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Society of the Query
Institute of Network Cultures

 

Conference: 13 - 14 November 2009
Location: Trouw Amsterdam
Organized by the Institute of Network Cultures

More info and material on: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/query/

In the information society the current reality is an increasing dependence on technological resources to create order and to find meaning in a gigantic quantity of online data. Searching has surpassed browsing and surfing as main activity on the web. This development turned the search engine into our most significant point of reference. Its focus on efficiency and expansion of services tends to veil the nature of the technology as well as underlying (corporate) ideologies.

In this query driven society, The Society of the Query conference seeks to analyze what impact our reliance on resources to manage knowledge on the Internet has on our culture. The theory of a semantic web lurking around the corner revives the ‘human vs. artificial intelligence’-debate. The centralizing web demands to critically question the distribution of power, the diversity and accessibility of web content, while promising alternatives for the dominant paradigm surface in peer-to-peer and open source initiatives. Finally, the question arises what role politics and education, after having invested substantially in media intelligence, can play in the creation of an informed users’ group.

For two days, the Society of the Query conference aims to zoom in on some of the essential themes surrounding web search by critical analysis and the contextualization of developments in interface design and the organization of knowledge. The Institute of Network Cultures seeks to achieve this specifically by uniting researchers, theorists, activists, artists and professionals working in this area and by creating a platform for not only realized projects and recent research, but also for open questions and predictions.

Conference Themes

Society of the Query
Digital Civil Rights and Media Literacy
Alternative Search (1)
Art and the Engine
Googlization of Everyday Life
Alternative Search (2)

Society of the Query
Because the web lacks editorial monitoring, we have become more dependent on technological resources when trying to find meaningful content within the vast amount of data on the web. Traditional methods to decide what information is valuable and useful are absent. In recent years, people have become increasingly dissatisfied by Google’s PageRank-algorithm, which is based of the popularity of a web page. Also, new semantic layers have been added to the principal architecture of the web. This conference session will focus on ‘searching’ on the level of the software and will discuss the notion of the organization of knowledge within the theoretical framework of the humanities and computer science.

Questions to be discussed in this session include: What is the history of the organization of knowledge? Which ideologies make up the foundations for  the concept  of ‘ontology’? And, what role will human expertise play in the era of ‘machine understanding’?

Moderator: Geert Lovink
Speakers:

- Yann Moulier Boutang (F), editor of Multitude’s special issue on Google (May 2009).
- Matteo Pasquinelli (NL), Author of Animal Spirits (2008) and Google’s PageRank: Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and Rentier of the Common Intellect” (2009).
- Teresa Numerico (IT), (PhD in History of Science) is a researcher in Philosophy of Science at the University of Salerno, where she teaches New Media.
- David Gugerli (CH), author of “Suchmaschinen – Die Welt als Datenbank” (2009).

Digital Civil Rights and Media Literacy
In 2005, John Batelle characterized Google as a ‘database of intents’: a valuable archive of individual and collective wishes. As the number of services offered by search engines is expanding, large amounts of personal information are gathered, stored and used for commercial purposes. The current technological climate seems to be one in which the user is virtually unaware of who or what is behind the web applications they use on a daily basis.

Questions to be discussed in this session include: How does the intermediary function of search engines threaten digital civil rights such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression? What role can politics play in protecting these rights? How can the way search engines are designed aid to protecting our autonomy? How will the legal framework concerning search engines be shaped? And, after substantial investments in media intelligence, how are these matters raised on a national and European level?

Moderator: Caroline Nevejan
Speakers:

- Nart Villeneuve (CA), Open Net Initiative.
- Joris van Hoboken (NL), doctoral candidate at the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on digital civil rights and the legal framework concerning search engines.
- Ippolita Collective (IT), Italian collective that recently published “Luci e Ombre di Google” (2007), available in English as “The Dark Side of Google”.

Alternative Search (1)
In response to a growing interest in alternative methods to search the web, this session will focus on three ‘genres’ of alternatives on the level of the user, the software and the network – represented and compared by researchers. The first genre that is attended to will include the upcoming ‘general purpose’-search engine, a search engine designed specifically with large audiences and competition with Google in mind. The second genre will focus on search methods that disregard the ‘engine’ as dominant paradigm. How promising are, for example, peer- to-peer and open source technologies with regards to the current search conditions and which alternatives for commercial and centralizing methods have already emerged? The third and final genre consists of specialized search engines, mostly targeting specific content. What can we learn, for instance, from search methods within certain web spheres, such as the blogosphere, or the flourishing area of mobile search? And, how is the field of visual search developing, looking beyond the tag as systematizing principle?

