Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

18 07 2011

Have you ever stopped to think about what is beyond the current suite of proprietary driven social media tools? Would you pay to use Facebook or would you move your social networks somewhere else online? What else is out there? Unlike us is a project conceived by Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol), which is designed to “analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.”

The agenda of Unlike us states that:

Going beyond the culture of complaint about our ignorance and loss of privacy, the proposed network of artists, scholars, activists and media folks will ask fundamental and overarching questions about how to tackle these fast-emerging monopoly powers.

As a Gov2.0 and open source supporter, I keep a keen eye on discussions in this space. The development of Web 2.0 tools that are open source and proprietary free are necessary elements in making the Internet the egalitarian space Berners-Lee envisaged. There are many risks in relying on software tools bartered for in the marketplace as they compete and potentially fail, losing millions of $$$, for example Myspace. I am also very interested in the critical engagement of artists and activists in this space, particularly in terms of tools development and cultural change. In my opinion, open source software also gets better and better (just think about Blender) – because many people who like to use the tool also customise the software.

That said, open source software is only one thread of discussion planned for Unlike us. Other topics of Investigation include:

  • Political Economy: Social Media Monopolies
  • The Private in the Public
  • Visiting the Belly of the Beast
  • Artistic Responses to Social Media
  • Designing culture: representation and software
  • Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures
  • Genealogies of Social Networking Sites
  • Is Research Doomed?
  • Researching Unstable Ontologies
  • Making Sense of Data: Visualization and Critique
  • Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives
  • Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media
  • Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology
  • Social Media in the Middle East and Beyond
  • Data storage: social media and legal cultures

Unlike us aims to establish a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’.

If you want to join the Unlike Us network, start your own initiatives in this field or hook up what you have already been doing for ages, subscribe to the email list::http://listcultures.org/mailman/listinfo/unlike-us_listcultures.org

Unlike Us is a common initiative of the Institute of Network Cultures (Amsterdam University of Applied Science HvA) and the Cyprus University of Technology in Lemasol. This post was retrieved via Nettime mailing list 16 July 2011 and is also available in full on Furtherfield and a number of other online publications.

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Discussion on -empyre- Biennials Plus and Minus

21 06 2011

The recent series of essays from long time collaborator and dear friend Linda Carroli on the -empyre- discussion list offers some very interesting perspectives on the social and cultural implications of the ‘Biennial’, or more broadly, arts and cultural festivals. For the full versions of the essays, see Linda’s blog placeblog.

Here is a copy of my response to her postings:

Hi Linda,

Thanks for your insightful views considering the role of the biennial.

Your three key themes of ‘Recovery and Regeneration’, ‘From Emergency to Emergence’, and ‘The Commons’ all have serious implications for artistic and cultural development in a world that needs a sustainable integration of issues related to arts, environment and humanity.  Cultural tourism may have economic benefits on a local level and on an organisational level but at what cost? I have certainly not felt all that comfortable attending festivals interstate and overseas because of my carbon footprint and I think this is a crucial issue to consider as part of designing the biennial/festival model.

The example of  the Prospect Biennial in New Orleans, is inspiring example for cultural regeneration and I think the dialogue between artists and community needs to flow not just through the spectacle of the ‘biennial’ but in a way that can inspire and invigorate culture on a day-to-day level.

Also agree about how the typical hieracrchical strucutre of the curated structure of festivals does not allow for much innovation and ‘risk’, which is why I prefer the ‘unconference’ model used by fo.am and THATcamp as it is more inclusive and representative as well as a great way of brainstorming ideas.
 

I look forward to following this discussion on -empyre- and seeing more of Linda’s writing.





Blogging under the radar

7 10 2010

There has been a lot of discussion online about bloggers in the political and media space, particularly if they are public servants or are considered ‘non-professionals’.

But what is also lurking (pardon the pun) is how social media enthusiasts share information and link to each other. There is an etiquette (or more precisely netiquette) involved that is about acknowledging your sources and validating your position. In a blog, an active link is considered a reference. It is not like an academic assertion that needs to be referenced in order to sustain an argument. It is much simpler than that – it is simply an expression of respect.

By taking the time to link to the information and people that you are discussing, you create a picture for your reader that has value and credibility. What is more, the author appreciates it! I am certainly appreciative of the efforts that other bloggers and tweeps take when referencing my posts or creative works. I am less impressed when people cut and paste from my blog into their own posts (even if it is a list of links) without acknowledgment.

