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Cultural Institutions and Participation / Reading Summary

I have chosen this topic to combine a major ongoing topic of this class -participation- with my interest for cultural institutions. The Web is a challenge to institutions. This book demonstrates how Social Media could be the interface that turns museums into platforms dedicated to fruitful interactions.

THE PARTICIPATORY MUSEUM by Nina Simon

PREFACE

In the preface of her book Nina Simon explains the reasons that pushed her to focus on the development of a new strategy for museums.

She starts by making an objective statement: “Over the last twenty years, audiences for museums, galleries, and performing arts institutions have decreased, and the audiences that remain are older and whiter than the overall population.” In other words it seems to be pretty clear now that cultural institutions are no longer very good at fulfilling their educational mission.  They would have better to question their strategy and redesign it to attract a broader and more diverse audience.

If cultural institutions do not adapt their strategy they put themselves at risk to be supplanted by the Web: “increasingly people have turned to other sources for entertainment, learning, and dialogue. They share their artwork, music, and stories with each other on the Web.”

Obviously museums have lost their connection with the public. How to retrieve it? In Nina Simon perspective, the Web is not the enemy of cultural institutions, on the contrary she sees it as a great opportunity to “enhance cultural institutions”. Museums should recognize that people are no longer willing to be a passive audience: they expect to have their say in the learning process provided by museums. They want to actively participate.

Nina Simon strongly emphasize on the change in the visitor status: “Visitors expect access to a broad spectrum of information sources and cultural perspectives. They expect the ability to respond and be taken seriously. They expect the ability to discuss, share, and remix what they consume.” This point seems particularly interesting to me as I believe that this is the most challenging requirement, the one that is going to give the hardest time to cultural institutions. Cultural institutions are used to provide people with a discourse full of information and resources but they are not used to be open to question. In other words they are used to the one to many type of communication. They only work with experts and do not consider people’s insight. But this is not working anymore.

Museums have to change to become a place to SHARE.According to Simon it requires three changes in museums attitude:

  1. To be audience centered that is to say providing a place designed to meet visitors’ expectations
  2. To let visitors construct their own experience, respect their freedom
  3. To take into account users’ voice and allow them to provide information and to invigorate the place

As we can see, the main change lies in the role attributed to the visitors. To attract visitors, museums should include them in their activities.

So far so good but how to practically achieve this major change in cultural institutions  that are used to traditional practices?

Simon stands for a participatory strategy and argues that museums should rely on the Web to take on the challenge of redefining the role of their visitors. Implementing a participatory approach could help solving five forms of public dissatisfaction in experiencing cultural institutions:

  1. Museums are often said to be irrelevant in people’s daily lives.
  2. They are said to never change, to be kind of frozen
  3. A place where you only get one authoritative discourse
  4. Not a creative place
  5. Not a comfortable place to interact with people

Nina Simon explains that her goal with this book is to provide museums with practical tips that will enable them to organize this change.

CHAPTER 5: DEFINING PARTICIPATION AT YOUR INSTITUTION

I have chosen to provide you with an abstract of this chapter because it brings back to the ongoing tensions in the relationships between institutions and networks. The participatory Web has resulted in an increase in the development of diverse networks. Institutions used to be the only authority but now the situation has completely changed and the emergence of networks has generated a power of resistance. The knowledge that cultural institutions offer to people is not only likely to be analyzed but also questioned.

Nina Simon starts by establishing that a participatory strategy can only be successful if the institution stops rejecting the visitor’s input and accept to be open to establish a partnership. She stresses on 3 required principles:

  1. “Desire for the input and involvement of outside participants
  2. Trust in participants’ abilities
  3. Responsiveness to participants’ actions and contributions”

In other words, the institutions have to be in the right mindset. Once these 3 principles are secured within the institution, there is a lot of ways of implementing participation.

The question is: How to chose the best kind of participation for your institution?

  • Models for participation

To address the question Nina Simon aims at creating a typology of the different models of participation.

She relies on a comparison between science labs and refers to the scientist Rick Bonney. “In 1983 Bonney joined the staff at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and co-founded its Citizen Science program, the first program to professionalize the growing participatory practice. Over the course of several projects at the Lab, Bonney noted that different kinds of participation led to different outcomes for participants.” In 2008 Bonney and his team managed to defined three models of participation. In Simon’s perspective these models are applicable to museums as “like science labs, cultural institutions produce public-facing content under the guidance of authoritative experts.” Here are the different levels of participation established by Bonney and one added by Nina Simon:

  1. Contributory projects = Visitors collect data that are processed by the experts
  2. Collaborative projects = Visitors collect and analyze data together with experts in a kind of partnership
  3. Co-creative projects = Visitors are included in the development of the project from the very beginning. Visitors’ concerns are seriously taken into account.
  4. Hosted project = The institution provides a portion of its facilities to support project developed by visitors
  • Finding the right model for your institution

Which model of participation suit you the best?

The answer comes down to the culture of the institution. Is its staff very likely to actually involve participant in the development of the museum? “Institutional culture helps determine how much trust and responsibility the staff will grant to community members, and forcing an organization into an uncomfortable model rarely succeeds.” It is key to understand the institution’s culture and to adapt the participation model to it. To be able to determine which model will suit you the best Nina Simon recommends a set of questions:

× What kind of commitment does your institution have to community engagement?

× How much control do you want over the participatory process and product?

× How do you see the institution’s relationship with participants during the project?

× Who do you want to participate and what kind of commitment will you seek from participants?

× How much staff time will you commit to managing the project and working with participants?

× What kinds of skills do you want participants to gain from their activities during the project?

× What goals do you have for how non-participating visitors will perceive the project?

  • Participation and mission

Constantly refer to the mission of your institution and propose projects according to it. “Speaking the language of the institutional mission helps staff members and stakeholders understand the value of participatory projects and paves the way for experiments and innovation.” Be careful to design projects that remain consistent with your institution culture and identity.

  • The Unique educational value of participation

Education is the corner stone of museums. In this specific area, participatory techniques have proven to be the more efficient “to help visitors develop specific skills related to creativity, collaboration, and innovation.”

Nina Simon states that “participatory projects are uniquely suited to help visitors cultivate these skills when they encourage visitors to:

  1. Create their own stories, objects, or media products
  2. Adapt and reuse institutional content to create new products and meaning
  3. Engage in community projects with other visitors from different backgrounds
  4. Take on responsibilities as volunteers, whether during a single visit or for a longer duration”

  • The Value of giving participants a real work

While visitors develop their skills, museums can also benefit directly from participatory strategies if they entrust visitors with real projects.

  • The strategic value of participation

Participation can enhance the value of your institution in its community. It can improve its image and gain credibility in the society. “Participatory projects can change an institution’s image in the eyes of local communities, increase involvement in fundraising, and make new partnership opportunities possible.” Nina Simon encourages cultural institutions to focus on local communities and be more relevant in people’s everyday lives.

Museums struggling for life?

Click to discover what it is to be a museum in 2010 and what are the new challenges museums have to face to survive!



Thanks Nadine for being the best Audicity Hotline ;-)

Weekly Summary: Networking, Notworking, and What to do Next?

Networks – The Science-Spanning Disciplines - Anna Nagurney

Dr. Anna Nagurney is a professor in the Department of Finance and Operations Management at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the Founding Director of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks. You can read more about her on her blog here.

In Nagurney’s presentation (from 2005), she enthusiastically discusses the pervasiveness of networks in people’s every day lives and how they’re essential to the functioning of societies and economies. She notes that networks are imperative parts of business, social systems, science, technology, and education by providing their very infrastructure.

Background of Networks

Transportation is one of the most essential forms of networks, and can also be one of the most complex. Nagurney uses the concept of the transportation network throughout her presentation to help explain a number of different points. This network is so important because transportation is used not only to facilitate face-to-face communication, but also to provide access to other networks. Anna notes in her speech that there are 3 basic network components:

  • Nodes
    • Ex. Transportation intersections, homes, work places
  • Links or Arcs
    • Could have direction or be bidirectional or just represent connections without any type of direction
    • Ex. Roads, railroad tracks
  • Flows
    • Means various things within different contexts and applications
    • Without these, (with just nodes and links), one is essentially talking about a graph
    • Ex. Cars, trains

