Paradigms for Studying the Internet

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February 5

Before we can even begin exploring the who's, what's, and why's – we need to answer the critical question of how. Indeed, the phrase "studying the web" could embrace a staggering world of possible routes to explore, even before beginning to examine its relationship with society and culture. We need something to guide us through this massive field of (very interesting!) foxholes, and link the ideas we encounter into a consistent piece. We need some kind of structure to allow us to understand what we are looking at, the same way a chemist thinks of things in terms of atoms and molecules, or a philosopher can think about things in terms of schools of thought.

This class will explore different frameworks for studying the web, which will structure both the discussion and topic matter covered in the course, as well as the methodology that you should apply to your assignments. The second hour of the class will focus on the final project for the class, where we will discuss the research prompt, talk about some successful projects from prior years, and plot out the deadlines for the rest of the semester.

Download slides from this week's class.


Optional Readings

Assignment 1

Assignment 1 is due before next week's class (February 12th). Details of the assignment will be discussed in today's class; see this page for further information. You can submit the assignment here.

Videos Watched in Class


For those of you with a stomach for south park, here is funny episode about when kyle accepts an iTunes agreement without first reading it... Phildade 19:03, 5 February 2013 (EST)

Class Discussion

Please remember to sign your postings by adding four tildes (~~~~) to the end of your contribution. This will automatically add your username and the date/time of your post, like so: Asellars 15:29, 21 January 2013 (EST)

Prepared by TAG

The readings made the argument that the internet has come full circle. Initially the technology industry was controlled by a select few such as IBM, then Microsoft, prior to the opening of the innovative frontier that emerged to a collective chaos, which theories in common allowed for. In recent years the political interest to regulate and control this platform of expression, is causing a paradigm shift back to an interest to have a select few, control the majority of the flow. This way it makes it easier to control and regulate.

The effectiveness and ability to build off of existing technology is paramount in the universal ability to advance it. This done by being able to leverage existing technology, mastering it, improving it, building on it, and sharing this with others. This would allow for the Allowance Theory to exist because opportunities would be afforded to the population instead of limiting. The ability to adapt is critical to succeed in this 21st century technological space. The large corporations are not as nimble or able to adapt as the smaller organizations which can be effective with speed. With innovation and the ability to adapt, these organizations can free themselves in a way by always evolving faster than regulations can counter respond with regulations. Innovations such as the Facebook revolution empowers the individual to have the freedom to participate, which has correlated to an acceptance of sharing information. This continued sharing of information will allow for the consistant long term evolution of technology. The key is it can never rest, can never stay stagnant, because the political and social ramifications will be drastic, when the freedom is restricted by those who have power politically or socially. Interestingcomments 10:54, 31 January 2013 (EST)

The very wording of this section was a paradigm. The most interesting article was that of the interview about conflicts in the computer and internet community. The other articles required for class helped seed that information into more prosperity. With voice recognition, the interpretation of citation, and the understanding that there is more to a word that its intendor: the processor. What order deserved my attention as a document can be printed, scanned, faxed, printed then faxed et cetera. Johnathan MerkwanJohnathan Merkwan 13:57, 4 February 2013 (EST)

I found Lessig's piece quite interesting regarding regulatory constraints and the role that norms play in achieving regulation. Specifically, I found that his point stating that sometimes norms preclude technological changes and vice versa. Currently, the music industry is failing at copyright regulation as torrents and peer to peer networks share various media types over the web. I believe that as there is greater institutionalization from companies like Amazon, Apple (iTunes), and other online media outlets, the wide low cost provision of easily accessible media will cause a shift in norms leading to decreased illegal media downloads. Zittrain makes some very thought provoking points regarding "generativity". Calling for less constraining base models and frameworks for innovation, Zittrain discusses the idea of linking online identities to those in reality as a way to enforce copyright law. However, I don't think that users are ready for those ramifications. Take for example the immediate outrage and institution of legislation against employers and universities requesting Facebook passwords. While I personally don't agree with such requests either, it is clear that people are not ready to embrace that next shift even though it may lead to greater capabilities of the internet. Cybersecurity will be extremely contentious in the coming years as the internet and supporting frameworks continue to evolve, encompassing the capacity for innovation. The cloud is one centralized platform housing all sensitive information of its users which presents a great danger because the generativity of the web means that nothing is safe forever. Just look at Julian Assange and WikiLeaks; in a way Assange was acting as the protector of liberty in creating a forum for information. As the internet evolves, market concerns will increasingly become the driving factor of institutional innovation. AaronEttl 18:07, 4 February 2013 (EST)

