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April 19, 2007

[iDC] A critique of sociable web media


Trebor Scholz

Our discussion about affective labor and the sociable web came up again at a recent panel at The New School. Afterwards there were quite a few fascinating responses to the arguments across the blogosphere to which I responded (here).

I summed up my ideas in a willfully provocative essay for a new issue of the journal Re-Public. (The issue also features essays by Geert Lovink, McKenzie Wark and Michel Bauwens.)

What is a fair exchange in the context of the highest traffic sites of the sociable web? Yes, we get much out of many sites to which we contribute. We can "egocast," build friendships, develop thousands of weak ties, learn, date, and simply enjoy hanging out with friends on this disembodied platform.

It is hard, however, not think of utilization when NewsCorp spent $583m on MySpace, which is now estimated to head toward a market value of $15billion (over the next 3 years). A definite value is created and that surplus value is not shared in a fair way.

The community, which indeed undoubtedly benefits, is monetized. People cannot simply leave if they don't like being used because their friends are all on that site. You can't post a video to a small video-sharing site if online fame is what you are after. Perhaps the days of "Friendster-mobility" are over. Here, the networked publics left in large numbers. The choice that participants have is limited; they are in a social lock-down of sorts. This lack of true alternatives may have well been the reason that 700.000 users of the Facebook recently protested when the unpopular RSS feature was introduced.

On the before mentioned panel, both, danah boyd and Ethan Zuckerman brought up the tremendous costs for NewsCorp that are associated with technically supporting all that sociality on MySpace. Ethan also pointed out that it may take big business to facilitate large scale networked social life.

In the end, what really matters is not only that people become aware of the fact that they are being used on these giant sites. It is important to be clear about the ownership of content and it is also crucial to know the privacy rules of the platforms that we are using.

What is most important, however, is the ability to be independent, which means that I have a way of leaving-- taking with me what I invested (the content-- the blog entries, the photos, the videos...). For me, much of the ethics of the sociable web is related to the ability to call it quits.


Some of these topics were also picked up in Sweden: http://www.whomakesandownsyourwork.org/mw/index.php?title=Main_Page

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Posted by jo at April 19, 2007 09:28 AM