[iDC] Trebor Scholz and Paul Hartzog: Toward a critique of the social web

Brad Borevitz brad at onetwothree.net
Mon Nov 5 02:08:17 UTC 2007

this paragraph, it seems to me, points to the contradictions inherent in
treating the actions of social web's "producers" as production
indistinguishable from that of those who actually own the means of

> A crucial phenomenon of the Web is that of captive community. Users
> contribute their content to social environments and are not able to
> take it with them if they wish to leave (eg., when you have uploaded
> years of your home videos on YouTube and photos on Flickr). User's
> friends are concentrated in only a few places, which is a key
> motivating factor for people to congregate there. Content, therefore,
> is also concentrated, which makes these sites more attractive. This
> captivity is not accidental but is rather central to startup business
> strategies.

whatever we create as users of these various commercial websites is not
really ours to keep. the uncertainties of ownership under the law are
obscured in the dense text of TOS agreements that hardly any user reads. our
assent to these terms is coerced, and purely formal. (i have long wondered
if anyone has critically examined issue of the meaningless assent to these
ubiquitous documents.) that is only aspect. portability is another. and
another is duplicability - that is can one download a copy of one's online
contributions in a readable and reusable format, for backup, archiving,
sharing, repurposing, etc.

we rent, we do not own. the significance of this cannot be understated.
whatever limited influence users have over policy and structure pales in
comparison to the structuring forces of the corporate interests that design
these platforms - and that will always be to subordinate all else to the to
the instrumentalizing productivist imperatives of profit - after the fact
and compensatory philanthropy notwithstanding.

i think the article brought out many wonderful examples of creative, and
against the grain uses of corporate technology, these tactics can be
important and sometimes even significant gestures of resistance. but what
about opting out? what about the opensource creation of alternative
platforms? how did the social networking site takeover from the homepage as
the location of self-publicity and outreach. what has been lost in that

while still relying on a raft of corporate infrastructure, the home page
maintains control over ones production in all the ways that are lost to
facebook, et. al. and the homepage need not be so humble since opensource
projects like drupal give one access to a huge range of sophisticated
features (not without some requirement of technical sophistication,

if there were more attention paid to developing open social protocols (and
i'm not necessarily talking about google's recent effort in this direction
because i suspect that will be structured to rely on the proprietary
platforms, but wait and see) instead of hyping the latest commercial
innovation as somehow revolutionary, we might be talking about some real
possibilities for social change. what if the sorts of networking activities
trevor listed could all take place without the mediation of youtube or
facebook or flicker?

remember how napster went down but gnutella rocks on (after a narrow escape
- via yes, opensource to the rescue - from AOL domination and death.

peer to peer technologies remain in the forefront of the real battles out on
the net. and CC too. these are all battles over ownership; these are the
battles over property.

but what we do in the course of our everyday use of the tools that the new
masters have given us is what de Certeau calls "la peruque" it may be
significant (in that we have agency, are not passive) but it's nothing new.
we are using the boss's machines for our own ends, for our own pleasures.
but we do the boss's bidding too, and we do enough of it, to make them
stinking rich.

brad borevitz


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