Monday, July 9, 2012

Viral Dynamics and Visibility

Ok, the blog has been neglected for some time now, so it’s time to pick up the pace.
I’ll start off with the most recent project, that being the MA thesis titled „Viral Dynamics and Visibility – How Content Evolves in Network Culture”.

 The paper analyses the viral dynamics nature of the network object in digital culture, by focusing on the case study of the documentary short Kony 2012. The thirty minute video produced by the NGO Invisible Children was part of a larger “Stop Kony” campaign, aimed at bringing into the spotlight Joseph Kony, the head of a Ugandan military guerrilla army and indicted war criminal. The exponential growth in viewership on online video-sharing platforms in a relative short time span since its release makes the media product relevant for study. The study is also helped by the strong nuances and the readily available amount of data.
The text aims to assess the validity of the existing theoretical diffusion models, drawing on such network theories as Albert Barabasi’s free scale model and Tony Sampson’s accidental topology of the network. The essential role in the diffusion process of the highly connected hubs that bridge node clusters is put into question, together with the accuracy of the organic metaphors such as injection, contagion, and viral, that are used to describe the evolution of media content inside the network. Using viewership statistics and natively digital methods for a topological analysis, a comparison is drawn between the actual evolution of the video and the theoretical contagion models.
An analytic framework inspired by Henry Jenkins’ concept of ‘spreadable media’, and the delimitation between ‘viral’ and ‘meme’, as argued by Jean Burgess and Limor Shifman, will also be deployed in order to probe the intrinsic qualities that a media product has to possess in order to achieve its viral status. The atypical formal character of the ;Kony 2012' film, in comparison with other media products, supports the hypothesis that there is a theoretical blind spot in placing the mechanism of diffusion at the intersection of participatory culture and gift economy. Understanding visibility as a process of knowledge production, a new diffusion model is suggested which relies on the visibility of particular content, structured by the multitude of platforms fragmenting the global digital network.

I will be coming back to this, meanwhile a preview of the results: 
 (How a social graph of 72.000+ tweets looks like.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fleet Commander Neusa talks about EVE Online

In her 2010 TED speech Jane McGonigal states that on average we invest 3 billion hours weekly playing online games. Also, Nick Yee (2006, 70) estimates that the MMORPG player spends on average 22 hours a week playing the game. Considering that this player has an average of 26, it can be argued that they have another full-time job playing online games after the actual workday is over. So, as Yee asks, aren’t games becoming more as work platforms? Do games start to resemble more and more actual corporations?

Indeed, the boundaries between work and play, between games and business corporations seem to disappear and real life and game economies conflate. One such example is the feature living economies of MMORPGs that provide rigorously regulated supply-and-demand markets for virtual items that generate real life transactions. The process of gold farming takes advantage of economic inequality and leads to gold farming sweatshops, with possible further other social implications, as Cory Doctorow’s ‚For the win – organize to survive!’ suggests.
To talk about virtual money becoming real money, about glory, gold farming, 75,000 dollars virtual artefacts and how the world of MMORPGs is divided into WoW, EVE and ‘the rest’, we talked with Marian aka Neusa, a Fleet Commander in the MMORPG EVE online. EVE online is a video game by CCP Games, released in 2003 and set in a science fiction space setting that describes a complicated and vast galaxy of moons, planets, stations and wormholes. The game features an open economy that is largely player-driven based on the ISK currency, Interstellar Kredits. An interesting feature of this game, that also sets it apart from other MMORPGs, is that it allows griefing, meaning behaviours like stealing from other players, extorting, and causing other players to be killed by large groups of NPCs.

The interview was done through instant messaging.

MoM: When did you begin playing EVE online?
Marian: I started playing on January 19th, 2006 and I am still playing.

300 squadron fleet commanded by Fleet Commander Neusa POS bashing in EVE.

MoM: How many hours do you spend playing? Which was the highest number of hours allocated to game time?
Marian: At first I was playing 8 hours a day. The most: I was connected to the game for 3 days straight. Today I am playing for 4-5 hours a day.

