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Internet Technologies

Situating Digital Methods

Our Digital Methods pre-conference workshop at AoIR 2016, combining presenters from the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam and the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology starts with a presentation by Richard Rogers on the recent history of digital methods. He points out the gradual transition from a conceptualisation of the Internet and the Web as cyberspace or as a virtual space to an understanding of the Web as inherently linked with the 'real' world: online rather than offline becomes the baseline, and there is an increasing sense of online groundedness.

Social Media and Their Consequences

The final speaker in this Social Media and Society session is William Housley, whose interest is in the role of social media as disruptive technologies: they affect how we organise ourselves in our social relations, and how these social relations are captured through big data on social media activities. This has a strong temporal dimension, recognising the dynamics of change over time.

Contradictions in U.K. and European eID Regulations

The next session at Web Science 2016 begins with Niko Tsakalakis, whose focus is on electronic identity. eIDs are a set of identifiers that set us apart from other people, and these can take a number of forms from software to hardware identifiers and biometric data. Such eIDs are now enshrined in a number of regulations at national levels, and also enable cross-border transactions across Europe.

Social Media from the Anthropologist's Perspective

The final day of Web Science 2016 starts with a keynote by Daniel Miller, who contributes an anthropologist's perspective to the conference. He notes that especially when it comes to the popular discussion of Web technologies such as social media, there are many spurious claims about how they change social interactions – and anthropologists are called upon to make sense of these claims. Anthropology, he notes, is in fact the study of people as social networks: we are all of us embedded in our social relations with others, and it is these relations that anthropology examines and analyses.

This enables a process of 'holistic contextualisation', which aims to examine comprehensively why people do what they do, online and offline. This studiously avoids any simplistic concentrations on online or offline activities, as people are almost always operating across both spaces. One core principle of this is the idea of 'polymedia', which builds on the fact that cost and access barriers to most media have decreased to the point that people no longer choose their media based on such factors, but instead on other – social and moral – considerations. (The moral judgment comes in as people assess others' uses of specific media: is it appropriate to break up a relationship via social media, for instance?)

Internet Technologies in Party Decision-Making Processes in Germany

The third speaker in this session at Web Science 2016 is Gefion Thuermer, whose interest is in decision-making processes within political parties. Such processes must be equal and inclusive, which may be a problem the more Internet-based communication tools play a role.

Modelling Web Advertising Clickthroughs

Next at Web Science 2016 is Sergej Sizov, who focusses on the economic value of Web advertising. This is surprisingly difficult to calculate, and Sergej begins with the hypothetical example of a small Web advertising campaign. We may make a range of assumptions about click-through and purchase rates, but variance matters: in a substantial number of cases, campaigns may generate no profit whatsoever.

Using VPNs to Access the Internet from China

The next AoIR 2015 session I'm in has only two papers, as one speaker has dropped out at the last minute; the first speaker therefore is Fan Mai, whose focus is on the use of Virtual Private Networks and anonymising proxy servers in China. Some such servers are used especially by expatriates living in China, trying to access western media sites that are otherwise blocked.

Defining Digital Humanities Scholarship

The next speaker at AoIR 2015 is Smiljana Antonijević, whose interest is in the emerging field of the digital humanities. How did this field come to be imagined? It's founding story is generally associated with the Jesuit priest Roberto Busa and his interest in using digital technologies for information management; this gradually developed into humanities computing or linguistic computing. The arrival of personal computing further broadened this, and the term digital humanities finally emerged in the mid-1990s.

Addressing Information Overload in Art

The next AoIR 2015 speaker is Stacey May Koosel, whose interest is in the temporalities of digital culture. She worked with articles to explore the concept of tl;dr (too long; didn't read) – in relation to our consciousness of time. Tl;dr is related to information overload, and emerged in 2003; it may point to decreasing attention spans, and show how we are overwhelmed by the information deluge we are now faced with. We negotiate it by employing pattern recognition.

Do Google Search Recommendations Influence the Public Debate?

The next session at AoIR 2015 is exploring timing issues, and the first paper by Sarah Muñoz-Bates is about the effects of Google on how people perceive topics. For example, what is the effect of seeing the term 'illegal' rather than 'undocumented' in relation to migrants? Does it cross the line and criminalise the person; is it racialised in a way that other terms are not?

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