Assignment 3:  Artistic Reflections on Social Computing


Many believe the Internet is entering a new phase which will emphasize social computing ( and social software. Wiki defines social software as enabling "people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities."  Social software is seen "to facilitate 'bottom-up' community development, in which membership is voluntary, reputations are earned by winning the trust of other members, and the community's mission and governance are defined by the communities' members themselves."  Technology companies are intently working on developing new systems.  Entrepreneurs have been active in the past and continue to establish innovative companies to address this trend.  Internet critics believe social computing could offer a useful counter to increasing commercialization of the Internet.  (See list of categories and sample sites below)

This assignment asks you to explore social computing and to develop an artistic 'intervention' to reflect on it. It asks you to investigate both those settings you may already be involved with and others.   Consider these questions about the phenomenon:

The assignment asks you to generate an artistic 'intervention' in one of these contexts.  An artistic intervention is an action by an artist in a real world situation for the sake of promoting reflection and altered perceptions by the participants.  Wiki defines intervention as an "interaction with a previously existing artwork, audience or venue/space. It has the auspice of conceptual art and is commonly a form of performance art."  Situationists also mounted interventions.

Wiki definition of social software-
Wiki - Art Intervention


It also asks you to investigate the growing critique of social computing.  Some see the social web as a hidden exploitation of the free labor of those who create the sites - especially as social computing sites such as flickr, youtube, and facebook get bought by large web media companies and they get 'monetized' via advertising and other techniques. 

Also, there is concern that the rhetoric about the democratization of culture may be overstated. Andrew Keen has written a book called Cult of the Amateur.  Some see great value in eliminating middleman gatekeepers such as editors, galleries, and media producers who decide what gets distributed while others think the 'cult of the amateur' is eliminating important filtering structures for find things of value.  You are asked to develop principled positions on several of thesed debates.

Please consult 

Trebor Scholz' syllabus  from his course  The Social Web : (Web 2.0: What Went Wrong?)

Sunday Times review of Cult of the amateur

And Cameron critique of Keen

excerpt from his course description

Is it feasible to live ethical, meaningful lives in the context of the
Social Web today?

Based on the rapid growth of participation in social life online and in
mobile space-- from social news, referral, social search, media sharing,
social bookmarking, tagging, virtual worlds and social networked games,
social mapping, IM, social networking, blogging and dating, this class
formulates a critical analysis (and critique) of the international
Social Web with regard to privacy, intellectual property, and the
utilization of social creation of value through the lens of a small
number of case studies in the areas of education, political activism,
and art. The course starts with a history of computer-facilitated
networked sociality.

Also visit the archives of the IDC (Institute for Distributed Creativity) mailist Archive
This mailing list has lively discussions on many topics related to the critique of the social web and related topics
Go to the archives form september, august, july, june 07 and search by topic for postings on
social web, critique of immaterial labor, wikinomics, Keen as amateur media theorist, media curating,American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace
If you are interested, join the mailing list and participate

Elements of the Assignment

1. Survey and exploratory participation:
2. Develop an idea for an intervention in a social computing site/ ethical analysis;

Think of some set of actions you could take within one of these contexts that would uniquely speak to the nature of that site.  Here are some examples of rationales you might consider:  Are there qualities of the site, its features, its relationships that people may not be aware of it that you could bring attention to?  Are there ways to push the boundaries of what the site does in interesting ways?   Are there cultural subtexts in the interactions in the site that could be highlighted?   For example many artists have undertaken interventions (and commentaries on the nature of commerce) in Ebay by proposing to sell unlikely items such as the artist's virtue or space in an art show. Look, for example, at Trong Gia Nguyen TGN Ebay project or Michael Daines sale of his body. In online communications communities,   others have played with identitiy and expectation by inventing a fictional character for themself .  People have put unusual photos and captions up on Flickr.

Be careful about the ethical, legal, privacy, and logistic implications of your idea.  Interventions can often enter murky waters.    For example, many of these sites have rules to guard against miscreants, perverts, pranksters, and conceptual artists.  Find the site's rules section and study them.  Be clear about the status of your idea vis a vis the rules.  Some interventions are so innovative that they don't violate the rules.  If your ideas do violate the rules, realize the site can cancel your contribution and ban you forever.  Also be careful about violation of  laws - for example, there are laws about threatening or hate speech, misrepresentation, and copyright violations.    Perhaps, most importantly, think about the ethical implications of what you want to do.  Will your intervention cause consternation or pain and suffering?  Could it lead people to take unfortunate actions?  Many people take their participation in these sites very seriously and can be quite emotionally involved.  Are there such dangers in your idea?  How will you debrief unwitting participants?  Artists need carefully weigh the artisitc value of their intervention against the damage it might do.  Finally, consider the practicalities.  Do you want to use your own email address?  Do you need to mask your identity?  If it all possible, create an intervention that does not require this masking.

