[iDC] Internet as Playground and User Defined Social Systems

Jonah Brucker-Cohen jonah at coin-operated.com
Sat Aug 1 14:48:00 UTC 2009

Hi all -

Trebor asked me to post some information on a project I am working on 
that relates to the theme of this event.  Just to introduce myself, I 
am an artist, writer, adjunct faculty at both NYU-Steinhardt and 
NYU-ITP, etc.. and finishing up my PhD at Trinity College Dublin 
(although I am based out of NYC). Over the past 15 years or so, I've 
been working on projects int he theme of "Deconstructing Networks" 
(also the title of my dissertation) that critically examine and 
deconstruct the social and technological implications of Internet 
culture and experience. From hacking networked devices to subvert 
their use and challenge their ubiquity, to examining the social 
systems of software as it proliferates across the Internet.

For example, in 2003 I developed a project called "Bumplist" that 
challenged the subscription policy and rules of email lists, by 
attaching a limit (6 members) to the amount of people that could join 
a list, so that the 7th subscription "bumped" someone off the list. 
This project was seen as both a experiment with the rules of software 
as well as playful attempt at discovering the consequences of placing 
rules on accepted forms of social software. Since 1999, I've worked 
on over 60 individual artworks that challenge our perception of 
networks and their relationship to social systems, the culture of the 
Internet, and play. Some of these include "Crank the Web", a browser 
with a handle that you manually have to "crank" in order to download 
a web site, "Alerting Infrastructure!", a web site hit counter that 
destroys the physical structure or building that the web site 
represents,  "PoliceState", a network of 20 remote controlled toy 
police cars that drive around in patterns associated with "terrorist" 
keywords that are sniffed on a local network (using Carvore - which 
was developed by Alex Galloway, who I believe is also on this list), 

You can check out BumpList here: http://www.bumplist.net
and My full projects list + details are here: 

To connect with the "Internet as Playground and Factory" event, I 
wanted to post more info about a new project I've been working with 
Mike Bennett on that subverts the rules of networked social media by 
allowing the public to design and implement these rules online and 
release them to the public. This project is called "THWONK" and it's 
a "Web 4.0" (yes skipping 3.0) platform and community for designing 
the rules of online communities such as email lists. THWONK is 
revolutionary because it gives you full access to manipulate and 
change the social rules of email list communication

THWONK is an exciting and new approach to creating online communities 
that allows participants to alter the rule sets of these systems.  We 
call this approach, "User Defined Social Systems". THWONK allows the 
public to design the rules of social networks such as email lists, 
a.k.a. User Generated Social Structures (UGSS).

Digital communication tools are a critical component of everyday life 
for many people. The appropriate and inappropriate design of 
communication tools influence and shape how we connect, interact and 
collaborate in local and distributed groups. Many of the digital 
communication tools we use arose organically; with no explicit 
understanding of the complex and multi-faceted effects they have on 
human behaviour. For example mailing lists emerged more than 30+ 
years ago, yet the social experience of mailing lists has remained 
nearly unchanged, e.g. mailing lists do not exist that are designed 
to explicitly support business processes.

THWONK is an ongoing collaborative project started in 2009 by Mike 
Bennett and Jonah Brucker-Cohen in the interdisciplinary research 
fields of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Mediated 
Communication (CMC). CMC is concerned with the design and study of 
online and digital communication tools, such as email, instant 
messaging, text messaging, social networks, and Twitter. THWONK is a 
free online website, authoring application and infrastructure for 
crowd-sourcing and simplifying the creation and rapid prototyping of 
novel CMC systems, such that non-technical users can quickly invent, 
explore and co-create novel CMC systems. Our purpose with THWONK is 
to shed new light on possible CMC designs. The second important aim 
is to simplify the process of CMC implementation and research.

THWONK is live and in Alpha, and available here: http://www.thwonk.com

There is a longer text about the project I would be happy to post 
here, but I just wanted to send out some info to let people know 
about it.


Jonah Brucker-Cohen
PHD Candidate -  Disruptive Design Team
NTRG, Trinity College
Dublin, Ireland

AIM: coinop29
Skype: coinoperated
Twitter: coinop29

Artist, Writer, Professor Based in Brooklyn, NYC, USA
http://www.coin-operated.com - projects and work/blog
http://www.scrapyardchallenge.com - Scrapyard Challenge Workshops
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