25thJun2011

Californian Ideology and Web 2.0

Californian Ideology 2.0. Analysis of the Californian Ideology in Web 2.0 on Two of Three Levels: Ideology and Elitists.

This paper will focus and compare the Californian Ideology 1.0 and 2.0 on two levels, combining ideological background and closely connected elitists and entrepreneurship in web 2.0, creating a lineage between historic and current developments. In this lineage the elite and related ventures are to serve as the connecting thread. The economy and markets is a third related level but is a different and extended stretch and is therefore not included in the paper. The element of markets would explain where companies focus their attention on the web 2.0, models of the ‘free’ and, directly related, models of capital.

Where the internet and greater new technologies before have military origin, nowadays technologies and implementation are developed and financed by private companies and organizations. Even the backbone of the internet has become privatized, as part of its protocol, DNS, is now largely accessed by going through private parties such as Verisign, the administer of .com and .net TLDs. This was formerly a responsibility of the United States Department of Defense. Completing the demilitarizing process, GPS is going to get a European counterpart Galileo, this time not backed by military ascendancy but by civil initiative. These changes a quite significant as practically all communication and location technologies are now part of the open market or at least openly available. It is in this light the ideology and further development of web 2.0 takes place and I will therefore take a moment to retrace the ideology of the web based on the work of Turner (2006) and Barbrook (1995, 2007).

Due to the pressure by WOII for innovation and technology the military and its WOII agenda was the first inducement for collaboration between the state, businesses, and research disciplines. The collaboration helped to incite development and efficient transmissions. The icons and titans of the closed world were for once involved in boundary-breaking collaborations as the harbingers of a collaborative world and information sharing, a so called mixed economy (Turner, 2006: p. 3, 8). This development gave Norbert Wiener the possibility to come up with cybernetics. Although Wiener’s cybernetics proved to be an inspiring concept for information processing, later Wiener revised his vision and saw cybernetics as potentially destructive, especially during the pressure of the Cold War, and should therefore be used in social context for human purpose (Barbrook, 2007: p. 45; Turner, 2006: p. 24). However, the technologies origination from the extensive and collaborative work field allowed John von Neumann to pursue the concept of artificial intelligence; implementing the structure and domination of artificial intelligence as the most important result opposed to the theoretical information system of cybernetics (Barbrook, 2007: p. 47). This early development between visions of Wiener and Neumann on cybernetics and artificial intelligence illustrates the respectively leftwing and right-wing directions both take.

In the 1960s the counterculture and New Left – as Barbrook (2007) clearly points out are not to be mixed up with each other - followed Wiener's concerns and saw more nuclear dangers than advantages in the Cold War technology and its bigotry and bureaucracy. The New Left used traditional politics to change society. The counterculture contrasted the New Left with a hippie background of social movement, not political, and behavior that favored technology and cybernetics for the consumer and commodity culture which helped express the individual. Strongly related to the New Left is the branch of Communalists. East coast and West coast opposition and rivalry.

Towards and in the 1990s, the hippie Left joined up with the New Right resulting in a controversial mix of Left's individual social freedom and the aim for agora, joined with economic liberalism and free markets on the Right. Both traditionally protested the government and monopolies and supported possibilities for entrepreneurship, endeavoring technological utopianism. Together they formed the Californian Ideology, describing the settlement of this new fusion of antithesis on the west coast. Although the Californian Ideology refers to modern forms of electronic mediation and its technological determinism, California has had a traditional dominant ideology for a long time which Hirsh (2009) labels the Imperial Californian Ideology, the prominent place in history that San Francisco holds when it comes to mining, wars and weaponry, corporations and politics.

The Californian Ideology is criticism on cyberlibertarianism encompassed by the Californian settlers and their strong conviction on the web’s ideology. It encompasses a collection of ideas that connects ecstatic enthusiasm or perhaps attributes utopia to electronically mediated forms of living. Here radical hippie roots of community and freedom and right wing libertarian ideas about the proper definition of freedom, social life, economics, and politics are of major importance for development and employment of new media. “Any attempt to philosophize about computers and society must somehow come to terms with the wide appeal of this widespread perspective, its challenges and shortcomings” (Winner, 1997).

