[iDC] New Network Theory Post-Conference Thoughts

Burak Arikan arikan at media.mit.edu
Sat Jul 7 11:48:56 EDT 2007

Thank you for your post Lilly,

I think Terranova's point on social relations and linking being the  
currency and capital in a net economy is important to understand how  
values fluctuate in social web services. If something is currency, it  
means it is measurable. The social web services we use in the last  
five years measure both our direct social relations (plain social  
network services) and social relations through artifacts (e.g.,  
Flickr photos, Digg stories). Obviously our relationships are not  
only measured but also aggregated by these service providers. I think  
it is  important to make visible the connections between such  
aggregated data and the capital it generates.

I consciously use the word "artifacts" for Flickr photos or Digg  
stories because I think they are technological human-made digital  
objects. Again digitally measuring social relations around and  
through digital artifacts was not really possible with physical  

Among all the socially networked artifact types we have today, two of  
them are very interesting: the hyperlink and the profile.


I think of hyperlink as the smallest cultural unit of our networked  
life. Sometimes I send a few links to my friends as gift, sometimes I  
collect links for my research, sometimes I put it in every paragraph  
so that my blog post is more readable, sometimes links make my  
artwork. There is no link if someone doesn't link it.

A plain link's affordance is augmented when it is put in a social  
bookmarking service. For example, Del.icio.us aggregates the history  
of all the bookmarks, so we can see how many people saved a certain  
link, when, what tags they used. Delicious home page shows the top  
links sorted by their total posts. People show these count numbers in  
their blogs by putting Delicious badges to their blog posts. The  
number of people who saved a link becomes the measure, so the value  
of that link.


When we sign up with a social network, we first enter some personal  
information to our profile. Then we add some friends to our network,  
accept invitations, and so on. In other words, we construct our  
profile. We construct it not only with our personal information but  
also with the information generated by our relations with other  
people in the network.

Social networking service Facebook not only stores our profile  
properties (e.g., education, work, personal) but also aggregates all  
our profile activities (e.g., changed picture, added this person,  
joined that group) over time. Again, as the aggregated information is  
quantized (both by the system and by other people) it makes up our  
value in the Facebook environment. For example, the amount of our  
friends –clearly visible in Facebook's profile interface– is our most  
apparent "Facebook value".

- - -

By the way, do you know if there are any videos posted from the New  
Network Theory Conference?


On Jul 6, 2007, at 4:35 PM, lilly nguyen wrote:

> So Trebor asked me to put together a short overview of the New  
> Network Theory Conference that just took place in Amsterdam.  
> Overall, it was an incredibly stimulating experience with lots of  
> interesting ideas floated around and so this email will discuss  
> reoccuring themes that struck me.
> You can go to the liveblog for a more detailed overview of all the  
> panels: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/. Also you can see the  
> program here: http://www.networkcultures.org/networktheory/
> [Be warned: email is office friendly but rather long… ;)]
> First, there were some really interesting critiques of web 2.0 and  
> social software more broadly.
> There were overall skeptics of the promise of “openness” in open  
> source production, Warren Sack specifically mentioned his work  
> looking at the python development community and the hierarchal  
> structures involved, and wikipedia was also mentioned in the same  
> way. Several individuals questioned the novelty of notions of “user- 
> generated-content”, which I wholly agree with and would personally  
> argue for a reconceptualization of UGC as part of a longer  
> tradition of cultural evolution, engagement, and, creativity,  
> creation, and innovation. Additionally, the notion of UGC brings  
> about a new subjectivity of users as such, which I think is an  
> interesting idea that requires some more serious consideration. The  
> role of private business in this larger web 2.0 framework was  
> raised several times and Tiziana Terranova had some really  
> interesting points about the new forms of capital in an internet  
> economy. One of her main points was that we now see a shift where  
> social relations and linking are the currency and capital in a net  
> economy, where the capture of attention, memory, desires, and  
> beliefs becomes a fundamental part of forming networks. Over the  
> course of the conference, it became increasingly clear to me that  
> the role of business in structuring and shaping the internet and  
> represents a new economic logic that defines web 2.0, in spite of  
> the rhetoric that is put forth about it. User practices and  
> engagement may not be new, but the face there is now a business  
> incentive to facilitate and harness this that is, in fact, new.
> Metaphors of performance and performativity came up quite a bit  
> during the conference, however often in passing. Oftentimes, there  
> was a conflation of the two and people used these terms to describe  
> the things that people do in networks. However, it is important to  
> understand them as separate, where one represents (performance) and  
> the other articulates and enacts (performative). Given the mediated  
> dimensions of networks, btn people and digital artifacts, I think  
> there are some interesting questions of network engagement through  
> the prism of the performance-performative distinction. In this way,  
> network maps or online network don’t just represent our clusters of  
> relations but that they also enact, embody, and entail them as well.
> Related to this idea, is the critique that came up of how  
> oftentimes we also conflate the network as a diagram-representation  
> of social phenomena and social phenomena itself. This kind of  
> reflexive critique was part of a larger interest in the ways in  
> which we imagine and perceive networks and how this, in turn,  
> shapes how we engage in/with them.
> Additionally, there were a lot of concerns regarding surveillance  
> and we can clearly see how our perceptions of surveillance (from  
> government agencies, to google, to parents and kids on myspace)  
> might contour our understanding of network spaces and the types of  
> actions we may taken within them. Alan Liu very elegantly discussed  
> the dialectic between surveilling/authoritive policing versus  
> knowledge/creativity and asked “Where should authority be placed in  
> the data architecture of web 2.0?”
> An interesting set of questions that came up relate to notions of  
> time, memory, and history in networks. During one session (I forgot  
> who), someone asked if networks grow and evolve, do networks ever  
> finish? This continued in other panels with questions regarding  
> history: do networks, in fact, have a history or histories? Does  
> history exist in the nodes of networks or in the links of networks?  
> Wendy Chun briefly mentioned the idea of the enduring ephemeral in  
> networks and the role of memory in networks which she provocatively  
> described as repetition and regeneration of storage.
> Those were my key takeaways, definitely lots of fodder and I hope  
> that this helped to stimulate more questions and discussions. If  
> other conference attendees are on the list it'd be great to get  
> your insight and comments as well!
> -lilly
> Lilly Nguyen
> PhD Student, Dept. of Information Studies
> lillynguyen at ucla.edu
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