Archival of Web Artifacts and Digital Commodities

The internet is, as a whole, an important representation of worldwide human culture.  While some organizations such as the Internet Archive set out to preserve the web as a whole, much if it is not recoverable for various reasons – including practicality of storage media and copyright laws.  This topic occurred to me in the past few days when I attempted to load up a video on why one would want to become an archivist.  It was highly recommended to me.  Of course, the video link was already dead and non-recoverable.  I don’t know if that was the point or not – perhaps as some sort of high concept experiment – but it was rather striking and ironic nonetheless.  Exabytes of information are being produced and sadly rapidly lost thanks to the disposable nature of web-only born-digital content.

The issue in many ways comes down to problems with censorship.  Not censorship of ideas, but censorship via the use of copyright laws as a way to bar the transaction of information.  I still find it surprising and sad that there is no way in this country to legally transfer a software license between two adults without using the software author as a mediator – if that is even possible at all.  There’s a lack of empowerment when it comes to digital products that has frightening implications considering the progression of digital commerce.  As more and more media is digitized or even born digital, the lack of the application of a law similar to the First Sale process could hurt consumers and archivists at the benefit of large publication corporations, instead of artists or other content producers.

Even so-called “free” media is not truly free.  Items in the public domain published online still require money to provide storage media and internet access.  Thus, no digital form of information is ever completely free of cost in some way.

There is of course, hope – ICT allows authors to self-publish, which can allow them to cheaply make their content available for consumers and archivists.  The problem is that a lot of the greatest works of art or science still fall under the laws of copyright that prevent facilitating access.

Society affects technology and technology affects society, but I still have not heard any real progress on the front of digital ownership and don’t quite expect to.  Property laws have woefully lagged behind when it comes to digital commodities.

So who pays?  What happens when free media are no longer hosted and expensive media cannot be afforded?  What happens when a company stops publishing a piece of media but refuses to put it into the public domain?  The answer is: all of us suffer.  “Ask not who the bell tolls – it tolls for thee” is the phrase that states that all men and women will one day die.   The death of every human being diminishes us.  The death of any piece of information diminishes us as well.

Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives By John Palfrey, Urs Gasser
A Politics of Intellectual Property: Environmentalism for the Net?Author(s): James Boyle


Gender Identity Representation in Technology

Continuing from last week’s talk about identity in games, I wanted to talk this week about how technology and gender expression work together.  Technology is often male built and male oriented.  This can be seen in such diverse places as the plans for low-income housing or the design of an airplane.  A lot of this stems from the exclusion of women from the development of new technological platforms. 


I particularly like the term “brogrammer” when it comes to the male dominated profession of computer programmer.  One paper noted that the programming field expects workers to devote themselves entirely to being constantly available to overtime work, which conflicts with societal expectations of women to be family oriented to keep women out of the profession.

Another metaphor that’s interesting is the idea of gender and technology as a personal house, which can be customized and decorated with a user’s personal identity in order to better fit into society as a whole.  One of the more interesting recent examples is the change earlier this year featuring more fluid spectrums of gender and sexuality as self-identification options in Facebook.  One queer blogger said that in many ways, technology opening a dialogue is more important than the actual outcome.  What’s important is visibility, but the same blogger also says that the identity as a human being should outshine things like gender, which is a healthy attitude to take, considering the cultural and emotional baggage that gender carries with it.

As male-centric as technology is, it can be even more unwelcoming to GLBT people.  The fact of the matter is that though women may be systematically excluded; there is no shame in and of itself of being one.  GLBT, however, carries many social stigmas with those categories, which may vary by culture from being mildly unusual to being marked for public execution. 

I talked last week about role-playing.  Online identities play into the role of the persona – a constructed social image geared for a specific purpose.   Cross-play, in games, doesn’t erase gender, but adds another layer.  The player and their character or persona in a technological world merge together to become a male playing a male, or a female playing a neutral gendered entity.  Technology doesn’t erase the base gender of the person using it, but adds another world on top of the real world that adds another gender.  It’s sort of like Augmented Reality – it doesn’t replace one world, merely adds another upon it.  For instance, a man playing a female character will act much more sexually promiscuous than a female playing male because men are trained to see women as objects of sexual desire.  Male characters are instantly accepted as male players, while female personae are often treated with an air of suspicion.

All of this confirms my conclusion last week that technology cannot superseed the expectations society places on gender, but merely adds another layer on top of it.


Women Walking through Plans: Technology, Democracy, and Gender Identity
Author(s): Wiebe E. Bijker and Karin BijsterveldSource: Technology and Culture, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 485-515Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for the History of TechnologyStable URL:


Author(s):Hamid Nach (Student)

Ontario Albert Lejeune
École des Sciences de la Gestion

Université du Québec à Montréal

Gender Identity, the Culture of Organizations, and

Women’s IT Careers

Wendy R. Carroll

Acadia University, Canada

Albert J. Mills

Saint Marys University, Canada–gender_differences.pdf

Gender in Constructed Worlds

Gender in virtual worlds is an interesting concept.  In virtual digitized worlds, particularly the ones to create customized characters, there are often a multitude of options ranging from human to talking panda bear (such as in World of Warcraft). With so many games offering a range of options to customize in-game avatars, one would think that virtual worlds would create spaces free from identity-based social problems such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Alas, this is not the case, for a number of reasons.  First, about 90% of game developers are both male and heterosexual.  This constrictive hold on content production greatly limits the diversity of viewpoints represented in interactive experiences, regardless of cosmetic customization of in-game avatars. 

This does, however, intrude upon the customization of in-game avatars.  For the most part, player characters that are male are overly masculine and non-sexualized.  They represent a power fantasy.  Meanwhile, female player characters are usually overly sexualized, and tend to represent a form of sexual fantasy.  If part of the purpose of these immersive games is to allow players to indulge in personal fantasies, then there is often no legitimate way to play out the fantasy of being a woman and physically powerful.  However, just as similarly, it is very difficult for a player to indulge in the fantasy of being a male but sexually attractive – outside of being six feet of muscles and scars, anyway.  Nevertheless, male characters vary far more.  Male characters are allowed to be unattractive or average and can also be attractive (if non-sexualized, they can still be handsome).  Female characters must universally be sexually appealing, thus proving that the idea of male gaze is enforced within these worlds.

A common within the video game industry joke is the “Chainmail Bikini”.  A male warrior character from a medieval fantasy world wears plate armor that covers everything but his face.  A female warrior character from the same world will wear chainmail that covers her nipples and genitals and nothing else. Both will have the same capabilities in terms of gameplay, but the fantasy is obviously split into one of physical power and one of sexual arousal.  In some games, the same armor can be traded between male and female characters.  On male it becomes plate armor, on women – right back to the chainmail bikini, like some kind of sexist, metal, virtual Schrödinger’s cat.

In regards to females, there is also the stereotype that girls do not play videogames.  Male video game hobbyists outrank female players by a margin of about 2 or 3 males for every single female.  However, game scholarship is not very well defined in this area.  Most research in this area has a weak definition of a video game hobbyist.  For example, a woman who plays Facebook browser based games for 10 minutes a day is usually listed as being as much of a “gamer” as a girl who puts 2 hours a day into a more complex and difficult game.  This is overall a flaw with research in the industry that needs to be fixed.

Nevertheless, the evidence still points to girls playing less than boys.  The question often asked: “Is this because girls don’t like the medium, or because games aren’t developed with girls in mind?”  Personally, I think a bigger question is “Why aren’t more women developing games?”  It would seem to reason, logically, that women would know what women want.  However, the entire female gender has largely been excluded from the modern world of video game production, and female producers and directors in particular are rare if not for all intents and purposes non-existent.

In this case, it is sad but true that technology shapes society as much as society shaped technology.  In studies of virtual worlds, it has been found that people tend to direct their avatars to unconsciously follow social norms.  People play games and prevent their characters at staring at others, have their characters obey personal space, and so on.  So it follows that, just like many studies in real life, players tend to unconsciously regard white, attractive, male player avatars as being preferred.  Male characters keep their distance from each other and make less eye contact so as not to seem “gay” and androgynous, transgender, or transsexual characters are considered less desirable than both male and female characters.

Since the player base for these games is so geared towards white heterosexual males, since that demographic is the one producing them, which has two major effects.  First is the bigotry and homophobia towards gay male players.  It is a topic that is somewhat outside of the scope of this post but it is not uncommon to receive death threats just for identifying as gay in certain online games.  Secondly, female characters are valued for their sex appeal.  Through both of these avenues, male heterosexual players seek to prove and enforce their heterosexuality by rejecting homosexuals and embracing the idea of woman as sex object.