Moderator: Eric Sieverts
Speakers:

- Matthew Fuller (UK), Goldsmiths College, will discuss alternative search engines and interventions within the field of artists.
- Cees Snoek/Marcel Worring (NL), University of Amsterdam, focuses on visual search engines, competitions between universities in the US and Amsterdam, assignment for the search engine: find the red hat in the movie as fast as possible.
- Ingmar Weber (NL/FR), post doctorate researcher in information retrieval at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. His doctoral research focused on efficient data structures and applications for an interactive search engine called ‘CompleteSearch’.

Art and the Engine
Even during the web’s early stages, artists used this platform to produce and distribute a extensive diversity of media such as animation, programming, video, audio and games.  While in the last decennium we have witnessed a shift from the ‘directory’ towards the algorithm, it is the art database that has been refining the directory model for years.

What influence does Google’s omnipresence have over the production and distribution of web based art? How does art criticism manifest itself in the era of Google? And, how the can online artistic experience be preserved and made easily findable? While examining these issues, the Institute of Network Cultures will invite representatives of some of the largest art databases, such as the Rhizome ArtBase and the Whitney ArtPort, to discuss the latest developments in the classification, annotation and visualization of web based art.

Concentrating on the latest developments within the field of graphic design, art and the architecture of information, additionally this session will address potential outcomes of search result design.

Questions to be discussed in this session include: How can we achieve more advanced forms of interface design and search result design? What role do graphic and visual representations play in the conveyance of digital information? Do alternatives exist that can challenge the ‘ranked list’ as dominant type of search result presentation? And, how would the interface be able to stimulate new and progressive ways for the user to search, find and analyze data?

Moderator: Sabine Niederer
Speakers:

- Lev Manovich (USA), UCSD professor, media theorist and initiator of Software Studies.
- Daniel van der Velden (NL), Metahaven Design Research is a design and research agency in Amsterdam, that researches the potential power of ‘bridging nodes’, the peripheral nodes in a network, and is implementing this theory into a prototype for a new kind of search engine.
- Christopher Bruno (FR), artist. Produces polymorphic art inspired by network phenomena and globalization regarding image and language.
- Allessandro Ludovico (IT), thoughts on the aftermath of the Google Will Eat Itself project.

Googlization of Everyday Life
Questions to be discussed in this session include: In what way does the hegemony of some of the bigger search engines influence the flow of information and the diversity and accessibility of web content? How does the current division of power influence the administration of informational sources. And, what are the results of the Google BookSearch agreement?

Introduction and moderation by Andrew Keen
Speakers:

- Siva Vaidhyanathan (US), culture historian and Associate Professor in Media Studies and Law at the University of Virginia. Authored publications include “The Anarchist in the Library” (2004) and the forthcoming “The Googlization of Everything” (early 2010).
- Stefan Weber (Vienna) on the dangers of plagiarism and Google’s role in the decline of education.
- Benjamin Edelman (US), How Google and Its Partners Inflate Measured Conversion Rates and Increase Advertisers’ Costs.

Flarf Performance

Alternative Search (2)
In response to a growing interest in alternative methods to search the web, this session will focus on three ‘genres’ of alternatives on the level of the user, the software and the network – represented and compared by researchers. The first genre that is attended to will include the upcoming ‘general purpose’-search engine, a search engine designed specifically with large audiences and competition with Google in mind. The second genre will focus on search methods that disregard the ‘engine’ as dominant paradigm. How promising are, for example, peer- to-peer and open source technologies with regards to the current search conditions and which alternatives for commercial and centralizing methods have already emerged? The third and final genre consists of specialized search engines, mostly targeting specific content. What can we learn, for instance, from search methods within certain web spheres, such as the blogosphere, or the flourishing area of mobile search? And, how is the field of visual search developing, looking beyond the tag as systematizing principle?

Moderator: Richard Rogers
Speakers:

- Florian Cramer (Rotterdam), head of the Master of Arts in Media Design program at the Piet Zwart Institute/ Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Authored publications include the essay “Animals that Belong to the Emperor: Failing Universal Classification Schemes from Aristotle to the Semantic Web” (2007).
- Europeana Thought Lab (The Hague), Semantic Search Engine for Europeana
- Stephen Pemberton (Amsterdam), chairman of the XHTML2 Working Group at W3C and researcher at the Center for Mathematics and Computer Science in Amsterdam.

Project Showcase

This segment of the conference will consist of the exhibition of specific projects addressing the theme of the search engine, and will be divided into two parts. During the conference, a display of computers and screens will be available on which the latest generation of search engines is installed. The Institute of Network Cultures seeks to give visitors the opportunity to discover search engines such as Wolfram Alpha, Quaero, Theseus and Autonomy. This will provide them with hands-on experience of the range of search methods discussed in the conference sessions. Furthermore, the Institute of Network Cultures plans to organize a concluding evening program to do justice to the diversity of artistic and activist projects that examine the role of the search engine in contemporary society. The works presented in the evening program will vary from browser extensions, alternative search engines and net art projects to videos and VJ performances. It is aspired that artists and developers will be present during this showcase to discuss and elaborate on their work with the audience.

http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/query/














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