Anarchism & Social Technology: Contextualising the (non?)-field? – Full conference paper

I blogged a couple of months ago about hosting and facilitating a conference stream at the Anarchist Studies Network’s conference, Making Connections, about the relationship between anarchism and social technology. We had two presenters come along and discuss their research which focused on and explored some novel theoretical approaches to social media and technology from a distinctly anarchist or libertarian communist perspective.

Aaron Peters spoke about the network society, public-private spheres and Paolo Virno‘s ‘Soviets of the Multitude‘ in relation to the networked social movements we’ve seen emerge around the globe post-economic collapse. While Thomas Swann discussed the potential for cybernetic theory to be brought into play to account for the decentralised organising seen during last year’s riots and what this might mean for a conceptual model of anarchist organising. You can get download Aaron’s paper via Scribd here and Thomas’ paper here.

Aside from facilitating, I presented a short paper that aimed to contextualise what Gordon (2008) has described as the “ambivalent relationship” between anarchism and technology. This ambivalence as one of the reasons we proposed the stream originally as despite the conference organisers citing the #Occupy and Arab Spring movements as powerful, contemporary anti-authoritarian social media-enabled forces rising from the grass-roots, there were few attempts to engage with and analyse technology directly within the conference’s extensive agenda. My paper attempts to understand why this is and suggest what might might be done:

Ultimately, the paper – and the wider conference stream – aimed to kick-start a debate about the role technology plays (and the potential it possesses) in political resistance and social struggles as well as to stimulate renewed theoretical as well as practical engagements with the topic. What this might look like, I’m not entirely sure yet – although I’m fairly soundly convinced it will need to include a greater level of scholarly and activist reflection and praxis – but I’d love to hear any suggestions.

Frames-as-Assemblages – Full conference paper

I’ve eventually found time to finish writing and editing a full version of the conference paper I presented at the Caught in the Frame conference at the University of Leicester last month.

You can see the presentation that accompanies this paper in the post below, but this fuller paper give a more detailed overview of the context in which I’m seeking to develop the notion of frames-as-assemblages. It also draws attention to a number of specific features within assemblages that might offer potentially powerful routes for analysing mediated communications in networked environments.

Frames-as-Assemblages: Theorising framing in contemporary media networks

I presented a paper at the University of Leicester’s Caught in the Frame conference yesterday covering some of the main theoretical issues I’m working on for my PhD. You can view my presentation below and I should have a more substantial account of what I was trying to convey coming shortly which I’ll share via the blog too.

My starting point took slight issue with to the conference’s original call for papers: ‘Frame analysis continues to offer valuable insights into the relationship between institutions, representations and audiences’. In response, my paper aimed to question the relevance of such values in a contemporary networked ‘hybrid media system’ – that is an environment characterised by the fluid interaction of new and traditional media, the disintermediation of institutions and institutional actors, dissolution of easily definable and discrete audiences and the crisis of representation brought about by the materialist turn in communications research.

I proposed a revised and renewed approach to framing by synthesising Stephen Reese’s (2001) notion of frames as “organizing principles that … structure the social world” and the Deleuzian concept of ‘assemblages’. Using Manuel DeLanda’s schematic Assemblage Theory I developed a cohesive yet dynamic model – tentatively termed ‘frames-as-assemblages’ – for analysing the representational and material components and dynamic forces of territorialization and deterritorialization that constitute frame production in a contemporary networked media space.

The new model hopefully offers a radical re-engagement with, and contribution to, the conceptual debate surrounding one of the most widely applied theories in the field of communication studies.

Hopefully :) Let me know what you think.

Arts Council England podcast: social media and UGC

Arts Council England are currently funding a potentially exciting series of digital projects that connect arts organisations, researchers and technology providers to form, in its own words, ” collaborative relationships” that will hopefully create knowledge and practical innovation for people and groups in the creative sectors to improve engagement with audiences and/or explore new business models.

Projects are themed around a number of areas, including:

  • User generated content and social media: harnessing the power of the internet and social media to reach audiences and to give them a platform for discussion, participation and creativity
  • Distribution and exhibition: using digital technologies to deliver artistic experiences and content in new ways in online and place based environments, including exploring international distribution and exhibition
  • Mobile, location and games: developing a new generation of mobile and location-based experiences and services, including games
  • Data and archives: making archives, collections and other data more widely available to other arts organisations and the general public
  • Resources: using digital technologies to improve the way in which arts organisations are run including business efficiency and income generation and the way in which they collaborate with each other
  • Education and learning: developing interactive education and learning resources for children, teachers, young people, adult learners and arts sector professionals

In response to the current projects being delivered – and to showcare some of the interim results – the Arts Council are producing a series of podcasts to discuss the key themes listed above. I took part in the inaugural podcast covering social media and UGC along with Charles Beckett from Arts Council England and Spencer Hyman from Artfinder. You can take a listen via Soundcloud…

The next round of funding for potential projects is now open so if you’re interested head over to the Digital R&D website or take a look at the case studies of current projects.

