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Buried Data Flows: Towards Situated App Analysis

Sat, May 27, 8:00 to 9:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 4, Sapphire 410A

Abstract

Apps have advanced as central software objects and so far have largely been studied in regards to their closed or proprietary architecture, their (affective) interface affordances, or their political economies. The aim of this presentation is to advance existing situated and relational accounts on apps by attending to their buried layers and the challenges they pose for preservation and media archeological work.


Taking inspiration from ethnomethodology, the presentation suggests that apps can be perceived as distributed accomplishment of user practices, software operations, data flows, distributed network connections, and sensor based data collection. Whilst user practices and app interfaces have been studied in regards to various apps, the buried data flows of apps remain largely unattended. Therefore, this presentation turns to the sensor data of mobile devices that apps rely on and the network connectivity they enact to develop an infrastructural perspective on apps and how they operate in actu and in situ. Sensor data such as location, image, screen usage, running applications, movement etc. are central for apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but also Uber, Waze or Snapchat among others. Network data is key for data input, calculative processes, and data monetisation of apps. In an experimental approach, the presentation explores how existing and purpose build monitoring apps can be repurposed to account for these buried layers and therewith advance sensor based digital research methods.


However, such perspective poses further challenges to the preservation and media archeology of apps. Due to constant updates, limited roll-outs and device specific app versions, the non-buried elements of apps are already hard to preserve, let alone to reconstruct. In addition, I suggest that accounting for the buried and infrastructural layers of apps is needed to be able to reconstruct app cultures and to understand how apps operate as situational and distributed software devices. Doing so, the presentation bridges between software and infrastructure studies and advances sensor based methods for the study of buried media.

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