Dynamics and Biases of Online Attention: The Case of Aircraft Crashes

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

Researchers have used Wikipedia data as a source to quantify attention on the web. One way to do it is by analysing the editorial activities and visitors’ views of a set of Wikipedia articles. In this paper, we particularly study attention to aircraft incidents and accidents using Wikipedia in two different language editions, English and Spanish. We analyse how attention varies over several dimensions such as number of deaths, airline region, locale, date, first edit, etc. Several patterns emerge with regard to these dimensions and articles. For example, we find evidence that the attention given by Wikipedia editors to pre-Wikipedia aircraft incidents and accidents depends on the region of the airline for both English and Spanish editions. For instance, North American airline companies receive more prompt coverage in English Wikipedia. We also observe that the attention given by Wikipedia visitors is influenced by the airline region but only for events with high number of deaths. Finally we show that the rate and time span of the decay of attention is independent of the number of deaths and the airline region. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of attention bias.

Can an Algorithm be Disturbed?

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

Within literary and cultural studies there has been a new focus on the “surface” as opposed to the “depth” of a work as the proper object of study. We have seen this interest manifested through what appears to be the return of prior approaches including formalist reading practices, attention to the aesthetic dimensions of a text, and new methodologies that come from the social sciences and are interested in modes of description and observation. In arguing for the adoption of these methodologies, critics have advocated for an end to what Paul Ricoeur has termed “the hermeneutics of suspicion” and various forms of ideological critique that have been the mainstay of criticism for the past few decades.2 While these “new” interpretations might begin with what was once repressed through prior selection criteria, they all shift our attention away from an understanding of a “repressed” or otherwise hidden object by understanding textual features less as signifier, an arrow to follow to some hidden depths, than an interesting object in its own right. Computer aided approaches to literary criticism or “digital readings,” to be sure, not an unproblematic term, have been put forward as one way of making a break from the deeply habituated reading practices of the past, but their advocates risk overstating the case and, in giving up on critique, they remain blind to untheorized dimensions of these computational methods. While digital methods enable one to examine radically larger archives than those assembled in the past, a transformation that Matthew Jockers characterizes as a shift from micro to “macroanalysis”, the fundamental assumptions about texts and meaning implicit in these tools and in the criticism resulting from use of these tools belong to a much earlier period of literary analysis.

Digital Discrimination: The Case of Airbnb.com

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

Online marketplaces often contain information not only about products, but also about the people selling the products. In an effort to facilitate trust, many platforms encourage sellers to provide personal profiles and even to post pictures of themselves. However, these features may also facilitate discrimination based on sellers’ race, gender, age, or other aspects of appearance. In this paper, we test for racial discrimination against landlords in the online rental marketplace Airbnb.com. Using a new data set combining pictures of all New York City landlords on Airbnb with their rental prices and information about quality of the rentals, we show that non-black hosts charge approximately 12% more than black hosts for the equivalent rental. These effects are robust when controlling for all information visible in the Airbnb marketplace. These findings highlight the prevalence of discrimination in online marketplaces, suggesting an important unintended consequence of a seemingly-routine mechanism for building trust.

First I “like” it, then I hide it: Folk Theories of Social Feeds

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

Many online platforms use curation algorithms that are opaque to the user. Recent work suggests that discover- ing a filtering algorithm’s existence in a curated feed influ- ences user experience, but it remains unclear how users rea- son about the operation of these algorithms. In this qual- itative laboratory study, researchers interviewed a diverse, non-probability sample of 40 Facebook users before, during, and after being presented alternative displays of Facebook’s News Feed curation algorithm’s output. Interviews revealed 10 “folk theories” of automated curation, some quite unex- pected. Users who were given a probe into the algorithm’s operation via an interface that incorporated “seams,” visi- ble hints disclosing aspects of automation operations, could quickly develop theories. Users made plans that depended on their theories. We conclude that foregrounding these au- tomated processes may increase interface design complexity, but it may also add usability benefits.

Does Google leverage market power through tying and bundling?

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

I examine Google’s pattern and practice of tying to leverage its dominance into new sectors. In particular, I show how Google used these tactics to enter numer- ous markets, to compel usage of its services, and often to dominate competing offerings. I explore the technical and commercial implementations of these prac- tices and identify their effects on competition. I conclude that Google’s tying tactics are suspect under antitrust law.

Is Google degrading search? Consumer Harm from Universal Search

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

While Google is known primarily as a search engine, it has increasingly developed and promoted its own content as an alternative to results from other websites. By prominently displaying Google content in response to search queries, Google is able to leverage its dominance in search to gain customers for this content. This yields serious concerns if the internal content is inferior to organic search results. To investigate, we implement a randomized controlled trial in which we vary the search results that users are shown ­ comparing Google’s current policy of favorable treatment of Google content to results in which external content is displayed. We find that users are 45% more likely to engage with universal search results (i.e. prominently displayed map results on Google) when the results are organically determined. This suggests that by leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare ­ leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches.

Recommended for you: The Netflix Prize and the production of algorithmic culture

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

How does algorithmic information processing affect the meaning of the word culture, and, by extension, cultural practice? We address this question by focusing on the Netflix Prize (2006–2009), a contest offering US$1m to the first individual or team to boost the accuracy of the company’s existing movie recommendation system by 10%. Although billed as a technical challenge intended for engineers, we argue that the Netflix Prize was equally an effort to reinterpret the meaning of culture in ways that overlapped with, but also diverged in important respects from, the three dominant senses of the term assayed by Raymond Williams. Thus, this essay explores the conceptual and semantic work required to render algorithmic information processing systems legible as forms of cultural decision making. It also then represents an effort to add depth and dimension to the concept of “algorithmic culture.”

Algorithmic culture

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

Over the last 30 years or so, human beings have been delegating the work of culture – the sorting, classifying and hierarchizing of people, places, objects and ideas – increasingly to computational processes. Such a shift significantly alters how the category culture has long been practiced, experienced and understood, giving rise to what, following Alexander Galloway, I am calling ‘algorithmic culture’. The purpose of this essay is to trace some of the conceptual conditions out of which algorithmic culture has emerged and, in doing so, to offer a preliminary treatment on what it is. In the vein of Raymond Williams’ Keywords, I single out three terms whose bearing on the meaning of the word culture seems to have been unusually strong during the period in question: information, crowd and algorithm. My claim is that the offloading of cultural work onto computers, databases and other types of digital technologies has prompted a reshuffling of some of the words most closely associated with culture, giving rise to new senses of the term that may be experientially available but have yet to be well named, documented or recorded. This essay, though largely historical, concludes by connecting the dots critically to the present day. What is at stake in algorithmic culture is the gradual abandonment of culture’s publicness and the emergence of a strange new breed of elite culture purporting to be its opposite.

Bearing Account-able Witness to the Ethical Algorithmic System

PDF Posté par : Dominique Cardon

This paper explores how accountability might make otherwise obscure and inaccessible algorithms available for governance. The potential import and difficulty of accountability is made clear in the compelling narrative reproduced across recent popular and academic reports. Through this narrative we are told that algorithms trap us and control our lives, undermine our privacy, have power and an independent agential impact, at the same time as being inaccessible, reducing our opportunities for critical engagement. The paper suggests that STS sensibilities can provide a basis for scrutinizing the terms of the compelling narrative, disturbing the notion that algorithms have a single, essential characteristic and a pre- dictable power or agency. In place of taking for granted the terms of the compelling narrative, ethnomethodological work on sense-making accounts is drawn together with more conventional approaches to accountability focused on openness and transparency. The paper uses empirical material from a study of the development of an ‘‘ethical,’’ ‘‘smart’’ algorithmic videosurveillance system. The paper introduces the ‘‘ethical’’ algorithmic surveillance system, the approach to accountability developed, and some of the challenges of attempting algorithmic accountability in action. The paper concludes with reflections on future questions of algorithms and accountability.

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