I guess this is because I actually want people to read my blog and to follow the thread of the discussion. After all, even though my blog is a hobby, it still takes time and I invest a lot of effort in ensuring that other websites, blogs and tweeps are referenced. This is primarily because I greatly value the opinions and work of people who are active in the space of social media, semantic web and information management. Whether they write as themselves or under a pseudonym doesn’t really matter to me, what I am interested in is the ideas, opinions and the flow-on conversations that are generated.

Personally speaking, I make no attempts to fly under the radar and put a disclaimer on my blog to clearly state that the opinions expressed are exclusively my own. Fortunately for me, my employer and research institution endorse me to participate in this arena, in my capacity as a media researcher and creative practicioner, which takes a great deal of pressure off.

What I hope for, along with respect for each other in the blogosphere, is that there will be increased acceptance of an author’s right to choose how they write and as who. I also hope that there will be an acknowledgment that diversity of opinion is healthy, whether you are a professional journalist, public servant, media critic or just have a point of view.

For more information see #groggate and Craig Thomler’s blog post When traditional media exposes public service bloggers





Not navel gazing at #media140

27 09 2010

The recent media140 event in Canberra on 23 September 2010, titled ‘How is the real-time web transforming politics?’ was definitely worth going to, even if it was lacking in some areas. What I was hoping for was some commentary round issues of social inclusion, especially how social media tools have changed communication in the broader community and how viral media makes an impact on the ground. I was especially interested in how community has used these tools to raise awareness about political issues.

My interest in this event was two-fold. Firstly, it was a fact finding mission for my work at www.livinggreener.gov.au – to see what tools are being used and how effective they are in terms of communicating to our target audiences. Secondly, as my PhD project focused on the relationship between online and offline space, activism and community, I wanted to see if connections were made between who and where and what.

Julie Posetti @julie_posetti was one of the key organisers and she did a fantastic job at bringing together a diverse range of commentators, journalists, politicians and activists that are operating in the social media space. I use the term social media loosely as it may be better described in regards to this event as ‘tweeting for the election’.

One of the key elements of this event was the projection of the live twitter feed on two screens either side of the podium. This was an interesting, albeit at times disrupting voice that distracted the audience from the speaker/s, often with humorous results. I found this was a wonderful way of demonstrating the power of two way communications as the recipient of the information/message had the capacity to talk back.

Rather than offering a summary of the event in its entirety, I have opted to comment of each of the sessions separately to provide more detail.

Keynote 1 – US Ambassador Bleich @USAembassyinOZ – Lessons from Obama’s Campaign

Ambassador Bleich’s opening keynote address explored the success of the Obama campaign in regard to the use of social media.  One of the most interesting and relevant points made in this presentation was the relationship between the use of the web and the resulting actions on the ground. The other significant point made was that there is no difference between communications online to offline – that you need to have substance to the message and clearly communicate the issues – there is no ‘magic pudding’.

Obama’s role was central to the campaign strategy and because of the lack of funds he needed to think creatively to get his message out there. In short, Obama needed his name everywhere and trust his supporters – believing that people will behave in similar ways whether online or offline.

Some of the challenges included how to deal with the ‘end of the season’, when the work has been done and the sense of personal connection is lost. Also, people online feel like they have a closer connection and there is a difficulty in managing the volumes of emails, etc. Also, the political space of campaigning is different to that of governing – as a campaigner you represent your supporters and once in government you speak for the entire nation.

My personal take of the Obama campaign is that it seems to have modeled itself on many of the early net-activist strategies used in the late 1990s early 2000, where activists would share information online and then go out in the community and raise awareness of issues. The media campaign for Obama benefited from the fact that the media tools have improved and many lessons have been learnt from those early days.

Panel 1: How are real time and social media platforms changing political communications: Malcolm Turnbull @Turnbullmalcolm, Christine Milne @SenatorMilne, Possum @pollytics, Latika Bourke @latikambourke, Samantha Maiden @samathamaiden

This panel had a range of views which all saw how social media has influenced political communications in different ways. Some of the main points of the discussion included was Possum’s observation that Australia political parties have not really engaged with new media and there is an inherent challenge to engage new audiences – i.e. preaching to the converted. Latika Bourke commented that many politicians pay lip service to the media, using twitter as a channel to publish media releases rather than actually engaging in two way discussions.

The highlight of this panel was the almost heated discussion of the National Broadband Network (NBN) between Malcolm Turnball and Possum. This discussion unfortunately was nipped in the bud, which was a shame as access is a key issue to the debate on social media.