The Study of Networks

From a scientific methodology standpoint, to her, the beauty of studying networks lies in finding problems where one might think no network exists. Much like we talked about last week concerning the sense that there’s a plethora of virtual interconnections taking place every day on the street that go unnoticed, Anna searches for these happenings and looks to study how they interact as a network. She explains that, “the study of networks is not limited to only physical networks, but also to abstract networks in which nodes do not coincide to locations in space.” More specifically, the study of networks involves:

  • Forming these applications as mathematical units
  • Studying these models from a qualitative perspective
  • Creating algorithms to solve the ensuing model

The studying of networks has elicited 3 classic problems:

  • The Shortest Path Problem
    • The search to move flows in the most efficient way from an origin to one or more destinations
    • Ex. Transportation; minimizing storage needed for books in a library
  • The Maximum Flow Problem
    • Figuring out the capacity of the network
    • Ex. Network reliability testing; Building evacuation
  • The Minimum Cost Flow Problem
    • The search to find the flow pattern that minimizes the total cost, without exceeding capacity
    • Ex. Warehousing & distribution; biology; finance- asset liability management

This scientific approach to studying networks seeks to determine patterns within networks, which can then aid in unifying a variety of applications.

Characteristics of Today’s Networks

In the past, congestion was not such a huge problem, but now it is becoming more and more so. This can even be considered when talking about social networks, with Nagurney explaining that with, “a push of a button, you can reach 10s of thousands of millions” of people.

The behavior of users is also an important characteristic to consider. Users, both on an individual and group level, can behave in a variety of ways within a network. This can even lead to alternative behaviors and paradoxes, such as the Braess Paradox. The paradox highlights the cost to society concerning user optimization vs. system optimization.

The Supernetwork

Nagurney postulates that it’s time for a new paradigm: that of the supernetwork. These supernetworks can be connected, multilevel, or even multi-criteria. It’s important to not only study individual decision-making, but “the effect of many competing, collaborating, cooperating.”

With these supernetworks, come new tools to study them, including game theory and optimization theory. She also lists a few common applications of these supernetworks, including knowledge networks, teleshopping decision-making, and electronic transactions.

Nagurney then explores how these supernetworks can integrate social networks, by looking at types of relationships. The value and strength of the relationships that are fostered become the “flows” in social networks. She explains that establishing relationships incurs costs, but with higher relationship levels comes a reduction in costs and risk and an increase in value. The belief in social responsibility of the users and the fact that social networks are dynamic and ever-changing are important factors to consider when studying these networks.

The Principle of Notworking - Geert Lovink

Dr. Geert Lovink is a Research Professor of Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and an Associate Professor of New Media at the University of Amsterdam. His book The Principle of Notworking was published in 2005.

Throughout the first section (“Multitude, Network and Culture”) of Lovink’s book The Principle of Notworking, Lovink mainly quotes George Yudice, Antonio Negri, and Michael Hardt. (In 2003, Yudice wrote the book The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era, where he theorizes about the changing role of culture in a world that’s becoming more global-oriented. Negri and Hardt co-wrote the books Empire (2000) and Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of the Empire (2004). While Empire was about corporations and global institutions coming to the forefront, Multitude centered on the population of the ‘empire,’ explaining that this body is defined by its diversity.)

Lovink begins his book by explaining the importance of analyzing culture as a resource, rather than a commodity, which he argues is especially important when discussing Internet culture. He believes that the commercial efforts of the dotcom models during the late 1990s were “wrong.” He argues that the, “culturalization of the Internet is at hand,” and, like Nagurney, seeks to present the importance of the user over the system.

Much like Nagurney stated in her presentation, Lovink also recognizes that an important aspect of Internet culture is that it is in, “a permanent flux.” He explains that experts on the Internet are still having trouble comprehending this, though, mentioning that it is a “cultural turn.” He notes that those having trouble seeing the Internet as something constantly changing still see the Internet as a commodity and tend to hold theories of “religious nature.”

In accordance with his belief of the importance of the user over the system, he believes that more sufficient research is required on the subject and does not believe Nagurney’s scientific approach is adequate. With this, he thinks that new media needs a language of its own, which will be more inclusive of his idea of networks as “post-human.”

Lovink also explains the importance of having different communities come together (similar to a point Nagurney makes). He sees this happening with the outsourcing of IT, which allows for the chance of “cultural mingling.” But, while networks have the opportunity to foster creativity, cooperation, and a sense of liberation, they can also be used for the purpose of control. This is mentioned through his discussion of the ‘protocol’ theory and Gilles Deleuze’s ideas of ‘the control society.’

