2015, a year in figures and fragments

2015 was an unsticking.

365 days filled a little better than in 2014, I think.

My 30th birthday. A fourth decade. I thought hard about about this turn. That marvellous line of Ann Friedman’s: “It was around age 29 that the number of fucks I gave about other people’s opinions dipped to critically low levels.”


But this wasn’t a year of less fucks. Maybe it was a year of more. It was a year of finally getting moving and doing things – of making friends with a human memento mori by name of Wayne Chambliss and realising that there is no time but now to act.

It was a year of saying yes.

I grew stronger, physically. I learnt to travel, finally. I spent more time out in the wild.

A first swim in the Pacific; an icy dip in the River Brathay at Chapel Stile.

Sleeping in interesting places. On top of a Bronze Age barrow. Under countless stars next to an abandoned gold mine, in a Nevada desert valley so dark the Milky Way was stretched gauzelike above us. A pillow fight in Circus Circus, a decaying casino hotel in Reno. Mountain hostels and an urban bothy. The air mattress of my oldest-standing friend, now living in Berlin.


103 miles of the 192 mile Coast To Coast path across northern England, from St Bees in Cumbria as far as Grinton in North Yorkshire, before my blisters got infected in the constant wet and the pain was too much to continue. Nine Standards Rigg on the top of Hartley Fell: nine pillars, 800+ years old, standing on the watershed between the Irish and North Sea. Nobody knows why they were built.

Shooting a 12 gauge rifle in Nevada, and blowing a bottle to smithereens with a .35 Magnum, buzzed on 18-year-old Lagavulin.

A 3,500 word essay published about that journey.

Another 3,000 words published about that road trip, on a moment of unease in the ghost grids of California City. Two years of writers’ block finally lifted. I’ve been writing in coffee shops a few nights a week since. It feels good – it feels like relief.

It feels there’s a lot to be done: my work doesn’t have the depth I want, it doesn’t have the subtlety or artistry, I feel no-one takes me intellectually seriously and fear it’s because my output isn’t good enough (yet) to deserve that seriousness. But I am at least, at last doing the work required to address that.

40 books read in 2015 – that’s part of the work, too. Documenting them all on Instagram.

56 miles walked down the Thames Path in two and a half days, including 31 miles / 50km walked in a single day, my longest 24-hour hike so far. One private island loaned for the night through the generosity of strangers.


The kindness of strangers who gave me a bed for the night at Phantom Ranch, too, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. “You’ve 5 seconds to decide before we head out the door.” Yes.

Hiking out from the camp at 7am to catch the sunrise. A mile of ascent and 1.8 billion years of geology. Plans afoot to walk 70 miles of the Tonto trail along the length of the river in late 2016 or 2017.

06:54: dawn on 1st November from the 40th floor of the Heron Tower. A cloud inversion, the peaks of the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater rising into a glorious dome of bright blue. Descending fast in the lift an hour later, we sink into a grey miasm of fog, a real London pea-souper, the city muffled. Boundaries between worlds feel porous. It’s All Hallows.


Strange omens: a dragon in a quarry in Tilberthwaite. The wings of a pigeon, ripped off and laid out on the middle of the road in Holborn neatly, the tendons like hands pointing at one another. Jack Parsons, for that matter. Ghost towns. A forest fire in Mammoth that looked like an atom bomb going off; a red sun; ashfall. A sublime thunderstorm on top of Kinder Scout.

31,162 miles flown, or thereabouts – to Los Angeles twice, Berlin twice, and Toronto once. A few moments of thought as to the environmental impact. Yet according to Charlie Loyd,  and David McIver, carbon offsets actually work. So I buy them.

My kitchen ceiling collapsed into a pile of rubble, and had to be fixed. A wooden worktop counter, a new ceramic sink. Stripping the wallpaper in the hallway and painting it grey. A fire in the garden behind mine that I watched destroy my back fence in a few minutes, the old ivy going up like a torch. My beloved garden foxes didn’t come back.

A 25% payrise. It helped.

I learnt to deadlift, squat and clean & jerk, and got probably the fittest I’ve ever been in my life (though I’m still not under 10 stone). I came off the pill for the first time in about 10 years, and my body fat distribution has changed. This year I want to quantify that with a scan so I know better what I’m working with.


I cut my hair short and wore a backless red silk dress to a wedding and remembered I’m allowed to dance in high heels once in a while. Thank you Alex for the invite.

New friends both corporeal and algorithmic. Travels with Wayne and Brad, and their circles met through those trips (Joel, Ryan, Jared; Harriet, Thomas & Theo). Fine company on the international art-tech-futures merry-go-round as the whole gang went to Transmediale and I met the crew from Thirdwave Berlin. Igor recommending me for Aerials in Toronto in the autumn. Getting to know @botaleptic, the cyborg Hugo Reinert.


Two candles lit at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, downtown Los Angeles.

Half a dozen goals at the start of the year. All but one of them met (the failure: “Don’t duck dating.” There’s only so hard I can push myself.)

Themes for 2016 still emerging: dawns and sunrises; leap years and leaping; the journeyman. A list of thoughts, goals, hopes stretching to eighteen or twenty points, which needs some condensing.

5000 metres or 16,400 feet in elevation gain in two hikes either side of the New Year not a bad way to mark the threshold.


Written by Comments Off on 2015, a year in figures and fragments Posted in Blog

What I did in 2015

Like anyone who works in “internet”, it’s easy to become a bit hard-to-define in terms of what you actually do. It gets extra-specially nebulous when you do a bit of writing & talking on the side of your day job that’s sometimes also about the internet but in a different way. Describing what I do as “internet soothsayer” on my Twitter bio probably doesn’t help…

So, to make things a bit more tangible: here’s what I did in 2015

Published writing


  1. Review of Keller Easterling’s ‘Extrastatecraft‘, ICON (Feb)
  2. The Ghost Grid of California City, Medium (Aug)
  3. Atomic California: A strange desert road trip on the trail of the father of American rocketry, Roads & Kingdoms (Sept)

This year my writing’s circled back to my Masters degree in urban geography (UCL ’08) – “modernity, space and place” was in fact the name of that course at the time, and here I am still writing about infrastructure and failed utopian planning dreams. Themes of haunting and unease also date back to that time.

2015 was also a venture into the personal essay: pieces #2 and #3 are both travel writing, based off a road trip with urban explorer Bradley Garrett and poet-adventurer Wayne Chambliss. This blast through the California desert comprehensively shattered my writer’s block and set off a chain of interest which is likely to be the major part of what I write in 2016, too.


untitled-19 Unlike the writing, these were all about social media and the impact of network culture. Nos. 1 and 2 were based mostly in my personal thinking and reading  – nos. 3 and 4, I had my work hat on.

