The Second Index. Search Engines, Personalization and Surveillance (Deep Search)


Google’s well-known mission is “to organize the world’s information”. It is, however, impossible to organize the world’s information without an operating model of the world. Melvil(le) Dewey (1851-1931), working at the height of Western colonial power, could simply take the Victorian world view as the basis for a universal classification system, which, for example, put all “religions other than Christianity” into a single category (no. 290). Such a biased classification scheme, for all its ongoing usefulness in libraries, cannot work in the irreducibly multi-cultural world of global communication. In fact, no uniform classification scheme can work, given the impossibility of agreeing on a single cultural framework through which to define the categories.2 This, in addition to the scaling issues, is the reason why internet directories, as pioneered by Yahoo! and the Open Directory Project (demoz)3, broke down after a short-lived period of success.

Search engines side-step this problem by flexibly reorganizing the index in relation to each query and using the self-referential method of link analysis to construct the ranking of the query list (see Katja Mayer in this volume). This ranking is said to be objective, reflecting the actual topology of the network that emerges unplanned through collective action. Knowing this topology, search engines favor link-rich nodes over link-poor outliers. This objectivity is one of the core elements of search engines, since it both scales well and increases the users’ trust in the system.

Deep Search: Introduction


It’s hard to avoid search engines these days. They have established themselves as essential tools for navigating the dynamic, expanding informational landscape that is the Internet. The Internet’s distributed structure doesn’t allow for any centralized index or catalog; consequently, search engines fulfill a central task of making digital information accessible and thus usable. It’s hard to imagine our lives without their ever-expanding digital dimension; and so it’s increasingly hard to imagine life without search engines. This book looks at the long history of the struggle to impose order on the always-fragile information universe, addresses key social and political issues raised by today’s search engines, and envisions approaches that would break with the current paradigms they impose.

Nachahmung, Transformation und Autorfunktion

Dieser Text ist publiziert in: Kroeger, Odin, Günther Friesinger, Paul Lohberger, Eberhard Ortland und Thomas Ballhausen, Hg. Geistiges Eigentum und Originalität: Zur Politik der Wissens- und Kulturproduktion. Wien: Turia + Kant, 2011, s. 19-32.

Abstract: Employing concepts developed by Gabriel Tarde and Bruno Latour, this article investigates at how a new function of the author is being defined in digital media. What is found to emerge is a practical alternative to the dichotomy between notions of possessive individualism (underlying copyright law) and simplified notions of the death of the author. Here, authorship functions less as a means to establish rigid ownership and control, but serves more as a dynamic system of accountability and reputation building capable of structuring open, collaborative processes.


Vor nunmehr 40 Jahren verkündete Roland Barthes den „Tod des Autors“ (vgl. Barthes, 1969/2000). Was zu diesem Zeitpunkt eine notwendige Abkehr einer durch den Anglo-Amerikanischen „new criticism“ bereits überholten aber in Frankreich immer noch bestimmenden Form der Autor-zentrierten Literaturkritik war, ist bald zu einem Cliché und damit zu einer Sackgasse verkommen. Vor die Wahl gestellt zwischen einer konventionellen Ausprägung der Autorschaft – Cartesianisches Ego übersetzt in bürgerliche Subjektivität untermauert durch das Urheberrecht – und einer diffundierten Autorschaft – aufgegangen im „Murmeln des Diskurses“ wie es Michel Foucault ausdrückte (vgl. 1972/1991) – erfreute sich die erstere in der Praxis einer hartnäckigen Beliebtheit. Dazu trugen auch die Kulturindustrie und der Kunstmarkt bei, deren ideologischen Kern eine übersteigerte Autorschaft ausmacht, die sie aus nachvollziehbarem Eigeninteresse bis heute mit großem Nachdruck propagieren. Die theoretische Dekonstruktion hingegen ging zum einem kaum über die Feststellung der Dezentrierung, Verteilung oder Zerstreuung der Autorschaft hinaus. Zum anderen wurde Praxis des kulturellen Schaffen, die Werke und damit Autoren hervorbringt, lange Zeit nur an den Rändern verändert. Collage, Assemblage und Appropriation als künstlerische Methoden wurden jeweils schnell assimiliert. Explizit anti-autorielle Praktiken blieben politisch und kulturell marginal (vgl. Cramer, 2008), und oftmals verhaftet im widersprüchlichen romantischen Gedanken, wonach das Zurücktreten des Schöpfers zur Steigerung der Erhabenheit des Werkes (und damit, indirekt aber umso wirksamer, des symbolischen Kapitals des Autors) führe.

Neun Thesen zur Remix-Kultur

Heute ist mein umfangreiches Essay zur Remix-Kultur bei online gegangen. Es berührt viele Themen, die auch die Digitale Allmend behandelt.

Der Remix ist die kulturelle Form der Netzwerkgesellschaft. Felix Stalder beleuchtet in neun Thesen medienhistorische, technologische, politische, rechtliche, kulturtheorische, soziale und ökonomische Dynamiken, die den Aufstieg und die aktuelle Entwicklung des Remix prägen. In den Konflikten, die damit verbunden sind, spiegelt sich die Tiefe des aktuellen gesellschaftlichen Wandels.

Ganzes Essay als PDF (600 kb)

Update (Nov. 2009): Here is a pretty extensive summary of the paper in english.

