felix's blog

Platform Politics Conference

Here's the abstract of my planned contribution to Platform Politics: A Multidisciplinary Conference, - Cambridge 12-13 May 2011.

The Pirate Bay and WikiLeaks. Platforms for radical politics of access

The two defining stories of radical media activism over the last few years have been The Pirate Bay (launched in late 2003) and WikiLeaks (launched in late 2006). The former's aim has been to highlight in the most drastic fashion the inadequacy of the current copyright regime. In order to do so, it established an alternative distribution platform based on free access to media products. WikiLeaks was founded to make possible access to insider information by encouraging whistle-blowers around the world to bring their material to the public, protected via WikiLeaks. Beyond protecting whistle-blowers, WikiLeaks aim has been to transform journalism by forcing it to publish – as much as possible – its sources so that the public can check the veracity of the claims. Its founder, Julian Assange, called this “scientific journalism”.

In my contribution to the conference, I propose look at the politics of these platforms in three ways. First, by analyzing how it has been articulated by the activists themselves. They are distinct from most previous media activists, in so far as they are not directly connected to traditional social movements and their political agendas, but are rooted in the hacker culture and its specific political culture, centering around access to (public) information, transparency of institutions and individual empowerment.

Second, I will look at the politics of the infrastructures. Each was built using open source software that has been adapted with very considerable technical skill. Each has been run by a very small number of people, using very little money (in comparison to what they achieved).

Some Reviews of our "Personal Web searching" paper

There has been a number of reviews of our paper "Personal Web searching in the age of semantic capitalism."

  • The first was a very thorough summary in Search Engine Land (14.02).
  • Ethan Zuckerman published an interesting, though weirdly titled -- " In Soviet Russia, Google researches you" -- review (24.03) in which he pointed out that
    personalization is disturbing to the extent to which it separates us from the real, true, stable search results, the ur-results Google is withholding from us in the hopes of selling us ads for effectively… but even more disturbing is the idea that there’s no solid ground, no single set of best results Google could deliver, even if it wanted to.

  • Zuckermann's review was picked up and slightly mangled by the German newspaper "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" (28.03).
  • Martin Feuz and I wrote a short summary of the paper for the Swiss newspaper NZZ (07.04).
  • MIT Technology Review (11.04) published a piece called "How Useful Is Personalized Search?" focusing on our finding that the there is lots of quantitative change in personalization, but rather limited qualitative. (Also available in German.)

Leaks, Remixes und die Unordnung der Diskurse

In: Springerin, Heft 2/11

Die beiden radikalsten Medienprojekte der letzten 10 Jahre, The Pirate Bay (TPB) und WikiLeaks, haben in kürzester Zeit haben sie entscheiden dazu beigetragen, bestehende „Kontrollprinzipien“ diskursiver Ordnungen ausser Kraft zusetzen. In der Folge entsteht der Raum für neue diskursive Formationen, deren Konturen erst unscharf zu erahnen sind.

TPB, 2003 ins Leben gerufen, trug wesentlich dazu bei, file-sharing zu einem Massenphänomen zu machen. Zwar nach wie vor der wichtigste BitTorrent Tracker (mit momentan über 27 Millionen aktiven NutzerInnen), aber es gibt unzählige anderer, geschlossener und offener Tracker, so dass file-sharing nicht mehr vom Schicksal dieses einen Projekts abhängt. Mehrere Wellen der Strafverfolgung, sowohl gegen Tracker als auch gegen individuelle Nutzerinnen, konnten weder die Infrastruktur noch die Popularität von file-sharing in relevanter Weise schwächen. WikiLeaks, das Ende 2006 an die Öffentlichkeit getreten war, etablierte ein neues Modell wie Insider grosse Datensätze – wie sie in allen Organisationen vorhanden sind – anonym an die Öffentlichkeit bringen können, um verborgene Missstände aufzuzeigen. Egal wie es mit WikiLeaks als spezifische Organisation weitergeht, es zeichnet sich jetzt schon ab, dass das Prinzip der Leaks ganzer Datenbanken weiter gehen wird. WikiLeaks selbst ist nach wie vor hoch aktiv und bereits positionieren sich selbsternannte Nachfolger.

In Soviet Russia, Google Researches You!