  1. ‘Enter The Cybercattle’ round table discussion, Thomas Dane gallery, with Robin McKay (Urbanomic), Benedict Singleton, and Matthew Fuller (Goldsmiths). “What dislocations of the subject, what disruptions of the process of individuation are administered by a global system of ‘self-organization’ piloted from blank, inaccessible facilities such as the one modelled in John Gerrard’s Farm?” (March)
  2. Aerials symposium in Toronto, on “Organizational feats of balance, agility and co-ordination in a networked world.” (October)
  3. Five big challenges in commercial social media research, UCL Bartlett (November)
  4. Tomorrowism by the Design Lab, London, talking about how to navigate an increasingly visual social media culture (December)

Other stuff


  1. Talked with artist Rosemary Kirton about Tumblr culture, especially  as part of her ‘Stacktivism’ residency at the White Building. Read her essay on “Soft Culture” here.
  2. Wrote eleven issues of a Social Data Signals newsletter, with Francesco D’Orazio
  3. Finally really got into Instagram, and started writing extended captions to my photos (deserts, mountains, cities, books). It’s de facto where I’m blogging, now

Other blog posts

Again four out of five are social media related thinking, the last three with my work hat on:

  1. Hunting Rebecca Francis: understanding the practices of one of America’s top big game hunters – the tiny 115lb woman, Rebecca Francis – through anthropological theory and Amerindian perspectivism
  2. How to get into trend forecasting: I’m not strictly speaking a trends bod – my work is more broadly consumer insight and service design research – but this Tumblr how-to post got a bunch of thank-yous from grads
  3. #classy: taste, status and performative hashtags on Instagram: The rules of self-promotional hustle, or how not to look #thirsty on IG.
  4. 23 Things You Never Knew You Could Market With #Llamas: Building a typology of how people and brands engage with flash-in-a-pan Twitter memes
  5. #WhatIsLovein4Words? Investigating how a trending Twitter hashtag spreads, minute by minute

At work


I’m an Associate Director at research consultancy FACE in London. Key projects this year were:

  1. Exploring gender differences across 1m Twitter conversations in how people think about getting places & use maps, to find ways HERE could better reach a female audience
  2. New product development for Spotify, using social media listening to find hyper-emotional music moments
  3. Analysing the performance of Straight Outta Compton and Fantastic Four in social, for Twitter
  4. Global hair trends for Unilever to shape their haircare innovation pipeline
  5. Profiling the aspirational Millennial customer in digital for Bacardi – with results that rewrote their entire strategy for how to reach this audience
  6. Repositioning FACE through a website redesign and full copy & creds rewrite (facegroup.com)

So that was 2015.
Here’s what I did in the first half of 2014.
What I wrote in 2013

If I now make much more sense to you and you’re interested in potentially working together on a talk / essay / project,  wahey! Contact me at hautepop@gmail.com.

Written by Comments Off on What I did in 2015 Posted in Blog

Where did she go? Collected blogging over the last 6 months

A few months since I’ve updated this blog. I’ve been meaning to write a post on ‘personal content strategies’, aka “How do you decide what to post where?” But the truth is I still haven’t figured that out. Here’s an aggregate of everything I’ve been up to in the last six months. [Photos to follow when I’ve fixed WordPress…]

1. March to May I was in New York with work, primarily working on a social TV project for Tumblr.

What we found: content lives longer on Tumblr. Like, really long! Not only is Tumblr the home of fandom where conversation sustains between episodes, the longest-living pieces of Tumblr content (animated GIF series) are practically immortal and circulate indefinitely as the hefty emotional punch they pack is re-lived, re-discovered and re-contextualised.

Press coverage in Ad Age, Econsultancy, Business Insider, Lost Remote, Media Bistro

2. I wrote a few things for the work blog

All more in a ‘content marketing’ vein rather than passion pieces, aka they’re solid and put forward the company’s POV on the value of social media research. These things do alright within the market research Twittersphere but don’t break through into Plannerland in the way that more cultural analyses of social media activity can.

3. More interesting blogging: I also wrote the end of my colleague Robert Parkin’s blog post about How To Detect Communities Using Social Network Analysis.

These ideas developed turned into a Tumblr post where I talk about how “Brands need to think more about how they can give to their communities” and the importance of opening up research as a way to share value.

A nice reply from Kenyatta continued the discussion – he ran the Dr Who Tumblr for BBC America for a time, so what he doesn’t know about working with fan communities isn’t worth… etc.

“It’s the stuff we do in supporting tv, music, and sports fandoms at everybodyatonce: find out where the fans are (both passive and active, existing and potential), find out all the different ways that they’re connected, and use that information as a map for creating or strengthening the edges between different clusters of nodes. While we don’t make these networks explicitly visible in the ways that hautepop suggests, we find other ways to surface the fandom to each other. Holding up a mirror in the form other fans is usually more empowering than showing them their own graph, but as this kind of information becomes more commonplace, that may change.”

4. Tumblr is where I’m mostly blogging these days. And funnily enough, I’m mostly blogging about Tumblr and its weird network effects. Key posts:

i) How do you find the connectors & influencers on Tumblr? Where someone asks a question, and I unpack all my tacit knowledge. The key point: “follower numbers matter a lot less than your position within Tumblr social networks – that is, it’s about community.”

ii) Anatomy of A Tumblr Trend: the semantic network map. Where I use Tumblr’s ‘related tags’ feature to map how Tumblr fashion subcultures are connected:

To put it bluntly, this is an astoundingly cool methodology I came up with. It finds a network where you might not expect one – not between who follows whom, or who retweets whom (as we’re familiar with from Twitter network analysis) but simply between ideas – subcultures, memes. This is why I call it a ‘semantic network map’ – a map of meanings. It gives us a whole set of new, quantitative tools to use what otherwise looks like a very fuzzy, qualitative thing – culture.

It is of course mediated through the Tumblr algorithm & its ‘term frequency – inverse document frequency’ weighting. So this modifies how far we might want to say this method gives us access to”folksonomy” – folk taxonomy.  It’s not an entirely “pure” view of how people think these concepts are connected, even though the algorithmic mediation (which prioritises links between tags that occur a lot together, but don’t appear a lot in the dataset overall) may very well be the best way to get sense out of the connections – avoiding the “all tags short-circuit back to Fashion” problem.

Anyway. If you find this interesting, come talk to me at hautepop@gmail.com, I’d love to discuss how this can be taken further.

