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Understanding the Cultural Intermediary

The next session at AoIR 2015 starts with CCI graduate Jonathon Hutchinson, whose work is on the integration of user participation into the activities of public service media. User participation is not new, but in fact some form of user participation may just be interaction – there is a need to also make sure that participation is relevant, to both users and organisations.

A useful concept to use in this context is the idea of co-creation, bringing together users and organisations as mutual stakeholders in the participatory process. This may also result in a clash of heterarchical community and hierarchical organisational structures – and the organisational staff charged with managing institutional online communities are the ones to negotiate that clash. These community managers serve as cultural intermediaries between the two sides.

The Challenges of Developing Successful Algorithms

The final speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Anja Bechmann, whose focus is on algorithms from the designer's point of view. Often, users are portrayed as the victims of victorious algorithms – but algorithms are only powerful if they have the right data to process.

We assume that algorithms are streamlining and simplifying activities and are sensitive to our wants and needs, and to do so most effectively they need to interact and interoperate with each other; algorithmic identity thus rests not on an essentialist but on a constructivist approach as identity is enacted when databases meet databases through algorithms.

Anja demonstrates this through the example of the Danish algorithm project Det Sociale Bibliotek (The Social Library), which draws on Facebook users' newsfeeds to present them with relevant library materials. It does not draw simply on their own posts, as the newsfeed also represents the interests of users' friends, and thus of their social environment.

The Metaphors of Algorithmic Agency

The next speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Annette Markham, who begins by asking about the voice of nonhuman agency. Nonhuman agency has long been recognised in Internet studies, but what is its voice: what are the hidden discourses of algorithmic structures; how do we give voice to technology; how may we represent it?

The key focus here is the rhetorical function of algorithms. Current discourse on algorithm is a theoretical, abstract levels, while it is also important to consider the level of everyday talk and put this into interaction with the theory. This doesn't just operate at the surface level of discourse, in fact, but also at a deep structural level explores the creation of new metaphors and meanings.

An Actor/Structure Perspective on Algorithms

The next speaker at AoIR 2015 is Jakob Linaa Jensen, whose approach is to examine algorithms from an actor/structure perspective. In this, we need to avoid the twin fallacies of techno-optimism as well as techno-pessimism, and move beyond such extreme positions. Algorithms are both good and bad, and a perspective which examines the interplay between actors and structures is useful to shed more light on them.

Actors and structures are ultimately inseparable and inherently intertwined. There are three useful perspectives that may be brought to bear here: Goffman on algorithms and socialisation; Foucault on algorithms and knowledge and biopolitics; and Deleuze and Guattari on algorithms and politics.

How Algorithms Enforce Personal Roles

For the post-lunch session at AoIR 2015, I'm in a session on algorithms, which begins with a paper by Dylan Wittkower. He suggests that social media experience is influenced by algorithms of display and access on both user and system side.

The most important system algorithm is the newsfeed algorithm that determines what posts from their friends and followers a user engages with. This is based often on social presence - on the recency and frequency of interaction between with specific followers - and thus helps to generate stronger ties between specific users, as well as potentially leading to dominant groupthink. This is because we tend to share things that we have a positive affect towards, and that we think our friends will like – even if we are sharing negative things, we share them in the expectation that our friends will agree with our views.

The Evolution of Transmedia Fiction

The next speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Linda Kronman, whose interest is in transmedia storytelling. She organised the Re:Dakar Art Festival, which emerged from a scam invitation to an "art festival" in Dakar – Linda and colleagues created fake characters who corresponded to the fake characters created by the scammers, and the interaction between them became a form of transmedia storytelling in its own right. Linda and colleagues created fake Facebook pages for their characters, as well as artworks which incorporated the material created by the interactions.

Transmedia storytelling itself emerged over the past decade or two, driven especially also by a number of major movies and other events; but the definitions of such approaches are still varying widely. Some of it links back to hypertext storytelling and digital fiction research from one perspective, hypertext fiction evolved into hypermedia fiction, cybertext fiction, and finally social media fiction. Recent social media fiction projects include The Big Plot and Grace, Wit & Charm, for example.