MoM: Can you describe the game’s open economic system? How is it different than that of others MMORPGs?
Marian: EVE offers the possibility to develop commercial activities and trades such as: object for object, object for currency... of course currency being the game’s currency ISK. The name comes from the game’s origin country – Iceland. The economic part of the game was very well developed from the game’s release. There are many differences between EVE and other online games. For example EVE does not address players under 16, being very complex with a player’s average of 30. The difference can be seen in the difficulty level, so you have MMOs that are easy, where your only challenge is to slay NPCs, medium in which you have also a mystery to solve after that in order to gain resources and difficult in which the ways of achieving your goals and obtaining currency are very diverse. It can be done through commerce, invasion of regions, or PVP (Player vs. Player) fighting. EVE offers also the possibility of industrial development, meaning you can build your own spaceships, stations or weapons. So, just like in real life, it is open to so many possibilities and that is what makes it so complex.

MoM: Can you describe the game for us?
Marian: EVE is a Science Fiction MMORPG SF representing a universe divided into regions. The aim is to gain control of as many regions as possible. Regions are divided into constellations and constellations are divided themselves into systems. The border between systems is set through star gates that also help you navigate the entire universe. The universe is divided among 4 NPC races: the Caldari, the Gallente, tha Amarr and the Minmatar.

MoM: What is the player’s role in this Universe?
Marian: At the beginning you are just a pawn in a chess game. Depending on how you develop you can become an elite PVP (scout, mercenary or even fleet commander), an economist (like a real life banker you trade ships and artefacts to gain ISK), a miner (ships and weapons are built with raw materials obtained from asteroid mining) or a manufacturer that builds ships, stations or weapons. You can’t be miner and manufacturer at the same time. I personally like the fighting system and I am a Fleet Commander.
In EVE you can even build a corporation! This corporation can establish alliances with other corporation thus transforming into an Alliance. An Alliance will try through PVP to dominate regions. A corporation can have up to 5000 players, thus an Alliance can even reach 100,000 active players. My biggest battle between my Alliance – IT and a rival one had 3000 people taking part.

MoM: Can you make real money in this type of economy?
Marian: Yes, you can. I know I did. I use to make around 2500 – 3000 euro at every 6 months. I would save a certain amount of virtual money and then I would sell. But EVE's producers have an agreement, the EULA that prevents the selling of in-game objects or IKS for real money. But there are gamers in Romania that earn as much as 1200 euro a month from doing this. How? They mine or they hunt NPC ships with bounties on their heads. These players use bots (they script their ships to mine or hunt). Every player can have an unlimited number of online characters. So if a character can earn as much as 2b ISK a day (30 euro) there are people that play with 20 characters at a time which means 2b X 20 a day.

MoM: How does this happen, against the EULA?
Marian: The EULA rules state clearly that you are not allowed to sell virtual goods for real money, which is a good rule, the players that do risking to be banned. But, in Romania there is no actual law to prevent this, like in London were such people can get fined or even be incarcerated for such transactions. Players are people with real lives and real jobs, they do not have the time to play enough hours to get that awesome ship and so they use this service offering real cash for virtual ones.

MoM: How do these transactions come to be?
Marian: EVE online is an international game with international players. They meet the sellers in the online world. Usually Romanian players are very vain and like to brag about their status. And so players with real life capital find out and offer 3000 euro for a Titan, for instance. So the poor Romanian sells the ship for 3000 euro. Because in my opinion you have two types of players: those that are in it for the glory and their ego and those that play for real life cash.

MoM: 3000 euro! That is a significant figure…
Marian: That’s nothing. In WoW they sold pixels for 75,000 euro. It’s because of WoW that they came up with the EULA and laws in different states. I’ve heard of American gamers that sold their houses just to have in-game glory. The biggest EVE farmers were in Japan. CCP prevented this by making an exclusive server for them that does not communicate with the rest of the world. This is because at one point the game artefacts became really cheap and that went on to be a crisis for the company. This is because CCP also has a subtle connection with the selling of ISK for real money. How? Easy! They came up with these Game Time Cards that allow you to play online for 30 or 60 days, because EVE is not for free. You have to pay a monthly subscription of 19 euro. Because not everybody can pay 19 euro, GTCs can be purchased with real or in-game money. So players end up exchanging GTCs for virtual money or artefacts. That is what I call money laundering.
I can even tell you that I got banned for one year from EVE. Some people accused me of selling ISK for real money and I got banned, but I was able to prove that I was innocent. And I was accused of that just because other players were jealous.