5. Speaking of Tumblr subcultures, I’ve also been image-blogging over on Pinterest and a new Tumblr, street-goth – which I started in order to play directly with these subcultures, to find out how they work from the inside. Also to work out what I wanted to wear this autumn. Here’s my intro blog post, and do follow along if you want a lot of moody  black & white images of clothes.

Debating a rename to hautegoth, mostly because personal brand (and because what I’m blogging goes beyond the very now street goth menswear look) – but also out of a certain curiosity… Can I spark a recognisable Tumblr trend? Watch this space.

6. Nearly forgot! Five speaking events in the last six months, that’s fair going:

  • Debcon in Boston, on “perverse media studies” (a theoretical piece on the implications of ‘sticky’ and ‘viral’ properties)
  • moderated a panel at Theorizing The Web in NY called Ref(user): Moments of Resistance, about politics of social media interaction
  • London Social Media Cafe, on How Videos Go Viral (hint: it’s all about the network)
  • Marketing Week Live (25 June), viral video again
  • Connected World (10 July) on a panel with Tom Ewing & Paul Edwards about ‘cutting through the noise’


7. & finally I should have a press release coming out this month with Live Nation for a nice little statistical project demonstrating the relationship between social media activity and ticket sales. More TBC…

Digital Glossolalia and Brand Power, or Why I Bought Some Nike Trainers

There’s a new book out about how people make purchasing decisions.

In Absolute Value, Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen argue that social media has changed everything (again). Amid more reliable sources of information, branding is losing its value:

“How people buy things has changed profoundly—yet the fundamental thinking about consumer decision making and marketing has not. Most marketers still believe that they can shape consumers’ perception and drive their behavior. In this provocative book, Stanford professor Itamar Simonson and bestselling author Emanuel Rosen show why current mantras about branding and loyalty are losing their relevance. When consumers base their decisions on reviews from other users, easily accessed expert opinions, price comparison apps, and other emerging technologies, everything changes. Counter to what we frequently hear, consumers will (on average) make better choices and act more rationally.”

On first glance, it’s good news for market research: we still need to understand how people form opinions, and there may be life in the old ‘influencers’ chestnut yet:

“Today, products are being evaluated more on their “absolute value, their quality,” Dr. Simonson said. Brand names mean less. The results suggest that companies should spend less money trying to shape consumer opinions in traditional ads, he said, and more on understanding what and who are shaping those opinions.”

But it’s bad news for branding.  “…brands are less needed when consumers can assess product quality using better sources of information such as reviews from other users [or] expert opinion,” say Simonson & Rosen in HBR last month.

This is driving reaction from the plannersphere:

Twilight of the brand? Don’t bet on it – says Edward Boche. He argues in defence of branding: it’s not just a label and an advert, it’s the shaping of the whole product experience:

“A brand isn’t a mark or a logo or even an ad. It’s a combination of our expectations, past and anticipated experiences, and the promises the company makes and keeps. Branding is the way in which that story gets told and portrayed.”

Patricia McDonald, Chief Strategy Officer at Isobar UK, tweeted:

“I think the idea of “perfect competition” implies a lot higher interest in many categories than consumers have and ignores the fact that many purchases are impulsive/emotional.”
[1, 2]

Jens Martin Skibsted & Rasmus Bech Hansen helpfully put this idea in a longer context. Guess what? ‘Brand is over’ isn’t a new idea. In Brands Aren’t Dead, But Traditional Branding Tools Are Dying, they say:

“Back in the days when the internet was young, many believed that as it grew brands would become a thing of the past. Leading information economy thinkers propagated this view, including Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian, who published the highly influential book, Information Rules, in 1999. The book predicted that the power of brands would shrink as people had access to more and more free information. This has clearly turned out to be wrong. In fact, the web has become dominated by, yes, a few big brands.”

So why do brands matter?

“The role of a brand is—and never was—just about solving an information problem. It’s about providing meaning and satisfying emotional needs. These fundamental human needs have not changed. To the contrary as consumers experience information overload, there might be a tendency to gravitate toward what’s known and comforting.”


The flow space of digital media flirts with descending into glossolalia, an unending stream of syllables, a continuous babble of sound becoming noise. Babel. It moves too fast for the whole to be interpretable as meaning.  Instead we measure its parameters quantitatively: volume, velocity, and the network manifestations of power across tendrils of @s and follows and reblogs. Really it’s all one metric, pitch: the pitch of the hum of the servers, the pitch of digital fervour. The insect vitality of bees in the hive. You hear the intensity rising.

People are getting scared of this. Stream fatigue is rising. “It is easier to read Ulysses than it is to read the internet. Ulysses has an end, an edge. Ulysses can be finished. The Internet is never finished,” says Alexis Madrigal. 

Thus brand.

The challenge for brands is that customers can access more information and thereby make purchase decisions based on criteria that those brands don’t control.

The challenge for customers is that they can access more information. Information alone isn’t enough. Then they’ve got to make sense of it. Trip Advisor reviews are gamed. Blog posts are bought through “influencer marketing”. So are Amazon reviews, with Vine Voice. Besides, everything’s got the same score. What’s the difference between 4.2 and 4.1 actually mean? Is it worth £5 or £50? Who can tell?

An excess of information leads to paralysis.

And paralysis doesn’t lead to purchase.

Thus brand. Brand as shortcut. Brand as, If they’ve got this much money to spend on an ad campaign, the product is probably good enough. This is our first model, brand as satisficer. Perhaps that’s not quite right, but it’s good enough.

But something else is going on. Why did I just buy a pair of Nike trainers?

So I bought a pair of running trainers a while ago. There’s definitely too much information out there about running trainers, and friends’ opinions or consumer reviews aren’t much good because their feet are probably not the funny triangular shape mine are. So I went to a running shop, and they filmed my funny flat, triangular feet in a variety of shoes (more information – help!) and then they said “Buy these ones” (option narrowing – yes!), and so I did.

I have no idea what brand those trainers are, even though I wear them a couple of times a week. They’re sort of purple.

But last night I bought a pair of Nike trainers. Nike Airs. I’m pretty fucking cynical about brands, but I definitely wanted a pair of Nike Airs. I wanted Nike Airs because I had been wearing black jeans and a biker jacket and a pair of beaten up boots all weekend, running all over London with my silly asymmetric hair and internet friends – and while those internet friends were saying I looked good, I felt old. The look was old, 5-10 years old. 2003 rock’n’roll with a pair of pseudo All Saints boots. I looked as frozen in time as Russell sodding Brand. This was inadequate.

