Program creations

Creation Principles of Software

“When the Apple Macintosh first came onto the market, the MacPaint program, which simulates, to a degree, the visual arts’s basic tools, sent a shock-wave through the creative community. For the first year, MacPaint-produced posters were everywhere, an apparent explosion of the freedom of, and possibility for self-expression. But while the MacPaint medium reflected the user’s expressive gestures, it also refracted them through its own idiosyncratic prism. After a while, the posters began to blend together into an urban wallpaper of MacPaint textures and MacPaint patterns. The similarities overpowered the differences. Since then, graphics programs for computers have become much more transparent, but that initial creative fervour that MacPaint ignited has abated. The restrictions that made MacPaint easy to use were also the characteristics that ultimately limited its usefulness as a medium for personal expression. One can look at the distribution of a creative medium in the form of a software package as a subtle form of broadcasting” Transforming Mirrors: Subjectivity and Control in Interactive Media. David Rokeby (1996)
Google’s search results for
“MacPaint Art”



“photoshop art”






A Few weeks ago I attended the Blog-art Festival in The Hague. I was eager to see how they interpreted the concept of ‘blog-art’, but as it turned out they did not interpreted it at all.

There were several presentations that had some link to blogging and art. For instance Ruud Peper of Stichting Dollypop talked about creative enterprises and the importance of networking. Bob Timroff talked about video art, which resulted in a summary of all the different websites that deal with video and television. There was music from John Dear Mowing Club (JDMC), and the Rockin Chair of Harco Rutgers was also presented.

What took me by surprise was that non of these projects raised the questions of “what is blog-art?”, why should you present blog-art in a theatre hall?, and “is it still blog-art if you remove it from a blog?” The presented projects were not very clear on their relation to blogging or blog-art either. JDMC and Harco Rutgers write blogs, but their music and art is not based on this medium. They only use blogs to ventilate their ideas and activities – as many of us do – but does this mean it should be presented on a blog-art festival or that it is blog-art?

“Obviously, many of the propositional, creative and expressive aspects of the blog phenomenon make many of their authors define their blogs as art works in their own right. Of course, many blogs show extremely creative and poetic qualities that make them much more than alternative systems for personal and interpersonal expression and communication.” [1]

According to the quote above you could argue that every blog could be seen as an artwork. The blogs of JDMC and Harco Rutgers on the other hand are not exactly poetic. I would argue that they are just “alternative systems for personal and interpersonal expression and communication.” But what does define blog-art?

Juan Martín Prada argues that blog-art is not about experimenting with the medium, but about questioning aspects of the medium itself. He gives the example of “Obsessive Consumption” by Kate Bingaman (2007) and the work titled “Eat 22” by E. Harrinson (2007) He explains that these projects are centered on studying the recording of time innate to blogs, and that these projects are only comprehensible from the perspective of conceptual art. [1]

“They refer to the complexity inherent to the time relationship established among the blog, the subject who “posts” something, and the readers, which is none other than that relationship of life itself in the shared recording of its passage through time. These projects emphasize the fact that we are fundamentally shared time (which is exhibited and recorded on media in today’s world). “blog-art” can be said to be an experiment not with a new media but rather of the artist in it (while being watched by many others).” [1]

Blog-art should raise questions and point out specific aspects of how we experience the medium. This means that blog-art is not necessarily connected to the medium itself. The work “Eat 22” consists of 1640 images and a movie created from these images. These works can be shown out of the blog environment without loosing their meaning and relation to blogs. So “Eat” 22 would be a perfect project for the blog-art festival in The Hague. Unfortunately the festival – as they explained – was only oriented towards giving “blog-art” a new platform. From their perspective this meant: transferring art that was blogged about to a “professional” environment without questioning the concept op “blog-art”. This approach resulted in very superficial presentations with vague relations to blogging. The organizers did not seem to have a clear vision of what blog-art should entail and this reflected in their program.

One interesting outcome of their ‘transfer approach’ was the Twitter Fountain. There was a huge Twitter Fountain projected on a screen in one of the lecture halls. It showed all the tweets regarding #blog-art. The tweets were sometimes very critical which resulted in a feedback loop between the event, the visitors, and the speakers. Twitter was not an “alternative system for personal and interpersonal expression and communication” anymore. It was not limited to your own little telephone or laptop screen anymore. It reflected and questioned the event. And because of the magnification of the screen and its publicity questioned the medium itself. If you follow Prada’s way of reasoning you could even see it as art.

Shane Brennan explains that the transfer of art from new media to a traditional exhibition space is based on “the pervasive assumption that one will curate new media using the strategies and platforms of traditional curating; new media art must be adapted to fit the white cube confines, or “hardware,” of mainstream exhibition practice.” She proposes that new media art should be curated with new media. Shane Brennan explains that blogs are the prefect surrounding to do so. They open the possibility for parallel and distributed spaces for viewing and exhibiting art. [2]

You could question if there even was a necessity for the Blog-art Festival in The Hague if the only interest of the organizers was to transfer art to another platform. As Shane Brennan points out this transfer does not seem to be necessary in the first place. I think my questions above show that there are reasons enough for a Blog-art Festival, but such a festival should not be addressed uncritically. The relationships between blogs, art, and blog-art are too complex and vague to approach the matter as just a transfer.

[1] Juan Martin Prada – “web 2.0” as a new context for artistic practices”
[2] Shane Brennan – New Climates for Curatorial Practice: Exhibiting Art Across Distributed Networks.

A Wiki Noob

Posting a new entry on Wikipedia is not very difficult, but keeping it online is an impossible mission. These were the first lines of this post when I started writing it a couple of weeks ago. By now I changed my mind… I did it! I have a post on Wikipedia!

I started my first entry by searching for a term – ‘Arie Altena’, a Dutch media theorist – that was not posted on the Dutch Wikipedia yet. Here, I got the opportunity to make a new page for that particular search term. “You may create the page “Arie Altena”, but consider checking the search results below to see whether it is already covered.” [1] After checking the history of Wikipedia on entries related to Arie Altena and checking (most of) Wikipedia’s conventions I started writing my entry.

I wrote a short lemma, a biography and added some external links. At this stage it is important to know how to create headers, links to other Wikipedia pages, or external links that are following Wikipedia’s rules. I found this easy to learn by looking at the code of entries that are already posted on Wikipedia. After adding links and appropriate headers I posted my entry. Unfortunately after a few hours my entry was nominated for deletion by one of Wikipedia’s Dutch moderators. A ‘NE’, or Not Encyclopaedic, sign appeared at the top of my entry. The moderator explained that my entry was not appropriate for Wikipedia “in the current form”. Somewhere else I found that NE means that the entry is not important enough for an encyclopaedia.

NE sign

The moderators pointed out to me that I should read the conventions and try to change my entry according to these conventions. This implied that the content of my entry could be Encyclopaedic as long as it matches Wikipedia’s policies. But later they also mentioned that the importance of my entry was not clear enough. I found this rather vague, but eventually I decided to change my entry so it could hopefully stay online, and prove the importance of Arie Altena. I had two weeks to do so.

I found it strange that the moderators only pointed out to me that my entry was (NE) and that there were no people helping me with editing my page. They did not really explain what was wrong with my entry. They only recommended that I read the conventions. Which I already did, at least I thought I did… After some searching I found out that there are several places where you can find conventions and that there is even a special page for bibliographies. [2] This complex network of conventions, tips and Wikipedia terms makes it difficult for a newbie to keep an entry online. It felt like I had to proof that I was ‘wiki worthy’. (I should mention here that the strictness of moderators seems to defer between different languages.)

Finally I changed some lines and added a selective bibliography to point out the importance of Arie Altena’s writings. In the discussion page of my entry I pointed out to the moderators that I changed my entry and I also contested the importance of Arie Altena. Unfortunately I did not get any response to my efforts and the NE sign did not disappear. I gave it a rest and kind of forgot about it. But a week ago I bumped into my post again and found out that it was still online after the two-week deadline! There were even people, and bots that edited my page! And, to my big surprise a moderator deleted the NE sign! Now I officially have a Wikipedia post. The whole world (Dutch speaking off course) can now read about Arie Altena. This is great, but I’m especially enthusiastic about this Wikipedia experience from a user perspective.

Changes by other user

Wikipedia is a strange and complex network. It is seen as a website that illustrates concepts like ‘Pro-Am’ [3] and “collective intelligence” [4]. As I found out this wisdom is – to a certain extend– controlled by a group of moderators who decide what is NE worthy and what not. This seems to be a good method to keep out vandalism, but it can also work as a mild form of censorship. It for instance did not become very clear to me why my entry was not encyclopaedic and why eventually it was allowed to stay online. My changes to the post were very minor.

Another interesting assumption is the idea of NE. What defines ‘encyclopaedic’ in a digital environment in the first place? In contrast to printed encyclopaedias there are no limits on costs or physical limits on the amount of entries. So why be so selective of what to add and what not? Truthfulness is off course a very important issue within Wikipedia, but as my Arie Altena entry showed it was not so much about the truthfulness of the post as about ‘encyclopaedia worthiness’.

P.D. Magnus points out that we should not compare Wikipedia to regular encyclopaedias at all.

“First, Wikipedia is more readily accessed. General encyclopedias compete with books; once I am already going to a bookshelf or the library, the incremental cost of checking a weightier source is relatively small. Wikipedia only directly competes with other on-line resources. (…) Second, we are often led to the Wikipedia even if we do not start there. For many topics, the Wikipedia entry will be on the first page of web search hits. Even if I avoid visiting the Wikipedia directly, I will still encounter content from it. The content of Wikipedia is under a GNU Free Documentation License, and so may be freely reproduced. (…) Third, Wikipedia has a breadth that general encyclopedias do not. For example, it has a brief entry for the Polish philosopher Kazimierz Twardowski; Britannica has none. Because Wikipedia receives new contributions all the time, it also has more information about popular culture and current events than a traditional encyclopedia.” [5]

In my opinion his last point is what makes Wikipedia worthwhile. It gives us an opportunity to entre knowledge about topics that are important to us right now, and not only knowledge that is interesting enough to be saved for our offspring. [6] Unfortunately, the (Dutch) Wikipedia moderators make it rather difficult to do this. But from my own experience I can say: It’s worth the effort!

[3] Bruns, Axel. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (2008) p. 1-7
[4] Flew, Terry, New Media: an Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2008 p. 64
[5] P.D. Magnus. “Epistemology and the Wikipedia” August 8, 2006

Discourse network 2000 Does technology influence what we write?

How do the tools, that you use for writing, influence what you write? Alan Liu researches this relation between technology and writing. He argues that our reading and writing is part of “discourse network 2000”. We structure our knowledge more and more in XML (extended markup language) and databases and this, according to him, influences not only how we write, but also what we write.

The term “discourse network 2000” refers to Friedrich Kittler’s Aufschreibesystem 1800 en 1900. Kittler defines discourse network as follows: “(T)he network of technologies and institutions that allow a given culture to select, store, and process relevant data. Technologies like that of book printing and the institutions coupled to it, such as literature and the university, thus constituted a historically very powerful formation” He pointed out that in the current discourse network one should also take into account data storage, transmission, and calculation in technological media.” [2]

Liu explains how in our current society software-protocols of our publication software shape our communication. On a practical level this means that what we write is shaped by the requirements of XML and the databases in which they are stored. Liu argues that due to these databases and XML we now see a strict distinction between the structure of content and its presentation. What the document looks like and what it is are two different things. The information exists without its (material) visual presentation. Liu argues that due to this distinction between content and presentation “discourse network 2000 ” can be understood as a belief. It reverses what literature scientists believe in. They see texts as material artifacts. The presentation of the text to them is sacramental. For “discourse network 2000 believers” the presentation is purely interfacial. They see text from an abstract point of view.

What does this mean for the act of writing and authoring?
Liu explains that:

“From the author’s viewpoint, therefore, a poem can now be written free of commitment to, or even knowledge of, the formal or material conventions for receiving the poem. Just as striking is the inverse of the double-blind relationship: an author can now create the formal or material conventions for receiving a poem free of any specific knowledge about what actual source content will be delivered into that frame.”

This distinction between content and presentation becomes apparent with the use of RSS feeds. You implement text from different places in one personal website. The texts are disconnected from a particular visual presentation. The author only selects and combines several sources. “He surrenders the act of writing to that of parameterization”.

