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#Abstract; #Info


Accounting for the Social

Commensuration and Big Data Practices at Facebook

F. N. van der Vlist

This study explores Big Data practices at Facebook through an investigation of the role of commensuration or ‘the transformation of different qualities into a common metric’ in the structuration of analysis and interaction with a major online social media platform. It proposes a conceptual framework and demonstrates the empirical potential of a pragmatic approach based on reading published materials and available documentation. Facebook's Data Warehousing and Analytics Infrastructure serves as an illustrative example to begin tracing out and describe data assemblages in more detail. In being attentive to the motivations, drivers and challenges engineers face when dealing with Big Data, it is argued that their solutions can enable and support but also constrain specific analytical and transactional capabilities or data flows between various devices and actors. The analysis thus moves beyond methodological critiques of the utility of Big Data that lack empirical support and specificity. It is further argued that analytics not just describe but actively participate in the enactment of social worlds, thereby opening possibilities for new markets or market segments to arise. Online sociality accounts for a model of the social that makes it visible and measurable qua markets inviting data recontextualisation and the creation of value along multiple axes. Contra Facebook’s claim to make the web more ‘social’, an investigation of commensuration brings to the fore the question how the social is accounted for in the first place.

commensuration; Big Data; cultural techniques; data analytics; data infrastructure; Facebook


Kind Journal Article
Author F. N. van der Vlist
Publication Date 2016, February 9 [first published online]; 2016, June 1 [issue published online]
Journal Big Data & Society (BD&S)
Volume 3
Issue 1
Pages 1–16
Publisher SAGE Publications (London, United Kingdom)
Identifier 10.1177/2053951716631365; 2053-9517 [part of]
License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0