As a more political ideology as opposed to Barlow (1996) of the cyberlibertarian vision is perhaps most clearly enunciated in the manifesto entitled Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age by Esther Dyson et al. in 1994. As the first manifesto concretizing cyberlibertarian views, the manifesto strongly references government, people, and the Third World. After the First Wave’s agriculture and the Second Wave’s industrialization now arrives the Third Wave. They state, “In a Third Wave economy, the central resource a single word broadly encompassing data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology, and values is actionable knowledge”. Heralding the Third Wave means the repulsion of Second Wave and infrastructure. “We are at the end of a century dominated by the mass institutions of the industrial age. The industrial age encouraged conformity and relied on standardization.” (Dyson et al., 1994). What is aspired by Dyson et al. is a form on classical communitarian anarchism by creating social and political conditions that would support the ideals of the communists very well. “Cyberspace will play an important role knitting together in the diverse communities of tomorrow, facilitating the creation of "electronic neighborhoods" bound together not by geography but by shared interests.” For these communities of tomorrow to arise, a rather contrasting view – by contemporary knowledge – emerges, adhering free market capitalism to decentralize harmonize society. As Dyson et al. propose, the role of the government has to be limited by delimiting the "ownership by the people" in which "private ownership" prevails, attaining the goal where “Government does not own cyberspace, the people do”. However, in attaining deregulation and a free market they are not afraid of allowing the creation of trusts to push technology past obstacles of competition – i.e. compatibility, scale. By stating that “obstructing such collaboration -- in the cause of forcing a competition between the cable and phone industries -- is socially elitist”, the thrive for large scale and uniformity is greater than competition and therefore contradicts the creation of earlier stated communalist neighborhoods. Smaller government, higher individual empowerment, but topics related to distribution or concentration of power remain untouched.

Here community is a concept which is tricky in the sense of traditional meaning and how it is used in in the discussion about society and networked computing. Community can be conceived differently for traditional leftist communalist views and cyberlibertarian understanding. Winner (1997) points out a rather considerable misconception of community in cyberlibertarian views. Not addressing the meaning of community clearly could also reflect on the understanding of community in web 2.0 environments. Winner argues that it is therefore important to relocate the starting point for discussing society in networked computing. He ascribes an attitude to the cyberlibertarians which is one of misusing traditional concepts for the purpose of labeling observations as the network society develops, “[f]irst one observes what is presently happening in the realm of networked computing and in the development of a rapidly evolving global technosphere. Then one chooses an impressive term: community or democracy, or citizenship or equality or some other lovely concept to describe aspects of what one observes. Other contexts in which those terms have meaning, contexts in history, philosophy and contemporary experience, need not enter the picture. No, they are not the target.” (Winner, 1997). What Castells and his investigation in the Network Society (1996) explains concerns these prominent terms. Castells shows how social structures are not organized around traditional physical forms of organization but around electronic networks, enabling distributed communities. Therefore, a most prominent term – both in the past of the network society and web 2.0 – is community. The term community has a highly developed conceptual tradition throughout countless disciplines over a centuries old timespan. The tem collected both traditional social, religious and political writing and historical and contemporary studies of community. Traditional writings include Old and New Testaments, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Proudhon, Kropotkin and scholarly studies by Weber, Durkheim, and Tonnies (Winner, 1997). “For the cyberlibertarians, of course, none of this matters. Visions of community found in the literature of philosophy, history and social science are not significant points of reference. If they were, the notions of "community" often used to discuss what is happening on the Net would likely have a much different complexion.” (Winner, 1997). Apart from the empowerment and freedom brought by the new media - which are prominent cyberlibertarian values resting on both liberal and technological determinism, what is true for the cyberlibertarian conception of community is the connection among others in the created network society. However, “along with a sense of belonging, historical communities have carried a strong sense of obligation, imposing demands, sometimes highly stringent ones, upon their members. You know you are in a community when the phone rings and someone informs you that it is your turn to assume the burden. […] Unfortunately, most writings about on-line relationships blithely ignore the obligations, responsibilities, constraints, and mounds of sheer work that real communities involve. Are there any Usenet Newsgroups with names like alt.politics.duty? Don't hold your breath.” (Winner, 1997).

