Patrice Riemens on Mon, 3 Feb 2014 13:35:31 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective: In the Facebook Aquarium

Hi Nettimers,

In 2009 I translated the Ippolita Collective's "The Dark Face of Google"
and the first, 'Q&D' (for quick and dirty) version was posted in
installments on this list, starting here:

Now the Google book, after long and fruitless rounds of peddling with
'Anglo' publishers, has finally been published last August by the
Amsterdam Institute of Network Cultures as 13th issue of the 'Theory on
Demand' serie (with a new introduction and afterword):

So time for a new adventure, and a new feuilleton on Nettime! Starting
today I'll 'serialize' my - again Q&D - translation of Ippolita's  2011
successor to the Google book "In the FaceBook Aquarium":

This time, as INC is the requesting party from the onset, hope is
therefore that the english version will appear in the course of this year.

The Nijmegen Antenna Foundation has also gracefully agreed to support and
partially sponsor the costs of this project

If you have remarks, suggestions etc. Pls mail me privately. Of course, if
there are points of substance you want to discuss on the list, feel
absolutely free to do so.

NB this book and translation are published under Creative Commons license
2.0 (Attribution, Non Commercial, Share Alike).
Commercial distribution requires the authorization of the copyright holders
Ippolita Collective and Feltrinelli Editore, Milano (.it)


Ippolita Collective: In the Facebook Aquarium

"I started building an aquarium.
It became bigger and bigger, untill I managed
to build a salt water aquarium.  Then I stopped
and thought: either I walk out, or I go into
the aquarium myself."


"Put a straight lick with a crooked stick"

Jamaican proverb


I have thousand friends, but - I know nobody

Default power, or: please follow the instructions

Facebook has now almost reached the one billion users mark worldwide,
Windows Live Messenger, Twitter and LinkedIn host respectively 350.000,
330.000 and 130.000 accounts, and Google+ has made a splashing entry into
the market. These numbers are constantly rising (*), while fresh social
networks appear almost every day. This phenomenon does not only occur in
'Western' and/or democratic societies: tens of millions of Russians have
an account with Vkontakte; Chinese social networks like Qzone and Renren,
which are closely controlled by the authorities, have hundreds upon
hundreds of million users; the Iranian government sponsors Cloob, etc. An
overwhelming majority of all these users abide by the default settings of
the platforms offered by the social networks. When these are modified, as
happens often (e.g. in 2010 when Facebook redefined its privacy settings,
not once, but several times) almost all users go with the new settings
without demur. This is what we call 'default power': the online life of
million users can be altered by a simple tweak of the controls. In a very
upfront way, and in no time, everything is possible for the network
owners, whether it's closing down the pages of dogs/ cats buffs, or keep
close watch on the pages of the connoisseurs of 'free love'.

So it could happen that on a sunny Monday  [ ;-) -transl.], as one enters
login and password, one finds the geography of one's personal account
completely redrawn, just as if, coming back home, one would that the
original interior has gone and that the furniture have been moved around.
Thus when the talk is about 'mass social media'  it is important to
realize that nobody wants to be part of the 'mass', yet when we make uses
of these networks, we are the 'mass'. And that we willingly submit to
'default power'.

In the Beginning was Google

Early in 2006, when the Social Web was the elitist preserve of just a few
(in the United States, Stanford University and some Ivy League ones were
just embracing Facebook), the Ippolita Collective published  /Open non è
free/ [1]- 'Open' doesn't mean 'free'. With other words, open source and
free software are not the same thing: freedom carries a cost, whereas
opening up to the market can bring in rich monetary rewards. Our text
didn't make much waves: enamoured as we were with philosophical
discussions we had aimed high, and we had neglected to provide
propositions that were easy to grasp. This because it seemed self-evident
- to us - that we were witnessing a major paradigm shift: from the era of
epistemology into that of ontology in digital worlds. The 'who' (what you
are) was fast being replaced by the 'what' (what you know). Put
differently, the management of knowledge was morphing into the management
(and creation) of identity.