Nike Airs take that outfit and make it contemporary. They’re good enough for the Fashion Week street style superstars, at least for the SS’14 (and I’m keeping my eyes hooked on the current show season). They’re certainly a bit ubiquitous – I was people watching on Broadway Market on Saturday, and aiii it’s like Converse never existed – but by god that’s better than being 5-10 years late. So I bought a pair on ASOS last night.

I bought Nike because the brand is potent. It is white hot right now, reaching this radiant point of semiotic excess where the fanboards on Tumblr and Pinterest are this unreadable mix of brand-generated and user-gen content – underground campaigns, limited-run collaborations; fashion editorial, Photoshop and fan art by actual sodding artists.

I cannot parse my own “Brand Appropriations” board any more: what even is this stuff?

From http://durational.tumblr.com/post/67048212408, with 108,000 notes

I won’t call it “real vs. fake” because it is all real, that is the point:  all the homages only make Nike more real and more culturally powerful. There is an excess of meaning, a surplus of signification, a chaotically generative potency, that spills over beyond the brand itself…

…And allows us, the consumer, to write with it. Write, write – is that the right verb? More that it allows us to take this surplus of meaning and inscribe it on ourselves, for ourselves. There is so much to the brand that – beyond advertising itself – it is able to do work for us, too: to reinscribe the meanings we already carry on ourselves into sharp, contemporary cultural forms.

Aka Nikes will update my fucking outfit.

rizon parein’s neon light installation for NIKE sejamax campaign

“the ability to tell a meaningful story through actions and products, not words, is the only way to win.”
[Skibsted & Hansen]

It’s more than this, you know.

I started off talking about digital glossolalia, and how “It is easier to read Ulysses than it is to read the Internet. Because at least Ulysses has an end, an edge” (Madrigal).

This is what brands do, if they are working right: they provide edges. They’re points of disjunction in the ceaseless flow and thus distinction, difference. They’re focus points where multiple surfaces of meaning come together, and something novel is refracted. A holographic shattering of light.

via o-c-u-l-t-o.com/

It’s a kind of potency – and so messier, if you’re doing it right (like Nike are) than a “meaningful story”. It’s about meanings, plural and in excess – it’s about putting a lot of potential out there more than it’s about laying down anything definitive and fixed.

Brand content needs to be  fractal, self-similar enough to be recognisable, but yet different at every point. We’re turning to brands for points of meaning, yes, but meanings that enable us to communicate within the ceaseless dizzying rush of the stream. Meanings whose primary values have to be the values of the stream itself – speed, flex, relentlessness. Just Do It.

Is contemporaneity itself the real value that Nike’s selling?

2009 project by Marinus Looijenga – http://ontwerpzaamheden.nl/?p=218

I don’t know what the Nike story is, exactly – but it says NOW so very well.

So what I do know is that I can tell a story with it.

“life suffocates within limits that are too close: it aspires in manifold ways to an impossible growth; it releases a steady flow of excess resources, possibly involving large squanderings of energy. The limit of growth being reached, life, without being in a closed container, at least enters into ebullition: without exploding, its extreme exuberance pours out in a movement always bordering on explosion.”
[Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share vol. 1, p.30]

Written by Comments Off on Digital Glossolalia and Brand Power, or Why I Bought Some Nike Trainers Posted in Blog Tagged with ,

Can The Retweet Speak? Agency in viral video diffusion

I thought I’d share my abstract for Theorising The Web ’14, the conference run by the Cyborgology blog team.

I wrote it over the weekend, mostly spent hanging out with Jay Springett at Critical Exploits and elsewhere. He’s posted his TTW pitch, “Infrastructure Territory and The Geopolitics of The Stacks”, saying wisely that “even if i am unsuccessful, i think the piece is a useful early 2014 ‘flag in the ground’ to orient my self around this year. as this is the direction a lot of my thinking and speaking will headed”.

Good plan. Let’s do the same.

As you may be able to see, this proposal is built on all the viral media research I’ve done at FACE with Twitter (and others) in 2013 – seeking now to connect this with theoretical debates, yet in a grounded, bottom up way. What do the actual messages sharing viral videos say towards this theoretical split between agency and ‘interpassivity’?


Much analysis of viral media uses a ‘transmission’ model of communication where the people sharing the content are constituted as essentially passive or mute. This is variously achieved:, from over-reliance on biological metaphors of virality and infection stemming from Dawkins & ‘The Selfish Gene’; to arguments of ‘clicktivism’ or digital ‘interpassivity’ (Zizek 2009, Jodi Dean 2009, Paul A. Taylor) where the affordances of social media systems undermine the scope for individual agency. Network analyses (e.g. those of the Kony 2012 phenomenon) primarily explain viral outcomes from the structural network properties of the initial “seeders”. In contrast, other work (e.g. Berger & Milkman 2012) ascribes viral potential to the content itself, particularly its emotional payload. The decision-making of actual people receiving and re-sharing the content – the behaviour defining ‘virality’ – is strangely absent.

There are counter-currents: ‘Spreadable Media’ (Jenkins et al. 2013) argues that people sharing media content engage in active choices about what to share and how to frame it, continually re-authoring the content’s meaning. boyd, Golder & Lotan’s 2010 paper, ‘Tweet tweet retweet’ is also crucial for framing retweets as communicative acts in their own right, not mere transmission.

Can the retweet speak? This paper addresses this question of agency in digital media sharing through empirical examination of the actual active communicative act involved in sharing videos on Twitter. Media-sharing on Twitter is interesting precisely because of the ‘thinness’ of the 140-character message that is available to ‘speak’, and complicated further by retweets and automated sharing. It thus offers a fascinating limit-case for the assertion of agency and user-generated meaning.

Data is drawn from the Twitter Firehose API, gathered through work at London research agency FACE using our Pulsar research platform. The dataset contains every tweet sharing the URLs of the Commander Hadfield and Dove Real Beauty Sketches YouTube videos.

This paper will first analyse how people share videos, quantifying the ratio of retweets vs. original tweets as an initial proxy for passive vs. agential modes of sharing. Coding the content of people’s messages when they share a video URL (and how others interact with these tweets) allows us to build a framework for the types of communication taking place. However, message content also provides a route for quantifying the impact of  ‘automated participation’ such as default tweets from ‘Share This’ buttons. Finally, social network analysis will visualise the impact of ‘influencers’ and marketing strategies in shaping how viral media travels through Twitter, and identify the messages & framings of the content that attain the greatest visibility.

