What is a platform?

I thought this was great from Jean Burgess and Nacy Baym’s new book on Twitter. On pg 15 they take issue with the view of platforms as “a single ‘technology’—a static object that can be cast as a causal agent of societal change” arguing that “A closer look reveals a more emergent, dynamic truth, one in which platform companies, their technologies, and their cultures of use co-evolve over time”. They list a whole series of these elements on pg 16-17:

“Frontstage” user interface and features (the box that invites you to post an update, the layout you see and actions you can take when you use the Facebook website, a Google map, or the Instagram app)

“Backstage” software, algorithms, and APIs (the combination of data and algorithms that power Twitter’s trending topics, the contents and ordering of an individual Facebook newsfeed, or suggestions of related YouTube videos to watch)

The ecosystem of devices and services in which a platform is situated and connected (advertising networks, mobile phones and their operating systems and app stores, and the connections between your Spotify, Tinder, and Facebook accounts)

Communicative or expressive content (Twitter jokes, YouTube videoblogs, or Instagram self-portraits, and the platform-specific ways these are shared)

The practices and understandings of individuals and cohorts of users (including competing social norms about behavior or styles of communication, e.g., whether Twitter bots are a negative or benign presence on the platform; whether or not you should share your child’s baby pictures on Facebook)

The aims, interests, and business model of the organization that provides the platform (the operations, strategies, and financial aspects of Twitter, Inc., as distinct from Twitter as a user experience or a social space; the growth and profit-motivated decisions of Facebook as distinct from the interpersonal and group relationships maintained there)

Public discourse about and media representations of the platform (e.g., news stories about the importance of Twitter in the Arab Spring, or the dangers of selfie culture on Instagram).

Jean Burgess and Nacy Baym’s new book on Twitter

This approach fits well with my forthcoming book with Lambros Fatsis. I’ll start writing about The Public and Their Platforms a bit nearer to the release date.

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