I disagree that increased institutionalization online by companies like itunes and Amazon could shift norms towards discouraging illegal downloads. First, I doubt prices can go any lower than they are at now ($1.99 for popular songs; 99c and rarely 65c for less popular or older songs) for both the distributor (iTunes, Amazon, etc), the music companies, and the artists to make money. Second, being able to freely download makes economical sense for the downloaders - that's why they're doing so in the first place. As long as there are ways to freely download, there will be people who will do so.
That's not to say I support shutting down p2p technology and torrent sites - I seriously think they have played a big role in the spread of knowledge for people who otherwise would not have access. As mentioned/suggested briefly in class, the solution may lie in changing thinking and economic model of the entertainment industry.

--Muromi 09:06, 11 February 2013 (EST)

Two separate but related thoughts.

1.) danah boyd’s article got me thinking about the differences in architecture between MySpace and Facebook and the relationship between that architecture and Zittrain’s concept of generativity. On MySpace, teens could “pimp out” their profiles with glitter and vibrant colors. In contrast, according to one user boyd interviewed, “Facebook was nice because it stymied such annoyances, limiting individuality.” Indeed, on Facebook, users could change their status updates and add photos to their profile, but the basic layout remained consistent from one user to the next. On Facebook, people can't change the template or design or their profile.

Facebook is a less generative platform than MySpace – at least in the cultural sense. Facebook’s architecture closes down “the capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions,” while MySpace encouraged a wide range of customization and personal expression. However, because MySpace was more generative, again in the cultural sense, people could be much more derogatory in their profiles. Race and class became far more apparent. As a result, the site earned a negative stigma and eventually drove “white flight.”

The story boyd tells indicates that, like the Internet, once a social platform is lenient enough, or generative enough, to enable all sorts of freedom of expression, some people will use it for inappropriate, destabilizing, and unanticipated uses. One could argue the same recurring pattern that unfolds with generative systems occurred with social networks. From a wide range of amateur contributions (MySpace) to lockdown and centralized control over personalization (Facebook). For many people, Facebook felt safer and had better privacy controls, but at what cost? Do we lose anything in terms of our ability to express ourselves and our identity? On Facebook, our personal data is codified into bits of data that can be easily packaged for advertisers. The TV Shows, the movies we like – that’s all just data points. On MySpace on the other hand, you could express yourself with unique flare and style. Not so easily package-able. Perhaps closer to the function of “fashion” in the real world.

So it’s a trade-off. Facebook doesn’t allow you to alter the layout of the site but you get the comfort of not seeing some unsightly profile and feeling uncomfortable. So I’m curious – generative systems might make artistic and personal expression easier, but too much generativity can, well, freak people out. Take Second Life. Once a blossoming virtual world where you could build or create anything, it soon gained the reputation of being a pornographic hub, and users fled. Now it’s all but shut down.

2.) The iPhone is a complicated generative platform. According to Zittrain, the iPhone is technically less generative than the Apple II. That may be true. But is it culturally more generative? That is, anyone can use an iPhone to take a picture or tweet a news story or do any number of unanticipated things. If the iPhone was more technically generative, and apps were unfiltered by Apple, security might be compromised or it might become riddled with inappropriate content. People carry their life on their phones – it is a very intimate, personal device – worthy of intense security. So I wonder if the iPhone needs to be sterile in order for people to feel comfortable using it so freely and allow them to focus on cultural participation and cultural innovation. There is a fascinating relationship between people’s ability to alter technical specifications and people’s ability to alter the cultural landscape. I’m just not sure what that connection is yet.

Asmith 21:13, 4 February 2013 (EST)

The diverse frameworks presented in the readings this week shed light on technological: networks, constraints, and structural considerations. In the article What Things to Regulate, the architecture examples illustrate metaphorical associations that I had not yet considered. Many of us view architecture from a tangible perspective, directly correlated to concrete structures, such as houses, buildings, and landscapes. Understanding systems architecture in laymen terms, however, has always been challenging (for me) due to the complexity related to networking, routing, and stakeholder hand-offs. Although I have worked with many IT Architects on unique consulting projects over the past few years, I have never truly understood the notion behind systems design.

One of the key take-aways from the examples set forth in this article is the following: design alterations transform behaviors…whether significant or not. In other words, even if a given process inevitably stays the same, design modifications impact perceptions, which ultimately shift reactions. Parking airplanes at gates farther away from the baggage claim area—causing passengers to walk more—creates less stress when waiting for luggage (even if the rate at which luggage arrives stays the same); putting a mirror in front of an elevator reduces complaints about the elevator’s speed (even when the speed stays the same); adding a basic ramp in front of a building provides access for everyone (even if all other structural aspects remain identical). Each of these illustrations is metaphorically correlated to the Internet and systems architecture. Laws/Policies change regulations; regulations can impact architectural designs across numerous frontiers in cyber space; and design modifications can substantially influence people’s behaviors.

The second insight that I would like to address in this week’s discussion is directly correlated to the MySpace-Facebook article, specifically focusing on the suburban illustration. “Governmental agencies reduced investments in urban communities, depopulation lowered property values and shrunk the tax bases, and unemployment rose as jobs moved to the suburbs….Just as those who moved to the suburbs looked down upon those who remained in the cities, so too did Facebook users demean those on Myspace” (pgs. 31 and 34, respectively). The analogies in this article are mind opening. One may think that cyber space unites people of all backgrounds, because boarders and boundaries are less clear (at times). However, the notion behind segregation in the cyber world is an interesting one to consider…it mirrors the real world in diverse ways. What other online examples mirror the real world? Where do virtual games fit (such as Second Life) when considering new realities? Do most social network users escape realty through the use of online communication or do social networks bring individuals closer together? What do others in class think about the metaphors presented in this article, specifically regarding segregation in cyber space? Zak Paster 05:16, 5 February 2013 (EST)

Thanks for posing that question Zak. I found the MySpace-Facebook article to be fascinating and it had me thinking about my own social networks I've created. My Facebook network is made up primarily of people that I know or have known in real life. So that network does tend to mirror my physical life which probably is a bit segregated. However, I think, and hope, that my network I've created on Twitter is a bit more diverse as I follow all sorts of people on that site- people I know but mostly people I've never met. I use Twitter for news, to keep up on my profession, comedy, and lots of local food/beer spots. So the people I follow really vary there much more so than in Facebook. I know that Facebook and Twitter are very different platforms but I would be curious to see if you were to look at who people follow on Twitter vs who they are friends with on Facebook if it would show a more diverse view for either. Because I now tend to get a great deal of my news from Twitter, I'm constantly trying to expand that universe so that I don't just get one or two viewpoints and am not living in a bubble. But that's a conscious effort and I would wonder what would happen if I didn't do that as much.