If you look at blogs from this perspective you can question how the conventions of the blog software influence what we create. On one level there is the theme or style of your blog. This determines how your text will appear. You can make these decisions separate from the text that will be implemented. On another level the software of blogs asks you to enter a title, add tags, categories, etc. It forces you to handle/create your text in a particular way. It can give you the opportunity to implement an image. It can force you to outline the images to the right etc.

For example, if you look at the Masters of Media blog. The excerpt in the main page may contain not more than sixty characters. There are two ways how this excerpt is created. You have the possibility of writing a separate excerpt of 60 words that can be entered in a special box. Or, iIf you don’t use this possibility the first sixty words of your blog post will be automatically shown as the excerpt on the main page. The blog software forces you to write, or an excerpt of approximately sixty words, or to keep in mind that your first sixty words will be used as an excerpt. In my case, I try to write my first paragraph as a short introduction to the rest of the post. So here, the software protocols discipline me in how I structure my text and maybe even in what I write.

Liu takes this way of thinking a step further.
In line of Kittler he compares the databases that contain content, “the source” with the concept of “Nature” in 1800. In this romantic era, according to Kittler, the source of meaning was found in Nature. Language was seen as “a mere channel of translatability of the transcendental essence of Nature”. In the modernist era circa 1900, by contrast, mother nature was a faint echo. The true source of the signal, Kittler argues, was an apparently random, senseless, automatic, untranslatable noise inherent in the channel of transmission itself.

Liu points out that the distinctive signal of 2000 synthesizes 1800 and 1900. He explains that in 2000, the channel is just as seemingly senseless, random, and automatic as in 1900. “(Take a cross-section of a document transmission over the internet at ay moment, for example, and witness a dispersion of atomistic file packets and molar document elements)”. But unlike in 1900 the source is not equal to this senseless channel. In 2000 the source can be found in “a precursor act of sense making in the databases and XML repositories outside the direct control of the author”. So like in 1800 the author becomes a messenger of meaning or content that already exists, he is no longer the source of the content but he has a mediating position.

“in a curious reversion to 1800 – that content held in databases and XML now sets the very standard for an ultra-structured and ultra described rationality purer than any limiting instantiation of the Ding an Sich.”

So the databases contain structured information, knowledge, and meaning. The author has no direct influence on this. He can only guide what is already there. (This you can recognize with RSS feeds) The main question here is: are you still an author under these circumstances, can you still be creative?

Liu concludes his article with the question: “In our current age of knowledge work and total information, what experience of the structurally unknowable can still be conveyed in structured media of knowledge?” He proposes that we can only create share, and write things that can be structured. The technology does not only influence how we write, but also what we write or what we can write. I agree with Liu that the technology disciplines our writings and communications in a technical manner, as I illustrated with the excerpt example of the Masters of Media blog, but I don’t think that it disciplines in what we write or what we say.

- Alan Liu. Transcendental Data: Toward a Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse.
[1] Friedrich A. Kittler, Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer and Chris Cullens, Stanford, Ca., 1990, p. 369).

The significance of Twitter

Since its start in 2006 people have speculated about the significance of Twitter. Twitter has often been criticized for it’s lack of content, but Twitter is also praised for the empowering possibilities it offers us. I question both these perspectives and propose to understand Twitter, not just as another tool than can be critiqued on behalf of it’s usefulness, but as a communication-tool that can be understood as a reflection of our current society.

Positive and negative views
The negative view on Twitters possibilities is well illustrated in the next quote from Wired: ‘[Twitter] might seem like blogging taken to a supremely banal extreme. Productivity guru Tim Ferriss calls Twitter “pointless email on steroids.” One Silicon Valley businessman I met complained that his staff had become Twitter-obsessed. “You can’t say anything in such a short message,” he said, baffled. “So why do it at all?” [1] Another example of Twitter’s lack of content comes forward in Ellen de Bruin’s comparison to the first season of Big Brother, ‘nothing happened but still you wanted to watch’. [2] Twitter is portrayed as a meaningless and useless activity. Something that has nothing to add to the communicative tools that already exist.