MoM: Is this still a game for you or a job? Did you ever get tired of playing?
Marian: It is still a game, but for other players it is a real job. There are people that support themselves though playing EVE.
Yes, I used to take actual 2 weeks vacations from playing, but after that I was back to my duties. I wasn’t running from my responsibilities. As Fleet Commander, I have to decide when it is the right moment to attack and to command the army in battle; I have to instruct every soldier what to do and so on. The hardest time for me was when I had to attack on US time zones because I would play the game all day and then I would do battle at night. This is why I reduced to 4 – 5 hours a day.

MoM: What are the most popular MMORPG in the world at the moment?
Marian: 1. WoW 2. EVE 3. The rest doesn’t count!

MoM: Did you make friends among fellow gamers?
Marian: Oh yes, and even people really important in real life: Zoltan Teszari (in the top 10 richest people in Romania), an Interpol employee, a gaming company manager; all real people with important jobs that find a refuge in EVE. We still talk today.

Nick Yee, ‘The Labor of Fun: How Video Games Blur The Boundaries of Work and Play’, Games and Culture 1 (2006): 68-71


City Vibes Project

We choose our music to best fit our mood, our spirit or our activities. We use it to celebrate
our victories, to soothe our pain or to give us energy when we are feeling down. This is why ensuring that we can take our music everywhere with us has become one of the objectives
of technological development. Building on these premises we propose to create a visualisation
of the ‘pace’ of the city through an analysis of people’s music listening habits in different parts
of the world; a kind of ‘heartbeat of the city’ visualisation. This ‘map’ can be used in order for one
to choose the place that is in tune with
their heart.

Inspired by the ‘Hey You! What Song are you listening to?’ video by Tyler Cullen, we created the City Vibes project in order to map the BPM trends of the songs listened to in 12 cities around the world: New York, Rio de Janeiro, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Prague, Moscow, Mumbai, Bangkok, Sydney and Tokyo. For this we used the #nowplaying hashtag and the geo-location features
of Twitter to collect the data for the 12 urban spaces. The next step was to build an app using the API of
Echo Nest – a technology capable of processing large catalogues of dynamic music data by music content (how the music sounds) and music culture (how the entire online world describes the music) and offer specific audio attributes for each song. Through this app we created an insightful database of the tempos and energy scores for the songs collected. The final result is a visualization where you can see and hear the average BPM and Energy score for the ‘pace’ of every city, for each hour
of the day. The user interface is simple and intuitive due to the use of such visualization tools
as Google Maps, embedded with YouTube videos that recreate the heartbeats of the cities at their average BPMs, and the
StatPlanet application, which visualizes the trend of the BPMs hour by hour.

Our hypothesis is that the types of songs being listened to are related to the general atmosphere
of that city. For example, through our visualization we can observe that Bangkok has the highest average BPM and Rio de Janeiro has the highest Energy scores, but also that Amsterdam is the ‘perfect’ party destination with the highest BPMs and Energy scores during the night time, followed closely by New York and Tokyo. We can also identify a trend for the majority of the cities, with 4 periods of the day having a consistent density of high BPMs and Energy scores: at the first hours of the morning, at noon, close to the end of the working day (16:00 – 18:00) and, of course, during the night time (21:00 – 2:00 AM).

At this point, the data was collected manually for a period of 24 hours, but a step of taking this project further, to a more sociological accurate analysis, would be the collection of data in real time, throughout longer periods of time. Besides the Twitter hashtag, which can be difficult to assess due to the high forms of expressions of the natural language, the data collection process can be improved by using such online music listening services as Spotify,, Shazam, and SoundCloud.

Authors: Natalia Miszczak, Clement Adam, Andrian Georgiev, Liam Voice, Andrei Florian

Friday, October 14, 2011

You 'like', you pay! – Do Social Network Services Users Consciously and Willingly Give Up Their Right for Privacy?

