Lab Platform Governance, Media and Technology (PGMT)

Session 7: Anne Helmond & Fernando van der Vlist: The Material Conditions of Platform Governance

Time and Date: May 28, 2024, 3-4 pm (CET)

In this talk, we present a methodological outlook for empirical and historical studies of platforms, emphasizing their unique characteristics like programmability and multisidedness. We explore how web archives play a critical role in preserving bits of their past. Despite the challenges posed by the ephemerality and continuous updates of platforms, we show how web archives manage to save valuable information about their historical development and past states of operations. These archived pages are key sources for crafting the life stories of technological artifacts, including platforms and apps.

We then turn our focus to a case study of the evolution of Facebook’s (now Meta’s) platform interfaces (APIs), tracing their trajectory from data access points to complex governance structures. This deep dive into Facebook’s technical governance sheds light on how such platforms command influence over their digital ecosystems, a critical aspect for understanding the broader impact of these platforms in both app and business development and linked socio-economic processes.

This study underscores the importance of understanding the technical dimensions and evolutionary dynamics of platform governance, providing insights into the material conditions of governance of and by platforms through their APIs.

Fernando van der Vlist is Assistant Professor of Cultural Data & AI in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. He is actively involved in the App Studies Initiative (ASI), the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI), and the Public Data Lab. His research focuses on the study of digital media ecosystems, platforms and apps, data, and artificial intelligence (AI) in culture and society.

Anne Helmond is Associate Professor of Media, Data & Society at Utrecht University. She is part of the focus area ‘Governing the Digital Society’ where she examines the processes of platformization, algorithmization, and datafication from an empirical and historical perspective by focusing on the material and programmable (data) infrastructures underpinning these processes.

About the Series 

This talk is part of the series Behind the Scenes – Conversations on Empirical Platform Governance Research that invites scholars in this field to share their experiences and views, fostering  community exchange about how we can study platform governance in this challenging context. It is hosted by the Lab “Platform Governance, Media, and Technology” (PGMT) at the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI), University of Bremen, and the Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen.


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