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[liberationtech] Fwd: <unlike-us> please fwd: Invitation to Join the Unlike Us Research Network on Social Media Research & Alternatives

Moritz Bartl moritz at
Mon Jul 9 09:04:43 PDT 2012

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: <unlike-us> please fwd: Invitation to Join the Unlike Us
Research Network on Social Media Research & Alternatives
Date: Mon, 9 Jul 2012 15:07:16 +0200
From: Geert Lovink <geert at>
To: unlike-us at

Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

Invitation to join the Unlike Us network (a series of events, a
reader, workshops, online debates, campaigns etc.)

The aim of Unlike Us is to establish and maintain a research network
of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on
'alternatives in social media'. Through workshops, conferences, online
dialogues and publications, Unlike Us intends to both analyze the
economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and
to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative,
decentralized social media software.

Unlike Us has two aims:
1. To study online social networks and to debate and dissiminate
critical research into this field.
2. To promote and further develop alternatives in social networks.

If you want to join the Unlike Us network, start your own initiatives
in this field or hook up what you have already been doing for ages
please subcribe to the email list. Traffic is modest.

Videos of the UU#2 Amsterdam event:

Please keep in mind that you can only contribute to this email list if
you are subscribed and post from the email address you have used to
subscribe to the list.

Whether or not we are in the midst of internet bubble 2.0, we can all
agree that social media dominate internet and mobile use. The
emergence of web-based user to user services, driven by an explosion
of informal dialogues, continuous uploads and user generated content
have greatly empowered the rise of participatory culture. At the same
time, monopoly power, commercialization and commodification are also
on the rise with just a handful of social media platforms dominating
the social web. These two contradictory processes – both the
facilitation of free exchanges and the commercial exploitation of
social relationships – seem to lie at the heart of contemporary
capitalism. On the one hand new media create and expand the social
spaces through which we interact, play and even politicize ourselves;
on the other hand they are literally owned by three or four companies
that have phenomenal power to shape such interaction. Whereas the
hegemonic Internet ideology promises open, decentralized systems, why
do we, time and again, find ourselves locked into closed corporate
environments? Why are individual users so easily charmed by these
'walled gardens'? Do we understand the long-term costs that society
will pay for the ease of use and simple interfaces of their beloved
'free' services?

The accelerated growth and scope of Facebook’s social space, for
example, is unheard of. Facebook claims to have 700 million users,
ranks in the top two or three first destination sites on the Web
worldwide and is valued at 50 billion US dollars. Its users willingly
deposit a myriad of snippets of their social life and relationships on
a site that invests in an accelerated play of sharing and exchanging
information. We all befriend, rank, recommend, create circles, upload
photos, videos and update our status. A myriad of (mobile)
applications orchestrate this offer of private moments in a virtual
public, seamlessly embedding the online world in users’ everyday life.

Yet despite its massive user base, the phenomena of online social
networking remains fragile. Just think of the fate of the majority of
social networking sites. Who has ever heard of Friendster? The death
of Myspace has been looming on the horizon for quite some time. The
disappearance of Twitter and Facebook – and Google, for that matter –
is only a masterpiece of software away. This means that the
protocological future is not stationary but allows space for us to
carve out a variety of techno-political interventions. Unlike Us is
developed in the spirit of RSS-inventor and uberblogger Dave Winer
whose recent Blork project is presented as an alternative for
‘corporate blogging silos’. But instead of repeating the
entrepreneurial-start-up-transforming-into-corporate-behemoth formula,
isn't it time to reinvent the internet as a truly independent public
infrastructure that can effectively defend itself against corporate
domination and state control?

Going beyond the culture of complaint about our ignorance and loss of
privacy, the proposed network of artists, scholars, activists and
media folks will ask fundamental and overarching questions about how
to tackle these fast-emerging monopoly powers. Situated within the
existing oligopoly of ownership and use, this inquiry will include the
support of software alternatives and related artistic practices and
the development of a common alternative vision of how the techno-
social world might be mediated.

