Rear Left


Posted in DigiCult, The Society for the Appreciation of Audio-Visual Culture by rearleft on December 27, 2011


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Social Galaxies

Posted in DigiCult, Dog Food, Gaming the System by rearleft on September 10, 2010

A recent study from The Nielsen Company shows that US internet users are spending a greater proportion of their time online using social networking sites, in online games, and watching videos. Concurrent with this increase, a significant decrease has been seen in the proportion of time users are spending on email, instant messaging services, and “portals”, walled gardens often maintained by service providers (eg Yahoo, MSN). For the first time, US internet users are spending more time overall playing video games than they are using email.

2009 - 2010 Change (%) in Time Spent on Top 10 Internet Sectors. Source: The Nielsen Company

To complicate questions around how users spend their time online, the function of online social networks and gamespaces has begun crossing over into the traditional territory of other categories of internet use as measured by Nielsen’s NetView studies. For example, instant messaging, email-like messaging, and accessing news and weather updates are activities that are increasingly taking place in social networking sites (as studied by Naomi Baron in Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World, 2008).

Furthermore, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) increasingly exhibit characteristics of social networks, with the added complication that the personas that inhabit these spaces often straddle the identities of their “in-game” avatar and their IRL (In Real Life) or “meatspace” personage. A recent article by Kjartan Emilsson, Managing Director of CCP Asia, a game developer, highlights the interrelationship between the social networks that appear in gamespaces, the information architecture that underlies the game, and the physical computer networks on which they run. Emilsson’s description of these layers of networks (social, informational, and machinic) that make up the world of EVE Online, a MMORPG with 340,000 user accounts, centers around the benefits of employing a “single-shard database architecture” (ie everyone and everything in one big database) versus a “sharded architecture” (several seemingly continuous, but actually separate gamespaces). Emilsson argues that in spite of the significant technical difficulties posed by having such massive numbers of players coexisting in a single-shard architecture, the emergent social aspects of the game facilitated by maintaining a continuous gamespace create a richer game environment and by the very complexity of the system they create, encourage innovation by the game’s designers.

image source:

Although highly technical in its exposition, this article can be understood in conjunction with the work of theorists like Manuel Castells, Sherry Turkle, and Howard Rheingold when they discuss concepts of individual and community identities on the internet. Writing in the mid 1990s in reference to MUDs, the primitive predecessors of MMORPGs, Turkle notes “We come to see ourselves differently as we catch sight of our images in the mirror of the machine” (in Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet, 1995, p9). Technical choices made in structuring of networks that underlie the social spaces of MMORPGs play a significant role in setting the discursive frame for the construction of social identities in these worlds that exist both within and parallel to materiality.

If internet usage continues its drift away from modes like email and portals and towards social spaces such as social networking sites and massively multiplayer online games, how will the social practices of communication and identification online change? What will this mean for the technical infrastructure of the networks that support them?

A Wicked Web We Weave

Posted in DigiCult, Dog Food by rearleft on August 30, 2010

creative commons attribution: dullhunk. source:

In the discourse around the development of network technologies there seems to be a constant barrage of “next big things”. Tired of all this talk of Web 2.0? Well Web 3.0 is on its way! Do I hear 4.0? 5.0? Sold!

It can be difficult to pull meaning from the seemingly endless stream of terms and concepts presenting the possibility of technological breakthroughs that will radically reframe our use and understanding of networked information and communication technologies. One such idea that is often discussed as the NEXT BIG THING is the Semantic Web. In my initial understanding of the term I had taken it to be an abstract conception of internet based technologies and practices that would be somehow more embedded in the material world and would provide for a greater degree of data integration and interchange than is currently the case. As a result of participating in discussions at THATCamp, and event held at the University of Canberra this past weekend, I now have a much more concrete idea of the contours of what is meant by The Semantic Web, and some key reservations about the possibilities for it to truly represent a new ICT paradigm.

THATCamp (THAT=The Humanities And Technology) Canberra was the latest of a series of events around the world in which archivists, academics, technologists, and others with a connection to the use of technologies in the humanities, come together to discuss and work through emerging ideas in a spirit of collegiality and mutual support. By far the most intellectually challenging session I attended was a discussion on the development of semantic web tools and practices in Australian cultural, academic, and governmental institutions.

What I took away from the discussion was a sense that some incredibly intelligent people are working on a number of fronts to take the way in which data on the web is presented and accessed to a new level of utility by developing protocols around the encoding of information on the world wide web. In short facilitating the ability for humans and machines to pull meaning (ie semantics) from the massive volumes of data online. Essential to this project are technologies and protocols that facilitate the interchange of machine-readable information classification systems, forms of metadata that enrich data by describing it in an agreed upon schema. For example, the Resource Description Framework (RDF) is a framework built around a structure of linguistic triples, that is, a coded set of values around any statement to correspond to a subject-predicate-object. For example, the statement “Dan is wearing shoes” could be represented in RDF through the triplet Dan (subject) – is wearing (predicate) – shoes (object). By making these values present at the level of markup language (such as XML) in a webpage, this level of richness in the data would become made machine-readable, thereby supporting a more efficient process of interchange, and by extension, knowledge production.

In listening to the archivists and academics from some of this country’s core cultural institutions (eg the National Archives, the State Libraries, major museums, galleries, and universities), I was struck that the biggest hurdle that this project faces is not in the development of technologies, practices, and standards that would ensure the interchange of such data, although that in itself is a mind-boggling task, but in the development of shared or overlapping ontologies, that is, schema for the classification of EVERYTHING.

Given cultural and linguistic specificity and difference in meanings, how can can machine readable interchange be facilitated? Who will have the authority to develop ontological schema? What happens to those aspects of meaning that are not readily machine readable in relation to those that are readily interchanged?

This is difficult technical and philosophical ground to say the least, and working through the possibilities and pitfalls of the next stages of the development of humanity’s relationship to ICT will require long and broad collaborations. My description above is a gross simplification of the structure and functioning of the Semantic Web and is not intended to encompass its entire scope, rather to serve as an introduction from the perspective of someone who is themselves grappling with the importance of bridging the worlds of the informational-technological and the philosophical-political.

A few resources to begin engaging with the Semantic Web:

Lewis, J., Semantic Building: Starting a Revolution – Blog – Semantic Focus – The Semantic Web, Semantic Web technology and computational semantics. Available at: [Accessed September 1, 2010].

Tim Berners-Lee on the next Web | Video on Available at: [Accessed September 1, 2010].

A resource that is much more advanced, but recent:

Aroyo, L., 2009. The Semantic Web: Research and Applications 6th European Semantic Web Conference, ESWC 2009 Heraklion, Crete, Greece, May 31́¿¿ June 4, 2009 Proceedings, New York: Springer.

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