Speaking at ‘Insight 2.0: The Future of Social Media Analysis’

I’ve been busy of late working on a few different projects (more of that soon) and wanted to share some information about a really interesting (and much needed, imho) conference.

The one-day event, Insight 2.0: The Future of Social Media Analysis, promises to offer knowledge sharing, discussion and networking around the increasingly important topic of social media analysis.

In my mind, what gives this event an additional edge is the confluence of industry and professional speakers with academics working in the field of social media analysis. It’s really reasonably priced too!

I’ll be speaking during the day – probably about one thing that’s become clear to me working within a social media consultancy: data driven insights are playing an increasingly central role in shaping communications and business strategy.

See these handy articles giving a more thorough summary of the situation: Steve Lohr’s The Age of Big Data in the NYT and Christan Olsen’s HuffPo piece on big data driven communications planning.

More importantly, as the volume, complexity and tools available for analysis become increasingly professional (remember when all we had to hand was Google blogsearch, Boardreader and Summize?) the research strategies, methodologies and technology selections adopted in commercial agencies is becoming increasingly academic in approach.

The timing for this event, then, is extremely prescient!

I should disclose that I know the organiser, Lawrence Ampofo, but I’ve not been involved in the creation of this event – apart from approaching a few personal contacts to invite them to participate.

Hope to see you there!

Assemblages of Resistance – conference paper

Myself and Dan McQuillan have had a joint paper submission accepted for the conference Platform Politics happening in Cambridge in May – 11th to 13th to be exact.

We're working on the paper as I speak but I've shared the abstract below. All feedback welcome…

Assemblages of Resistance – Platform Politics conference paper submission

 

There's a great line-up and looks like there'll be some interesting discussions. Maybe see you there?

Is this what cutting edge Internet and government research looks like in the UK?

Egov screenshot

Readers of this blog will know that I have a particular interest in edemocracy, politics and the internet. In fact I'd go as far as to say I'm passionate about the ways in which social media and the internet ca be used to empower individuals and government to make our lives and the world around us a better place.

With this in mind you can imagine my excitement to see via Twitter that two towering forces of academia, Oxford University's Internet Institute and London School of Economics Public Policy Group had launched a website, Government on the Web, dedicated to:

"improving knowledge and understanding of e-government and the impact of web-based technologies on government"

"Awesome", I thought. An online repository for research, case studies, practical guides, etc.

Imagine my horror to see the site that has been developed. Take a look at the screenshot above. Yes. That's it. No, I've not searched the Way Back Machine.  That site was designed, built and published *last week*.

I won't list all the failings here – there's too many and it's too mean. But, holy crap, is this representative of the cutting-edge research being done by teams of UK experts in the field? Wow.

Back in 2007 I went to a one-day conference exploring the future of media at Goldsmith's University and blogged that the experience left me feeling that a lot of UK academics don't yet get social media.

Two years on and this site doesn't fill me with much hope that things have changed. The Oxford Internet Institute is twinned with Harvard's Berkman Center? Home to Doc Searls' and his ground-breaking work into VRM. But looking at this site you wouldn't get that impression.

I'll say it again for added emphasis: Wow. Really.

 

Online monitoring and political behaviour: survey of UK political parties

 

I popped along to give the keynote speech at a symposium on measuring online political behaviour yesterday organised by Royal Holloway University’s New Political Communications Unit.

In keeping with true keynote style I only managed to get along to
the afternoon sessions at the event, but I still managed to catch a
couple of interesting presentations: one from Rob Pearson at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office examining the evaluation of its G20 London Summit web presence; the second from Simon Bergman from strategic communications outfit, Information Options.

I was presenting findings from some research I’ve been conducting
into the use of online monitoring by the UK’s three main political
parties: The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats which is an area without any in-depth study to date.

