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WebSci '09

WebSci '09 conference, Athens, 18-20 Mar. 2009

Produsage at the Frankfurt School


Frankfurt School Audience

From WebSci '09 in Athens, I've arrived in Frankfurt (where it actually snowed this morning...), for the Prosumer Revisited conference over the next few days. My first official engagement today was a guest lecture for Cultural Science stalwart Carsten Herrmann-Pillath at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, though - not the kind of audience I usually speak to, but a very relevant one for a guest lecture on produsage nonetheless. My presentation is below - when I have a chance, I'll also add the audio from my talk.

Goodbye to WebSci '09

And so we're at the end of WebSci '09. Overall, a pretty good range of papers and posters, and I'll be interested to see where it goes from here (also quite literally, as they're calling for proposals for where the next conference should be held). We're being farewelled by Dimitris Efraimoglou, the Managing Director of the Foundation of the Hellenic World, who uses the opportunity to present the (impressive) work of the Foundation.

So that's it from here - I have a few days in Athens which I'll hopefully be able to use to cure my cold, and then it's on to the Prosumer Revisited conference in Frankfurt!

What Form of Web Politics Do We Want?

From here we move on to Panayotis Pantos as the final WebSci '09 speaker on online politics. He begins by posing the fundamental question 'what is politics'? Do we understand by the term only elections and campaign, political parties, unions and other political organisations, and lobby groups, or is politics the process by which groups make collective decisions?

Online communication addresses the tensions between private and collective, participation and mediation, and physical distance and the increase of communication - we are no longer merely receivers, but also producers of information; our existence online abolishes some long-held understandings of how the communicatory and political process is supposed to work (but of course it does not eradicate all differences or enables all of us to participate in the same way).

Politics, Transhumanism, and The Pirate Bay

The next speaker in this politics session at WebSci '09, A. Priftis, switches back to Greek. He begins by noting his own online presence in a variety of online environments, but says that what he does is nothing special. The Obama campaign, by contrast, very actively placed itself directly in the paths of people as they moved about online, and prepared its supporters with material that could be used to argue the Obama case in any such environments. This was very successful on a number of levels - for example in engendering the support of American youths (some of whom even changed their middle name to 'Obama').

Political Communication in the Networked Era

The politics session at WebSci '09 continues with Elias Athanasiadis. Following Dan Gillmor, he notes the promise of new media for (political communication), and describes this as a transition from a top-down broadcasting model which has engendered politica apathy, mistrust, and citizen disengagement - or what he describes as 'skin-deep politics' - to a bottom-up netcasting in which interactivity, interconnectedness, the compression of time and space, and the disintermediation through phenomena such as citizen journalism creates the potential for citizen empowerment and (re)engagement.

Greek Political Parties Online (or Not...)

The final full session here at WebSci '09 is on (Greek) politics online, so of course I'm here. It's another session with live interpretation from Greek to English - hopefully she's done chewing gum now! We start with G. Alexias, who introduces us to the performance of Greek political parties online (and he does so in English, actually). Does the online presence of Greek political actors lead to the formation of online political communities? His study examined this in the wake of the 2004 parliamentary elections, and performed both a quantitative analysis of social software features of these sites and a qualitative analysis of the sites' characteristics.

Petition Adoption as a Research Problem for Web Science

The final speaker in this session at WebSci '09 is Helen Margetts from the Oxford Internet Institute, whose interest is in what influences people's decision to act collectively (or not). Is it the extent to which others are participating? Related to this is the question of whether use of the Internet makes a difference to such collective action decisions - since it is now possible to know, in real time, how many other people are participating. We can now measure information effects, perhaps for the first time, but what are the appropriate methods for doing so?

Conflict (and Dispute Resolution) Is a Growth Industry

Next up at WebSci '09 is Ethan Katsh, whose focus is on online dispute resolution. Disputes are a major online phenomenon, and as Fisher and Ury suggested even in 1983, "conflict is a growth industry". Dispute resolution also makes for a very useful case study for Web science, Ethan suggests - and he notes that many of the trends identified at this conference may also cause further disputes.

Last year alone, eBay handled some 40 million disputes (making it 'the largest small claims tribunal in the world'); ICANN handled some 25,000 disputes over its 100 million domain names in ten years, Wikipedia has instituted a broad range of dispute reolution processes and Second Life with its 5.5 billion Linden Dollars in circulation has started to generate a number of virtual property rules to manage its operations. Technology, then, is a great dispute generator, as a byproduct of online transactions and online relationships, but also of the increasing value of information, the brader distribution of information, the growing range of virtual goods and property, the increasing creative activity, the increasing complexity, and the accelerating pace of change.

The Impact of e-Government Structures

The next session at WebSci '09 focusses on the impact of the Web on government processes and policies. We begin with a paper by Albert Batlle, who notes that e-government studies so far have rarely been interdisciplinary, continue to lack a theoretical basis, still only speculate about the benefits of e-government, conduct studies which focus only on what online elements are available (they are focussing only on the supply side of e-goverment, not the demand side), and may even be guilty of technological determinism.

Albert's own study used instead an interdisciplinary approach, examined new interaction mechanisms and back office processes and their dynamics, studied uses of both explicit and implicit information, and operated on an empirical basis by studying citizen attention services in Quebec, Catalunya, and (the Brazilian federal state) Sao Paulo. The focus, then, is on information flows within public administrations, and examined their implications at Fountain's three levels of institutionalised government processes, public organisations and interorganisational networks, and ongoing social relations in social network interactions. If information flows change at one level, the hypothesis predicts, this will also occasion change at the other levels. What is of greatest interest here is organisational change in government structures.

Web Science for Social Network Analysis

After the rather unruly cultural panel, WebSci '09 has now moved on to the next keynote, by Noshir Contractor. His theme is the application of Web science to social networks, and he begins by noting some of the experimental mobile tools now available for social networking. The Web in general enables us to communicate and collaborate with any one at any time, but what is necessary are tools that enable us to identify who it is that we should be or want to be collaborating with. This is where social network analysis and Web science comes in.


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