The other online world that this article had me thinking about a lot is online dating. Social in a much different world but I often think about all the data that is collected by these sites as people share a lot (full disclosure: so do I!). I would be curious if there was a similar segregation that happened at all on these sites like OkCupid, Match, eHarmony, etc in addition to the sites that actually do cater to a single race, religion, occupation, etc. I would guess that online dating networks mirror reality very much so. Nfonsh 12:37, 5 February 2013 (EST)

I enjoyed reading about social network articles and how these networks influence individuals in life. The concept of openness, alone, Facebook as an example brings ample views and ideas how people share their lives throughout the simple “public” concept as Internet. Social media is continually evolving and keeping individuals up to date well informed on that social media could offer thru secure and controlled experience. The main question arises is where the Internet is going and where it has been throughout the lenses of technological evolution and innovative experiments. Social networks continue to surround each of us, and continue to navigate the regulatory enterprise and practices around the world. Due to issues that Internet is altering the complex amounts of information, the social networks still come in a long perspective of academia and popular culture arenas. Is it still considers a “real world”? In my view that it’s the main criticism of social network via Internet. Is there a control and secure openness thru social media (Facebook, twitter)? How people interpret the information? I this there are ample questions that still retain the privacy control throughout the demographics of social media. user777 13:08, 5 February 2013 (EST)

I am interested in how we have standardized our thoughts that "real" life and "social media life" are separate and unequal. I bring up again the video from last week again as John Perry Barlow spoke of the independence of speech on the Internet as if it were mankind's great utopia.... not fettered by laws but free and ubiquitous. FaceBook, My Space, Twitter, et al are brands built by business owners and, as with most brands, have a developed marketing strategy to overlay a "vogue" cache that makes one want to buy into that culture. What is different from walking down the street with a Nike "just do It" t-shirt on and having strangers overlay their own impressions of that brand to posting sayings, articles debates, conversations etc within social media and once again having, let's say for the most part, strangers overlay their own impressions of those thoughts? If they are your "real" friends on Facebook they read your views and posts through the filter of their knowledge of your personality... Same as the Nike t-shirt. In the article White Flight, the comment that My Space was "ghetto" became an echo chamber. It was "better" to have FaceBook.... so I feel this speaks to the argument made by Lessig in 'A Dot's Life".... "We can call each constraint a “regulator,” and we can think of each as a distinct modality of regulation. Each modality has a complex nature, and the interaction among these four is also hard to describe." All the rules of a "regulator" apply when looking at social media sites. So again I wonder ~ how did one become real and one become not? In the way we leave lasting digital footprints every time we log onto sites, isn't that even more "real" than footprints washed away from a beach where we physically walked? Is it possible that the day we look at the some of the parts as our "whole" life, we will have stronger "real" life?Caroline 16:43, 5 February 2013 (EST)

“Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

"While I am fully supportive of the need to combat intellectual piracy, specifically dealing with foreign rogue digital theft sites, legislation must not impede freedom of expression on the internet and online innovation. We must work to find an approach that protects content and the freedom of distribution and technology that is smart and targeted without stifling the innovators and entrepreneurs that make San Francisco and the Bay Area so vibrant." Nancy Peolosi February 2012 Letter to constituents regarding SOPA

“No one who uses the Internet on a regular basis needs reminding about the perils of spam, phishing, data breaches, hackers, viruses, spyware, and denial of service attacks that make up part of the modern Internet traffic. Almost all such problems can be chalked up to generative systems; closed systems, like the Xbox 360, TiVo, and the PS3, may have their own issues but don't regularly experience the same problems. It's no wonder that, in the face of such threats, many users would prefer something simpler and locked-down in exchange for security. But it's not just end users who run into problems with generative devices and networks; governments and content owners would both prefer devices and networks that could be monitored and controlled at least a little more tightly. Attempts to alter the fundamental PC architecture in such a way that it is "trusted" (by content owners and third-parties, at least) have met stiff resistance on the part of buyers, who now instinctively view to computers as fully generative devices that should remain under their personal control.” Nate Anderson, Book Review: Jonathan Zittrain's "The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It" (from Ars Technica)

