SSW2 Session 12: In the age of pervasive data recording and social media

Site and Subjective Writing (SSW2)



Exercise: Exercise: Excavating The Folder

Read out 2-3 examples at random.


danah boyd: Digital Ethnography

Danah Boyd has become known as a digital ethnography, for her research work that has focused on how young people use social media aspart of their everyday practices (boyd 2007b). In recent years, she has studied Twitter, blogging, social network sites (e.g. Friendster, MySpace, Facebook…), tagging, and other forms of social media.

Extract from 'Choose Your Own Ethnography: In Search of (Un)Mediated Life' (boyd 2007a):


For as far back as I can remember, I was intrigued by edges. It was always a love-hate relationship. A certain amount of healthy fear of heights kept me a safe distance from the most daunting cliffs, but I couldn't help but wonder what was on the other side of a given edge. As I began my career as a researcher, I couldn't help but chase after the carrots presented by the bleeding edges of technology.

Having grown up online and began my career as a computer scientist, I've always had a healthy skepticism of new technology and found joy in unpacking reality from hype. Nothing gives me more pleasure than understanding the differences between how a technology is conceptualized by its creators versus its users. I love weaving in and out and between circles of developers and users. But this position destroys the magic of supposed bleeding edge.

The blood of venture capitalists and the edge manifested as media hype are not nearly as delectable as I had originally imagined. Yet, realizing that the bleeding edge is nothing more than a Neal Stephenson-esque dream gave me the perspective I needed to really focus on people and their interactions using mediating technologies.

My predilection or shall we say my compulsion to shatter utopic mirrors has prompted and shaped many of my research projects. I've tried numerous methodologies to help make sense of the interplay of people and technology. I began by building psych experiments to understand depth perception prioritization in order to show that 3D immersive virtual reality systems have hormone-based biases.

I built interactive visualizations of social data to highlight how we all hold more data about each other than we realize. Lately, I've been obsessed with trying to make sense of how networked publics are incorporated into the lives of American teenagers. To get at this question, I embarked on a two year ethnographic study of how American youth are using social technologies as a part of their practices of everyday life. The easy way to say this is that I've been studying MySpace.


At its most surface level, ethnography is about writing culture. In practice, it's about diving into a particular culture and working to understand that culture on its own terms, interpreting signals to understand underlying signs. Traditionally, ethnography has concerned itself with cultures that are geographically framed or ethnically bounded.

From letters to the telephone to the Internet, geographies of social life are shifting because of mediating technologies. Increasingly, people live in a networked world where they communicate with people through mediating technologies, even when they share geographical proximity. This introduces questions about the boundaries of cultures. Geography is not the only meaningful delimiter or framer of culture, although it is not completely absent either. It just requires re-examination. Culture is still made up of people, artifacts, symbolism, etc. It's just that the underlying architecture that we've taken for granted has changed.

In trying to make sense of teen life, I wanted to understand how mediating technologies, and particularly networked publics that allow individuals to interact with friends and strangers through mediating technologies, shape the lives of teenagers. I wanted to know how teens experience and navigate the shifting architectural foundations introduced by mediating technologies - persistence, searchability, replicability, invisible audiences, scale of interactions, etc.

While I groan whenever the buzzword "digital native" is jockeyed about, I also know that there is salience to this term. It is not a term that demarcates a generation, but a state of experience. The term is referencing those who understand that the world is networked, that cultures exist beyond geographical coordinates, and that mediating technologies allow cultures to flourish in new ways.

Digital natives are not invested in "life on the screen" or "going virtual" but on using technology as an artifact that allows them to negotiate culture. In other words, a "digital native" understands that there is no such thing as "going online" but rather, what is important is the way in which people move between geographically-organized interactions and network-organized interactions. To them, it's all about the networks, even if those networks have coherent geographical boundaries.


Rather than fetishizing MySpace, I want to understand how youth are engaging with it, why, when, and to what ends. Yet, getting at this presents challenging research questions, questions that are at the root of all studies that take into consideration networked life.

- What does it mean to "go native" in a networked world?

- How can you follow interactions when they occur seamlessly between mediums?

- What is the role of observation when people exist by writing themselves into being?

- How do you conceptualize spatiality when statements like "I talked to him" are used to reference in-person conversations, phone conversations, semi-synchronous IM or SMS messages, and asynchronous email interactions?

- How do you build trust with informants when your presence is barely visible? And what does it mean to be a visible researcher?"

(boyd, 2007a)

Further reading:

danah boyd's blog: Zephoria


“We Are All Archaeologists Now”

Extract from Paterson (2011) 'Stratigraphical Recall: An auto-archaeology of artistic fieldwork”:

Engaging with emerging mobile technologies in 2003,

I imagined a 'stratigraphical narrative' (Paterson, 2002a) to be something which could be authored as one travels, explores and takes media documentations on the move, a trail that is something both flexible and dynamic for others to interpret.