To conclude, I will ask who wants to understand viral video diffusion and why, through critically reflecting on the business objectives of commercial projects I’ve carried out for Twitter, Tumblr and  media companies.  Virality can appear a mob-like threat to traditional media control – but also a resource to be harnessed. I discuss commercial social network analyses as creating legibility and power/knowledge, allowing two ways to profit from virality: as ‘influencer’ or as ‘platform’.

A year in (not) blogging

Oh little blog, I have been neglecting you rather.

The latter half of 2013 I have variously spent having fun, buying a flat, and feeling that there is TOO MUCH content in the world and that I’m not sure I wish to add to it. (Though that’s another blog post to fully explain *facepalm*)

I have nonetheless written a few things this year, if mostly not here. Just two decent pieces at hautepop.net:

The Eton Scholarship Exam Paper
A scholarship exam paper for Eton, Britain’s most exclusive school, surfaced into the social web in May 2013. I did a close reading to find out what it meant.

“The exam paper feeds back to us (the Twitterati and the left) what we want to believe about Eton, the training ground for Britain’s political elite. It does really rather too neatly – Machiavelli? Nietzsche? Justifying the army’s suppression of protestors? As some people commented, it’s beyond parody.

The Cult of Big Data
“Data is quickly becoming the planet’s most abundant resource” – IBM
“The philosopher’s stone, the perpetual motion machine, cold fusion. We once dreamed physics or chemistry would offer the panacea, but now it is immaterial – data.”

One of my – let’s say more free associating, imaginative bits of writing, one of those ideas that just comes to you and you write it straight off in a couple of hours.

hautepop tumblr<

Google Glass is Hauntological
“With Glass, time is indeed out of joint, and what it is haunted by is the future.”

The stream, the archive, the problem of reading
“What are we meant to do with the things we read?”
A concern which stuck with me throughout the year.

On blogging, and opening the gilded cage of professionalism
“I think I want to start writing in a slightly different way here, on Tumblr.”
Sadly I didn’t manage to do so.

FACE research agency logo

How Stuff Spreads: Gangnam Style vs. Harlem Shake
FACE’s big research study of the year, by me and Chief Innovation bod Francesco D’Orazio (@abc3d). Contents is as it says on the tin. Our infographic was shortlisted for an Information Is Beautiful award, which was nice.

How Videos Go Viral, Part I
Part II
A research study for Twitter UK, building on our Gangnam work to explore the dynamics of viral content – and argue that Twitter’s really crucial in how video content spreads and reaches an audience fast enough to become viral.

Part I quantifies the dynamics of virality and identifes two patters: Showers vs. Growers. (Spikers vs. Growers. Whatever…). Part II does some social network analysis and discovers how activating communities is crucial to viral spread.

How Video Goes Viral II - Commander Hadfield communities
How Video Goes Viral II – Commander Hadfield communities

No limits to linkbait? Margaret Thatcher & the Brand Bandwagon Jumpers
No news events seem to be off-limits in the current media age. Of course, commenting on the marketing industry’s reaction to Thatcher’s death could be accused of a certain level of bandwagon jumpiness itself. Ho hum.

Why Researchers Should Learn To Code
I went on CodeMaker training and thought it was a good idea – thus an argument that people researching a tech-saturated world might want to learn a little about how it functions.

Map Of A Twitter Status Object by Raffi Kikorian (@raffi)
Map Of A Twitter Status Object by Raffi Kikorian (@raffi)

Fixing Abercrombie & Fitch: how socially intelligent research can reconnect them with their customers
This one was fun. Abercrombie & Fitch fucked up this year in terms of being connected to their customer base, and analysts responded with criticism. So I designed an ideal research programme to get them to fix that. It

Building social businesses: the role of research
Writing with MD Job Muscroft, I did some thinking towards the FACE brand positioning of  how we see social media research, qual research and technology as deeply interlinked.

Written by Comments Off on A year in (not) blogging Posted in Blog

The Cult of Big Data

“Data is quickly becoming the planet’s most abundant resource” – IBM
“Data is the new currency” Microsoft
“90% of all information ever created was produced in the last two years” Mike Lynch, Autonomy

The philosopher’s stone, the perpetual motion machine, cold fusion. We once dreamed physics or chemistry would offer the panacea, but now it is immaterial – data.

Its touch has not yet cured scrofula, but you can be sure the answer’s contained somewhere within the genome.

Data is talked about like it’s new – as though the Library of Alexandria did not contain information, and the book was never a technology.

According to Google Books (our modern day equivalent) it seems “data” is a creation of the 20th century. Google Search analytics show the term “big data” coming almost out of nowhere in 2011 and accelerating in popularity through 2012.



And since 2011, apparently, we’ve created 90% of the data ever in existence.

We risk mistaking this for 90% of the things worth knowing, or 90% of the answers to the many and multifaceted concerns of the world.

Big problems – but hey, we have big data! say the rhetoricians at TED, SXSW, the Economist, Harvard Business Review, Davos. Big data gonna fix it all – now that we can measure the world, now that we can store it, now that we know.

Look at all the economic data that exists – hundreds of years of interest rates, hundreds of thousands of stocks. All accurate to hundreths of a second, hundredths of a point. Do you think the next financial crisis will be predicted sufficiently to stop it?

Managing data is difficult. Doing a decent analysis is harder. Mostly analysis shows you the conclusions you were expecting to find, because your expectations shaped the methods of analysis you chose to use.

The algorithm is the alchemy of our age. We forget that it simply means a sequence of instructions. And instructions require someone to do the instructing, and someone to say when something has been found. Algorithms are social processes, cultural objects – not objective. Take any big enough dataset and you will find statistically significant differences. That is a truth about the universe; the differences found are not necessarily.

This is not an original argument – you’ve read Kate Crawford’s piece on “The Hidden Biases in Big Data“.

So instead, let’s ask – Why do we need Big Data to be this panacea? What is it about Big Data that makes it the Next Big Thing?

In 2007-08, the West didn’t just suffer a financial crisis – it suffered a crisis of meaning. What was the narrative? How did the world actually work? “Boom and bust” had not stopped; trickle-down economics had turned out to have stopped some time in the 1970s, and capitalism was quite evidently not working. But there was also no alternative – capitalism certainly didn’t fall and mostly neither did governments. We had a go at the narrative of power shifting from East to West – Dubai! Where is Dubai now? And China’s GDP statistics are understood to be fictional.

Meanwhile we see a succession of the hottest years on record. Beijing residents wear gas masks to protect against air pollution, and earlier this month carbon dioxide exceeded 400ppm, the highest level since the Pliocene.