There are also people who see the usefulness of Twitter. Twitter is for instance portrayed as a new super fast news medium that can get round the traditional mainstream media. Even Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, explains how the development of summize, a search engine that was built by a third party, gives users this possibility. ‘They tapped in to the fact that if you have millions of people around the world talking about what they are doing and what is happening around them you have an incredible resource to find out what is happening on any topic or event while its going on. This really changed how we perceive twitter’. An example of this is the use of Twitter at the Schiphol airplane crash on the 7th of March 2009. It was said that the first reports of this crash were found on Twitter. [3]

On the website of Twitter it’s function is described as follows: ‘Because even basic updates are meaningful to family members, friends, or colleagues — especially when they’re timely’. In a short demonstration video that used to be on their website it is explained how you can use Twitter and why it is significant. They state that through Twitter you get to know the everyday things of someone’s day to day life that you can not get to know through email or blog. They state that through Twitter you get to know ‘the real world’. It makes us feel connected and part of each others lives.


The flow of Twitter
In these different views on the significance of Twitter people mainly look at the content of the short messages and the possibilities of Twitter as a new way to connect and inform us. I question if these aspects are the essence of what makes Twitter worthwhile. The creators of Twitter themselves point out that it is not so much about the content of the unique tweets, but about keeping each-other posted in just a few words of your daily activities and interests. Ardent Twitterers argue that, although most individual tweets say very little, the Twitter magic comes from following people over time, developing a sense of who they really are and knowing – at nearly any moment – what they are doing and how they feel about it. [4] In my opinion it is this fluidity and massive flow of short (insignificant) tweets in itself what makes Twitter worthwhile and special for our current society.

As Franco Berardi points out in his Post-Futurist Manifesto “Our society is still driven by an insatiable hunger for speed, the spread of globalization and the revolution of information and communication technologies have unmistakably led to a new temporal dynamics, emphasizing the increasing importance of connectivity and flexibility. The tyranny of clock time has given way to a complex web of diverging rhythms, cycles and tempos, which stimulate the temporal imagination as never before.” [5]

The characteristics of our society he describes can be recognized in Twitter. Tweets are not designed to be followed in a chronological way. The personal tweets of the persons you follow come together on your home page and form one flow of tweets. All with their own rhythms, cycles and tempos. There is no real first or last tweet. Twitter also provides us a way to stay hyper connected in a hyper flexible way. Writing tweets is not limited to your desktop, but can also be send with SMS on your cellphone.

Secondary oral culture
If you look at our society from this point of view Twitter seems to be the perfect tool for communication. Another concept that explains why Twitter can be seen as significant for our society is Walter Ong’s concept of secondary orality. He claims that communication technologies, like writing and print, determine how we think and cope with the world around us. [6]

Ong explains that our time, the twenty first century, is characterized by a transition from a literacy culture – that was oriented on linearity – towards a secondary oral culture, that is non-lineaire oriented due to the use of computers and digital media. [7] Twitter gives the user the possibility to cope with data on a more associative, non-lineair and non-hierarchical manner. All the tweets of the people you follow are mixed together on the home page of your Twitter account. And many tweets contain links to other websites to extend the content of a tweet.

With secondary oral culture Ong refers to the return of a culture that is directed towards speech, a primary oral culture. In a primary oral culture people did not have the possibility of writing thoughts down. It was of great importance that thoughts were structured in such a way that you could recount them. You had to think through something in formulaic, patterned, mnemonic terms to be able to recover the thought. [7] It is argued that this formulaic way of formulating thoughts is also one of the characteristics of Twitter.

“Twitter isn’t necessarily turning us into twits. That’s because brevity doesn’t equal stupidity. Both Wittgenstein and Nietzsche might have been challenged by Twitter’s aphoristic culture. The next media stars will be masters of intellectual brevity. Be famous in 140 characters. That may not generate a digital Tolstoy – but it will force all of us to get our point quickly.” [8]

Keen points out that Tweets are written in an aphoristic style. “Aphorism is a term used to describe a principle expressed tersely in a few telling words or any general truth conveyed in a short and pithy sentence, in such a way that when once heard it is unlikely to pass from the memory.” [9] Predating the written word, aphorisms allowed people to carry around accumulated wisdom in their heads. They resemble the description of the formulaic way that thoughts were formulated in an oral culture. This comparison to aphorisms also points out that even if messages are short they can still contain a lot of knowledge. “Twitter does not necessarily turn us into twits”.

