Please do not cite or circulate the printed version of this HTML document.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).

Research Project Report

DigitalObservatory

A Prototype and Test-Case Scenario

Fernando N. van der Vlist, Tessa de Keijser, Katja Vershinina, Ihab Khiri, May Andersen, Bart Schoenmakers

(Graduate School of Humanities,) University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Working paper

Published online: 1 February 2014

Abstract

DigitalObservatory is a hub of knowledge on a variety of emergent new-media phenomena. It is an open platform that accommodates in the “messy”, disorganised phase of doing research when a phenomenon is clearly emerging and is gradually being shaped into form, but is not yet stable enough to be defined, demarcated and studied. Through the platform, emergent new-media phenomena are observed and captured from a variety of complementary perspectives. Like a wiki, it allows people to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others and without a defined owner or leader. In this model, the structure of the descriptive assemblage (Savage 2009) emerges according to the qualities of the project and its contributors.

Keywords

new media, emergence, research practice, graph visualisation, digital hangover

new media
emergence
research practice
graph visualisation
digital hangover

1. Introduction

DigitalObservatory1 is a hub of knowledge on a variety of emergent new-media phenomena. It is an open platform through which emergent new media phenomena are observed and captured from a variety of complementary perspectives. Like a wiki, it allows people to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others and without a defined owner or leader. In this model, the structure of the descriptive assemblage (Savage 2009) emerges according to the qualities of the project and its contributors.

As an open, web-based platform, it accommodates in the “messy”, disorganised phase of doing research when a phenomenon is clearly emerging and is gradually being shaped into form, but is not yet stable enough to be defined, demarcated and studied. Through new media technology, DigitalObservatory aims to deal creatively with this problem by leveraging the critical skills of many. The platform thus introduces a descriptive kind of research practice: a form of academically-oriented research that incorporates practice in the methodology of the research process.

2. Concept

The project is concerned with two inseperable layers of critical inquiry. On an academic level, it is critical of our current understanding of what we call a “digital hangover”. We have complicated our current understanding of the phenomenon, and have collaboratively explored a number of different perspectives on the topic. For reasons of clarity and overview, these perspectives have been organised into the following categories: “Concepts and Theoretical Frameworks”, “Tools, Techniques and Devices”, “Documented Examples and Case Studies”, “Relevant Projects”, “Research Questions”, and “Bibliographic References”. Through contributions from a potentially wide variety of experts, we cultivate a descriptive assemblage (Savage 2009).

On a methodological level, we also critically reflect on the level of research practice. Rather than focusing on clearly demarcated objects of study, we suggest to open up these frames for debate and provide an alternative approach to study new media phenomena as they are emerging or becoming. Ideally, the different reflections that make up the descriptive assemblage lead to new research questions that guide these efforts in particular directions, thereby shrinking the “possibility space” (Gottschall 2008) through an iterative process.

3. Implementation

3.1. DigitalObservatory

The features implemented on DigitalObervatory aim to emphasise the critical dimensions of the project. To observe is to notice or perceive phenomena in their natural setting, but to also register that as being significant. It is critical, because it requires one to determine what the observation means in relation to other observations. In practical terms, this means that this observation or new knowledge needs to be integrated: it needs to be brought into a specified relation to the other nodes. Here, Observe + Integrate necessarily go together and can be about connecting an example or tool that no-one observed or knew of yet (expansive), or it can also be about gradually making the descriptive assemblage more fine-grained (inward-directed).

Fig. 1a. Screen shot of the DigitalObservatory prototype research object index. It provides a summary, a list of contributors, an interactive graph representation and a list of entries.

Fig. 1b. Screen shot of the DigitalObservatory prototype research object index. It provides a summary, a list of contributors, an interactive graph representation and a list of entries.

Fig. 2a. Screen shot of a DigitalObservatory prototype node or entry page from the category “Concepts and Theoretical Frameworks”. Each node may contain descriptions, external links, bibliographic references, and its relations to other nodes in the emergence graph of the respective research object.

Fig. 2b. Screen shot of a DigitalObservatory prototype node or entry page from the category “Tools, Techniques and Devices”. Each node may contain descriptions, external links, bibliographic references, and its relations to other nodes in the emergence graph of the respective research object.

The current interface of our prototype uses list-based navigation to explore the entries (Figure 1, 2). For reasons of clarity and overview, but also for aesthetic coherence, the ideal interface would utilise “direct manipulation” (Schneiderman 1983) of graph visualisations instead. This means that the graph would always show real-time incremental changes as they occur, which allows us to make it into a primary mode of interaction with the data. This way we can not only show all the nodes and their direct relations (horizontal topology), but also the emergence of the entries over time by offering functionality to see the graph at different points in time (vertical topology).

3.2. Masters of Media Blog Post

Next to the somewhat non-linear approach of studying a phenomenon through DigitalObservatory,2 we culminated (part of) our efforts in the form of a linearly structured report. In this report, we reflect from the same phenomenon, but use DigitalObservatory both as a resource and a practice. The report is published on the Masters of Media research blog,3 and identifies three possible conditions of possibility for “digital hangovers”. It is argued that we should consider this phenomenon and its conditions of possibility in terms of the complex interplay of sociocultural and technological dynamics.

