Obama and Facebook, Surowiecki and crowds, social media and the Panopticon

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Estimated reading time 2–3 minutes

Following on from my post the other day, it occurred to me that Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon is a bit like social media. We enforce a social norm not through pressure but through constant mutual observation.

This post on the election of Obama and the Facebook effect seems to be a different slant on the same idea: Unit Structures – Regarding the Facebook Effect. Fred Stutzman claims “Social Networks like Facebook reveal our lives to one another in novel and interesting ways. I’m able to friend you and watch your life pass by in a News Feed. Because of the pragmatics of daily life I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with that information otherwise. A side effect of this is that I’m also influenced by you – your decisions about the information you share or the identity you create…Obama was not elected because of a “Facebook Effect.” No, what happened is that the internet helped us pull the veil back on one another.”

Stutzman sees this as a positive “moderating” effect, but it seems rather like the “dark side” of social media discussed by James Surowiecki in The turning point for social media | Video on TED.com. Surowiecki argues that the “wisdom of crowds” only works when the members of the crowd think as independently as possible, but that when you join a network or group, you begin to lose some of that independence. The network influences what seems to be important (“groupthink”) and independent thought can actually suffer as a result. He uses the analogy of ants who get trapped in a “circular mill” where they just follow each other round and round in a circle until they die. This is the “dark side” of social media, which contrasts with the positive power of distributed intelligence.

So, although it is good to share, if we watch each other too assiduously, we risk losing the individuality and independence that made us intelligent in the first place. We may be social creatures, but it does us good to be a little bit anti-social too!

Puzzled by The Future of Information Architecture

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Estimated reading time 2–2 minutes

I read a copy of The Future of Information Architecture: Conceiving a Better Way to Understand Taxonomy, Network and Intelligence because I couldn’t resist the title, but was left utterly baffled by the book. The author appears to have taught at some US universities, but no biography was provided and the preface declared that due to the “political incorrectness” of his ideas, no institution or establishment had supported him in writing and publishing the book. Nevertheless, he seems to have produced quite a few books over the last few years. The publisher, Chandos Press, apparently printed the book directly from camera ready copy supplied by the author.

He writes in an extremely dense and academic style using phrases like “existential dialectics” and “post-human post-civilization”. I usually pride myself on being able to “translate” philosophy into “normal” English, but could not work out what was going on. The gist seemed to be a description of taxonomies and networks in terms of six “principles” (opposites such as simplicity/complexity, order/chaos) and I had expected some kind of conclusion to draw these principles into a proposition. Instead, he suggested that there were many more principles that could be used.

From the title I had hoped for some predictions about how IA might develop under the influence of social media or cloud computing etc., but there was nothing like that in the book. Instead, there were some statements about post-human evolution and the impossibility of predicting what IA will be like when we cease to be humans and become “free floating consciousnesses”.

Privacy is Dead. Long Live Privacy?

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Estimated reading time 3–4 minutes

Battle of Ideas: Privacy is Dead. Long Live Privacy? is a long video but well worth watching (it is divided into sections so doesn’t have to be seen in one go). The description says: “For many of us, divulging intimate details of our private lives via social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook has become the norm. But information and communication technologies have also facilitated surveillance and data gathering by government and big businesses. While in some contexts we seem so ready to give up our privacy, in others we seem increasingly anxious to protect it.”

The debate was hosted by the Institute of Ideas and features six excellent speakers who talk about designing technology so that it doesn’t violate privacy, the social and political debates – or lack thereof – around notions of what is public and what is private, and the effects of social media and new technology.

I found this very interesting as bridging a couple of themes that have been on my mind after hearing a talk by Matthew of 6consulting – a social media monitoring and engagement company. Firstly, the blurring of the lines between private and public in online spaces, which was also raised in relation to the national web archiving initiatives by the British Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF -which I wrote about in October) and secondly the idea that social media are taking over from traditional knowledge management. It has all left me wondering if social media will eat itself. It makes me think of science fiction stories about telepathy driving everyone crazy because actually knowing what people are thinking about you all the time is a nightmare!

I am a frequent user of social and real world networks and am also happy to have an online presence that is a public “performed” persona. However, I also like to have spaces where I can try out new and possibly crazy ideas in the company of friends without worrying that every off the wall idea is going to be preserved for ever more. I don’t want the world to see me “in rehearsal”, so does that mean I shouldn’t use social media spaces to experiment with ideas? If so, I can only try out ideas with the people I am geographically close to, which again seems to undermine part of the wonderful global connectivity of the online space. Closed, private networks, where we invite only people we can trust, get round this, but then you lose the power and appeal of the mass open networks.

So, how does this relate to taxonomies? Jeffrey Rosen talks about surveillance cameras being used as a tool for “classification and exclusion” of people – e.g. you are categorised as a shoplifter, so you are banned from the city centre, which links to Bowker and Star’s work on the politics of catgorisation of people in Sorting Things Out. I think that as knowledge workers, we are perhaps more aware than others of the potential uses and abuses of personal data and so we should be contributing to the debate on what information should be collected, classified, archived, and destroyed.

Amplification around a tag

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Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog: Amplification around a tag offers an interesting perspective on vocabulary control. Dempsey’s well-referenced article highlights the power of designating a tag for an event so that blogs, tweets, etc. are consistently labelled – pulling them all together and amplifying their impact. He says: “in a sense, the tag becomes the virtual venue for the event’s digital legacy”.

This “gathering around a flag” in the infosphere strikes me as an interesting example of an intersection between branding, marketing, and knowledge management.

Reimagining the Future of Your Desktop

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Thanks to Darren at UCL for this: Reimagining the Future of Your Desktop in 3D. It’s a new way of rendering a desktop, using what they describe as the affordances of physical storage. So, you can heap documents in piles, scatter them, regroup them and so on, very easily. I liked the range of ways of browsing piles of documents and thought it looked like fun, but without using it for a while, can’t be sure that it would save me time in the long run. I fear it would entice me into spending even more time than I do already categorising and re-categorising documents when I should be reading them!

ISKO UK Conference 2009 – call for papers

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ISKO UK Conference 2009 – call for papers. ISKO UK 2009 will provide a rare opportunity for researchers, practitioners and innovators from all sectors to share ideas on the opportunities and challenges implicit in the digitization and networking of diverse information resources. The Conference will address issues in the organization and integration of text, images, data and voice – multimedia and multilingual.

UDC Seminar 2009 – call for papers

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UDC Seminar 2009 – call for papers. The “Classification at a Crossroads” conference will address the potential of classification, the Universal Decimal Classification in particular, in supporting information organization, management and resource discovery in the networked environment. It will explore solutions for better subject access control and vocabulary sharing services.

Digital Humanities 2009 – call for papers

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Estimated reading time 1–2 minutes

Digital Humanities 2009 » Call for Papers. Digital Humanities 2009–the annual joint meeting of the Association for Computers and the Humanities, the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, and the Society for Digital Humanities / Société pour l’étude des médias interactifs–will be hosted by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland in College Park, USA.

Suitable subjects for proposals include, for example,

* text analysis, corpora, corpus linguistics, language processing, language learning
* libraries, archives and the creation, delivery, management and preservation of humanities digital resources
* computer-based research and computing applications in all areas of literary, linguistic, cultural, and historical studies, including electronic literature and interdisciplinary aspects of modern scholarship
* use of computation in such areas as the arts, architecture, music, film, theatre, new media, and other areas reflecting our cultural heritage
* research issues such as: information design and modelling; the cultural impact of the new media; software studies; Human-Computer interaction
* the role of digital humanities in academic curricula
* digital humanities and diversity