Critical Perspectives on Social Software and Web 2.0

Anders Albrechtslund has organized an amazing Social Software and Web 2.0: Critical Perspectives and Challenges for Research and Business seminar and workshop hosted by Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark on October 6, 2006:

Social software and Web 2.0 are concepts (or buzzwords) that have been used in order to capture recent developments on the Internet. Websites such as Flickr, Wikipedia,, Skype, eBay, Google Maps and craigslist are all part of this second-generation phenomenon, which has spurred a number of new services and communities. The concepts have been eagerly adopted within seemingly contradictory areas: on the one hand, Web 2.0 and social software have been associated with re-democratisation, empowerment and open content. On the other hand, they are seen as a huge possibility for profit and market control from a corporate perspective. In this seminar we offer critical perspectives on social software and Web 2.0, and we attempt to map the future challenges for research and business.

As I will be in Europe during that time, Anders was kind enough to ask me to participate. I will be presenting a talk titled “The Panoptic Gaze of Web 2.0”:

The rhetoric surrounding Web 2.0 presents certain cultural claims about media, identity, and technology. It suggests that everyone can and should use new information technology to organize and share information, to interact within communities, and to express oneself. It promises to empower creativity, to democratize media production, and to celebrate the individual while also relishing the power of collaboration and social networks.

But Web 2.0 also embodies a set of unintended consequences, including some that empower a growing panoptic gaze of “everyday surveillance” (Staples, 2000). Such externalities include the increased flow of personal information across networks, the rise in data mining to aggregate data across the network, the drive for intelligent agents that predict your needs, and the underlying philosophy of placing these tools in hands of all users.

In Technopoly, Neil Postman warned that we tend to be “surrounded by the
wondrous effects of machines and are encouraged to ignore the ideas embedded in them. Which means we become blind to the ideological meaning of our technologies” (1992, p. 94). As the power and ubiquity of the Web 2.0 infrastructure increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for users to recognize or question its value and ethical implications, and easier to take the design of such tools simply “at interface value” (Turkle, 1995, p. 103). This talk will attempt to heed Postman’s warning and remove the blinders to
reveal the surveillance threats of two features of the Web 2.0 infrastructure: the drive towards the “perfect search engine” and the rise of “amateur data mining.”

The other abstracts can be found here. I’m very excited about this event.


  1. Glad to read you are excited about the seminar. I am also looking very much forward to it and I am really happy about what you and the other presenters have come up with!

    By the way – you must be very good with search since you managed to find the webpages before we actually posted them to you – we were quite amazed by that.

    Thanks for the update also on TrackMeNot – it is up and running – great tool!

  2. Pingback: Privacy Digest: Privacy News (Civil Rights, Encryption, Free Speech, Cryptography)

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