Another comparison I see between secondary orality, as described by Ong, and Twitter is that they both do not present the written as facts. Print has a feeling of closure to it, what is written is a fact, it is completed. Written statements seem self-contained, they don’t refer to anything outside of themselves. They do not contain any possibilities of change.

“Catechisms and textbooks presented ‘facts’ or their equivalents: memorizable, flat statements that told straightforwardly and inclusively how matters stood in a given field. By contrast, the memorable statements of oral cultures and of residually oral manuscript cultures tended to be of a proverbial sort, presenting not ‘facts’ but rather reflections, often a gnomic kind, inviting further reflection by the paradoxes they involved.” [7]

Tweets are written, but because you have the possibility to add, change or delete content at any given moment, they stay open and fluid. Twittering is an ongoing process that cannot be captured, the content is not self-contained. The stories in Twitter rise from the whole flow of tweets and to make any sense these tweets have to stay in context. “Twitter is a most “ahistorical medium”. While tweets can be technically stored for indefinite time like Email or Blog entries, there is often not much reason to do so, because when they are read months or years afterwards, their meaning is hard to assess as the situational context of their origin can no longer be reconstructed.” [10]
This “not self-contained” aspect of Twitter refers to Franco Berardi Post-Futurist Manifesto. “The tyranny of clock time has given way to a complex web of diverging rhythms, cycles and tempos.”

It is easy to dismiss the importance of Twitter due to a lack of content. Or to see it as another possibility to dismiss the traditional news media. I think the most interesting thing about Twitter is that it can be seen as a reflection of the way we organize and understand our world in a time where internet and computers are the dominant tools for communication. If you look at Twitter from this point of view you can see that the shortness of a messages can also leed to great wisdom. You could even state that it is a more “natural” way of communication.

[2] Bruin, Ellen de: ‘Twitter. De nieuwe verslaving.’ nrc – next, 19 maart 2009: p. 4, kolom 5 en p. 5, kolom 2)
[5] & for the manifest
[6] ‘Rhizomatic cyborgs. Hypertextual considerations in a posthuman age.’ Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research, jrg. 2, nr. 1 (2004): p. 3-15.
[7] Orality and literacy. The technologizing of the word. New York, London: Methuen, 1982.

Social Network Sites – friend/Friend/defriendding

Social Network Sites (SNSs), like Facebook and Hyves, are focused on ‘Friendship’. As SNSs get more mainstream and infiltrate in our everyday lives the use of the term ‘Friendship’ becomes more problematic within the SNSs discourse. Using the labels of friend, Friend or defriend is not as obvious as it seems.

friend vs. Friends
boyd points out that “the term ‘Friends’ can be misleading within SNS, because the connection does not necessarily mean friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied.” [1] boyd emphasizes that people do not just add friends to their network, but also acquaintances and people they feel socially awkward to say no to. [2]

The term friendship in itself is not one-sided in it’s meaning either. People address different relationships to the term. In everyday vernacular, a friend is a relationship that involves some degree of mutual love or admiration. Some people exclude sexual partners and family members from this category while others talk about how such an individual is also a friend in order to indicate a degree of trust. [1]

In the quotation above, where boyd explains that the term ‘Friends’ can be misleading, it becomes clear that boyd makes a distinction between offline, ‘everyday friends’ and online ‘SNSs Friends’. Beer explains that this distinction between offline and online friendship is not correct in a context where SNSs are getting more mainstream and part of our everyday lives. ‘Evereyday friends’ can not be seen as separate from ‘SNS friends’ or the other way around. [4]

Beer states: “So what we are missing here is a sense of the recursive nature of these processes as SNSs become mundane and as the version of friendship they offer begin to remediate and shape understanding of friendship more generally” [4] ‘Everyday friends’ and ‘SNS Friends’ are intertwine, they can not be seen as two separate elements. The offline friendship shapes the online Friendship and visa versa. The social software remediates the social relations and this changes our whole concept of friendship.

At the beginning of 2009 the Whopper Sacrifice action called attention to the defriending ‘hype’. Defriending is the deletion of friends from the contactlist of a SNS. Burgerking promised with this ‘Whopper Sacrifice’ action a burger to every American who at least deleted ten of his friends from his Facebook network.