Interview with Rob Oakshott MP @oakeymp: The Role of Social Media in the New Political #Paradigm

Julie Posetti interview with Rob Oakshott looked at a range of topics, including the tweet backlash of his now famous 17 minute election deciding speech. In short, Oakshott wanted to explain it was a considered process hence it taking so long. He also talked about the mobile app he has that tracks his movements via Google maps at roboakshott.mobi. On a number of occasions he questioned the media’s appetite to play the man and not the ball and hoped that more consideration would be made in this area as it detracts from the political issues at stake.

Oakshott also expressed a concern about the ‘fifo’ approach to journalism (fly in-fly out) as it fails to adequately report on community issues.

Keynote 2 – Senator Kate Lundy @katelundy

It is no secret that Kate Lundy is an advocate and supporter of social media and technology. I first saw Lundy speak at a Girl Geek dinner where I also gave a presentation about Dorkbot CBR. In her talk she mentioned how Australians have a history of taking up technology early and that 72% of households have the Internet. Lundy discussed the importance of the NBN in providing access to more Australians and pointed out that it was not just regional and rural areas that miss out in regard to broadband access, citing the Canberra region of Gungahlin as an example. In addition, she emphasised that the NBN debate should be kept separate to the Internet filter debate. Personally, I think there does seem to be an ideological disparity between providing access and then restricting same.

Panel 2: The changing role of traditional political news gatekeepers in the age of the real time web: Peter Martin @1petermartin, Karen Middleton @karenmmiddleton, Lyndal Curtis @lyndalcurtis, James Massola @jamesmassola, Bernard Keane @BernardKeane

The question of the journalist being ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘curators’ of political news on the web was the topic of this panel, which I found to be an inwardly focused discussion on how traditional media can keep control of the news, well, that is how I understood it.

For me, this panel demonstrated that many mainstream journalists are still grappling with this reality that they do not ‘own’ the news and that citizens are commenting and reporting themselves on how they see the news. The most interesting part of the panel was the live twitter feed at #media140, where many in the audience were commenting that the discussion was ‘navel gazing’ and at the end expressing frustration at the panel going over time. In short, the related media theory was not broached, and I tweeted to remind myself of Axel Brun’s text Gatewatching, which has been around since 2003.

Keynote 3 Simon Sheikh, GetUp! @simongetup – Activist Media Models

This presentation from GetUp!’s Simon Sheik started with a video clip of some of the campaigns that the organisation has supported since it started in 2005.

Sheik talked about how politicians and mainstream media has difficulty in understanding who Getup! is and explained that everyone who gets involved is GetUp! He mentioned Senator Abetz’s ongoing criticism of GetUP! as a front for The Labor and Green parties. See GetUp! – A New Kind of Astroturfing

There were a few tweets about how GetUp! raises funds, but for my money the approach is successful for the same reasons that the Obama campaign worked. That if you can build an audience who supports your cause, you will also build capacity on the ground. He used that case of David Hicks as one example of how GetUp! influenced public opinion and political change. The other more recent examples were the successful GetUp! court cases where they took the AEC to the court, challenging electoral laws that prevented voters from enrolling online and the case where the High Court ruled Howard government changes that closed the electoral rolls on the day writs were issued were unconstitutional.

Panel 3: Spin on speed: Controlling the message in the real time web era: Moderator: Alex Sloan @666Canberra, Jo Scard @scardjo, David Hood @davidahood, Jeremy Irvine @jeremy_irvine and Jodee Rich @wingdude

Although there were some interesting observations in this panel there were only a couple of stand out comments for me. David Hood touched on the issue of social inclusion and getting the message heard. Jodee Rich commented that politicians don’t need to be tweeting and broadcasting in the social media space but they need to be actively listening – “running a social media campaign is about listening”.

Keynote 4 Claire Wardle @cward1e – The UK Social Media Election 2010

This was probably the most entertaining of the keynote presentations, which focused on the recent UK election. Dr Claire Wardle impressed the audience with her sense of humour and excellent use of a powerpoint presentation (did I say that!). The presentation titled The UK election and Social Media was made available on Slideshare – which is always useful for referencing.

It would appear that the political parties in the UK all used social media in a way that was responsive to each other and to the community and looks by all means a much more lively and engaged election campaign than Australia’s recent election.

Dr Wardle was able to reengage the audience that according to tweet feeds was becoming ‘snarky’, perhaps as a result of too much discussion that was internalised and circular – media talking about media talking about media.

Some highlights of this presentation included discussions about:

  • the Slapometer (the UK’s version of the worm)
  • #nickcleggsfault – a twitter feed where people blame everything on Nick cleggs
  • Bigotgate – when Gordon Brown complained that a constituent was a bigot and didn’t realise he still had his microphone on

Dr Wardle also talked about the importance of humour and the impact that it has on people because it is an emotional response. Also that we needed to “stop thinking about online and offline as two separate things because they compliment each other”. Check out the Slideshare presentation for more examples.