Data is urgently needed as “the planet’s most abundant resource” because nothing else is in fact abundant.

Capitalism is above all an ethos of growth, and data offered the best equation for growth yet – Moore’s Law.

Exponential growth for data storage, for processing power – for data itself, and (we hope) the ability to make some sense of it. If we all pretend to be confident that data can be turned into transformative business value and profit – then capitalism is safe. We can continue the long march upwards into the sunny uplands of prosperity – and big data will tell us how to fix the air and the water and the oil supply so that’ll be alright too.

But “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.

Advertising may be able to create desires, but it can’t create the capacity to fulfil them. Consumers’ disposable incomes have fallen. Retail spending has been essentially static since 2007. In the UK retail sales are worth £311 billion.  UK advertising spend is £16.8 billion. These are limits to growth for the value of consumer data.

Not that the speakers at digital media conferences have noticed.

data new oil

So what?

Well, big data isn’t just about consumer data, that’s for sure – much as advertising does provide the financial foundation of the web. And I’m certainly not wishing to write off the power of data analysis.

I spoke earlier this month as part of Auto Italia’s Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working series. In the discussion following, an audience member commented wryly that “Big Data is a CEO term. Anyone who actually works with it just calls it ‘data’ “.

I am interested in that distinction. How did data suddenly get Big (and capitalised) – when did a dataset’s size become a proxy for its power? I’m interested in the hopes, beliefs and rhetoric attached to it. Perhaps I’m interested as data as an object of faith. 

The Eton Scholarship Exam Paper

An exam paper has been making the rounds on social media – the scholarship exam paper for Eton. It has generated some notable Twitter buzz, equal parts curiosity and controversy.

The focus is on question 1C,  which follows an excerpt from Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’:

“The year is 2040. There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East. Protestors have attacked public buildings. Several policemen have died. Consequently, the Government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protestors have been killed by the Army. You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protestors was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.”

[full exam paper PDF]

Eton  has educated 19 British Prime Ministers. There were sustained riots on the streets of London the year before last. As such, the question does not seem as hypothetical as it might. Instead it holds a kind of allure, that of an accidentally far-too-candid view backstage into the mechanics of “how things really work”; that is, the methods by which the elite trains its young to hold power.

eton reactions

1. It is significant that this question was asked

The question could have been asked elsehow, and it matters that it wasn’t – as Tim Maly of Quiet Babylon ably demonstrates.

The student is asked to make objections to Machiavelli in question 1B – and then ignore these in his answer at 1C. “We are looking for candidates who can see both sides of an idea and express them clearly”, says headmaster Tony Little. Flexibility of mind and the ability to argue is what’s sought – one’s ethical opinion one way or the other is irrelevant.

The exam paper is in that sense amoral. It is searching for the pupil’s ability to first identify and then manipulate a set of logical principles from the specifics of the excerpt given. Playing with hypotheticals is entirely the point – yet, this quest for this particular type of “cleverness” is culturally specific and carries with it a certain set of values. About abstraction & logic versus empiricism, phenomenology or experience; about abstraction versus empathy. (I abstract here, myself.)

Exceptionally few 13-year-olds have the educational privilege or the cultural heritage to be able to argue in this way and at this level.Yet there is little point arguing that this exam question should not be socially exclusive or exclusionary. It is for a school that costs £32,000 per year, and moreover it is a scholarship exam designed so that all bar a dozen will fail; elitism is exactly the purpose.  Instead, what we might better criticise are the habits of mind such an exam (and wider curriculum creates). We are afraid the young scholar will grow up into a sociopath.

2. The social media reaction to this exam paper

The reaction has been such because the exam paper feeds back to us (the Twitterati and the left) what we want to believe about Eton, the training ground for Britain’s political elite. It does really rather too neatly – Machiavelli? Nietzsche? Justifying the army’s suppression of protestors? As some people commented, it’s beyond parody – you wouldn’t make this shit up.

But that’s why this exam paper has come to our attention: exactly because it stands out enough to be discussion-worthy. We should note this, and be careful not to assume it is typical.

This is the 2011 exam paper. The other ones are available here. And as the headmaster pointed out to the Huffington Post, “A similar question on the previous year’s paper is about a community without any government.” Indeed it was – though the attentive reader may  note that the question does in fact asks candidates to consider the problems with such a  state, following excerpts from Hobbes and Locke…

But  in 2009, General Paper 1 asks questions about Ogden Nash limericks and, following Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’, to discuss the nature of conceptual art. If this were our dataset, we would draw quite different conclusions about the kind of school Eton was. But of course, this was not the exam paper brought into public debate.

The use of the part to express the whole is a figure of speech – that of synecdoche. Effective use of figures of speech is part of the study of rhetoric. And rhetoric, as Aristotle put it, is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.”

So to read the 2011 exam paper as a microcosm of the British political system is a rhetorical act – one designed to persuade in a certain direction. It’s to read too much into it – and to read with conclusions already in mind (amorality, nepotism, corruption). Rhetoric can be sophistic – it is easily deceptive. Synecdoche presumes that the part is representative of the whole – it doesn’t provide any proof this is true. And thus rhetoric may obscure as much (about Eton, about politics, or about power) as it may reveal.

3. What kind of social object is the Eton exam paper?

We do better, I think, to examine the Eton scholarship exam paper as a totemic object or hypersignifier – something that means too much; something that means multiply, and cannot be resolved to a single sign. It is, variously…

A vehicle for a 13-year-old boy to demonstrate his intellectual ability and win a scholarship

Through the existence of a scholarship and an exam to award it, an indication of belief in intelligence as competitive, and hierarchical. That is, meritocracy

An illustration of Eton’s particular reputation for cultivating elegance of expression. Note question 2D: “marks will be awarded for originality and sophistication” – of a sentence written in the made-up language of Jangli.

A statement that Machiavelli, Nietzsche and intellectual wordplay are the intellectual values of the age.

A text that also epitomises the flaws in the perceived intellectual virtues of our age – that it is word-play and not sincere; that cleverness can be slippery and facile; the ability to pitch any argument while believing in none

A demonstration of the ‘covert curriculum’ at elite schools – how leadership is inculcated into the rich as a natural right

An illustration of how politicians are trained

Just an exam paper that’s not even typical of other Eton exam papers

It is a social media catalyst, one that activates the “Twitter mob” and the social event that is a good outrage. “Horrifying!” we tweet, with delight

Media fuel – end-of-week Twitter diversions now become national news stories:


Social currency, something worth sharing with others as a way of demonstrating one’s own wit or value. Highly retweetable:


An object for left-wingers to define themselves against – a hundred tweets saying that “we” would have instead asked the scholarship boys to imagine themselves in the shoes of the protestors, the bereaved, the subaltern.