It is questionable if there is really something like a defriending hype. As de Bruin points out the hype is written about frequently, but there is no actual evidence of people really deleting friends in a drastic way. De Bruin also argues that this action creates the idea that people sacrifice their vague friends for a burger. In this way they would choose for qualitative friendships instead of superficial Internet contacts. [3] Defriending is presented here as a way to differ in different kinds of friendships. If you look at this from the notion of friendship as Beer described this does not make any sense. As he points out the difference between real ‘everyday friends’ and vague ‘SNSs Friends’ does not apply anymore.

Is it necessary to make a difference between acquaintances, family, colleagues, friends and friends of friends? Is it necessary to label your friendship? Friendship seems to be more about a kind of connection than about a label. “Being ‘just friends’ indicates ‘voluntary relations, the content and future of the bond being always at the discretion of each party” [1] The things you share shape your friendship, not the term ‘SNSs Friend, ‘everyday friend’ or ‘defriend’. Defriending is a too severe rupture. It implies that there is no connection to the person in any way.

A better solution to deal with the shaping of friendship would therefore be the concept of ‘Walled Garden’. The concept of ‘Walled Garden’ is explained as a way to differentiate between friendships through levels of ‘inclusion and exclusion’. You can differentiate in the levels that different people have access to your personal information. In this way friendship is formed by the things you share and not on the label – friend, Friend or defriend – you attach to them.

Important website concerning SNS research
This blog post is based on an essay I wrote last year about defriending. You can find the complete essay (in Dutch) in the ‘essays’ section.

De-botting wikipedia

De-botting wikipedia. What would Wikipedia look like without the bots?

Wikipedia is praised for its open “everybody can contribute” system and it’s collaborative knowledge production. An environment that is seemingly built by human editors, but where in fact bots do much of the work. Since 2002, Wikipedia entries have been maintained not only by humans, but also by bots, and humans assisted by administrative and monitoring tools. [1]

Bots are automated or semi-automated tools that carry out repetitive and mundane tasks. [2] Users can make their own bots, but certain prior knowledge about programming is needed. [3] In the early days of Wikipedia there were bots that imported whole entries into Wikipedia. The so-called rambot, for example, created approximately 30,000 city articles. [4] Now there are also bots that check spelling, lay-out and even interwiki links. Other bots, like Cluebot, make sure that certain forms of vandalism are reverted within a second. [5] The idea that only humans edit and in some way control the content of Wikipedia entries can therefore be questioned. Sabine Niederer points out, in her study about the technicity of the content of Wikipedia, that bots have more permissions than registered users. She argues that “this raises questions about their tasks, and the dependency of Wikipedia on these nonhuman content agents”. [1]

Up till now research has focused mainly on the reliability and open editing system of Wikipedia. Since Wikipedia is dependent on bots Niederer proposes another approach to Wikipedia research. She asks the question ‘how dependent the various user groups and the Wikipedia content are on the (underlying) technology?’ She argues that “the technology helps shape the content, not only by a system of notifications and tools, but also by Wikipedia’s non-human content agents, the bots.” She proposes a study of Wikipedia according to the technicity of its content. [1]

Wikipedia’s success is not just based on the notion of ‘wisdom of the crowd’. It is maintained by the bots.

Small Research
In relation to these ideas Anne Helmond and I researched how much humans edit, within a particular entry (in this case Climate Change), in relation to bots. An interesting finding was that 53% (180 out of 339) of the bot edits were made by humans assisted by tools. [5] Our research also showed that the anti-vandalism bots play a prominent role in the Climate Change entry. In order to get a sense of what Wikipedia would look like without these bots we made a small animation (see bottum of post) of the Climate Change article. We reverted the anti-vandalism bot edits and highlighting the vandalism. [6]

(This research took place during the Digital Methods Initiative Summerschool of 2009.)

More Questions
Other questions that build on this line of thinking are formulated by the CPOV: Critical Point of View. “To what extent has bot politics triumphed over vernacular expertise or lead to an empowerment of the e-tech geeks in knowledge projects? Related to this is the question of the cultural history of Wikipedia as a platform. What is the relation between policy formation and technical protocols? Is Wikipedia knowledge Cybernetic?” [7]

[1] Niederer, Sabine (2009). “Wikipedia and the Composition of the Crowd,” unpublished ms.