Introducing a proto- mobile publishing platform I was involved in co-developing between 2003-2004, I wrote:

“The lived experience of a place, what you and others do in it, and how it is perceived, is dynamic and always changing over time. It is a spatio-temporal diary, unwritten but fluid in material.. Personal memory gathers, shifts and adapts according to activity, event and journey.. When a moment of the here and now is captured as image, sound [or video] with a mobile-media device, not only is it filtered by the subjectivity of the capturer, it is removed from the present” (Paterson 2003a)

The same year, during the Locative Media Workshop in Liepaja-Karosta, Latvia,

I created in collaboration with programmer Jo Walsh, a paper-based form that could be filled in, associating the act of media capture with other meta-data: spatio-temporal recording protocols while 'in the field'.

For example, objective location data from a GPS system or subjective data such as the self-assigned name of place, comments, media-type, and narrative sequence order (Paterson 2003b).


This 'locative packet', as further developed in object-orientated code-design (Walsh, 2004), was intended to be a 'container' or wrapper' context for media plus text 'removed' from the experienced moment, and placed in an data archive, to be recalled or re-/experienced at a later date.


Placed into an archival database of relational meta-data, the 'locative packets' are reflected upon and understood as 'stratigraphical events' in a larger narrative.

Each being a particular context, which has a (set) of location descriptions, both objective and subjective, time, date; as-well as 'content', including stories, references and media which complements it.

In 2004, Nokia Corporation launched Lifeblog 1.0 software, a cross-platform 'logging' service which integrated the media and SMS communications sent and received by one's mobile phone into a blog format, creating a personal timeline or “multimedia diary”.

Furthermore, the documentation and sharing of 'presence' meta-data was an important issue in locative and mobile media research at the time, especially what data might be considered useful where, and when (Raento et al., 2005), and how meaning might be inferred by this information (Raento et al., 2006).

Both these socio-technological developments were close in awareness, and ongoing in the background of my own activity, and had an influence in how I documented my own activity.

Infact, I disengaged from automated, mobile and pervasive recording processes.

Fieldwork practice and accumulations

My own field work practice

includes collaborations with others' activity and practice over a period of 7-12 years: a resume, containing periods of travel, fieldwork, projects, artist/research residencies, presentations, workshops, teaching, installations and other events.

I apply academic discipline [doctoral studies] in reflection, to create a plan of the events and experiences in my 'known world', in order to objectify a partial and subjective vision.

I describe my creative practice as a progression from community and participatory art projects, through a combination of actions and (re-)presentations, into something which is presented as 'artistic fieldwork'.

Wrapped up in this practice—this way of doing things—are

methods, tacit and explicit knowledge about doing art with people, aswell as an accumulation of experience and social context over time, the formation of temporary and consistent communities,
and also identities formed through them.

Artistic fieldwork as a concept may be introduced first by acknowledging inspiration from different meanings it has in inter-disciplinary social sciences.

As we have seen..

Fieldwork is a term used in these social sciences to describe the collection of raw data 'in situ'.

In other words, 'first-hand' recording and observing in the field, doing research, making work as a researcher, situated in a particular situation, place, community, environment.

Usually this data and experience is then processed, interpreted and re-presented, most often as textual accounts and reports (Van Maanen, 1988: 1-4).

However, I claim that artistic fieldwork acknowledges a further set of involvements: not only as an observer, but the socially-minded artistic fieldworker purposely intervenes and contributes to the context, initiating, supporting, engaging and closing interactions within community, social and public relations.

Furthermore, when creative practice, work, everyday life, habits, feelings, attitudes, believes, politics, friends, colleagues, collaborators are blurred as they often are in the artistic and activist scenes, it can be difficult sometimes to distinguish when one is 'in the field', when one is doing 'fieldwork'.

Due to the mixture of these aspects, in writing up, I can only partially represent or objectify events.

I can highlight, edit, select, order and accumulate fragments, and subjectively manufacture facts about my past.

I reflect that going on a travel (especially a funded one), making a certain project (especially one related in a particular place, site, community, theme), or working with a certain group of people (for example in a new collaboration) have often defined the start and end of the artistic fieldwork, and 'switched on' the fieldwork 'mindset'.

There are not always distinct borders, but fuzzy questions about what should be included, what is significant and what is not. Later in the process of making sense of the remaining materials I ask myself:

What is a significant event worth presenting or interpreting?

I have not maintained a regular fieldwork journal, or taken consistent note-taking during my projects.
I have been frequently or periodically recording.

With consumer-level digital recording devices, artistic fieldwork periods have been accompanied most often with digital photo documentations, although depending upon resources available, other recordings, such as digital audio or video are made during the period.