Facebook faces more and more scrutiny over its user privacy issues, but do people willingly trade privacy as a commodity for using Social Network Services (SNSs)? Would they prefer to pay a certain fee in order to prevent surveillance activities and data mining processes, if they had this opportunity?

There have been extensive debates over the new Facebook features announced at the F8 Developers’ Conference last month, especially on how they will affect user privacy. This adds to what is already hot topic both in the academic, and the governmental discourse. Even though there are certain features that can be activated in order to gain a better control over your privacy, as most of tech websites and blogs were quick to announce, we are seeing a real concern and immediate action towards this subject. The Irish data protection commissioner is to conduct a privacy audit of Facebook’s activities outside the US and Canada after privacy complaints from the group Europe versus Facebook.

The complaints revolve around the collection and storage of the personal information of Facebook users, tracking users’ internet use without their knowledge, and using facial recognition technology to tag photographs in violation of user privacy rights. Even if these seem like serious allegations, and even if the need for privacy of SNS users was debated (Danah Boyd, 2008) it is worth considering if users are not just the “perfect victim”, but in fact part of a “social contract”.

Before the conference, Facebook had already brought in a high number of modifications to its product; the general voice heard online after this being one of discontent with the changes. But in this wave of hate it seems that users forget that Facebook is a private venture, free of charge (at first glance) and not a public institution. Facebook profits by selling user data to advertisers, and this is no secret.

„Status update: It is not your Facebook page; it’s Facebook’s. You will be a lot happier if you can remember this.” - Robert Shrimsley,

As Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times describes it, we actually began to protest against the changes of a free meal menu, because of our desire to believe that to Facebook we are more than just clients, we tend to interpret Facebook as a democracy.

Alternative Views of Privacy

Even as far back as 2006, with the introduction of the ‘News Feed’, the issues of privacy and exposure were present, with thousands of users in the community vocalizing their discontent and, later, becoming a research topic for prominent authors in this field (Danah Boyd, 2008). In academic efforts privacy is mainly analysed from both sides of the possible exploitation of the personal information – by advertising companies (Fuchs 2011b), or by individuals with bad intentions (e.g. some research proving that using a basic crawling analysis the sexual orientation can be determined) (Jernigan & Mistree, 2009) and Facebook’s privacy controls have been seen as poor at least. Yet, other views on privacy would stress the importance of generating a framework strictly related to the political economy of capitalism, distinguishing privacy for dominant groups VS the privacy at the bottom of the power pyramid for consumers and normal citizens (Fuchs, 2011a).

But could we perhaps presume that another point of view is missing from the privacy paradigm, one that addresses the reciprocal model of trading privacy for certain benefits. The status of the social rewards that the community obtains from the use of SNSs is already a topic with a certain degree of interest in the academic environment.


Having in mind the starting point that the concept of privacy as trading coin, an interesting question to answer will be if SNSs users are actually willingly and consciously posting private information, assuming the ‘risks’ that might follow, in order to keep the service free of charge. In other words, to see if users are in fact aware of the value of their ‘free meal’ and if they will be willing to pay for it.
If we were to be inspired by Potts J., Cunningham S., Hartley J., Ormerod P. (2008) then creativity is the subject of creative industries and intellectual property is their product, thus social networks (markets) are used to give value to the product, because otherwise the value itself is not set within the creative industries. This means that for Facebook, in order to survive as a company the intellectual property must be rewarded. To come up with a proposal that replaces the selling of private information to advertisers we can take the example of social micropayment services such as Flattr and propose that there be an added function to the ‘like’ button. The new function would be that the users remunerate Facebook every time they ‘like’, thus providing an income for the existence of the service. Of course this part of the research has to be corroborated with the possibility of users migrating to another more private-focused decentralized SNS (as examples seem to rapidly arise, e.g. Diaspora) in order to see how the network of friends acts as a dependency factor and could influence the decision of quitting Facebook, if such a payment system would be introduced.