But the subject matter was of a paralyzing complexity, and, worse still,
hardly of any interest to the general public. Subsequently, we thought it
non-productive in the extreme to continue commenting upon the
transformation of IT for the sole benefit of specialists. Therefore we
decided to square off against a much more convenient opponent: the queen
empress it its domain, the best known, most used, and many-faceted search
engine: Google [2]. Google's aim is to organize all the information in and
of this world. It has given itself this as a mission and sends
'evangelists' to the four corners of the Earth in order to preach its
digital gospel. According to its former CEO Eric Schmidt, who was boss of
the Mountain View giant till 2011, Google is a 'global information
technology enterprise' weighing hundred billion US Dollars.

But Google is just one instance of what we see these days: people
increasingly delegating their '(re)search choices' to an hegemonic
subject. The 'I am feeling lucky' button  is Google's vision of tomorrow's
world come true: that of a technocratic subject who shares my desires and
realizes them. I trust him with everything, I am what Google knows of me:
my ontology is Google's epistemology. My on-line searches and my browsing,
my contacts and my preferences, my mails and pictures, may private and my
public messages, everything that makes up my identity is being taken care
of, 'for my own good', by Google.

/The Dark Face of Google/, thanks notably to its copy-left distribution,
has been translated in several languages. And yet, even as Google is still
very much talked about, nobody has up to now tried to address a larger
public so as to break the chains of the hyper-specialized knowledge. On
the other hand, there has been no dearth of studies among specialists, to
wit the increasing number of publications on indexing algorithms for
instance. In the same vein quite a many manuals have appeared - only to
become instantly out-of-date -  describing Google's ten new services which
enable one to strike it rich on the Web. But nobody has yet attempted to
break through the banality of the new functionalities' documentation. 
/Cloud computing/ is now affected by FOG (Fear of Google), the dread that
an information monopoly  becomes a threat, not only to individuals, but
also to enterprises and state institutions or international bodies. But
what is being feared actually? There is a definite angst for the emergence
of a kind of rhizomatic control on business and administrations, or what
in earlier times was called military-industrial complex. More or less
authoritarian governments, but also anti-trust commissions, firms and
individuals have taken Google to court in cases where millions of Dollars
are at stake. Yet, in the epoch of triumphant 'free market', it shouldn't
be that difficult to grasp the fact that 'gratuity' means that the
services provided have to be funded from somewhere else: in this case
through an increasing control and command of their uses. Someone,
somewhere, must be able to 'know it all', in order for sophisticated
account holders can 'own' their unique, customized object, and feel really

Well, not much has changed since 2006. The twelvesome new services offered
by Google have only but confirmed the totalitarian drift of a project
aiming at  'organizing all the world's information'. Google incarnates
more than ever the global 'webization' of the Net. It uses exactly the
same 'weapons' as it always did: soberness and efficiency,
university-inspired scientific pursuit of 'excellence' (Stanford, Silicon
Valley), supple capitalism (rewards, branding and identity of the firm),
Open Source code usage, etc. Admittedly Google is not as fresh as it used
to be. It's panting a bit in trying to keep on track with the 'Web 2.0 's
new actors' and when it wants to join in its turn the 'social networking'
fray.  The 'good giant' did take a definitively 'social' turn with Google+
, but only after failing big time with Google wave and Google Buzz.
Google+ 's  'circles' (of relationship) were promptly copied by Facebook
in an attempt to silence its critics regarding the rather tricky subject
of its own privacy management. And in the meanwhile, better equipped
competitors have seized some powerful positions.

(to be continued)
Next installment: the era of democratic /attention-distraction/

(*) and they will, together, possibly with names of firms ;-) be adjusted
at revision time, prior to publishing. All figures in this translation are
as in the original edition of the book in 2011/12.

[1] Ippolita, Open non è free. Communità digitali fra etica hacker e
libero mercato, Eleuthera, Milano, 2005
[2] Ippolita, The Dark Side of Google, Institute of Network Cultures,
Theory on Demand serie #13, Amsterdam, 2013. (Revised and updated edition,
original edition in Italian with Feltrinelli in 2007). Downloadable at:

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
( - Dutch site)
( - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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