Gathered into selective sequence, these are most often employed afterwards in the showing and telling of experiences, processes, situations, and involvements.

Hence, I have written textual accounts from my audio-visual materials, after fieldwork.

Furthermore, for each event there are also—mostly electronically or digitally archived—correspondences and notes about ambitions and hopes, projections; notes about what to do, the time spent here, there, reflections, and plans to continue.

The process of initiating and undertaking these engagements has increasingly accumulated electronic folders full of communications with collaborators, institutions or host organisations both in advance, during and after the event.

All, if one wishes to look in the archive, include contextual data associated with these communications, including sender, receiver, date, time and often more, such as location-specific information.

As already noted, early work in 2003-2004 attempted to address the creative potentials of such documentations (with contextual meta-data associated in a database), as well as explore new platforms which could use such data systems to represent this content and context combined.

In the case of Mapmyths (aka Mapping and Sewing Together Mythologies) project illustrated in Table 1, the different types of 'media field-notes' (Paterson, 2004) that were created in the project; previous to, during, and following the recognised 'fieldwork' activities.


These media materials were documented with contextual representation in mind, and were published online to highlight these features:

First as segmented HTML webpages with image, video, and audio files and at least visual display of meta-tags; later within dynamic content management systems, such as a media-enhanced wiki, that allowed easy ways (at least easy in 2004) to share and adjust text and media content online.

However the emergent potential of the 'locative packet' within a dynamic associative database did not prove to be sustainable after 2005 for this author due to volunteer-based technical support, use of emergent software implementations which were not fully developed, and shifting aspirations.

Even if a server went down (as they did several times), the media field-notes, never-the-less, still gathered in personal and project folders, on laptops and hard-disks.

Contextual media and archaeology of everyday life

Contextual media, communications and survaillence/archival data-storage have become common-place in advanced networked societies such as Finland.

Pervasive documentation and archiving of everyday life, has blurred that which might be included as fieldwork, and has also extended that which might be reflected upon and analysed.

It is important, to tackle this data independent of the tools and devices which created it.

“If archaeologists work on what remains of the past”, to follow the words of Michael Shanks, in his 'Metamedia' archaeological manifesto, “We are all archaeologists now” (Shanks, 2008).


Data Sustainability Issues

Internet Archive

Way Back Machine
“Browse through over 150 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago.”

K-12 Web Archiving Program:

“If you were a K12 student which websites would you want to save for future generations? What would you want people to look at 50 or even 500 years from now?”


Google Data farms

“Estimates of the power required for over 450,000 servers range upwards of 20 megawatts, which cost on the order of US$2 million per month in electricity charges. The combined processing power of these servers might reach from 20 to 100 petaflops.

Upwards of 15,000 servers ranging from 533 MHz Intel Celeron to dual 1.4 GHz Intel Pentium III (as of 200). A 2005 estimate by Paul Strassmann has 200,000 servers, while unspecified sources claimed this number to be upwards of 450,000 in 2006.

One or more 80 GB hard disks per server (2003)
2–4 GB of memory per machine (2004)

The exact size and whereabouts of the data centers Google uses are unknown, and official figures remain intentionally vague. In a 2000 estimate, Google's server farm consisted of 6,000 processors, 12,000 common IDE disks (2 per machine, and one processor per machine), at four sites: two in Silicon Valley, California and one in Virginia”


“In February 2009, Stora Enso announced that they had sold the Summa paper mill in Hamina, Finland to Google for 40 million Euros.[18][19] Google plans to invest 200 million euros on the site to build a data center. For Google the reason to choose this location was the availability of renewable energy close by”


DataPortability Project

Vision: “Data portability enables a borderless experience, where people can move easily between network services, reusing data they provide while controlling their privacy and respecting the privacy of others.”

For the user:

With data portability, you can bring your identity, friends, conversations, files and histories with you, without having to manually add them to each new service. Each of the services you use can draw on this information relevant to the context. As your experiences accumulate and you add or change data, this information will update on other sites and services if you permit it, without having to revisit others to re-enter it.

For the Service Provider:

With cross-system data access, interoperability, and portability, people can bring their identities, friends, conversations, files, and histories with them to your service, cutting down on the need for form-filling which can drive people away. With minimal effort on the part of new customers, you can tailor services to suit them. When your customers browse networked services and accumulate experiences, this information can update on your service, if people permit it. Your relationship remains up-to-date and you can adapt your services in response, even when they don't visit. With mutual control and mutual benefit, your relationships remain relevant, encouraging continued usage.
Data portability is a new approach, where it is easier to use and deliver services. This frictionless movement through the network of services fosters stronger relationships between people and services providers and helps build a healthy networked ecosystem.”


WATCH [09.58]
The Social Network Privacy Mess: Why we need the Social Web

Data Silos – Difficult to join and connect.