And perhaps elicits a certain quiet longing from some who found themselves led briefly to wonder – what if I had had an education as imaginative and challenging as that?

It’s a very interesting exam paper.

Now, how to express that in Jangli? [3 marks]

Bots, humans, cyborgs: an automated anthropology

Bots, humans, cyborgs: an automated anthropology

We talk as though the distinction between human and non-human actors in social media was obvious – and fundamental. What if it’s not?

Storified by Jay Owens· Mon, Mar 11 2013 09:46:37

We’ve just finished the Bots For Civic Engagement panel at SXSW, where David Bausola (@zeroinfluencer), Alex Leavitt (@alexleavitt) and others were speaking about bots as civic actors. The panel description:

“From SmarterChild to the Low Orbit Ion Cannon to Horse_ebooks, humans have relationships of varying quality with bots. Mostly it’s commercial spam. But sometimes it’s less benign: […] There are countless examples of bots used for nefarious purposes, in America, Iran and elsewhere. What would a future look like where instead we see a proliferation of bots for positive civic engagement?”

Bots for Civic Engagement | Schedule | sxsw.comDavid runs Philter Phactory, a transdisciplinary studio of artists and engineers developing the award winning social media bot platform w…
I’m @hautepop. A year or two ago I set up my alter-ego, @hautebot, using panellist David Bausola’s technology called Weavrs (weavrs.com). I set up @hautebot with the same interests as me – cycling, coffee, social theory, and tech anthropology – and so it wasn’t much of a surprise that it turned up at SXSW and started talking about this panel.

First, it sought to question the categories being discussed. We think we know the differences between bots and humans – but are we right?
Interesting to look at where the lines blur between automated bots & humans using automated rules for what to follow or tweet #civicbotshautebot
e.g. the Obama staffer auto-following anyone back who used a hashtag, as a starting point for building a campaiging relationship #civicbotshautebot
Or using aggregators such as Twitter Times to scan your network (& friends of friends) to identify best articles to share & tweet #civicbotshautebot
Alice Quan had another example of this blurring:
Interesting: Donate ur Account allows supporters 2 donate their Twitter + Facebook accounts 2 a campaign http://donateyouraccount.com/ #civicbotsAlice Quan
So  we need to move beyond dualistic thinking:
The figure we need to be talking about is the cyborg – the automation in the human, the humanity in the algorithms #civicbotshautebot
Why? Because within digital interaction – and especially Twitter, the home ground of most bots – the “stuff” we have to communicate with, the “evidence” for human or non-human identities – is in fact thin and inconclusive:
Much of the material ground of human relations on Twitter is thin stuff indeed: the RT, the favourite, the 140-char reply #civicbots (1/2)hautebot
Within this constrained terrain, there is little to differentiate human and non-human actors #civicbots (2/2)hautebot
@hautebot Human relations anywhere are "thin stuff indeed" & rare at that. Tweeters converse abt "being HEARD" & that’s a good thingZelligg 2eats
Other audience members – present and virtual – recognised this blurring. To some, just a fact – to others, potentially concerning.
Bots rely on (even REQUIRE) constrains on humans to ‘appear’ human #civicbots @hautebotLuke Robert Mason
Anthropomorphism at work on Twitter. Everyone assumes they are interacting w/ a human but may just be a #Python script. #civicbots #SXSWDr Andrew B Williams
Don’t worry about social bots becoming more like humans. Worry about humans becoming more like social bots. #civicbots #mullenncJames Gledhill
To whom do rights accrue in a cyborg-digital social environment?
Graeff: Can we conceive of an era when legal protections are given to both machine bots and virtual bots, e.g. Voting rts? #civicbots #SXSWCarmen Gonzalez
Panel asks what might happen if we gave Bots rights? We currently give legal rights to animals so is bot rights the future? #SXSW #civicbotsperfeckt australia
This was a true hybrid conversation: humans, bots, and the in between:
Seems @Twitter are doing a fantastic job as Blade Runners. The @LukeRMasonBot created during #civicbots has already been suspended ;)Luke Robert Mason
definitely not just you. RT @jmacdonald: I’m wondering whether @LukeRobertMason might be a bot…is it just me? :) #civicbotsLouisa Heinrich
As I hope to demonstrate #civicbotshautebot

Sometimes It Crystallises Out: 7 case studies in digital ethics

Other lists could be made – of Wikileaks and Anonymous, of Napster, Mega Upload, the first Facebook facial recognition arrest and the Twitter joke trial. Digital ethics – privacy, ownership, transparency and surveillance – are thorny political topics.

But tonight I want to take another tack, to share with you seven smaller, more personal stories. Seven turning points, seven issues and events from a long span of internet cultural history which brought sharply into focus certain aspects of life, as a human being, on the internet and immersed in social networks. Some moments prescient, or where something started; others where something long-gestated finally came into public view.

I want to frame them as case studies in ethics because they bring into focus questions of how we should behave in these new spaces, these new communities and publics – they are dilemmas about the moral course of action. They bring into focus questions of meaning, and values – and an awareness of how technology changes our capacities, and how it can leave what we had thought of as norms in new and uncomfortable flux.

Perhaps this is also a media archaeology,  in its interest in moments where the mainstream discourse around online cultures changed. New York Times longform articles still seem to hold a disproportionate sway. But enough verbiage: now, the list:

1. A Rape In Cyberspace
by Julian Dibbell
Village Voice, 23 Dec 1993

“I am requesting that Mr. Bungle be toaded for raping Starsinger and I. I have never done this before, and have thought about it for days. He hurt us both.”

Back in the days before the World Wide Web – back in the days before social media, even before webpages – there were always already virtual realities. They were called MUDs: Multi User Dungeons. Users dialled in over the phone network to a purely text-based landscape. Text-based exploration of a virtual space, text-based storytelling – and the text-based development of a virtual community. One of these was  called LambdaMOO.

One day, one of its denizens typed some text on to a screen, and set into motion a chain of events that made it clear: there was no digital dualism. The virtual was socially real.