Research and further findings

As methods of research, a quantitative survey about the possible introduction of the ‘economic’ function of the ‘like’ button could offer a measure of the intention level of the users to consciously trade their privacy for using Facebook as a free service. It will also give a measure about the intention levels throughout age groups, offering some insights about the level of privacy awareness and relation between young and mature users, but also other demographical filters can be added. The qualitative part of the research can focus on the user-network dependency when choosing to migrate to a new network. In this respect it is also interesting to see if such a method could detect the profile of the trendsetter that can determine the supremacy of a certain SNS over the others.

In the end, the confirmation of such a hypothesis could open up the discussion to such questions as the ethics of the user as a data subject for advertisers, but also if this privacy trading relation is fully acknowledged by all sides, where does that leave the surveillance of employees by employers and of subjects by governments?


Monday, October 10, 2011

PhoneGuard. Keeping Parents and Beliebers Happy

Designed with the noble purpose of preventing deadly traffic accidents caused by the distraction of texting while driving, the Phone Guard – Drive Safe application is in fact one new media watchtower for parents and employers to servile teenagers and employees.

This summer, Justin Bieber set out to be the saviour of teenage drivers everywhere by endorsing together with the Remember Alex Brown Foundation the Phone Guard – Drive Safe mobile application as part of a Don’t Text and Drive campaign.


The basic version of the app is available for free on the Phone Guard website, and can be found on the Android Market, App Store, and is also available for Blackberry users. What the app basically does is by using GPS to track speed and coordinates of the phone it automatically disables texting, emailing and keyboard function of the mobile phone when this is in a vehicle moving faster than 15 mph. The users no longer are able to text, email, surf the Web, or instant message and the software sends an automatic response to incoming texts or calls. When the car is stopped for more than 20 seconds, the phone unlocks.

The app is not a very popular on the App Market, users saying that it isn’t easy to use and that it drains the battery very fast. But these technical problems can always be improved, and in fact the real interesting part comes when purchasing the full version of the Phone Guard app.

I stumble upon the application on a CNET forum thread where parents were searching for apps that allow them to servile their teens’ activity. That is because the full version of the app allows parents/employers to put a password protected agent on the kids/employees phone that sends info back to them on the phone’s location via Google Maps.


Also, if the child or employee is a passenger in a moving vehicle, they can press a specified button to request permission from parent or employer to use the text function. Permission can be granted or denied from the parent’s or employer’s cell phone. The software also features Phone TimeOut, which allows parents or employers to specify the time of day texting should be disabled, GeoFencing, which will allow the phone's administrator to select geographic boundaries and receive a text message if the phone strays outside of the boundaries and SpeedAlert, which sends an email if the driver goes over a certain speed that the admin sets.

All in all, under the mask of saving lives, the app proves to be a powerful surveillance tool, close oddly enough to the ankle tracing devices. It puts the user under surveillance in the context of such traditional Foucaultian institutions as the family or the workplace making him internalize the power relation. The visualization process is now being carried out by new media applications as extensions of the surveyors’ senses in a Panopticon freed of enclosed spaces.

It is maybe appropriate here to recall J. Macgregor Wise’s mobile phone example of Deleuze’s assemblage in order to claim that such apps are part of the new mechanisms of control that substitute the disciplinary sites of enclosure. With the empowering possibilities given to the administrator to track and set the boarders of speed and space, such control mechanisms take the form of modulations and maybe enable us to see what Deleuze was claiming to be the replacement of disciplinary societies by societies of control. Even the title of the press release issued to announce the launch of the application implies the free-floating forms of control: ‘PhoneGuard Takes Control of Texting & Driving: Software Disables Texting and Safeguards Would-be Distracted Drivers’.

But another interesting thing to notice is the almost deceptive way in which the proprietors of the means of control used teen-idols in order to spread their surveillance mechanisms. As the comments on the campaign’s Youtube videos show, the legion of Beliebers downloaded and installed the app without filtering the repercussions of their accts.


So it is maybe interesting to pose the question of what new media subversive techniques do the subjects of surveillance have in order to defend themselves, or in Deleuze’s words:

„There is no need to ask which is the toughest or the most tolerable regime, for it's within each of them that liberating and enslaving forces confront one another. [...]There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Why is it worth using wikis as internal communication and collaboration tools in order to generate innovation?

For example - Hyve IdeaNet.