Category Archives: sociology

Entropy as a Resource for Double Contingency

My commentary on Manfred Füllsack’s excellent article “The Circular Conditions of Second-order Science Sporadically Illustrated with Agent-based Experiments at the Roots of Observation” was published today in Constructivist Foundations’ special issue on Second Order Science. It is the journal’s tenth volume already, which is a great achievement. The commentary argues that the rise in entropy the article is postulating for systems of second-order observation is actually good for something, in that it adds to possible courses of action for participants in these systems, which equals to directly feeding into situations of double contingency. In short, more entropy means more possibilities to act (more degrees of freedom) for all participants in communication, thus ensuring that double contingency is maintained and communication is kept alive.
Full text (Pdf)

ESA-Arts Paper: Jamming with Machines

The European Research Network Sociology of the Arts held its 8th midterm conference at Cluj / Romania from September 4-6, 2014. I had the honor to present a paper on the current state and the outlook of research conducted within the GiantSteps research project, focusing on prospects and problems of so-called “musical expert agents” in creative processes. The paper discusses a situation where the availability of large amounts of data on artistic work facilitates new approaches in composition and sound creation. What are the expectations towards these new possibilities? Are artists looking forward to algorithmic “agents”, or will they disable them immediately?
Full paper
ESA-Arts 2014 Conference Website
GiantSteps Project

Facebook Comments and The One Identity

The implementation of Facebook comments has been described by many media outlets as another attempt by the “social network” empire to extend its tentacles into other areas of the web. The feature basically allows visitors to a website to leave a comment on that website with their Facebook identity. The upside of this feature is, once again, added conenience. With Facebook comments on an external website, there is no need to sign up for the commenting system any more, to register one’s email (and confirm it), remember yet another password, and wait for an email confirmation before even being able to post the first comment. For the administrators of the external website, the added convenience is even more significant: As some of the first implementations have shown, Facebook comments practically eliminate spamming and trolling in comments. Every comment entered via this system is linked to the Facebook identity of the commenter, which also means that, at least in the default settings, all of their Facebook friends will see it immediately (or the next time they log on to Facebook, whichever comes first). Commenting and the rest of the commenter’s social activity on Facebook become inseparable.

Now, as desirable as social control for spammers and trolls may be (assuming they have any Facebook friends at all), the repercussions for the average Facebook users are grave. If they have to rely on Facebook comments to voice their opinion on, say, a political article, there’s no way to keep this opinion separated from individual or all of their Facebook friends. Gone are the days when you could simply enjoy meeting a relative for a holiday dinner; now you’ll be aggravated because you had to read their notorious ultra-conservative political statements all year. The One Identity scheme this propagates is a significant departure from the concept of identity as we know it: Typically, the only place where you had to fully integrate all the aspects of your identity was in your own consciousness. Even there, you could try to deceive yourself about things you didn’t like. Facebook now tries to make this impossible. If followed through with all consequences, every aspect of an identity would be kept in one place, visible to all, and searchable by all, indefinitely. The only other option: muteness.

TechCrunch Self-Observation: Troll Hunting
Engadget Editorial: The Single Identity

Dynamics of “Vivisystems”

Although Kevin Kelly’s famous book “Out of Control” was published back in 1994, it still holds plenty of topics that are worth to be brought to the table in all different kinds of discourses on systems. In addition, it provides a broad spectrum of ideas for computer models of complex systems. The author has kindly made the full book available for free on his website.
Book page

Strangely enough, although the author describes the benefits of biological and technological coevolution, he then ventures to favor technological taking over biological evolution by means of genetic and bioengineering. This is where I’d disagree, as it seems illogical, especially in the context of the book itself, to deliberately give up biological assets such as proven sustainability in conjunction with emergence, and fallback mechanisms that can help minimize risk for all parties involved.

HyperKult 19: Mobiles – You Are Now Here

Already in it’s 19th incarnation, the annual HyperKult workshop & conference takes a fresh look at the topic of location-based applications for mobile devices. While this issue has been drifting around social sciences conferences for years, we are just now seeing widespread adoption of such applications and services, which should allow us to change the mode of discussion from utopia to concrete social practice.