Clay Shirky responds to my review

A few weeks ago, I published a review of Clay Shirky's new book "Here comes Everybody" on Metamute.

In the mean time, Simon Collister was able to ask Shirky about my review, where I criticized him for talking only about non-controversial issues and omitting major questions such as copyright and business models / profiling / privacy.

In his response, Shirky focused only on the question of copyright, claiming, strangely, that while he had written a lot about in the past it is was not a real issue in the big picture. Here is what he had to say:

local copy (12MB)

Analysis Without Analysis (Clay Shirky Review)

Here is my review of Clay Shirky's new book, which was originally published on the great metamute site.

Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody is reputed to be the best book ever written on Web 2.0. By why the strange silence on questions of copyright, privacy and ownership? Felix Stalder delves beneath the slick prose and upbeat message.

Bourgeois anarchism and authoritarian democracies (First Monday, 07.2008)

First Monday published my paper in its current edition. Below is the abstract, the full text is here

Digital communication is profoundly affecting the constitution of (civil) society by drastically lowering the costs to speak across time and space with individuals and groups of any size, and by producing abundant records of all activities conducted through these media. This is accelerating two contradictory trends. On the one hand, a new breed of social organizations based on principles of weak cooperation and peer production is sharply expanding the scope of what can be achieved by civil society. These are voluntary organizations, with flat hierarchies and trust-based principles. They are focused on producing commons-based resources rather than individual property. In general, they are transformative, not revolutionary, in character. This phenomenon is termed "bourgeois anarchism." On the other hand, the liberal state - in a crisis of legitimacy and under pressure from such new organizations, both peaceful (civil society) and violent (terrorism) - is reorganizing itself around an increasingly authoritarian core, expanding surveillance into the capillary system of society, overriding civil liberties and reducing democratic oversight in exchange for the promise of security. This phenomenon is termed "authoritarian democracy."


This article was first published in Italian, in the journal Millepiani. An earlier version was delivered as a talk (view stream presentation at Ars Electronica, 2007, and published in their catalogue under the title "Our new public life".

30 Years of Tactical Media (book chapter)

30 Years of Tactical Media
Felix Stalder

Tactical media as a practice has a long history and, it seems save to predict, an even longer future. Yet its existence as a distinct concept around which something of a social movement, or more precisely, a self-aware network of people and projects would coalesce has been relatively short lived, largely confined to the internet's first decade as a mass medium (1995-2005). During that time Geert Lovink and David Garcia, two Dutch media activists/theorists at the heart of this network, defined Tactical Media, as

what happens when the cheap 'do it yourself' media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture. Tactical media do not just report events, as they are never impartial they always participate and it is this that more than anything separates them from mainstream media.2

Like so many other things that are now common in our informational lives, the roots of tactical media lie in the cultural innovations of radical social movements that sprang up in the late 1960s. Not only did they begin to exploit technological changes enabling to self-produce media but they created entirely new ideas of what the media could be: not just conduits for more or less sophisticated state propaganda (as in Althusser's famous analysis of the “ideological state apparatuses”3) or as a source of “objective” information provided by a professional (enlightened) elite. Rather, they reconceptualized the media as means of subjective expression, by people and for people who are not represented by the mainstream.

Torrents of Desire and the Shape of the Information Landscape (book chapter)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.

We are in the midst an uneven shift from an information environment characterized by scarcity of cultural goods to one characterized by their abundance. Until very recently, even privileged people had access to a relatively limited number of news sources, books, audio recordings, films and other forms of informational goods. This was partly due to the fact that the means of mass communication were expensive, cumbersome and thus relatively centralized. In this configuration, most people were relegated to the role of consumers, or, if they lacked purchasing power, not even that. This is changing. The Internet is giving ever greater numbers of people access to efficient means of mass communication and p2p protocols such as Bittorrent are making the distribution of material highly efficient. For some reason to be further examined, more and more material is becoming freely available within this new information environment. As an effect, the current structure of the culture industries, in Adorno's sense, is being undermined, and with it, deeply-entrenched notions of intellectual property. This is happening despite well-orchestrated campaigns by major industries to prevent this shift. The campaigns include measures raging from the seemingly endless expansion of intellectual property regulations across the globe, to new technologies aimed at maintaining informational scarcity (digital rights management (DRM) systems), to mass persecution of average citizens who engage in standard practices on p2p networks.

On the Differences between Open Source and Open Culture (book chapter)

How would culture be created if artists were not locked into romantic notions of individual authorship and the associated drive to control the results of their labour was not enforced through ever expanding copyrights? What if cultural production was organized via principles of free access, collaborative creation and open adaptability of works? As such, the practices of a collective and transformative culture are not entirely new. They were characteristic for (oral) folk cultures prior to their transformation into mass culture by the respective industries during the twentieth century, and as counter-currents – the numerous avant-garde movements (dada, situationism, mail art, neoism, plagiarism, plunderphonics, etc.) which re-invented, radicalized and technologically up-graded various aspects of those. Yet, over the last decade, these issues – of open and collaborative practices – have taken on an entirely new sense of urgency. Generally, the ease with which digital information can be globally distributed and manipulated by a very large number of people makes free distribution and free adaptation technically possible and a matter of everyday practice. Everyone with a computer already uses, in one way or the other, the copy & paste function built into all editors. This is what computers are about: copying, manipulating and storing information. With access to the internet, people are able to sample a wide range of sources and make their own works available to potentially large audiences.

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