All these initial cyberlibertarian views have something in common. The rather limited conception of cyberlibertarian vision and the questions left untreated on distribution and concentration of power by Dyson et al. are for Liu (2004) the reason to question the validity of a true ideology at all. Liu has an interesting though complicated take on the politics of cyberlibertarianism. He suggests that cyberlibertarianism is a very limited movement to advocate their vision on the Third Wave and its new forms of electronic mediation, “cyberlibertarianism is a flawed politics or, more extreme, no politics at all." (Liu, 2004: p. 253). As seen in the manifestos of Barlow (1996) and Dyson et al. (1994) their views are defined in limited and abstract contrapositions (Liu, 2004: p. 254). What more is that cyberlibertarian views do not include the social spectrum needed to be regarded as political. Social aspects are left untouched, particularly the situation of the employee in the era of the computer and the network society (Liu, 2004: p. 273). Liu does however provide a solution to apply politics in a technological deterministic work environment. “However much cyberlibertarianism may be apolitical or ambivalently political in the broader scheme of things, it is certainly full of passion, energy, and activism on its chosen issues. Apolitical is not the same as apathetic or anaesthetized. A more adequate description of the strange politics/no-politics of cyberlibertarianism is Bad Attitude, which is how cyberlibertarianism does show up in the workplace.” (Liu, 2004: p. 275). Here the employee’s cubicle is pivotal. Freedom in an increasingly small work environment – the cubicle – and the structure of the information society is relative (Liu, 2004). The “Bad Attitude” concept allows for a limited though realistic approach to be “cool” in an environment of the cramped cubicle and immense though restricted cyberspace.

In the end, where at first it was a mixed economy of a government subsidized West Coast, d.i.y. initiatives, and commerce, but now due to their own economic interests, the 'virtual class' lost track of their hippie roots.

So what about web 2.0? The first generation of the Californian Ideology from before the dotcom bubble is long past, but the ideologies that made up all movements still exist. Hippies from before the bubble burst are not in the immediate game of entrepreneurship and ventures anymore such as Barlow and others once were. The generation of the counterculture moved aside for Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, but also includes survivors such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. All of these dot-com entrepreneurs enjoy dozen of tributes in popular literature which praise the stories of Californian or West-coast new media capitalism. Sarah Lacy is one of the authors who writes books on founders of successful web 2.0 companies after the dot.com rubble. Lacy is a Sillicon Valley insider - author lives there and works at Techcrunch – writing this popular literature on entrepreneurship. Sarah Lacy's (2008) Once you're lucky, twice you're good is largely a tribute to Facebook founder Matt Zuckerberg, followed up with her later book (2009) The Stories of Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube (2009) to also include the other Californian players in her stature. Likewise, The Google Story by David Vise (2005) is according to the cover text a revelation of the “definitive account of the populist media company powered by the world’s most advanced technology that in a few short years has revolutionized access to information about everything for everybody everywhere”, all made possible by Sergey Brin and Larry Page. All these accounts of successful web 2.0 startups and success are products of the young and wealthy virtual elite of web 2.0. It was Newsweek's cover story by Steven Levy and Brad Stone (2006) which did prelude Californian biographies. They point to the entrepreneurial vision of MySpace's founders Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe as well as Flickr founders Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, all of whom "are leading a charge of innovators making hay out of the Internet's ability to empower citizens and enrich those who help with the empowerment".

Is the new virtual elite still part of the Californian Ideology, part of Californian Imperialism? For instance why did it take years of online economic business models in the pre dot-com bubble to realize how important social relations are? The Communists have been saying this for years, but is the current implementation in web 2.0 a reflection of communalist views?

Wikipedia for instance is based on open market mechanisms based on the underlying decentralized economy theory in The Use of Knowledge in Society by the libertarian economist F.A. Hayek (1945) as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales stated. In brief Wikipedia is not a communal collaboration but leverages the individual's power of knowledge. What is being supported by Wikipedia, libertarian policies of advocated unrestrained participation? The aim for a governed (damn you admins) encyclopedia containing untempered knowledge? Better communal and social facilitation to support the agora? Or do these three go hand in hand? Nevertheless, with a professional Wikipedia Foundation and management in place is it time for Wikipedia to govern, letting anarchy go in favor of quality? Facebook on the other hand has a different start-up background and ideology. Facebook is a result of HarvardConnection which inspired - and a whole lawsuit - Zuckerberg to connect more schools around the USA with Facebook. However Facebook has gone through an opposite development than Wikipedia did. As Facebook started on the East Coast's center in Cambridge, it later moved to Silicon Valley. The libertarian ideology of market force and individualism for marketing efficiency - described in the essay of Van Dijck and Nieborg (2008) - seem to have taken over the wheel in lieu of the New Left values of community and social awareness taking the backseat.