I would argue that even before we decide on a structure to view the internet and digital technologies through, we need a clear understanding of how we, human beings, interact with our environments. Here, in the United States, we seem perfectly happy to give away freedoms guaranteed by our constitution in the name of safety. And Dostoevsky’s quote demonstrates we are not alone in that. We can look at legal frameworks, or technological frameworks, but ultimately we are human beings, and though the internet may be the most amazing tool we have yet to develop, I would assert we do not have a particularly good track record when it comes to preserving our freedoms, or valuing our public goods.Raven 17:17, 5 February 2013 (EST)

This is a tangent related to the tangent made in class on the readability of Terms of Services. I'm one of those who usually doesn't read Terms of Services, especially those not having to do with the bank. But the discussion raised my curiosity, so when I was considering setting up a tumblr account so I can participate with my friends, I stopped to read tumblr's Terms of Service, which is located here:

Perhaps I'm lucky since tumblr does not fit into the examples made in class. Tumblr's Terms of Service is very readable and accessible, and Tumblr actually states that they deliberately made it so. If the legal text itself is still a bit too lofty, especially for younger visitors, then Tumblr's summaries after each section will do the job as well.

Some parts are even humorous. Take for example the annotations for the section on Eligibilty: "You have to be at least 13 years old to use Tumblr. We're serious: it's a hard rule, based on U.S. federal and state legislation, even if you're 12.9 years old. If you're younger than 13, don't use Tumblr. Ask your parents for an Xbox or try books."

--Muromi 03:37, 11 February 2013 (EST)

Danah Boyd’s article was really disappointing because he could have truly made it interesting and signficiant. Not being a fan of either My Space or Facebook, at least until recently for the latter as I feel it is a good medium to communicate with "Friends" in remote and/or far away places. The article contained several foundation facts and helped me understand some of the differences, but not much more and continued to make the point over and over again with case studies that demonstrated the same points over and over again.

I feel Mr. (Ms?) Boyd should have added a lot more foundational information and perhaps not only argued the differences between the two social networks, but give his/her opinion and facts why.

This is in response to Muromi's comments on the Tumblr [1] Terms of Service [2], but I promise to bring it back to our readings. I've been a long-term fan of Tumblr, and I can say that the Tumblr TOS is a reflection of the Tumblr experience. The contributors tend to be serious: CJ Chivers of the New York Times[3]; Anthony De Rosa of Reuters [4]; informative: America's Test Kitchen [5]; but also playful: Sesame Street[6]. PR and Marketing, though in evidence, are done with an effort to integrate into the user community: The Economist[7]; LLBean [8]; The Atlantic[9]; The New Yorker[10].

Other contributors who show up on one's dashboard, and with whom one can interact directly by reblogging (a way of responding, but also of reposting) can start to feel like friends in a distinctly different way then the term friend is used by Facebook. There is, of course, a running joke among long-time users that 40% of one's followers are high school students from Japan, and occasionally a spam problem pops up. But generally the experience is one of openness, friendliness and creativity. The TOS is just one aspect of this, but it demonstrates how some thoughtfulness on the part of founders can go a long way to contributing to a positive user experience.

To bring this back on topic, unlike the Facebook, MySpace dichotomy posed by Danah Boyd, Tumblr truly can belong to anyone[11][12]. One does not need friends already on the site to begin participating, one just follows people one is interested in following. Despite my earlier comment about high school students in Japan, if someone reblogs someone and responds thoughtfully to a post, the response usually is an inclusion into the conversation and a follow.

Truly no one knows your age, race and class if you choose not to provide that information. One can participate wholly with links to photographs and music - and many do[13].Finally, unlike the faux creativity touted by MySpace and its fans, Tumblr users are the real deal, people of all ages who post original writing, drawing, photography and music for the world rather than limiting themselves to changing the template upon which their user page is viewed (although this too is possible on Tumblr[14]).

Lawrence Lessig's Tumblr is here:

Raven 12:31, 11 February 2013 (EST)