Without falling into the romantic trap of some harmonious offline
life, Unlike Us asks what sort of network architectures could be
designed that contribute to ‘the common’, understood as a shared
resource and system of collective production that supports new forms
of social organizations (such as organized networks) without mining
for data to sell. What aesthetic tactics could effectively end the
expropriation of subjective and private dimensions that we experience
daily in social networks? Why do we ignore networks that refuse the
(hyper)growth model and instead seek to strengthen forms of free
cooperation? Turning the tables, let's code and develop other 'network
cultures' whose protocols are no longer related to the logic of 'weak
ties'. What type of social relations do we want to foster and discover
in the 21st century? Imagine dense, diverse networked exchanges
between billions of people, outside corporate and state control.
Imagine discourses returning subjectivities to their 'natural' status
as open nodes based on dialogue and an ethics of free exchange.

To a large degree social media research is still dominated by
quantitative and social scientific endeavors. So far the focus has
been on moral panics, privacy and security, identity theft, self-
representation from Goffman to Foucault and graph-based network theory
that focuses on influencers and (news) hubs. What is curiously missing
from the discourse is a rigorous discussion of the political economy
of these social media monopolies. There is also a substantial research
gap in understanding the power relations between the social and the
technical in what are essentially software systems and platforms. With
this initiative, we want to shift focus away from the obsession with
youth and usage to the economic, political, artistic and technical
aspects of these online platforms. What we first need to acknowledge
is social media's double nature. Dismissing social media as neutral
platforms with no power is as implausible as considering social media
the bad boys of capitalism. The beauty and depth of social media is
that they call for a new understanding of classic dichotomies such as
commercial/political, private/public, users/producers, artistic/
standardised, original/copy, democratising/ disempowering. Instead of
taking these dichotomies as a point of departure, we want to
scrutinise the social networking logic. Even if Twitter and Facebook
implode overnight, the social networking logic of befriending, liking
and ranking will further spread across all aspects of life.

The proposed research agenda is at once a philosophical,
epistemological and theoretical investigation of knowledge artifacts,
cultural production and social relations and an empirical
investigation of the specific phenomenon of monopoly social media.
Methodologically we will use the lessons learned from theoretical
research activities to inform practice-oriented research, and vice-
versa. Unlike Us is a common initiative of the Institute of Network
Cultures (Amsterdam University of Applied Science HvA) and the Cyprus
University of Technology in Lemasol.

An online network and a reader connected to a series of events
initially in Amsterdam and Cyprus (early 2012) are already in
planning. We would explicitly like to invite other partners to come on
board who identify with the spirit of this proposal, to organize
related conferences, festivals, workshops, temporary media labs and
barcamps (where coders come together) with us. The reader (tentatively
planned as number 8 in the Reader series published by the INC) will be
produced mid-late 2012. The call for contributions to the network, the
reader and the event series goes out in July 2011, followed by the
publicity for the first events and other initiatives by possible new

Topics of Investigation
The events, online platform, reader and other outlets may include the
following topics inviting theoretical, empirical, practical and art-
based contributions, though not every event or publication might deal
with all issues. We anticipate the need for specialized workshops and

1. Political Economy: Social Media Monopolies
2. The Private in the Public
3. Visiting the Belly of the Beast
4. Artistic Responses to Social Media
5. Designing culture: representation and software
6. Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures
7. Genealogies of Social Networking Sites
8. Is Research Doomed?
9. Researching Unstable Ontologies
10. Making Sense of Data: Visualization and Critique
11. Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives
12. Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media
13. Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology
14. Social Media in the Middle East and Beyond
15. Data storage: social media and legal cultures

Contact details:

Geert Lovink (geert at
Korinna Patelis (korinna.patelis at / kpatelis at
unlike-us mailing list
unlike-us at

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