What Lovink believes defines today’s networks, he describes through the term “notworking.” It is elements that go awry within the make-up of the network from yesterday that help to shape the network of today. These examples of “notworking,” such as spam and viruses stem from the “frustrated mind” – those, “who breach the consensus culture,” and are pushed to the outer boundaries of the network.

Review of The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (2 Reviews + 1 Response)

The Exploit: A Theory of Networks is a book co-written by Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, which was published in 2007. It is a theoretical book about how networks operate, their political implications, and how flaws in the system can lead to positive change. Galloway is an associate professor in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. Eugene Thacker is an associate professor of new media in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Review 1: Daniel Gilfillan

Daniel Gilfillan is Associate Professor of German Studies and Information Literacy, and Affiliate Faculty in Film and Media Studies and Jewish Studies at Arizona State University. Read more about him and his work on his Academic Portfolio site.

Gilfillan’s review of The Exploit mainly focuses on commending Galloway and Thacker for presenting a contemporary understanding of networks. Like Lovink, Gilfillan, Galloway, and Thacker recognize that networks are used for control purposes and consumerism (also referencing Deleuze and his “control societies” and “dataveillance” concepts).

What Gilfillan is mainly concerned with is the concept of pushing past this, “system of control,” by taking advantage of openings within it, which can lead to something new and progressive. Similar to Lovink’s point of what makes networking is the “notworking,” Gilfillan agrees with Galloway and Thacker that it is these “flaws” within networks that makes progressive change possible. In relation to this, Gilfillan discusses Galloway and Thacker’s belief that there is a new balance between networks- an “alliance between ‘control’ and ‘emergence.’” But, a new type of asymmetry must be found that takes advantage of inconstancies within a network; Galloway and Thacker call this need both the “antiweb” and “an exceptional topology.”

While networks need hierarchical systems of control, it is also important to have aspects of a decentralized system of distribution. This helps to allow for this asymmetry, and hence, flaws within the system. Gilfillan notes that it’s here that allows for the possibility for “counterprotocol practices,” making advancement possible: “it will be sculpted into something better, something in closer agreement with the real wants and desires of its users” (from Galloway & Thacker).

He gives the following definitions as a guide to the exploitation of these flaws:

  • Vector: The exploit requires a medium where an action or motion can take place
  • Flaw: The exploit needs weaknesses within the network, enabling the exposure of the vector
  • Transgression: The exploit then creates a change within the ontology of the network, making the “failure” of the network an alteration in its topology

Review 2: Nathaniel Tkacz

Nathaniel Tkacz is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, where he’s researching the, “political dynamic of Open Projects (projects influenced by the principles and production models of Free and of Open Source Software, but translated into different domains).” Read more about him and his work on his research site.

While protocol was a minor detail in the overall message presented by Gilfillian, this was the main topic of discussion for Tkacz. He explains, “protocol is a set of rules or codes that enables, modulates, and governs a specific network and also a general logic of governance for all networks.” It is a form of control and a way of, “directing flows of information,” which he equates to the Panopticon in Foucault’s disciplinary society.

But, this protocol allows for the exploitation of the flaws within it- it becomes the “target of resistance.” Rather than changing existing technologies to promote transformation, “protological struggles,” emerge that entail, “discovering holes in existing technologies and projecting potential change through these holes.” These “holes” are called “exploits” by hackers.

From here, Tkacz goes on to explain a number of ‘limitations” he feels the book has. Tkacz believes that the way the book was structured created some limitations in itself (the book was written as a ‘network,’ which Tkacz believed left things underdeveloped). Another problem that Tkacz sees is that the book relies too heavily on the “old centralized/decentralized dichotomy,” rather than holding firm to one of the main claims of their book: networks can take numerous forms. A third dilemma he had is that he found the idea behind the authors’ protocol/exploit argument less persuasive as it moved from the specific, more important details to the general points.

Author Response: Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker

The authors begin their response by noting that Gilfillan mentioned one of the key points of the book: “the uncannily anonymous, network tactics demonstrated by ‘pliant and vigorous nonhuman actors.’” They explain their interest in the view that networks are, “something beyond the human altogether.” While networks might have once originated from human means, in their functioning as a network, they have lost their most essential human qualities. Viruses on networks don’t thrive because the network is “down” and not working properly; rather, they excel because of the very fact that the networks are working just as they should be. This is similar to a point that Lovink makes of networks being “post-human.”