4. Reflection

4.1. Reflection on the Methodological Critical Level

As a research practice, DigitalObservatory becomes part of the workflow of those using it, and this has at least four implications. First, it requires collaboration among peers. Second, it requires at least some moderation by editors in order to guarantee a preferred level of quality. Third, it results in an output that lends itself best to study the very emergence of the phenomenon itself, and which could be called descriptive assemblage. And fourth, it imposes a methodology that is descriptive.

The use value of DigitalObservatory lies in its ability to accommodate in the study of emergent phenomena as they are occurring. In particular, it facilitates in the “messy” process of demarcation. This makes DigitalObservatory a powerful organizing tool that can be used for writing a thesis or any similar kind of text on a highly specific field or phenomenon that might require reflection from many perspectives. Additionally, the “digital hangover” as our test-case scenario – but potentially any other topic on the platform as well – potentially becomes an invaluable resource to anyone interested in studying the topic as well.

4.2. Reflection on the Academic Critical Level

Having used the research practice put forth by DigitalObservatory, the academic reflection in our linearly structured report shows how the entries can be assembled into a coherent argument. It is not meant to copy-paste from the one form into the other, but rather to structure the research process through DigitalObservatory and use that structure to prepare a logically-structured argument. This way, we found that strengths and weaknesses inherent to non-linear structures can effectively be complemented with a linear structure.

5. Conclusions

As a means of concluding, we like to recommend the approaches put forth in this project to study emergent new media phenomena. In particular, we think that studying the very becoming of phenomena like the digital hangover could offer us insights beyond the phenomenon itself. More specifically, it can offer us insight into the different relations that applied perspectives (i.e. tools, projects, exampels) and academic perspectives (i.e. concepts, questions, references) may have to the emergent phenomenon, and what this means for its becoming into a gradually more stabilised form.

6. About the Project

DigitalObservatory has been conceived and developed by May Andersen, Tessa de Keijser, Ihab Khiri, Bart Schoenmakers, Katja Vershinina, and Fernando van der Vlist. They are a group of Master students in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam, where the prototype was initially created in October 2013 as the result of a study assignment.

7. Endnotes

1. DigitalObservatory. 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. <http://digitalobservatory.tk/> (now offline).

2. Although the platform can be considered non-linear in many ways it is based on a linear structure at its core, namely the chronological progression of the emergence of a phenomenon over time.

3. Tessa de Keijser and Fernando N. van der Vlist. “Digital Hangovers: Capturing an Emergent New Media Phenomenon Through DigitalObservatory.” Masters of Media. University of Amsterdam. 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. <http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2013/10/21/digital-hangovers-capturing-an-emergent-new-media-phenomenon-through-digitalobservatory/>.

8. References

Gottschall, Jonathan. “Introduction: Shrinking Possibility Space.” Literature, Science and a New Humanitites. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008. 1–13. Print. Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance.

Savage, Mike. “Contemporary Sociology and the Challenge of Descriptive Assemblage.” European Journal of Social Theory 12.1 (2009): 155–174. Print.

Schneiderman, Ben. “Direct Manipulation. A Step Beyond Programming Languages.” IEEE Transactions on Compters 16.8 (1983): 57–69. Print.

Info
Title: DigitalObservatory
Subtitle: A Prototype and Test-Case Scenario
Type: Research project report; Assignment
Author.name: F. N. (Fernando) van der Vlist; T. (Tessa) de Keijser; K. (Katja) Vershinina; I. (Ihab) Khiri; M. (May) Andersen; B. (Bart) Schoenmakers
Author.affiliation: Graduate School of Humanities, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam
Instructor.name: Dr. C. (Carolin) Gerlitz; Dr. C. B. A. (Cornelius) Puschmann
Instructor.affiliation: Dept. of Media Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam
Abstract: DigitalObservatory is a hub of knowledge on a variety of emergent new-media phenomena. It is an open platform that accommodates in the “messy”, disorganised phase of doing research when a phenomenon is clearly emerging and is gradually being shaped into form, but is not yet stable enough to be defined, demarcated and studied. Through the platform, emergent new-media phenomena are observed and captured from a variety of complementary perspectives. Like a wiki, it allows people to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others and without a defined owner or leader. In this model, the structure of the descriptive assemblage (Savage 2009) emerges according to the qualities of the project and its contributors.
Keywords: new media, emergence, research practice, graph visualisation, digital hangover
Length.words: 1,047
Length.reading: 6 mins
Element.figure: Fig. 1a; Fig. 1b; Fig. 2a; Fig. 2b
Date.presented: 21 Oct. 2013
Date.submitted: 22 Oct. 2013
Date.evaluated: 25 Oct. 2013
Date.publishedonline: 1 Feb. 2014
Language: English (United Kingdom)
Documentation.style: Modern Language Association (7th ed.)
Export.citation: BibTEX
Export.print: javascript:window.print()
2012– fernandovandervlist.nl
v1.2.28