Please do not cite or circulate the printed version of this HTML document. Please refer instead to the original online version of this document, which is available online at , or contact the author(s).

Journal Article (Original Research Article)

Accounting for the social

Commensuration and Big Data practices at Facebook

Fernando N. van der Vlist

(Dept. of Media Studies,) University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Published in: Big Data & Society 3.1 (January–June 2016): 1–16. Ed. Evelyn S. Ruppert. London: SAGE Publications. doi:10.1177/2053951716631365.

Submitted: 9 February 2015; Revised: 26 December 2015; Accepted: 14 January 2016; Published: 10 February 2016 (OnlineFirst)

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

commensuration
Big Data
cultural techniques
data analytics
data infrastructure
Facebook
Info
Title: Accounting for the social
Subtitle: Commensuration and Big Data practices at Facebook
Type: Journal article; Original research article; Abstract
Author.name: F. N. (Fernando) van der Vlist
Author.affiliation: Dept. of Media Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam
Editor.name: Prof. Dr. E. S. (Evelyn) Ruppert
Editor.affiliation: Dept. of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Abstract: 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.
Keywords: commensuration, Big Data, cultural techniques, data analytics, data infrastructure, Facebook
Length.words: 8,570
Length.reading: 48 mins
Sections: Abstract; Keywords; Introduction; Commensuration as cultural technique; Commensuration and the work of accounting; Engineering big data at Facebook; Facebook's Data Warehousing and Analytics Infrastructure; Large-scale data mining and analytics; Conclusions: Accounting for economic markets?; Declaration of conflicting interest; Funding; Notes; References
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Publisher.place: London, United Kingdom
Journal.title: Big Data & Society
Journal.abbrev: BD&S
Journal.volume: 3
Journal.issue: 1 (January–June)
Article.number: 3
Article.pages: 1–16
Date.submitted: 9 Feb. 2015
Date.revised: 3 Sept. 2015
Date.revised: 26 Dec. 2015
Date.accepted: 14 Jan. 2016
Date.published: 10 Feb. 2016
Date.published: June 2016
Language: English (United Kingdom)
Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Documentation.style: UK SAGE Harvard
Export.citation: BibTEX
Export.print: javascript:window.print()
2012– fernandovandervlist.nl
v1.2.30