Ethnography and Algorithms

Nick Seaver’s recent article Algorithms as Culture has some really good guidance for folks wanting to study algorithmic systems using ethnographic methods (Seaver, 2017). The paper discusses a set of practical techniques, and provides much needed (IMHO) information about the practical craft of [critical algorithm studies]. Seaver points out that algorithmic systems aren’t simply black boxes, or sites that can be opened and understood. Studying algorithms requires methodologies that recognize how they are deployed in the world as part of culture.

[platform studies]: [critical algorithm studies]:

Seaver, N. (2017). Algorithms as culture: Some tactics for the ethnography of algorithmic systems. Big Data & Society, 4(2).

Open Standards

This post contains some rough notes for Andrew Russell’s Open Standards in the Digital Age which I just finished reading. If you are interested in the broad historical arc of standards development, particularly as they relate to the history of the Internet and telecommunications in the United States, then this is the book for you. In trying to keep with the spirit of Paul Edward’s reading advice these notes aren’t really meant to convey the full picture of Open Standards, but just focus on the somewhat selfish task of reminding myself why I read it, what my personal stakes were in the book, and what I got out of it.


From Chaffee & Lemert (2009), p. 126:

Chaffee, D., & Lemert, C. (2009). The new Blackwell companion to social theory. In B. S. Turner (Ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.


I recently reviewed an article draft that some EDGI folks were putting together that examines their work to date. The draft is quite useful if you are interested in how EDGI’s work to archive potentially at risk environmental scientific data fits in with related efforts such as Data Rescue, Data Refuge and Data Together. The article is also quite interesting because it positions their work by thinking of it in terms of an emerging framework for environmental data justice.


This is a snippet from Mayer-Schönberger (2011) that I happened to read soon after the Digital Blackness Symposium in Ferguson, Missouri. In one panel presentation we heard from a group of activists who spoke in part about how they wanted the records of protest in Ferguson to reflect how the activists changed as individuals. This was actually a theme that continued on from the first meeting a year earlier, where one of the main takeaways was that the archive needs to reflect voices in time–voices that are in the process of becoming. In Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Meyer-Schönberger draws on similar ideas and specifically focuses on how digital media’s ability to collapse time can actually work to to prevent change from happening:

Mayer-Schönberger, V. (2011). Delete: The virtue of forgetting in the digital age. Princeton University Press.