As always, video streams of the full presentations will be available both live and in the archive.
Conference Website (in German)

Distant Shore – The Anti-Facebook

Video courtesy The Blimp Pilots

With the arrival of distant shore for the iPhone, there’s finally a distinct alternative to the Facebook style of this secong-gen web of our lives. While Facebook tries to achieve full inclusion of its users under their real names, Distant Shore’s design is just as utopian, but takes an entirely different route. There, the high-profile, involved communication scheme of mixed up privacy and business agency, here the ultimate laissez-faire of an empty beach. In an endless summer, you walk the endless shores, collecting shells and the occasional message in a bottle from the sand. Messages do not contain any information about their sender, and one’s answer is transmitted in the same anonymity. Five collected sea shells earn one sending of a message by throwing a bottle into the water. But it is still a web, for answers will indeed reach the correct recipient.

Distant shore is an experience of complexity, stripped down to a relaxing core. You can ask everyday or philosophical questions, without involvement and virtually “no strings attached”. The form of communication offered by Distant Shore might just be the right way to spend a mellow night after a long hard day over at Facebook.
Distant Shore

Quantizing MySpace: The Online Musician’s Currency

Profile Views

Whenever certain qualitative criteria for the assessment of a product or a service are not enough to justify (or determine) its value, generalizations occur. This becomes blatantly clear in the way numbers on MySpace pages are being observed. Right now, MySpace is the most important source of information among industry artist managers, bookers, and music journalists. There are essentially three important numbers these people look for, and their meaning has become very powerful. But what can they really tell us, taking into consideration how easy it is to manipulate any quantitative measure on the internet.

The first number one looks at when checking out a MySpace page is typically the count of Profile Views. Up until now, this has established itself as the single most important measure when it comes to getting something via a musician’s MySpace presence. This seems to link directly to the attention an artist is able to generate, and thus can be used to determine their value for a company or an event. It’s a generalized measure like a currency, because no qualitative assessments of the musician’s artistic qualities have to be taken into account in order to determine this very abstract “value”.

The state of this currency in the Indie scene at the moment: Everything less than 10,000 Profile Views: not worth bothering. Between 10k and 20k Profile Views: still poor, but may have the chance to grow. 20k – 40k Profile Views: the broad midrange. 40k – 60k: the upper midrange. 60k – 100k: pretty good for Indie measures. 100k – 200k: really good for non-mainstream. Above 200k: Already a big name.

These numbers and categories evolve, of course. Older profiles have an advantage simply because they’ve had more time to accumulate Profile Views. Therefore, it can pay to keep an eye on the development of Profile View numbers. A musician with 10,000 views getting 500 new people per day interested in his music may be more worthwhile to work with for a company than an artist in the 40k-60k range attracting only 15 new views per day. 

Thus, it’s also very interesting to see how often a new song the artist put on his MySpace page gets played right after deployment. But be careful: There are tools out there to manipulate this number. So don’t take it too seriously. Likewise, the number of friends (third number) an artist has are more a measure of his or her activity on MySpace than a real account of popularity. This is because many people don’t even check who exactly wants to be added as their friend, and again there are software tools out there that can automatically generate lists of people on MySpace you may want to add as friends, and you can then send them a mass mailing with an add request. Although not as manipulatable as the number of plays of a song, this does make it possible to have a huge number of “friends” on a profile that may have never heard the music. 

It is going to be interesting to see where MySpace is heading in the near future. If it wants to build on its status as a keeper of the Online Musician’s Currency, it will have to take measures against inflation – and deflation, of course, which may come with a lack of attention for the platform as a whole. Although this may not be about the music directly, generating generalized “value” doesn’t have to be a bad thing, even for an Indie musician. It allows to reach across artistic and cultural borders, and find out what’s “out there” that might be worthwhile to get in touch with.

Conference: Relational Sociology

September 25-26, 2008, Humboldt University Berlin. Starting tomorrow, the Humboldt University will host a conference centered around the relational approach to sociology as developed by Harrison C. White. The conference will offer an interesting mixture of papers, providing links to Systems Theory and other ideas in network theory. All abstracts are online.
Conference website