The animation shows the edits that have been removed by (anti-vandalism) bots over time.
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REVIEW. Say Everything. How blogging began, what it’s becoming and why it matters by Scott Rosenberg.

cover 'say everything'Review Say Everything. How blogging began, what it’s becoming and why it matters by Scott Rosenberg. (Crown, 404 pages $26)

I have never been that interested in blogging, reading nor writing; consequently I don’t know much about the blogging practice. I began Rosenberg’s book hoping to find out “what blogs are all about”. Why should I blog? Rosenberg, a former newspaper journalist and co-founder of, gave himself the difficult task of recounting the history of blogging and – as the subtitle indicates – providing an idea of what’s to come and ‘why it matters.’ I’m not sure if I got my answer after reading this book, but it gave me a peek into the origins of blogging and the strange world that’s ensued.

In the first part Rosenberg recounts the origins of the medium, ticking off a selection of several 90s-era tech pioneers of Silicon Valley who each in their own way contributed to blogs’ development. There’s the story, for instance of Justin Hall who repurposed the Web as a traditional tool for scholarship by scaling it down to a more intimate size and then blasting his confessions and intimacies out to the whole world. Hall turned the Web into ‘an arena for youthful self-exposure’. Rosenberg also points out where the origin of the word ‘blog’ can be found. Jorn Barger introduced the term “WebLog” as a substitute for the “news page” label in 1997. He specifically put in the capital L because he found the syllable blog “hideous”. In 1999 Peter Merholz, as a joke, decided to pronounce the word “weblog” as wee-blog. Or blog for short.

Blogs exploded in 1999 with Blogger and Blogspot, user-friendly software that allowed anyone to start their own page and spawned a multitude of new styles. In part two, Rosenberg elaborates on the types of blogs found on the web today, from mommy blogs (Dooce) to gossip blogs (Gawker) and professional blogs that struggle to monetize their output. Political blogs (“Talking Points Memo”) and warblogs (“Little Green Footballs”) feed the public’s suspicion that mainstream media aren’t performing their jobs well enough. In all instances, blogs provide a platform for anyone to discard their reliance on mainstream media, conduct their own research, and post their thoughts to a public.

Rosenberg’s fragmented sketches give rise to a colourful history of why people blog and what blogging means to them, their stories sharpened with technical detail. Rosenberg points out how blogging in someway answered the dream of the Web’s first inventors: ‘that their creation would welcome contributions from every corner of the globe and open a floodgate of human creativity.’

Throughout his summary of blogging’s past and present incarnations, Rosenberg himself is not very clear about where his own opinions on the medium. He complements his somewhat dry summary of developments, wrapped in ‘funny’ anecdotes, with the book’s third section. Here he deals with more critical points of blogging, asking ‘what/who are bloggers?’ ‘Is blogging journalism?’ ‘what defines a journalist?’ He deals with the overload of blogs. ‘How is blogging changing us’. ‘Is it all crap’? Technorati’s report on the blogosphere from September 2008 reports 133 million total blogs indexed by the service since 2002. As Rosenberg points out not all of these blogs are active but even then the numbers are staggering.

This is where I got excited – and I have the feeling Rosenberg himself enjoys playing the role of the critic, even if his position is modest. He’s more energized than cynical about the possibilities. “Sneering at all these creations remains a tempting option – one that is even warranted on occasion. Thoughtful scepticism always has its place. But the Web’s outpouring of human expression deserves an exuberant response, too. It should delight us.” You can question blogging, how it’s used and how it changes us, but you can’t dismiss its effect on our lives.

Rosenberg’s history is comprehensive, going over all the terms, every pro and con, and situating blogging context within the wider story of the Internet. But as a result his writings are too benign, too generously balanced, lacking the strong, personal point of view that Rosenberg himself points out as critical to blogs’ success. He does employ the fragmented writing style so typical of blogs, using short sketches of the various characters to build a larger, more complete picture. The last, critical chapters only somewhat mitigate this lack of strong opinion.

Much of what the book summarizes is already out there. I would’ve liked to see a new view or opinion on the matter and a more elaborate treatment of the microblog Twitter and Social Network Sites like Facebook. I think this was a missed opportunity to offer new insights on where blogging is going. Say everything is an extensive overview of how blogging began and its significance today. But it did not give an answer to what it’s becoming and what its evolution will mean for us in the future.