Looking at both Gilfillan’s and Tkacz’s mention of Foucault and Deleuze being used in The Exploit, Galloway and Thacker clear up their reasoning behind using Foucault’s ideas. The two authors were not looking at Foucault’s work concerning discipline-surveillance; rather, they looked to build upon his work in biopolitics and security. Similarly, the authors note that the influential aspects of Deleuze did not just lie in his essay on “control societies.” Rather, it was in connecting that concept to his interest in the notions of immanence and univocity (the belief, expanded upon from Spinoza, that there are no numerically separate substances).

The authors ultimately ask: what should be done concerning these networks? “Should we as humans learn to be more like nonhumans?” They explain that there have been a number of responses to their question throughout philosophy. But, there are three in particular that they deem important. The first being the “’master of the universe’ attitude.” This says that exploits, such as viruses, must be eliminated. The opposite of this viewpoint is that of the agnostic. Here, it is accepted that, “the world is lost in the hands of technology, dry and lifeless after the passage into modernity.” The third thought process is that within this “dry and lifeless” world, lies something new and emergent at the core.

The authors leave us with the question, “Can there be an ontology of networks?” Must there always be an outside mediator to the network? Can a network topology express itself from within?



Network and get rich with your 4th travelogue

Now that we’ve concluded our third travelogue. We can start the fourth, richer travelogue.

You already know the drill, you choose an environment and start exploring, trying to surprise yourselves and to come up with new perspectives and understanding of the issues and debates within the new media discourse.

What do I mean by richer? We are going to extend our weapons of choice. I mean we are going to use more than text for our posts:

  • Audio (podcasts)
  • Videos (vodcasts)
  • Slideshows
  • Comic strips
  • Flash animations
  • Software
  • Annotated Maps
  • Annotated webpages
  • Your medium of choice here

The post itself would use “rich” media as its leading medium for the post (with text used to fill in the blanks), the comments are still textual (Not to say you can’t post a video response if you so wish).

I want YOU to be the producers of the rich-media you post (no: “Look what I’ve found on YouTube. Done”).

For the class after Spring Break (March 23rd):

  • Choose a subject. If you want our feedback on your ideas, post them by Saturday 4pm, so you can still create the content in time.
  • Post a short introduction post to your travelogue using the rich format. Try to present both your area of research and the media of choice.
  • Refer to the how-to page to learn more about how to post different stuff. If you have questions, search the web, if the web has answers, share them with us.
  • If you still do not know how to post your thing, email me, I am very open to adding plug-ins to our WordPress. If you want me to do that, email me after researching the plugins. (I recommend you try to solve things by yourselves prior to asking me for help)
  • I am open to collaborations (in the price of higher expectations).
  • Post 4+ comments to your fellow students posts. Try to give constructive feedback on both content and use of media.

Required Listening + Reading:

Recommended Reading:

For Leslie:

  • Read the article, the essay and watch the introduction
  • Summarize it for us in a nicely accessible post to be published by Sunday 4pm, ideally running some threads between them.
  • Be prepared to present the article and lead the discussion in class
  • Post to del.icio.us some links that expand the discussion either about the text or about key themes in it.

Enjoy, and see you next week!

Social Networks, a tool for corporations to believebly go social?

Social Networks gather people all over the world breaking every types of boundaries. They kind of break the establishment enabling networking and interractions among people who would never have been in touch.

Consequences : corporations, as part of the civil society, are often attacked or at least asked for explanations regarding the way they run their business.

Here’s companies’ new communication challenge : being both PROFITABLE and RESPONSIBLE (CSR)

Social networks seem to offer a new approach to communication by providing more proximity and truth in the contacts they establish among people. Determined to protect and improve their image, many companies are trying to implement communication strategies using social networks to meet their goal.

For instance Danone Group has created a Facebook page to call up people around the causes they support through Danone.Communities. So far Danone has proven to be pretty successful.

But how can we measure the impact of social media on corporations’ credibility? Is it a new efficient communication tool that companies should use or a trap which puts companies at risks they are not ready to face yet?