On this list because: this was the start of cyber ethics

The Bungle Affair raises questions that—here on the brink of a future in which human life may find itself as tightly enveloped in digital environments as it is today in the architectural kind—demand a clear-eyed, sober, and unmystified consideration. It asks us to shut our ears momentarily to the techno-utopian ecstasies of West Coast cyberhippies and look without illusion upon the present possibilities for building, in the on-line spaces of this world, societies more decent and free than those mapped onto dirt and concrete and capital. It asks us to behold the new bodies awaiting us in virtual space undazzled by their phantom powers, and to get to the crucial work of sorting out the socially meaningful differences between those bodies and our physical ones. And most forthrightly it asks us to wrap our late-modern ontologies, epistemologies, sexual ethics, and common sense around the curious notion of rape by voodoo doll—and to try not to warp them beyond recognition in the process.

2. The Cybergypsies
a novel by Indra Sinha

An autobiographical novel about the early, early days online. Before I was there – 1984, before I was born. I frame it in that way because this book is intensely personal to me – in some ways there’s not much more I can say about it than that. It’s one of half a dozen things that mean I am here, now, doing this.

The book’s about a lot of things – MUDs, MOOs, sex, Bhopal – and addiction. Sinha believes he spent about £50,000 on phone calls into these virtual worlds – avoiding his life, his job, his marriage. He wasn’t the worst hit.

On this list because: Sinha showed us the future of digitally conditioned,  dopamine-chasing response:

“Jarly can’t afford food but one of the first things he did after he moved in was to have a telephone line installed. Not a telephone, just the line. (‘Don’t need a phone. Don’t want buggers ringing me. All my mates are on-line. Just need a gateway to the net.’) On the tobacco-smogged wall, amid splots of insect gore and smeared crescents of some rich, dark stuff which surely can’t – or can it? – be shit, the socket gleams incongruously white. To most people it is something they unthinkingly plug a phone into – but to Jarly it is a gateway to heaven and to hell. Into it vanishes every penny that he can earn, borrow or claim in social security benefits. From it comes pleasure, knowledge, pain. It is a plastic vulva awaiting his modem jack, a hollow vein awaiting a needle, a synapse whose long copper nerve receives and transmits signals that connect Jarly’s brain to a vast and chaotic world of the imagination. Jarly’s real life is not ‘real’ but the life which is lived in the worlds to which this tiny hole in the wall leads.

[…] He has tried many times to stop, to break his modem habit. He’s tried everything he can think of but, lying on his narrow bed, he knows that sooner or later he will succumb to the whispering of the little mouth in the wall. He describes to me the self-hatred and sweetness of the inevitable moment of surrender, of giving in, letting go, of busy fingers conjuring a fix, the buzz of the modem coming to life, the whistle of connection sliding like a needle into his brain, and the rush of relief as he floats into the game.”

[Quote via a 1999 interview with Sinha on the WELL, another seminal BBS]

A jump forward in time:

3. The Trolls Among Us
by Mattathias Schwartz
New York Times, 3 Aug 2008

The New York Times meets Jason Fortuny of 4Chan.

Something about ]the suicide of] Mitchell Henderson struck the denizens of /b/ as funny. They were especially amused by a reference on his MySpace page to a lost iPod. Mitchell Henderson, /b/ decided, had killed himself over a lost iPod. The “an hero” meme was born. Within hours, the anonymous multitudes were wrapping the tragedy of Mitchell’s death in absurdity.

Someone hacked Henderson’s MySpace page and gave him the face of a zombie. Someone placed an iPod on Henderson’s grave, took a picture and posted it to /b/. Henderson’s face was appended to dancing iPods, spinning iPods, hardcore porn scenes. A dramatic re-enactment of Henderson’s demise appeared on YouTube, complete with shattered iPod. The phone began ringing at Mitchell’s parents’ home.

On this list because: bullying, and trolling, and internet suicide. The depths of digital cruelty gained mainstream recognition around this point (2006-08), Megan Meier being another example.

But the bullying itself is not the turning point – just an old behaviour adopting new media. What was more interesting was the attention given to 4Chan, and /b/, and just how weird people could get when able to access communities of the like-minded. Around this time Anonymous were also coming into public consciousness, with Project Chanology against the Scientologists beginning January 2008.

The ethic of the lulz started to gain the oxygen of publicity – and we asked, was free speech really supposed to be used for this?

4.  The nym wars: how many identities is enough?

There’s not a story here, so much as a handful of events, and key articles.

In January 2011, Facebook deleted the account of Chinese dissident journalist Michael Asti, because “that wasn’t his real name”. In March, quoth Zuckerberg, “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” And in July, Google Plus launched with a controversial “real names only” policy – and the storm broke.

Thus the “nym wars”, where  tech old-handers (and women) passionately defended the virtues of anonymity against the big tech companies who smelt a profit in identity services and targeted advertising. But more than that, it’s a turning point because at this point the general media and public had become comfortable enough with online space to accept it as “real” and part of daily life – and as such be quite amenable to Facebook/Google’s arguments that online behavioural norms should include connections to one’s offline and legal identity. In this way, there was definitely an aspect of the nymwars that was old internet vs. new.

So even without a defining personal case study, it’s an important topic to keep on this list. To quote a 1995 US Supreme Court ruling (McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission). “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority”

As subsequent case studies indicate, it may not have long to last.

5. How Companies Learn Your Secrets
or, as Forbes retitled it, How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did
by Charles Duhigg
New York Times, 16 Feb 2012

On this list because: the moment where we realised just how up-close and personal Big Data was going to get – or rather, had already gotten.

6. The Web 2.0 Suicide Machine
by Walter Langelaar of moddr_ media lab, Rotterdam
introduced 9 March 2012

On this list because: it marks a growing public understanding that ‘social’ was starting to get too much. Too many frenemies, personal brands and social obligations. Too much sharing – too much noise. Too little control of our own data.

7. First Attack on A Cyborg
by Amara D. Angelica
KurzweilAI.net, 17 July 2012


Augmented reality pioneer Steve Mann visited a Parisian McDonald’s with his family in July 2012. Mann has a system called the EyeTap physically installed in his skull that records photos and video, and can display augmented reality data directly in his line of sight. Upon ordering a Chicken Ranch Wrap, the McDonald’s employees accosted Mann and tried to tear the glasses out of his head.

On this list with reference to Mark Hurst’s article today, The Google Glass feature no one is talking about (28 Feb). That is, a Glass prison of total peer surveillance, upload to the Google cloud, and facial recognition and tagging.

It is of course a fallacy to think we’ll be able to resist this brave new world simply through individual actions of evasion and opposition to people wearing Google Goggles – it’s far more systemic a problem than that. Nonetheless, without wanting to excuse the violence against Mann – this attack insists on standing for far more than its own specificity.


As do all these seven stories. There are more, I’m sure, which haven’t risen to mind this evening. Your suggestions and additions are welcome.