The web 2.0 is not part of the earlier mixed economy as the pillars for applications like Wikipedia and Facebook are based on individualism, libertarianism, and the free market, counting only two (including d.i.y.) of four pillars. The values of community and social awareness, once part of the New Left, and governance are not advocated on these popular applications of web 2.0. Web 2.0 therefore is left with two sides, the company and the user. The virtual elite are on the move as Google is offering its entire workforce a raise of ten percent. With this raise Google is aiming to intensify the competition, especially against Facebook, around attracting and keeping talent of the branche (Efrati, 2010). The movie Catfish (2010) is to illustrate the interweaving of both Google products and Facebook, in contrast with the Californian battles between Google and Facebook on both technology – banning, cooperation, and recruitment of the virtual elite. The movie shows the nexus of web 2.0 application and usage spot on. Catfish is a documentary which depicts Facebook friendship and fraud as experienced by one of its producers, Yaniv Schulman. It shows a quest for truth based on discrepancies in conversation with Yaniv’s new Facebook friends. According to the creators, the documentary is not based on a true story, but simply true. The quest shows a high integration of Facebook and Google services when trying to find out all about one’s identity and claims. Even the Universal introduction of the movie has been Googlized by transforming the well-known trumpet and drumroll introduction with the Google Earth globe and interface.

In the introduction of Zero Comments, called The Pride and Glory of Web 2.0 Geert Lovink (2008) provides a broad and clear overview of web 2.0. It includes ideology, age of the amateurs, the professionals, elite, and market thinking to describe the difficulty of separating them from each other. What is clear is that clear distinctions are hard to be made in the situation of web 2.0 and each group needs. “Should we believe in the power of the argument and continue the strategy of ‘ideology criticism’, knowing that such intellectual endeavors fail, time and again?” (Lovink, 2008: p. xxviii).

The products of web 2.0 such as Facebook, Twitter, and as web 2.0 information source Wikipedia, are situated in the third phase of Internet culture. “In my work on Internet culture I distinguish three phases: Firstly, the scientific, precommercial, text-only period before the World Wide Web. Secondly, the euphoric, speculative period in which the Internet opened up for the general audience, culminating in the late nineties dotcom mania. Thirdly, the post dotcom crash/post 9-11 period, which is now coming to a close with the ‘Web 2.0’ mini-bubble. […] The significant change of the past several years has been the ‘massification’ and further internationalization of the Internet. In 2005 the one billion user mark was passed.” (Lovink, 2008: p. x).

“The ‘globalization’ of the Internet has been mostly invisible for the dominant Anglo-American Internet culture due to organized willful ignorance and a deficit of foreign language skills.” (Lovink, 2008: p. xi). The Globalization has however not gone by unnoticed by the big companies as Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia all support and promote their services to all countries in the world. The 2.0 elite which founded these supposed multibillionaire companies professionalized their positions during the hype of the amateur. According to Nicholas Carr (2005) “The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional”. However instead of distrusting the professional as libertarians gladly do, Lovink argues that in current economic models – and therefore by means of life support – the professional is needed, for Californian’s virtual elite to survive. No other model is currently at hand. “The question I pose here is how the praise of the amateur can be undermined, not from the perspective of the endangered establishment but from that of the creative (under) class, the virtual intelligentsia, the precariat, the multitude that seeks to professionalize its social position as new media workers.” (Lovink, 2008: p. xii). What this creates is pragmatic breed of cyberlibertarians, applying communist values of sharing and culture to companies like Facebook and Twitter. Based on Žižek’s conclusion, Lovink formulates it as to “give away with one hand what they grab with the other” (Lovink, 2008: p. xv). The cyberlibertarian elite of the big 2.0 ventures present a situation in which the market and social responsibilities are not opposites. Opposed to this is a web in which the big 2.0 ventures are not causing the standardized web of Facebook and Google interface and relations. “People should be free to appropriate information as they see fit, based on their own historical and personal needs and desire, rather than having to consume the standardized products of McWorld.” (Becker & Stalder, 2005).