3. Read critiques relevant to the site you are focusing on.  Consult Trebor Scholz' syllabus for sources and ideas. (see above)

4. Steps in the process - concrete requiements:

**Note since this is a limited class exercise, be careful about over ambitious plans.  This must be something that can be completed in a few weeks.

Expanded Design and Web Site Creation & Technical Requirements

As part of the assignment, please visit and study social computing sites such as those listed in in the links below.  How do the sites present themselves?  What visual conventions do they use?  What are the main categories they use to divide the site?  What is their information architecture?  What are their subtexts?  What are they trying to do?

Web pages are complex cultural creations. Consider all the following elements in your design:

      NOTE: The conceptual work on this assignment is as important as the technical work. You are not expected to master all of Style Sheets for this assignment. Create your  page(s) using basic HTML tags and style sheets. Please do not use Web Authoring Software.  If you get engaged with the project, you will be able to continue working on this page as the semester proceeds. Complete a first pass within the time alotted. Save that version. If you have more time, you can start working with more complex tags. Late completions will not be accepted.

      There are two technical requirements:

      1.  Construct an imagemap and use it in your web page

      2. Another technical purpose of this assignment is learning Style Sheets.  The page you create to document your social computing intervention should use style sheets to control its appearance.  Please use samples of these style sheet features.

Saving your sites and sending links to the class list of links

      See the course index page for details on how to upload the site and the link to the site to the class Yahoo groups site.

Sample list of social computing categories and systems

Blogs - A chronologically ordered, self-published diary allowing comments and supporting interaction while generating a historical trail of permalinks (examples: Blogger, SixApart, Weblogs, Moveabletype, etc.)

Comparison shopping sites - Price, item description, and availability data is captured from individual retailers with social networking occurring through consumer evaluations of the vendors. (Campusi, Froogle, MySimon, Price Grabber, Shopzilla, etc.)

Consumer-2-consumer commerce - Direct sale through an intermediary, supported by social evaluation (Craigslist, eBay, uBid,yahoo auctions, etc.)

Mashups - Combines applications to create a new use, i.e. mapping combined with photo tags and mapping combined with real estate (Frappr, HousingMaps, Mappr, etc.)

Open source software - Public software readily available for sharing, enhancing, and use (Linux, my SQL,Firefox extensions, Greasemonkey, Chickenfoot,, etc.)

Peer-2-peer file sharing - Allows direct exchange of files over a network (BitTorrent, Gnutella, etc.)

Podcasts & Video Blogs (Vlogs) - Single-use or subscription-based online audio or video downloadable to a PC or other device ( iTunes, Odeo, PodcastAlley, Waxxi, etc.)

RSS - Live web application pushing updated content (blogs, photostreams, press releases, promotional offers, stock updates, web site updates, weather forecasts, etc.) to users through desktop or web-based applications (Bloglines, Feedburner, Newsgator, Pluck, Rojo, etc.)

Search engines - Crawl the web for content based on pre-defined criteria or aggregate content from multiple search players. Page ranking provides an example of Web 2.0 through peer "voting" as demonstrated through in-bound links (A9, Google, Kartoo, Sphere, Technorati, Wink, etc.)

Social networks - Online networking platforms allowing social interaction (CollectiveX, Jigsaw, Linked In, MySpace, Plaxo, Facetime, Meetup etc.)  Dating sites

Video, Photo Sharing, Tagging & bookmarking - Also called folksonomy, where users assign tags (descriptive words or phrase) to content, either their own or that created by others. (, Digg, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Tagworld, Tabblo,iStockphoto, YouTube, Google Video, etc.)

User review portals - Users evaluate products, services, locations, people, etc. creating feedback for other purchasers/users (ePinions, CNet, Rapleaf, ZDNet, etc.)

Crowdsourcing - Networked based work, access to dispersed freelance experts. (InnoCentive, NineSigma, YourEncore,  Yet2, .Amazon Mechanical Turk,  Wired article on crowdsourcing, crowdsourcing blog

Wikis - Shared publishing technology that allows multiple authors, version control, and enhanced social interaction (JotSpot, PBWiki, SociatlText, Wikipedia, etc.)

Multiplayer online games - ( Multiplayer game directory, Wiki - Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games)

List sites
- (,,,,

Derived and amended  from "Social computing in the Web 2.0 era" by  Paul Gibler

Blogger, Writely, Dodgeball, Feedburner, YouTube, Picasa (Google)
Stumbleupon and Skype (Ebay)
Facebook,, WebJay, Jumpcut,, and Oddpost.(Yahoo)

 - This page created by Stephen Wilson, Professor Conceptual/ Information Arts, SFSU ( 
- More information about the Conceptual Information Arts program is available at (
- Other advanced Web authoring resources can be found in the guide