Pandora, Yelp, CNN and IMDB. For instance, clicking the like button on a movie page on IMDB makes it show up on Facebook’s user profiles, search results and news feed. So if you click like for the movie ‘The Rock’ on its IMDB page it will automatically show up as part of you favorite movies on your personal Facebook profile. Essentially Facebook is looking to become an identity aggregator for its users, or simply the user identity center of the web.
  • Graph API: This is a redesign of Facebook’s core API making it simpler for developers to use the Facebook platform.

It will remain to be seen what these changes actually mean for the users, publishers and the competition. However that Facebook is trying to move in the direction towards a semantic web, or at least a more semantically aware web is evident. In the competition for user eyeballs and user information, Facebook has taken a large step in pushing its biggest competitor Google aside. Whether Google or Facebook, the fact that we are dealing with companies that increasingly own and ever-expand on accumulating user data repositories should be worrisome.

Art and technology collaborations

On Saturday I attended a one-day event called Seven on Seven at the New Museum of Contemporary Art put on by Rhizome. Seven leading artists were paired with seven leading technologists and programmers to come up with something creative, a new art work, a social media piece etc. over the course of one day. Among these altogether 14 different people were Matt Mullenweg, a creator of WordPress who was paired with Evan Roth, a graffiti artist with a lot of interesting web projects going on, Jeff Hammerbacher, an early Facebook developer who was paired with Aaron Koblin, a data visualization artist who just won an award at this years Transmediale. Others included Tumbler’s David Karp, Delicious founder and Google engineer Joshua Schachter and artist Tauba Auerbach who’s work is exhibited at this years Whitney Biennial and who has even had a solo exhibition at one of my favourite galleries in Oslo, Standard.

I didn’t really know what to expect as there wasn’t much information about the event beforehand but I was pleasantly surprised by what the pairs had come up with during just one day of collaboration and intensive brainstorming. Although pitched as artists and technologists respectively, these lines, especially among these pairs, were increasingly blurred.

I really enjoyed Mullenweg and Roth’s presentation. Their project naturally revolved around blogging and the fact that blogging most often is regarded as quite a solitary experience. You sit there and write your blog-post and have really no idea who’s going to read it; when you’re finished all you do is to press the ‘publish’ button and that’s it. As Roth proclaimed, it’s like sending the bottle out to sea. So what they proposed was a ‘surprise me’ button that WordPress users can active on their admin system and which will generate random congratulation videos celebrating the bloggers efforts. In addition, playing around with the fact that the stats page are the most loaded page on WordPress, Mullenweg and Roth made a simple mashup using Google search, Wikipedia and Flickr to “humanize” the stats by automatic comparing the number of visitors to a “real life” example of that number, say “your page has been read as many times as there as people living in Cody, Wyoming” with a picture accompanying, adding a sense of community to that solitary blogging experience.

Joshua Schachter and artist Monica Narula came up with the idea of monetizing guilt by harnessing Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to allow users to collectively assign dollar values to various misdeeds that people had considered acts of guilt. The idea was to ask users on Mechanical Turk to name something that made them feel guilty and next to name something that people could do in order to compensate for the act for which one user suggested to give money to charity. The third question that Schachter and Narula therefore crowdsourced was just how many dollars for a number of guilty actions should be given to charitable causes so that guilt might be cleared through donations.  This experiment I think showed in an elegant way how even such abstract concepts as guilt can be monetized in a modern capitalist marketplace on the Internet.


“Books, like cats, do not wear watches”

-Jeanette Winterson

waiting for godot
waiting for godot

Media and waiting seem to be at odds. At least in times of so-called instantaneous communication. Reading Harold Schweizer’s book ‘On Waiting’ reminds me just how marginal or left out the topic of waiting is from media studies. And this is quite remarkable as waiting when one thinks about it constitutes an integral part of the phenomenology of everyday life. Waiting is not only an experience everyone shares, from waiting for the bus, in a queue or for the kettle to boil, but also an experience which affects are also shared by most people. Waiting is not something people tend to like. But how does waiting relate to new media technologies? What do faster and instant media do to waiting?  And how does waiting relate to time, boredom and attention in today’s digital economies?

As Schweizer remarks, “in waiting, time is slow”. Are we so obsessed with instantaneous media because we hate waiting? We get irritated and anxious when we have to wait on the phone line, we “expect” people to respond fast when we send a text message and responding to email should be done within the next day or so.

Living in a society that accentuates immediacy, waiting becomes the only temporal regime that we don’t desire. Everybody wants more time, with one exception, waiting – which means having time without wanting it. One definition of immediacy then, can be located in the exclusion of waiting.

Looking at media and waiting it becomes apparent how media are used to defer from waiting, that is, from experiencing a certain temporality of stretched out or prolonged time. Whenever we have to wait or have to “fill” time, media are used to assist this overcoming of “unwanted” time. Particular places, like the waiting rooms at the doctor’s office, are even designated for the particular experience of waiting. The paradox however is that even “waiting rooms” attempt at abolishing and emptying out the experience of waiting, of which the magazines are emblematic.

Time is money; it can be measured and valued. So too can waiting. Some things are deemed “worth waiting for”. Schweizer uses Penelope’s waiting for Odysseus as a case in point here. Penelope had to wait 20 years for her husband’s return, during which time she had to reject an extent of marriage proposals. Penelope’s faithfulness is a virtue manifested in the duration of waiting. But most of us don’t have to wait nearly this long, nor do I suspect we most of us would have the patience to do so today. Capitalist society has long since taught us there is little worth waiting for; if you desire it, why wait the slogans will have it. Indeed, what is worth waiting for? And why is some waiting worth it while most waiting is considered a waist of time? In times of instant communication and gratification, the question of waiting as an everyday temporal experience shouldn’t be neglected.