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Re: <nettime> Has Facebook superseded Nettime?
jaromil on Wed, 23 Sep 2009 12:41:33 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Has Facebook superseded Nettime?

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re all,

On Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 10:58:08PM +0200, Florian Cramer wrote:

> What is the solution? Is something like Facebook needed, but as a
> decentralized, non-data-minable, user-owned system? 

it's kind of funny now to report  here, when about a year ago i didn't
even  knew FaceBook  until you  show  me the  abyss :)  and while  you
removed yourself from it, I've kept exploring its meanders and forcing
my way through this "new mainstream" communication platform, something
hackers are called to be proficient at.

so hereby  a dweller's  opinion on FB  (and specifically FB,  not just
social networking in  general), from the point of  view of an Internet
native (and hacker, FWIW).

IRL Facebook has grown out of  a venture capital with a simple concept
on usability  and a huge momentum  in exploitation of  browsers by web
2.0 trends, arguably an inane  vision of horror for digital architects
and apparently a good  investment even for governmental agencies: some
people  in  dream  even  to   attribute  FB  with  some  authority  in
authenticating citizens.  Plus let's  not ignore that the platform, as
already  demonstrated by  Second  Life experiments,  has a  remarkable
potential for commerce.

Followed  by huge  mega-corporations  investments, FB  realized a  new
networked space in parallel with other efforts as Orkut and Friendster
- - I'll  be   willingly  omitting   those  because  similar,   as  well
nation-wide social  networking web-platforms (SNWP) here,  as Hyves in
the  Netherlands  or  StudiVZ  in  Germany or  RenRen  in  China,  for

This initial triad of big  choices (FB, Orkut and Friendster) realised
the   biggest  trans-national   and   trans-thematic  SNWPs,   roughly
summarized by a continental subdivision: Facebook for English speaking
North-America and  Europe, Orkut for South America  and Friendster for
Asia.   This  representation  is  meant to  be  mostly  inspirational,
documenting the  presence of a  demography, rather than  detailing it,
please     refer      to     this     table      for     completeness:

Given this (still very limited)  background scenario IRL, I'll share a
quick analysis on their network presence.

First the answer to your question; there is no way FB can substitute a
place  for discussion  like  Nettime, nor  a  knowledge resource  like
Usenet.  If smart enough, it might still include them (will the use of
Nettime in  FB, omitting ads, be considered  commercial?)  making them
reachable (incorporated  in a frame,  as it's done for  all redirected
content)  within  its  stupid-proof  infrastructure, but  arguably  it
shouldn't give access to them: imagine how such a flood of interaction
would  break  "intellectual  ecosystems"  as  ours... it  would  be  a
loss-loss situation for all.

As the hype will be over, the  function of FB will be that of an agile
interaction platform  for comments and  link exchange, a  function for
which Google is still planning its "Wave" platform, which can actually
change the scenario and win some sympathy considering is based on open
protocols  as   XMPP  (Jabber)  and  it  might   offer  a  distributed
architecture as it has been for  good old SMTP.

FB is  a quick way  to exchange contacts  with new and old  friends, a
superficial  way  to  investigate  people,  a  possible  platform  for
micro-commerce,  etc.  etc.  Besides  that,  it  is  a popular  public
relation platform for online-pop artists, but as such will be arguably
not  so  prestigious, lacking  the  original  touch  and mystery  that
artists  require to  be  really successful  (this  might open  another
chapter for this inquiry: how social networks will change the world of
art, but let's leave that for another time).

So  I'm arguing  that the  volume of  interaction and  the demographic
composition  of bulletin board  systems, newsgroups  and mailing-lists
won't be  changed by  FB (nor any  other SNWP) because  their inherent
peculiarities, from a technical  and human-machine interface as well a
more intellectual and aesthetic POV. What can arguably happen is that,
as  a  reproduction of  dynamics  already  seen  within the  evolution
between the aforementioned communication platforms, new generations of
netizens will  actually ignore  the past and  join the  convenience of
newer usable  systems, without realising  so easily how such  a choice
implies  a different quality  in online  exchanges, as  well different
demographic contexts.

