Unlike Us: Adjacent Communities and the Adjacent Possible

Last week I attended Unlike Us, a conference exploring alternatives to social media monopolies. Held in Amsterdam and hosted by the Institute of Network Cultures, it brought together communities of academics, artists, designers, educators, and activists, who share an interest in developing alternative code and cultures around social media. The event proved identity affirming for me, as it brought together the disparate elements of my work practice, around subject matter I’m really interested in. I witnessed some excellent debates about the politics of centralization and decentralization; the politics of assuming different identities in social media networks; and, the problems with defining relationships in code.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook received a lot of attention. Anne Helmond’s and Carolin Gerlitz’s ‘Reworking the Fabric of the web: The Like Economy’ was a stand out presentation, as was Harry Halpin’s ‘Hidden History of the Like Button’. PhD researcher Frederick Borgesius also gave a fascinating talk about behavioral targeting and how advertisers are buying audiences through data profiles.

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Unlike Us appealed to me. I have always really enjoyed events that bring together different groups that are adjacent in proximity but have few opportunities to cross-pollinate. I like these opportunities as they give me a glimpse of what Stuart Kaufmann calls the adjacent possible: “a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.”

The adjacent possibilities that emerged from the gathering of these adjacent communities, involved new thinking, new software platforms, new ways of organising and new modes of coalition building. The different approaches people were taking to advance critical thinking and practices around social media alternatives – from software protocol development to digital literacy education to network theory – revealed a need in my mind to be involved in more initiatives that facilitate collaboration between adjacent communities.

CCi 2011 Conference Takeaways

Once again, the biannual conference of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCi) was a winner. The event took place in Sydney and was hosted by the Journalism and Media Research Centre at UNSW. This was my fourth CCi conference and the one I have enjoyed the most. The point at which I am in my candidature, combined with excellent papers, stimulating emerging scholars workshops and enjoyable social activities all contributed to a great experience. My highlights included hearing Deb Verhoeven's 'Digital Production (research) methodologies', where she proposed that data sharing and interoperability become a research default standard and that we need to move to dynamic publishing where our publications respond to shifting data. I also enjoyed Jean Burgess' 'Computational Turn', where she urged us to think about computation as a core cultural dynamic, and echoed Richard Rogers' call to action to use the internet to diagnose social change as opposed to studying how people use the internet. Jason Potts' 'Innovation Commons' was also very interesting, and involved the proposition that there are two commons - the resource and information commons, where the latter involves knowledge about opportunities and market conditions. The session that explored the CCi narrative was also great, where Elspeth Proben and Kim Anderson delivered enlightening responses to questions about the future of the centre.

On a broader note, I feel very privileged to be part of the research culture that has been cultivated by the centre. Having the opportunity to be exposed to the work of media, communications and cultural studies scholars from other Australian universities as well as visiting international scholars is really awesome, and has been a key professional development outcome of my PhD candidature.

Connected Communities symposium

Culture Lab Newcastle, UK — 14-16th September 2011

Culture Lab Newcastle is hosting an international interdisciplinary event open to the general public, on the topic of “connected communities”. We are looking for expressions of interest for talks and projects to exhibit from theorists and practitioners alike.

Ethnographic Fiction

Ethnographic Fiction and Speculative Design is a full-day workshop at the 5th International Conference on Communities & Technologies – C&T 2011, in Brisbane, Australia, 29 June-2 July, 2011.

This full-day workshop aims to explore how grounded ethnographic and action research methods can be transformed into fictional and speculative designs that provide people the kinds of experiences and tools that can lead to direct community action in the development and implementation of new pervasive technologies.


THATCamp Melbourne: March 2011

Melbourne THATCamp is around the corner. It will be awesome.

THATCamp is a user-generated “unconference” on digital humanities developed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in the US. THATCamp Melbourne is hosted and sponsored by the Victorian eResearch Strategic Initiative (VeRSI) and partners, the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, the University Library, and the Public Record Office Victoria.


THATCamp Canberra reflections


I was initially drawn to THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) as it dubbed itself an “unconference”. This term describes a non-hierarchical, non-disciplinary, free event that encourages everyone to participate. The idea for THATCamp evolved from an international network of user-generated conferences called BarCamps – participatory workshops designed and delivered by the people attending. The first BarCamps shared a focus on open source technologies and open data formats.

The happenings at THATCamps are designed by the attendees. When I first read the participants’ biographies, I found there to be a lot of people working for institutions whose conference needs focussed around the management of large cultural collections – think metadata, taxonomies and the semantic web. Although I have an interest in large cultural collections, specifically issues surrounding digital archival artefacts and the public domain, I was concerned that this might be the conference focus. This concern evolved pretty quickly in to excitement regarding what might happen when these people began connecting with other participants from different areas of practice.

Attendees at THATCamp Canberra, were invited to contribute session ideas during the lead up to the event, which led to an organic and relatively seamless process of self-organisation on the morning of day 1. It was difficult to choose between workshops as I felt most of the sessions were relevant to my practice on some level. I settled on Mashups and APIs; Crowdsourcing Communities; Digital Mapping; Data Visualisation; Technology in Space; and a session designed to glean ideas for a new interactive media space at the National Museum of Australia. The sessions sometimes veered in to territory outside my interests, but were still worthwhile as my perception of each area was enriched and challenged. The 3 minute “speedos” were also a great format. The floor was thrown open to anyone who wanted to spend 3 minutes talking about a project or about their research. If they went over the 3 minute mark and wanted to keep talking they had to break out in to Bollywood dance moves. Moments like these helped reinforce the informal nature of the event.

The Twitter back channel was also a treat to indulge in. Not only did the THATCamp hashtag provide participants with summaries of sessions and related links, but it created another interface for connecting with people. At one point I found myself having a Twitter interaction with someone across the room. It was surreal partly because I chose to contribute to the session, not by speaking but by posting a message on Twitter, and partly because I received a response to my message from a stranger a few seats away.  We continued to send each other ideas and links via Twitter throughout the session.

In summary, THATCamp was engaging, stimulating, fun and most importantly it offered an inviting space to connect with people engaged in similar and very different endeavours. The next Australian THATCamp is being held in Melbourne in late March, 2011.


Making Links 2010: abstract submission

I have just submitted the following abstract to Making Links 2010, a conference aimed at people working at the intersection of social action and ICT. It is being held in Perth in November.

Community WiFi Networks and Participatory Art
This paper considers
participatory art forms, used by community cultural development (CCD) practitioners, as conduits to motivate, inform and provide tools to design, build and sustain community WiFi networks (CWN). It explores a methodological approach combining participatory action research (PAR) with actor-network theory (ANT). It illustrates how PAR and ANT might be used together to research creative practitioners working with communities to build CWNs. The methodology has been designed to look closely at how a critical pedagogy approach to developing CWNs could enable community engagement; and whether informal approaches to learning inherent in CCD practice leads to critical consciousness. The paper will elaborate on how the methodology will be applied to the following case study: a partnership between the media arts development organisation CuriousWorks; the Indigenous media production crew Martu Media; and the local Indigenous Martu community. The empirical research site, Newman, is located in the Western Desert in remote Western Australia.