“Your data in someone else's hands”


Open Graph Protocol (Facebook, 2010)

“The Open Graph protocol enables you to integrate your Web pages into the social graph. It is currently designed for Web pages representing profiles of real-world things — things like movies, sports teams, celebrities, and restaurants. Including Open Graph tags on your Web page, makes your page equivalent to a Facebook Page. This means when a user clicks a Like button on your page, a connection is made between your page and the user. Your page will appear in the "Likes and Interests" section of the user's profile, and you have the ability to publish updates to the user. Your page will show up in same places that Facebook pages show up around the site (e.g. search), and you can target ads to people who like your content. The structured data you provide via the Open Graph Protocol defines how your page will be represented on Facebook.”

Zuckerberg: “We Are Building A Web Where The Default Is Social”

Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information (April 2010)



Facebook Timeline

Dancy reporting on new features in Facebook Timeline around the time they were released:

“For many people, Facebook has become increasingly important and personal to their lives, and they should have the opportunity to make it their own. And ultimately it's a win for both the users and for Facebook (which isn't always the case), as I'm sure this will lead to people spending even more time on the site doing two things: 1) extremely painstaking curation of their own timeline and 2) spending even more time browsing others' timelines.

While I'm sure that privacy concerns will again be raised (it's good people care about their privacy), the new timeline doesn't make any more of your content available, it just makes it easier to access. To help with this, Facebook has surfaced a key feature that was buried in previous versions of the site: the ability to view your timeline as another user.”

(Dance, 2011)



Daytum was conceived by Ryan Case and Nicholas
Felton as an elegant and intuitive tool for
counting and communicating personal statistics.


Semantic Web

web 3.0

WATCH [14.25]


References shared in this session

Ball, James (2012). Me and my data: how much do the internet giants really know?., Sunday 22 April 2012 14.30 BST. URL: |

Barwick, L. (2006). Sustainable data from digital fieldwork: the state of the art (Sydney, 2006). In L. Barwick & N. Thieberger (Eds.), Sustainable data from digital fieldwork (pp. 1-5). Sydney: Sydney University Press.

boyd, danah (2007a). "Choose Your Own Ethnography: In Search of (Un)Mediated Life." Paper presented at 4S, Montreal, Canada, October 13.

boyd, danah. (2007b) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics
in Teenage Social Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. URL:

Dance , Gabriel (2011). Facebook timeline is a rare win for the social media giant and its users., Thursday 15 December 2011 18.08 GMT. URL:

Harrison, Rodney (2009). Excavating Second Life: Cyber-archaeologies, heritage and virtual communities. Journal of Material Culture, 14(1), pp. 75–106. URL:

Kien, Grand (2008). Technography = Technology + Ethnography: An Introduction. Qualitative Inquiry, Volume: 14, Issue: 7, SAGE Publications, Pages: 1101-1109.

Kien, Grant (2009). Global technography ethnography in the age of mobility. Peter Lang.

Paterson, A. G. (2003a), Aware Introduction, originally (now offline).
Collaboration with John Evans, Aki-Ville Pöykiö, Markus Ort, Helsinki, Finland.

Paterson, A. G. (2003b), Locative Packet Form, PDF document, available online (retrieved 23.4.2012), URL:

Paterson, A. G. (2004), 'Mapping Narratives and Fieldwork', In M. Tuters and R. Smite (eds.), Acoustic Space issue #5: Trans Cultural Mapping, Riga: RIXC Centre for New Media Culture. Available online. URL: (retrieved 20.1.2010).

Paterson, A. G. (2011), 'Stratigraphical Recall: An auto-archaeological interpretation of artistic fieldwork. In Lily Diaz (ed.), Special issue of Journal of Visual Arts Practices, Vol. 10 # 1, Intellect, 2011.

Raento M., Oulasvirta, A., Petit R., and Toivonen, R. (2005), 'ContextPhone: A Prototyping Platform for Context-Aware Mobile Applications', IEEE Pervasive Computing, Vol. 4, No. 2, April-June 2005, pp. 51-59, Los Alamitos CA: IEEE Computer Society Press.

Raento M., Evans, J., Hemment, D., and Humphries, T. (2006), 'Loca: Set To Discoverable' Project and practice-led research. Presented at ISEA2006 and ZeroOne Festival, August 7-13. San Jose, USA. URL: (retrieved 05.8.2010).

Shanks, M. (2008), Archaeological manifesto. Metamedia Lab Wiki web-platform. URL: (Retrieved 05.8.2010).

Van Mannen, J. (1988), Tales of the Field: On writing ethnography. Chicago: Chicago Press.

Walsh, J. (2004), Locative Media Metadata, HTML page, originally (now offline). Available online (retrieved 12.2009 and re-published), URL:

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