I’ve embedded my presentation
above, but be warned – it’s text heavy (hey, it’s tricky articulating
research findings using fancy images) – but here are some of my main
findings:

  • All political parties report that they track online influencers qualitatively (e.g. Iain Dale, Guido, Political Betting, etc) but they also reported that they engage with these blogs to help set the national media-agenda (which nicely supports my earlier research).
    Equally, all online or influencer monitoring by parties is performed
    informally – that is, not using paid for or third party tracking tools.
  • One respondent told me that monitoring is about “a gut feeling about what’s going on
    and also the UK political blogosphere is small and well organised. In
    my opinion, using influencers this way suggests that parties are
    perhaps only scratching the surface of influencer engagement. In my day
    job I would advise clients to establish a conversational position
    within influencer networks and build trusted relationships.  This is
    key to developing successful long-term engagement programmes – arguably
    the only real way to change behaviour.
    • Parties do engage directly to a limited extent with individuals
      online, particularly at a local level. However, The Labour Party
      appears to be closest to participating in real-time within online
      networks by engaging non-political networks, e.g. marketing/PR and
      media networks to leverage news or content.

 

  • Interestingly Labour also use quantitative tracking to identify
    popular or trending issues and content on the Labour Party website and
    to identify ‘content gaps’ on the Labour website. This insight is used
    to create new content to meet demand.
  • The Liberal Democrats use qualitative monitoring in a different way
    altogether: as an internal communications or customer service tool. By
    reading and staying on top of what Lib Dem campaigners and activists
    are saying, thinking and doing, the party can help out or resolve any
    issues that are emerging at a grassroots level. Really interesting use
    of monitoring.

My presentation also tried to fit these findings into a critical framework based on the workManuel Castells has completed in mapping and analysing the Network Society.

I started from the position that political parties monitor online
networks to ensure they can engage effectively with the aim being to
exert influence influence in the network.

One of the most important measures of influence – or more accurately
– power in networks is defined by Castells as “networking-making power” – that is the ability to establish and control particular networks.

This ability is further categorised into two processes: programmers and switchers.

  1. Programmers have “the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network”
  2. Switchers have “the ability to connect and ensure
    cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining
    resources, while fending off competition from other networks by setting
    up strategic cooperation”

Based on my findings I hypothesise that the Tories are Programmers while Labour are Switchers:

    • Conservatives – early political online networks in
      the UK were (and still are to an extent) right-wing or anti-Government.
      This meant that the Conservatives were able to program the network and
      assign goals that were largely identical to its own. This would
      potentially explain why the Conservatives focus online engagement with
      influential nodes in the network rather and not primarily engaging in
      wider debate around issues.

 

  • Labour – Labour are Switchers as they are seeking
    to cooperate with strategic partner networks through shared goals. For
    example, identifying media networks interested in specific issues and
    leveraging them by combining resources.

Anyway. Those are my main findings. Feel free to challenge, share,
agree with, etc. As always, they open up more questions for further
examination than they answer. But that’s the beauty of research.

Cross-posted to We Are Social.

Tags: online monitoring, politics, Labour Party, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Network Society, Manuel Castells

The Longtail: reports of its demise are greatly exagerated – a clarification

As an update to my excitable post below announcing the demise of the Longtail, it’s worth directing people to Chris Anderson’s post which responds robustly to MCPR-PRS’s claims.

Rather than being "thoroughly debunked" it seems that a real interpretation of the The Longtail’s validity depends on the type and scope of data used, and presumably the methodological approach taken by the researchers.

Now I should have checked my enthusiasm at debunking, especially as I am only too aware of the different results thrown up by different approaches to research. In fact I suggested as much in response to Jed Hallam’s comment below!

Sorry to Chris Anderson for being to hasty to snack on an internet scandal :)

Technorati tags: Longtail, Research, debunking

The Longtail is thoroughly debunked by empirical research

I posted back in July reminding those of us who take current Internet theories such as The Wisdom of Crowds at face value that many of these ideas are primarily marketing tools, rather than tested, research-based approaches.

As a fascinating follow-up to this, Alan Patrick from Broadsight has posted a fascinating analysis of Internet uber-theory, The Longtail, titled: The end of The Longtail?

Alan posts about a recent presentation given by an MCPS-PRS Alliance economist, Will Page, which argued that The Longtail is "fairly completely incorrect".

Page apparently helped Chris Anderson write The Longtail thesis, but has since carried out empirical research on a huge volume of global online music sales. The research found:

"while there was a long tail, it was extremely poverty stricken and much of it is moribund […] even Free doesn’t work – when Radiohead gave away their music for free, there were still 400,000 illegal downloads in the UK. Not only that, they have found that illegal services focus on the “hit head” even more than the average."

Hypothesising further, Alan reckons that most demand curves are Log Normal rather than Pareto Power Law Curves, an opinion strongly supported by one of the researchers.

A full and thorough debunking of The Longtail based on the research can also be found by Andrew Orlowski over at The Register.

As a footnote to this, it is maybe worth adding that the researchers work for an organization that enforces commercial copyright on behalf of composers, songwriters and music publishers.

Technorati tags: The Longtail, Internet Theories, Power Law, Log Normal