Panel 4: Alternative views of political news: Peter Brent @mumbletwits, First Dog on the Moon @firstdogonmoon, Mike Bowers @mpbowers, Malcolm Farnsworth @mfarnsworthand Julian Morrow @moreoj

This was an interesting panel in terms of the mix of personalities and roles – from cartoonist to political blogger to comedian to photographer and researcher. Covered a range of issues from the use of ABC footage to the role of satire in politics. Also talked about something that was earlier referred to as the Anne Frank effect, where people are blogging and tweeting in their cupboards as events happen. At this point I was reminded of Salam Pax’s famous 2003 blog Where is Raed? At the time Pax’s blog received a lot of critical attention from people in the blogosphere because of the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces. He has since moved the blog and retitled it Salam Pax: the Baghdad Blogger

Panel 5: GOV 2.0: Participatory Democracy and Citizen Engagement: Moderator: Chris Winter (ABC Innovation), Dr Jason Wilson (CONF) @jason_a_w, Stephen Collins @trib, Craig Thomler @craigthomler, Senator Scott Ludlam @SenatorLudlam

This was the panel I was most interested in seeing and I think it would have benefited from being scheduled earlier in the day, as the issues that came up in this panel needed to addressed far earlier, in my opinion.

Social inclusion, the recognition that social media is much bigger than Facebook and Twitter, the aspirations of Gov 2.0 and the engagement of community were all themes in this session.

Well known Gov 2.0 blogger Craig Thomler announced at the outset that he was a public servant and that he was at the event as a private citizen – a point that needs to be stated, given that as an APS officer he is bound by a code of conduct.

Personally there was not enough about how open government and Gov 2.0 can be invigorated from the inside out, which is a big challenge and one recognised in the Gov 2.0 Taskforce report. Nonetheless, there was some very sharp observations made about the media and other panel discussions. For example, Dr Jason Wilson referred to earlier comments made by panellists about political blogger Grogs’s Gamut and his apparent anonymity. He asked “Who is Grog’s Gamut?!”. In response a handful of people stood up and announced “I’m Grog’s Gamut!” “No, I’m Grog’s Gamut!”. It was a response that had been organised in advance by a some friends (including Wilson) as a bit of a joke because throughout the day the name “Grog’s Gamut” had been mentioned a few times – to the point where Osman Faruqi was tweeting that he had been having a drink every time it was mentioned and that he was pretty well on his ear. From Grog’s Gamut.

Conclusion

It is interesting to note that several days after the media140 conference, there has been renewed discussions on who has a right to comment on politics in the media. Craig Thomler wrote that: Today Grog, of the Grog’s Gamut blog, has been outed by James Massola of The Australian as Greg Jericho, a federal public servant who happens to blog on matters of politics. (27 September 2010)

The fact that James Massola, who appeared on a panel at media140 chose to ‘out’ Greg Jericho and question whether Jericho had a right to challenge political views in the media, highlights that mainstream media is struggling with the concept of citizen journalism.

In summary, if we are going to move towards Gov 2.0, open government and truly social media, then some crucial steps need to be made. Firstly, there need to be a realisation  from government and the media that public servants are citizens and as such are therefore entitled to comment on information in the public domain. Secondly, any type of discussion of social media needs to address issues of social inclusion and access to media. Thirdly, to address the issue of access there needs to be a redressing of the digital divide, another topic only touched on at media140. Finally, there needs to be a fundamental notion of  trust in the community by media and government so that information can effectively be distributed and shared.

Fave #media140 tweets This is a very small collection of some of the tweets that I liked from the event – if you are interested in reading the feed go to #media140

Read the ABC Canberra at Media140 blog for a transcript of the presentations.





The Will to Freedom – Street Theatre

21 08 2010

The Will to Freedom is a new production as part of the “Made in Canberra” series at the Street Theatre in Canberra.

The play is about Sophie Freibach, a 38-year-old German doctor, who recounts the story of Raja, an African Muslim woman fleeing a forced marriage. Sophie, compassionate and deeply disturbed by Raja’s experiences, tries to understand what it means for Raja to become an independent woman. In The Will to Freedom, the journeys of these two women are mapped and entwined: Raja’s towards freedom and Sophie’s towards understanding.

In terms of describing the style of this piece of theatre, and I am no expert, I would define it as musical theatre. The show’s New York-based director Joanne Schultz, who is acclaimed for her socially engaged, hybrid theatre productions across diverse performance genres, describes this music-driven work as “part feminist fable, part noir-cabaret.” Schultz’s description is apt as the story is focused on subject matter that is very difficult, sensitive and culturally specific. Herein lies my biggest criticism of the work, which I will discuss later.