Related to the Big 2.0, in the field of interactive marketing professionals, the social web is according to one of Forrester's social web foreman, Jeremiah Owyang (2009), developing towards a utopian era of social commerce. At this point we have reached social colonization where the internet's new protocol Facebook Connect allows the barriers between social networks and traditional sites to blur. However, we are at the brink of the next era, social context, bridging websites and the individual by full customization of their web experience. The future of the web, for instance the notion of semantic web 3.0, is a great target for prophetic statements by conference talkers and CEOs. But what they have in common is that they all participate in bookmaking by projecting current but separate ideologies on the web like commerce, authority, individualism, and a real time agora. Here David Silver (2008) agrees in his history, hype, and hope approach to web 2.0 where "corporations exist to make profits, not public goods. Usually, when they say "community" they mean "commerce," and when they say "aggregation" they mean "advertising." Here in northern California, what were once dot-coms are now called Web 2.0 startups, but the goal remains the same: to make millions by selling out to Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft." (Silver, 2008).

Of importance here is venture capital. Venture capital has been the lifeline of the Californian Ideology from the day it was born. Due to this steady stream of income and proven revenue – as seen in the extravagant stocks of the dot-com bubble, the virtual elite has not put much effort in innovation and actual sustainability. Over and over again venture capitalists have pulled their wallets for unproven and eventual unprofitable ideas. By overly promoting and hyping emerging ventures to venture capitalists is counteracting any progression in lieu of quick profit. Actions like these make web 2.0 be referred to “as the blanket term referring to startups that generate more RSS than revenue and are driven by the same old Silicon Valley types” (Lovink, 2008: p. xxiii). When Sillicon Valley is not prepared to break through the vicious circle, it is opening its door and inviting in the danger for the Californian Ideology and Imperialism. What is potentially to happen is the debunking of the Californian Ideology by the greater part of the world, resulting in an exodus of California towards other countries. “As long as innovative Internet startups depend on the 90s model of venture capital, leading up to a take over or IPO, the hope that a change in culture will occur will remain slim. It is only a matter of time until the development of Internet applications will no longer happen on the US Westcoast, for instance shifting towards the centers of mobile devices in Asia and Europe.” (Lovink, 2008: p. xxvii). Addressing these issues in the vicious circle is to prevent a decline of Californian Imperialism. “Logically speaking this means that the ideology, and not the world, will have to adjust. So far, this has not happened. How can libertarian techno-celebrities continue to sell dream worlds about freedom and leveling the fields, without being scrutinized? […] Should we believe in the power of the argument and continue the strategy of ‘ideology criticism’, knowing that such intellectual endeavors fail, time and again?” (Lovink, 2008: p. xxviii).

There are however changes happening that fit the web 2.0 rhetoric better than the 90s model of venture capital. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch (2010) reports on shifts in the large venture capital market, caused by small investors called angel investors. Angels are able to act swift and low-level to find entrepreneurs that require a first capital boost without looking to the big venture capitalists. This is made possible due to the praised web of the amateur of the last several years who – as earlier described – are now able to professionalize their social position as new media workers. This allows for the rise of the cheap startup. Here Internet startups are able to use open source software and new scripting languages to create content management systems, acquire search engine attention easily, and eventually ship products fast and cheap.

But even with these developments the vicious circle of the Californian Ideology has apparently not been broken. A second internet bubble coming, starting the Californian circle all over again? The New York Times (Rusli, 2011) reports that the businesses bank Goldman Sachs is investing 450 million dollar in Facebook. This new capital will bring Facebook to a value of 50 billion dollar. The deal makes Facebook now worth more than companies like eBay, Yahoo and Time Warner. Other companies such as Groupon and Twitter also attract hurdles of investors to get a piece of the pie. According to the New York Times (Craig, 2010), Nyppex published a report in which these companies “collectively gained 70 percent in enterprise value since June” (Craig, 2010). As these companies do not disclose their financial performance, it’s up to analysts to estimate profitability. With these high values, three potential bubbles in the making?

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