In front of all this I believe "media theorists and practitioners", as
well  hackers, cannot  snob the  growth of  SNWPs: they  are extremely
interesting network implementations, even  if based on the fundamental
error of  using a web  browser as an  operating system.  In  fact this
latter  point, this  *disastrous*  dynamic  of web  2.0,  is the  real
problem we  should be  addressing and we  should really  fear, closely
connected to the fact SNWPs are all centralised architectures: relying
on obsolete and inefficient  browsing technologies regulated by a weak
and  dumb  (to say  the  least)  governance  as W3C,  heading  towards
scalability problems that will eventually impact the world in terms of
carbon footprint, if  we really want to fly high on  the issue now and
touch the server-hosting aspect.

Back to earth,  there are still many more things to  be said, at least
regarding   surveillance  and   censorship,  as   well   new  economic
opportunities. Leaving  the latter for a deeper  formulation (to which
I'd be  happy to contribute, if  not alone, for a  publication) let me
spend a few more works on the first two.

Surveillance of  FB is really happening  and, given the  nature of the
platform and  its large  base, it reaches  probably a wider  sample of
people, as well  deeper in the subjective minds  (and actions, in some
instances)  than any  other  networking platform  we have  experienced
before, with the still standing  exception of mobile phones.  But this
is also nothing new: investigators  have always had the opportunity to
monitor  people's lives on  the phone  and on  Internet (on  any media
platform offering interaction in fact), those that are backed by State
authorities or hacker super-powers  have always had the opportunity to
peak  into "average" people's  digital privacy  (assuming cryptography
isn't yet  an average  practice), so SNWP  can just  represent another
chapter  into the  next publication  of ETSI  SEC  lawful interception
dossier by Interpol  - *just another chapter*. So the  rise of SNWP is
just  improving a  tendency we  should be  aware of  since  long time,
nothing  to go  mad  about anyway.   After  all, what  this is  really
implying on  the wider  picture is that  there is a  trade-off between
popularity and privacy: while  controversy and rebellion is ïïïïïïï in
pop-culture  (just think of  Madonna's career  as a  pop singer  for a
quick reference) surveillance is a natural condition and censorship is
the risk for those who live on the bleeding edge.

Now we come to censorship (intended in the wider sense, from an online
post to body imprisonment): it is important to note that censorship is
not  enforced  by  SNWPs  exception made  for  commercial  competition
between themselves. External corporate  and state powers are those who
have interest to enforce a policy on them and this can arguably become
a  business model  for supra-national  SNWPs in  future. OTOH  FB will
actually censor *automatically* every link to any other SNWP, to avoid
the organic propagation of  competitors within its own infrastructure.
Presumably  other  SNWPs  are  doing  the same.   This  is  now  quite
fascinating:  SNWP are such  fluid giants  and have  such a  big media
potential that their weakest spot  is within themselves, they could be
flipped like a glove by the  injection and propagation of a new trend.
They will actually facilitate any other Exodus (meaning people staying
in contact across boundaries move more, mentally and physically), with
exception with  the movement  that will let  them loose  their virtual
citizens  and "biopolitical  value".  As  such, SNWPs  are configuring
themselves  as  way smarter  organisms  than  nation-states and  their
antiquate tax systems.

To conclude  with this torrent of  thoughts (and please  bare with the
contorted prose of this mail, but  I really have no time to proof-read
it now) let  me state that FB and more in  general larger SNWPs aren't
contained  by the Internet,  which cannot  be seen  anymore as  a base
infrastructure, but are in  fact generating bigger networks, providing
interaction to larger user-bases and ultimately hiding the lower layer
of their networking protocols in the cryptic hashes found in their web
URLs, resulting in secret (yet simple) algorithms that let them expand
the Internet  as a  fractal and still  hold the unique  possibility to
crawl its nodes,  establish an heuristic monopoly on  the network they


- -- 

jaromil, dyne.org developer, http://jaromil.dyne.org

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