Ethan Zuckerman published a very interesting review of our paper Personal Web searching in the age of semantic capitalism: Diagnosing the mechanisms of personalization" which we recently published in First Monday. He makes a very problematic point much clearer that we have: the constantly shifting nature of the "object" (that is, the Google search algorithm) in relation to being researched. He speculates how it might be continuously adapting itself in order to optimize our behavior. Here's how he puts it:

I was struck by the apparent discontinuities in how often personalized search results appeared for the three different profiles. In one training session, there’s a sharp spike in personalization between sessions, a test of results where personalization appears three times as often as in other sessions. In another, there are two, smaller spikes, and in the third, a three-session long spike. With no easy way to explain what’s causing these spikes, it’s possible to speculate that Google’s algorithms for personalization are not just opaque and complex, but adaptive and changing. While the authors are experimenting with Google, it’s reasonable to assume that Google is experimenting with them, changing levels of personalization to see whether Google is able to achieve its desired result: clicks on ads.

[...]

currently operating leaking platforms

Not all of them are actually fully operating, some are still in planning stages, and tunileaks and frenchleaks are, strictly speaking, not a leaking platforms but republish selected US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks. We can see a great deal of innovation in this space, addressing some of the most problematic architectural flaws of WikiLeaks, mainly the high degree of centralization and the lack of transparency that goes with it. Now that the efficacy of the basic principle has been established beyond doubt, the next phase is about fine-tuning the systems. If that can be done inside WikiLeaks, ot or if the next phase will be achieved by any of the alternative platforms remains to be seen, but it seems likely that one way or the other, it will be achieved.

Free Culture Forum Declaration

sustainable creativity

The Free Culture Forum has launched its declaration on "Sustainable Models for Creativity in the Digital Age". After last year's "Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge", the declaration is an important next step in the self-definition of the free culture movement. It moves beyond licensing issues, focusing instead on long-term sustainability, which needs to combine income streams for professional producers with the right to access and re-use material for the general public. I think this is crucial, but admit to being somewhat biased, since I played a part in drafting these documents. See for yourself.

We can no longer put off re-thinking the economic structures that have been producing, financing and funding culture up until now. Many of the old models have become anachronistic and detrimental to civil society. The aim of this document is to promote innovative strategies to defend and extend the sphere in which human creativity and knowledge can prosper freely and sustainably.

This document is addressed to policy reformers, citizens and free/libre culture activists to provide them practical tools to actively operate this change.

Autonomía y control en la era de la post-privacidad

Una forma de definir la modernidad occidental, el periodo que estamos justo dejando, es por su particular estructura de control y autonomía. Ésta emergió como resultado de dos desarrollos históricos –uno que llevó a que burocracias grandes y jerarquizadas se establecieran como forma dominante de organización, otro que llevó a que el ciudadano (burgués, masculino) se convirtiera en el principal sujeto político. La privacidad jugó un papel clave en el mantenimiento del equilibrio entre ambos. Hoy en día, este acuerdo se está diluyendo. En el proceso, la privacidad pierde (algo de) sus funciones sociales. La post-privacidad, entonces, apunta a la transformación de cómo la gente crea su autonomía y de cómo el control impregna sus vidas.

This is the Spanish translation, by Christel Penella de Silva, of "Autonomy and Control in the Era of Post-Privacy". Read the whole translation at Christel's blog tintank.es.

Warum WikiLeaks noch lange interessant sein wird

Ein Kommentar im Falter, Wien (08/2011).

Die Berichterstattung zu WikiLeaks folgt einem bekannten Muster massenmedialer Aufmerksamkeit. Erst ist alles wunderbar und heldenhaft, dann plötzlich skandalös und irgendwie nervig, um schliesslich als eh-nichts-neues wieder ad acta gelegt zu werden. Auch wenn es scheint, dass wir bereits in der dritten Phase angekommen sind, wäre es falsch, jetzt einfach zur Tagesordnung zurück zu kehren.

Personal Web searching in the age of semantic capitalism: Diagnosing the mechanisms of personalisation

I'm very happy, our new paper on the personalization of search results is out now. To our knowledge, it's the first to do empirical research in a systematic way on how personalized results actually differ from non-personalized results and interpret the results within a critical framework.

First Monday > Volume 16, Number 2 - 7 February 2011
Personal Web searching in the age of semantic capitalism: Diagnosing the mechanisms of personalisation.
Martin Feuz, Matthew Fuller, Felix Stalder

Abstract

TV Diskussion zu Wikileaks und Leaks im allgemeinen

servus_tv

Thema: Top Secret a.D. - Wie gefährlich ist die Wahrheit? Eine Diskussionsrunde zu Wikileaks und den Rolle staatlicher Geheimnisse in der Demokratie, Sendung vom 20.01.2011 | Dauer 90 Minuten. Die Sendung ist in der Mediathek als Stream abrufbar.