Monday, 18 February 2013

How the web is remaking space in different ways

Social Media map for Singapore
Network theorists will often talk about two kinds of social networks that structure and organise space.  Centralised networks are the products of groups and political power, they seek to establish a official sense of a place.  Against these are local system of knowledge and speech are local slangs and local knowledge, where local people form networks of knowledge about places.  Traditionally these two processes are seen as in conflict: with authority exerting universal knowledge about places and local communities resisting with their own folk knowledge, but web 3.0 makes this dynamic more complex.  

On the web Wikipedia is a open sourced effort to create a definitive central source of information on the web.  Just because Wikipedia is open to the global community to edit, that is it is democratic, that does not mean it lacks institutions and systems of power.  
You might think that because something is crowd sourced it is different than the kinds of social networks established by governments or businesses, but actually stop to think about some major social networks and their impact on a space:
  • Wikipedia seeks to establish those locations of cultural, political, or historical note in a central authoritative system, much like a church or university.  
  • Yelp and Foursquare seek to measure venues, giving the user a means of ranking and evaluating them, just a a company may evaluate employees or a school may rank students.

Social Media map for Jakarta Indonesia
This is one of the reasons I am so interested in Twitter, Twitter is a much more open communication channel.  People can speak about what they want, post the photos and links they like for a place and they don't have to be too concerned about administrators or the votes of millions of other people.  If I see an image I can post it without concern for it being approved by an administrator or how it is voted.

Certainly Twitter has its only political ranking of follower counts and retweets.  But it still offers the most direct access to publishing by locals who may be part of communities or not part of fixed networks.  This is probably why it is so popular with political protests.

But the danger is that twitter is not a great place to build networks need to exercise power.  The 140 character limit is ideal for shouting and sharing images, and a place for people with shared ideas to meet, but it lacks the 'space' to engage in discourse.

So this is the state of geo-social data.  On one end crowd sourced sites that, regardless of their motives, will establish new networks of power like those described by Foucault.  System to count, evaluate, name and establish the meaning and structure of space.  Twitter can do this, but it may also give users a free from way to write their own messages about a community and location.  For areas where the internet is not well established mobile tweeps have the potential to build networks using Twitter's flexible tools.

But there is a danger that Twitter can isolate voices who may be shouting out at no-one.  As of yet I am aware of a solid theory of who people are generally tweeting to.  I am not convinced of the emergent theorist who seem to hold that networks will emerge in to higher levels of organisation.  Rather I look thinking going from Twitter the future is places like MeetUp, where people connected via social networks can engage in face to face.

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