One of the things I was most disappointed with my cursory look through articles about gender in games is that I couldn’t find a lot of scholarly stuff about cross-play – playing a gender or sex other than the one the player has in real life.  I’d be interested to know the social dynamics behind that.


Use of Blogs to Promote and Wirte Fiction

Online blogs are both personal and public, being created for personal use but marketed for public consumption. This format is typical of Web 2.0 technologies that emphasize ease of use and participation. Blogs can participate in journalism, scholarship, identity formation, pedagogy, promotion, and information management.
As an author, I’m particularly interested in the use of blogs as a way to build communities of practice around fiction. The use of blogs for writing, publishing, and promoting provides what I think is an interesting alternative to mainstream publishers for an author to get their feet on the ground. I know of two popular novels – “John Dies at the End” and “Worm” that both started or are starting publication using some variation of this format. Fielser and others who have done research on the phenomenon of “internet fandom” have noted how works of fiction can foster online communities that regulate social norms and change perception of a work. So could an author use a blog or blog-like technology to purposefully cultivate a fandom in order to promote their works?
Author Lori Jareo self-published a Star Wars fanfic novel on a blog, and then attempted to charge donations to see it via Amazon. For this action, she was (perhaps rightly) criticized. However, personally, I am interested to see what the feedback would be for a non-fanfiction work published in this manner. Steven A. Hetcher noted in a 2009 work that the backlash against Jareo was a classic example of how blogs can be employed as social norms to regulate remix cultural mores. Casey Fielser (2007) made similar observations, noting that blogs have a transformative effect on the publishing and promotion, as well as social regulation of materials published upon them. If something published on a blog can garner such negative attention, might it not be possible to use a blog to garner positive attention for an original work?
Mayzlin and Yoganarasimhan (2011) noted that participation in blogs allowed authors to show the quality of their work by providing a means of linking to and from other quality works. Though their research was mostly focused on journalism, it may also hold true for works of fiction.

Many self-publishing avenues also closely link blogs with e-book distribution. For example, blog site WordPress is compatible with WooCommerce, which is a plug-in that facilitates the distribution of digital works.

This article ( by Kimberley Grabas, however, says the use of blogs by fiction writers is best used to intensify interest in a small audience rather than reach out to a larger one. In fact, a lot of blogs where authors discussed blogging noted that most popular blogs are built around authoritative value, and that it was difficult to attract people to a more generalized fiction blog.

Perhaps the most interesting result from all this has been the emergence of the “blognovel”, a narrative in the form of a diary of a fictional character shaped by comments from visitors as the story progresses. This can create a unique, socio-technological form of narrative that hasn’t really been seen before the advent of Web 2.0.

I think there is a lot of potential let untapped in using blogs for fiction. Whether it’s posting stories, editorials, reviews, promoting publishing, fostering communities, intensifying fan devotion and so on that has yet to be explored. When I finish writing my first novel I plan on experimenting with blogs as a way to promote and share pieces of it for promotion and criticism. I’m pretty excited to see what happens.

I do wish that there was more research on this particular sub-field. Almost all the information I could find about this was from the anecdotal experience of authors. I was able to find some peer-reviewed journal articles somewhat relating to it about fandoms and fan-fiction, but it’s not quite the same, so that seems like an interesting topic to look at in the future when it comes to technology, media, and informatics.

Interesting Links:

Social Informatics

Rob Kling’s (2005) proposed definition of social informatics states that it is the “interdisciplinary study of the design, uses, and consequences of information and communication technologies that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts.” In other words, social informatics is a field of study where sociology, anthropology, technology, and information studies all combine. However, technology is shaped by society and society by technology, so I personally agree with the view that says that ICT are primarily social and not society-external factors (Cole 2006). So I don’t quite agree that the definition only involves the examination of “consequences” of technology when human technologies and societies are so tied up with each other. Sawyer and Rosenbaum (2000) state that the field, like human computer interaction and the like is defined by a unifying problem area rather than by a unifying theory and agree that society and technology shape each other. Zang and Benjamin‘s 2006 model showing the field as an intersection between technology, information, people, and society seems useful in accurately describing the boundaries of the field. I personally liked Shifman and Boxman-Shabtai’s 2013 article on how ethnic/racist humor can be propagated and mutated by information technology, and see it as a nice (if a bit depressing) example on how certain facets of culture can be drawn out or exaggerated by technology.