Cultural Analytics: Visualing Cultural Patterns in the Era of “More Media”



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User-generated content is one of the fastest growing part of the expanding information universe. Acceding to 2008 study, “Approximately 70% of the digital universe is created by individuals.”4 In other words, the size of media created by users competes well with the amounts of data collected and created by computers (surveillance systems, sensor-based applications, datacenters supporting “cloud computing,” etc.)
The exponential growth of a number of both non-professional and professional media producers over the last decade has created a fundamentally new cultural situation and a challenge to our normal ways of tracking and studying culture. Hundreds of millions of people are routinely creating and sharing cultural content - blogs, photos, videos, online comments and discussions, etc. As the number of mobile phones with rich media capabilities is projected to continue growing, this number is only going to increase. In early 2008, there have 2.2 mobile phones in the world; it is projected that this number will become 4 billion by 2010, with main growth coming from China, India, and Africa.
Think about this: the number of images uploaded to Flickr every week is probably larger than all objects contained in all art museums in the world.
At the same time, the rapid growth of professional educational and cultural institutions in many newly globalized countries along with the instant availability of cultural news over the web and ubiquity of media and design software has also dramatically increased the number of culture professionals who participate in global cultural production and discussions. Hundreds of thousands of students, artists, designers have now access to the same ideas, information and tools. It is no longer possible to talk about centers and provinces. (In fact, based on my own experiences, I believe the students, culture professionals, and governments in newly globalized countries are often more ready to embrace latest ideas than their equivalents in "old centers" of world culture.)

If you want to see the effects of cultural and digital globalization in action, visit the popular web sites where the professionals and the students working in different areas of media and design and note the range of countries from which the authors come from. Try xplsv.tv (motion graphics, animation), coroflot.com (design portfolios from around the world), archinect.com (architecture students projects), and infosthetics.com (information visualization projects). For example, when I checked on December 24, 2008, the first three projects in the “artists” list on xplsv.tv came from Cuba, Hungary, and Norway.5 Similarly, when I visited on the same day, the set of entries on the first page of coroflot.com (the site where designers from around the world upload their portfolios) revealed a similar global cultural geography. Next to the predictable 20th century Western cultural capitals - New York and Milan – I also found portfolios from Shanghai, Waterloo (Belgium), Bratislava (Slovakia), and Seoul (South Korea).6


Before, cultural theorists and historians could generate theories and histories based on small data sets (for instance, "classical Hollywood cinema," "Italian Renaissance," etc.) But how can we track "global digital cultures", with their billions of cultural objects, and hundreds of millions of contributors? Before you could write about culture by following what was going on in a small number of world capitals and schools. But how can we follow the developments in tens of thousands of cities and educational institutions?
The ubiquity of computers, digital media software, consumer electronics, and computer networks led to the exponential rise in the numbers of cultural agents worldwide and the media they create – making it very difficult, if not impossible, to understand global cultural developments and dynamics in any substantial details using our 20th century theoretical tools and methods. But what if can we use the same developments – computers, software, and availability of massive amounts of “born digital” cultural content – to track global cultures in ways impossible with traditional tools?
To investigate these questions – as well as to understand how the ubiquity of software tools for culture creation and sharing changes what “culture” is – in 2007 we established Software Studies Initiative (softwarestudies.com) at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and California Institute for Telecommunications and Information (Calit2). Together with the researchers and students working in our lab, we have been developing a new paradigm for the study, teaching and public presentation of cultural artifacts, dynamics, and flows. We call this paradigm


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