Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet, so goes the title of a story Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff published in Wired (2010). Their main argument was that digital culture was entering a new paradigm that would shape the next years of capitalism: we were on the verge of the age of “social media” facilitated by the rise of the streamlined and integrated “platform.” Platformization is premised on the principle of interoperability between technologies, software, and data (Helmond 2015; de Kloet, Poell, Guohua & Fai 2019). In the past decade, the story of successful platforms has been told repeatedly by platform owners, academics, and journalists alike. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, dominate and shape our news cycles. Facebook has grown to a position where it has two billion users and is one of the world’s most important advertising platforms. Airbnb has transformed travel markets globally, and Uber, Deliveroo, Skip the Dishes and other on-demand labour platforms now pose serious challenges to labour law and labour regulations across numerous countries (Pasquale 2016).
As we head into 2022, corporate platform owners are looking for the next sectors to conquer, from intelligent connected vehicles (Alibaba), to virtual reality (Meta’s metaverse), and even outer space (Blue Origin). We propose that these entities are pursuing these directions not only voluntarily but also because they are facing criticism from the outside and from within. The Federal Trade Commission and 46 states in the US filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook in 2020 (Smith 2021). Gig workers across the globe are organizing to challenge the data-driven labour models (Guest 2021). A public demand for regulating, and even breaking up, platforms is growing (Taplin 2017). It may be too early to pronounce platforms dead, but their vulnerability does carry a potential to rethink and reform their role and influence in our daily lives (McCammon & Lingel 2022). Additionally, it may be time to ask: which voices can (and do) shape the future of these platforms? How is academic research capable of influencing these conversations, especially in light of the access constraints that researchers face when examining proprietary platforms and systems? Who conceptualises notions of fair platform governance? What role do workers themselves play in reimagining platform futures?
Reimagining Platforms is a new collaboration between The University of Edinburgh and University of Toronto. It is a one-day symposium taking place at the University of Edinburgh on October 31, 2022 that brings academics and community and local partners together to develop methods and concepts to analyze the different futures and possibilities of platforms and platform economies. To this end, we invite papers and presentations that reimagine platforms in alignment with three specific themes: 1) researching proprietary digital platforms; 2) governing digital platforms; and 3) new labour futures.
Researching Proprietary Platforms: Access, Methods, and Insight: The academic subfield of platform studies explores how platforms and their attendant processes reshape consumption, production, and the distribution of cultural artifacts. Platforms are conceptualised as forms of infrastructure and public service media, as well as being deeply powerful and complex political actors. However, due to the proprietary nature of platforms and the corporations responsible for them, gaining research access to platform infrastructures, data, employees, and processes can be very challenging– if not impossible. In this section, we invite contributions that offer new methods for examining platforms and that are capable of addressing questions that are underrepresented in platform studies. How do (or can) we study platforms given the access constraints that researchers face?
Governing Digital Platforms: Algorithms, Data, and Rights: Research of digital platforms shapes a vital critique of the platform as a necessary or needed social actor or assemblage. Scholars and researchers argue that platforms exploit our time and attention, that they gather novel and valuable data from users’ everyday behaviors, capture network effects and essentially dominate or attempt to monopolise markets. Others have argued that platforms function as data science companies, capturing and aggregating data at scale, while resisting regulations from the state (van Doorn and Badger 2020). This tendency is visible, for instance, in platforms for on-demand work, which have become a deeply contested terrain of employment and privacy rights (Gregory 2020). In this section, we are looking for contributions that address the theme of governance of and by platforms from different perspectives. How do (or can) different governance models – proposed by private entities, civil society and the state – shape the future of platforms?
New Labour Futures: Fair Work and Building With Workers: Sorely missing from any discussion about the future of platforms is local voice. While platforms seemingly transcend state boundaries and work across and through global markets, platforms nonetheless shape and mediate local environments, particularly urban space, particularly for workers. These voices, however, are not reflected in the debates about the future of platforms. In this section, we are interested in presentations that address how labor practices can change platforms. What does fair work and building with workers mean in the context of platform economy?
Keynote: Anne Helmond, Associate Professor of Media, Data and Society, Utrecht University.
This event will take place in-person at the University of Edinburgh on Monday, October 31, 2022. All symposium presenters will be required to book their own travel and accommodation for the event. Papers presented in the symposium will form a backbone for a proposal for a journal special issue.
Please send a 250 word abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 8, 2022. Accepted papers to be notified by July 28, 2022.
Tero Karppi, University of Toronto
Karen Gregory, University of Edinburgh
Kate Miltner, University of Edinburgh
Morgan Currie, University of Edinburgh
Liz McFall, University of Edinburgh
Cailean Gallagher, Workers Observatory, Edinburgh
Anderson, C. and Wolff, M. 2010. The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet. Wired: https://www.wired.com/2010/08/ff-webrip/
de Kloet, J., Poell, T., Guohua, Z. & Fai, C. 2019. The platformization of Chinese Society: infrastructure, governance, and practice. Chinese Journal of Communication, 12:3, 249-256.
Guest, P. 2021. “We’re all fighting the giant: Gig workers around the world are finally organising.” Rest of the World: https://restofworld.org/2021/gig-workers-around-the-world-are-finally-organizing/
Gregory K. ‘My Life Is More Valuable Than This’: Understanding Risk among On-Demand Food Couriers in Edinburgh. Work, Employment and Society. 35(2):316-331.
Helmond A. 2015. The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready. Social Media + Society.
McCammon, M. and Lingel, J. 2022. Situating dead-and-dying platforms: technological failure, infrastructural precarity, and digital decline, Internet Histories.
Pasquale, F. 2016. Two Narratives of Platform Capitalism. Yale Law & Policy Review, 35(1), 309–319.
van Doorn, N. and Badger, A. 2020. Platform Capitalism’s Hidden Abode: Producing Data Assets in the Gig Economy. Antipode, 52: 1475-1495
Smith, K. 2021. What’s going on with Facebook Anti-Trust Lawsuit? Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/advisor/investing/update-facebook-antitrust-lawsuit/
Taplin, J. 2017. Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. New York: Pan Macmillan