The play is an original independent work for solo voice with the libretto written and sung by German-born singer and voice trainer Maike Brill and piano music composed by pianist and musicologist Anthony Smith. The music draws on a range of musical styles from late-19th-century European art music, through 12-tone music, tango and African drumming, to contemporary music – a diversity of styles intended to reflect The Will to Freedom’s emotional and psychological journey on the pathways to understanding.

Although I found the story and the performance very powerful, I walked away with a range of questions about the political correctness and the cultural, religious content of the story. My first ‘problem’ was that this was a story written about a particular kind of cultural experience, one that is written (I assume) from a spectator’s position, albeit one informed from a range of reliable sources. The references include Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiographical book, Mijn Vrijheid (Infidel), and a number of news articles, which are referred to in the performance.

I question why is it OK to talk about one type of experience and not another? For example in The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, the writer Thomas Keneally wrote the story through the eyes of the central character, a young Aboriginal man, which he later regretted, saying that it should have been narrated from a white person’s perspective (see On the Integrity of the Narrator in The Lover and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Colin Giesbrecht). Keneally recognised the inappropriateness of speaking for another in the preface of the 2001 edition. Given the wealth of work done in the field of postcolonialism since the late 1980s, it is clear that to speak in such a way about another does not empower the cultural/racial/religious group – it only denies them a voice.

In the Will to Freedom Raja’s story is told by Sophie, but for the majority of the play, we see Raja speaking for herself – telling her story. There are no surprises in the westernised perpective in the telling of her story, as the relationship between religion and culture is blurred and homogenised. I do not wish to claim myself as an authority in this area, as I would fall in the same trap, but from my past experience with Islam (I was married to a Muslim for 3 years), there is a huge difference between what is written in the Koran and what is practiced as part of culture. Indeed, there are vast differences in cultural practices across the Islamic world. For example, the practice of female circumcision referred to in the play, is considered abhorrent in many Muslim cultures.

My personal experience was of North African, Berber Muslim culture and I found the women I met to be strong, educated and vocal, whilst at the same time modest, submissive to Islam and the teachings of the Koran. As I write this review I am also conscious that we are in the holy month of Ramadan, a time when Muslims focus on their faith and family and despite the difficulty of fasting it is a happy time where the breaking of the fast is celebrated with family and friends. I do not know if the performance was intentionally scheduled during Ramadan, but it is noteworthy that it coincided with this significant event in the Islamic calendar.

There is no denying that many women are oppressed in many parts of the world, including behind closed doors in our supposed free society. But why do we need to keep singling out Islam as the perpetrator of these oppressions?

That all said, I enjoyed The Will to Freedom and think it does raise many legitimate issues about human rights and the rights of women. As this play raises questions about the ability of people to speak, it is a valuable piece of work, even for its limitations. Maike Brill’s deft ability to slip between Sophie and Raja by the simple use of the headscarf is evocative and convincing and the piano accompaniment is emotive, as is much of the monologue. What stays with me is Raja’s most powerful line, “Human rights above religion”, which is a most worthy sentiment, no matter where you stand.





Maroussia Lévesque and Passage Oublié

18 11 2008

Elaborate.ca is a very interesting blog by Canadian artist and reseacher Maroussia Lévesque. I came across her work when we on the ‘Borders and Crossings’ panel together at ISEA 2008.

Her paper was about the politics of border crossing in the age of mobility. See abstract. Looking at the spectrum of mobility, from the voluntary movement of an elite bypassing border checks to the forced mobility of illegally rendered terror suspects, Lévesque explained the notion of differential mobility. This rift between voluntary and forced mobility is the backdrop for Passage Oublié, a new media installation created by her and other members of the Obx research lab.

Lévesque holds a BA in Computation arts from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada and is the conceptual lead at Obx Laboratory for Experimental Media. http://www.elaborate.ca/





DR. STEVEN KURTZ CLEARED OF ALL CHARGES!

16 07 2008

After four long years, finally some relief for Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) artist Steve Kurtz regarding his legal battle. In February 2006, I moderated a discussion with members of the CAE Defense Fund and the CAE This is a recent post from the CAE Defense Fund web site:

Department of Justice Fails to Appeal Dismissal
Kurtz Speaks about Four-Year Ordeal

Steve Kurtz still needs your support. Our next step will be to get back his art projects, research materials and personal belongings taken by the FBI in 2004. Please join our low-frequency email list so you will be informed of any important updates and Action Alerts.

THANK YOU FROM STEVE KURTZ