Assemblages of Appraisal

I had the opportunity to put together a poster for AERI this year. The poster presents a paper that I recently gave at CSCW (Summers & Punzalan, 2017). Creating it was a surprisingly useful process of distilling the paper to its essentials while re-presenting it visually. It occurred to me that the poster session audience and the typical web audience have something in common: limited attention. So I reworked the poster content here as a blog post to try to make my research findings a bit more accessible.

Summers, E., & Punzalan, R. (2017). Bots, seeds and people: Web archives as infrastructure. In Proceedings of the 2017 acm conference on computer supported cooperative work and social computing (pp. 821–834). New York, NY, USA: ACM.


… we are concerned with the argument, implicit if not explicit in many discussions about the pitfalls of interdisciplinary investigation, that one primary measure of the strength of social or cultural investigation is the breadth of implications for design that result (Dourish, 2006). While we have both been involved in ethnographic work carried out for this explicit purpose, and continue to do so, we nonetheless feel that this is far from the only, or even the most significant, way for technological and social research practice to be combined. Just as from our perspective technological artifacts are not purely considered as “things you might want to use,” from their investigation we can learn more than simply “what kinds of things people want to use.” Instead, perhaps, we look to some of the questions that have preoccupied us throughout the book: Who do people want to be? What do they think they are doing? How do they think of themselves and others? Why do they do what they do? What does technology do for them? Why, when, and how are those things important? And what roles do and might technologies play in the social and cultural worlds in which they are embedded?

These investigations do not primarily supply ubicomp practitioners with system requirements, design guidelines, or road maps for future development. What they might provide instead are insights into the design process itself; a broader view of what digital technologies might do; an appreciation for the relevance of social, cultural, economic, historical, and political contexts as well as institutions for the fabric of everyday technological reality; a new set of conceptual resources to bring to bear within the design process; and a new set of questions to ask when thinking about technology and practice.

Dourish & Bell (2011), p. 191-192

Dourish, P. (2006). Implications for design. In Proceedings of the sigchi conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 541–550). ACM. Retrieved from

Dourish, P., & Bell, G. (2011). Divining a digital future: Mess and mythology in ubiquitous computing. MIT Press.

Culture Machines

We believe in the power of code as a set of magical symbols linking the invisible and visible, echoing our long cultural tradition of logos, or language as an underlying system of order and reason, and its power as a kind of sourcery. We believe in the elegant abstractions of cybernetics and, ultimately, the computation universe–that algorithms embody and reproduce the mathematical substrate of reality in culturally readable ways. This is what it means to say that an algorithm is a culture machine: it operates both within and beyond the reflexive barrier of effective computability, producing culture at a macro-social level at the same time as it produces cultural objects, processes, and experiences. (Finn, 2017, p. 34)

Finn, E. (2017). What algorithms want: Imagination in the age of computing. MIT Press.


The Internet Archive does some amazing work in the Sisyphean task of archiving the web. Of course the web is just too big and changes too often for them to archive it all. But Internet Archive’s crawling of the web and serving it up out of their Wayback Machine, plus their collaboration with librarians and archivists around the world make it a truly public service if there ever was one.

MITH Graphs

For the next few weeks I’m helping out in Matt Kirschenbaum’s Critical Topics in Digital Studies where we will be taking a look at network analysis in the humanities. The plan is to provide a gentle introduction to the use of network analysis, aka graphs, in the digital humanities, while also creating a space to give the students some hands on experience using some tools. These working sessions are paired with discussions of a bunch of fun readings about algorithms, networks and platforms by Tressie McMillan Cottom, Benjamin Schmidt, Tarleton Gillespie, Jen Golbeck, Zeynep Tufekci, Nick Diakopoulos, Frank Pasquale as well as Alex Galloway & Eugene Thacker.


Corpus Linguistics (CL) involves the study of language using machine readable texts or corpora. It’s interesting to run across CL in the context of discourse analysis. I first ran up against corpus linguistics as an undergraduate student, where I remember writing a term paper using a printed concordance to analyze the use of the word “orange” in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. I don’t quite remember what I concluded there, but I do remember thinking how interesting it was that there were books that contained lists of words that were in other books. I guess nowadays there might be quite a bit of overlap between corpus linguistics and computational linguistics – which relies heavily on corpora.

Teaching Networks

Yesterday I had the good fortune to speak with Miriam Posner, Scott Weingart and Thomas Padilla about their experiences teaching digital humanities students about network visualization, analysis and representation. This started as an off the cuff tweet about teaching Gephi, which led to an appointment to chat, and then to a really wonderful broader discussion about approaches to teaching networks: