Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Assistant Professor
University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies

Media in Transition 6: Storage &    

Leech and Fill!

Explicit and implicit user participation in online data collections.

The dream of a large library in the sky accessible for everyone has been a key motif in developing computer networks and hypertext systems. With the advent of the internet and the many possibilities P2P systems, oneclick hosting services, and easy to use web platforms for storing and sharing, data archiving appears as a common user practice. These technologies do not only challenge our traditional understanding of the archive, they also stimulate a significant media practice of collecting and sharing data. What traditionally was perceived as an archive, namely a local storage of artifacts determined by a filing system, an input control, and policies for maintenance and access, is challenged by the new technologies. Now user participation has become a crucial aspect in creating data collections, filing, maintaining, and processing information. While traditional archives were maintained by professionals and were subject to regulations stating what is worth preserving and in which categories it should be filed, floating archives are more like a dumping space for all kinds of files. Beyond the established channels of archiving and maintaining cultural heritage a dynamic sphere of user generated data collections provides access to the most diverse topics and items, ranging from public domain books to the latest Hollywood movie. However, the media practice of archiving, storing and organizing data online appears as intrinsically hybrid interaction of users and information management systems. Especially commercial applications labelled as Web 2.0 platforms demonstrate that providing infrastructures facilitating transmission, storage, and sharing attract large user numbers that simultaneously will efficiently improve information retrieval through user-generated data.

This paper addresses the media practices of storing data online and points out the hybrid quality of socio-technical ecosystems. It shows how the design of P2P systems created collaborative networks without the need of social interaction, and how commercial services as Rapidshare and Megaupload employ the practice of sharing files by implementing it into their business models and user interfaces. User activities are recognizable as explicit and implicit participation. The massive interactions of users transmitting files, creating meta-information for indexing and information management, as well referring to online stored files, constitute socio-technical ecosystems which reveal an emerging complexity. Massive user interactions and algorithmic information management constitute a hybrid formation that is employed in many web platforms for user generated content. Below the level of communities and team work, software design enables collaboration and interaction without the need of social bonding. Perpetual transmitting of files and automatized user activities affect social aspects of participatory culture. Consequently this paper revisits the practices of file sharing and social interactions. It shows how decreasing direct social interaction can increase the transmission of data. However, it also shows how collective efforts on weblogs and message boards constitute the accumulative creation of indexes and commentary for stored files.

Date March 2009 Category News

Forthcoming MIT6 conference focuses on structural changes in media practices related to storage and transmission. Referring to Harold Innis' notion of time-based media such as stone or clay, and space-based media such as paper, the conference revolves around the current transformations in archiving, communication, and social organization. My contribution will analyze explicit and implicit participation in online data collections and discuss the implementation of media practices into new business models.

MIedia In Transition 6: Stone and papyrus, storage and transmission
April 24-26, MIT, Boston

2000 - 2019 Mirko Tobias Schäfer

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