Lots of Bots on Twitter

I'm in Daegu, Korea, for this year's AoIR conference. The first paper session I'm in starts with Amy Johnson, who notes that existence on Twitter is manifested by voice – and voice is understood as the linguistic construction of social personae. Popularly, social media platforms are also described as giving people a voice, though this view is heavily disputed.

On Twitter, anyone with an email address and the technological literacy can have a voice, so from that perspective it is a surprisingly permissive environment – people, groups, bots, group of bots can all have a voice, and this makes Twitter a post-human and post-individual space.

There is a long history of research into the imagined and imaginary nature of participation, participants, and communities, of course – from Anderson to Appadurai and beyond. Amy's focus is on Twitter bot accounts as technical objects, especially also because Twitter explicitly allows and embraces such bot accounts.

Coming Up Shortly

The annual end-of-year conference season is upon us again, and I’ll be heading off tomorrow to the annual Association of Internet Researchers conference – the most important conference in my field. In spite of the considerable troubles AoIR has faced this year – its first conference location, Bangkok, was no longer feasible following the military coup in Thailand, and there still seem to be some teething problems with the replacement location in Daegu, Korea – it will be great to catch up with leading colleagues in the field again.

This year, we’re presenting the first outcomes of our latest big data studies of the Australian and global Twitterspheres. One major paper will present what we’ve been able to glean so far of the overall patterns within the global Twitter userbase – we now have data on some 870 million Twitter profiles, which provides us with a unique perspective on how Twitter has grown and diversified as a platform. Further, we’ve also got a brand-new map of follower/followee  networks in the Australian Twittersphere, based on our dataset of some 2.8 million Australian users, and we’re using this to explore the footprint of recent television programming to shed new light on second-screen viewing practices, as part of our Telemetrics project (more on this at Darryl Woodford’s site). I’ll be live-blogging the conference again if I can get online, so expect to see much more over the next few days. As a preview, my slides for the two presentations are below.

Call: QUT Creative Industries Faculty PhD Scholarships for 2015 Entry

It’s that time of the year, so we’re now calling for applications from prospective PhD students who are interested in joining an innovative and high-profile research group at Australia’s leading university for media and communication studies, Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane.

I’ve posted the Social Media Research Group’s overall call for applications below, but I also want to call specifically for expressions of interest for the second PhD scholarship associated with my current ARC Future Fellowship project. Drawing on social media data, Hitwise Australia, and Fairfax Digital sources, this project seeks to investigate the patterns of intermedia information flows in the Australian online public sphere, and (in addition to the first PhD student Felix Münch, whose focus is especially on methodological development) this second PhD will use innovative quantitative and qualitative research methods to trace user engagement with major events and topics in Australian public debate over time and across social and mainstream media networks.

PhD students applying for this scholarship will need to possess a detailed understanding of recent events in Australian politics and public life as well as of the Australian media environment. They should also have proven skills in the mixed-methods (quantitative / qualitative) analysis of social media data and other data sources, ideally including a working knowledge of analytical tools including Tableau, Gephi, Excel, etc. Familiarity with the approaches and methods developed by the QUT Social Media Research Group and documented at Mapping Online Publics would be welcome. For further enquiries about this PhD opportunity and its role in the wider Future Fellowship project, please contact me at

But in addition to this specific PhD scholarship, my colleagues and I are also interested in other PhD applications for social media-related research in the current QUT scholarship round. Below is our call for applicants, with further information on how to apply:

Professionalisation in Political Campaigning

The final speaker at CMPM2014 is Stephen Mills, whose interest is in the question of professionalisation in political campaigning. But what is being professionalised here? Individuals, institutions, systems? Does professionalisation occur when a cohort of professionals replace a previous non-professional cohort, or is this a more comprehensive institutional change through which new cultural norms are being adopted?

Since when does such professionalisation happen? Is it already over, is it continuing, or is it yet to happen? Does it happen quickly or slowly, disruptively or in an organised manner? And what is it caused by – exogenous factors such as technological change, or endogenous dynamics of adoption, adaptation, hybridisation?


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