Data, file formats and protocols as the first platform of network politics

This was the abstract of a talk I proposed for a Network Politics Conference in 2011. The talk wasn’t accepted, but I’d like to restart a conversation on this topic, so here it goes.

This quote from “AOL loves HuffPo. The loser? Journalism”

“The media-saturated environment in which we live has been called “the information age” when, in fact, it’s the data age. Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Journalism is information collected and analyzed in ways people actually can use."

refers to journalism, but it could very well, and very probably should, be also applied to network politics as follow.

Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Network politics happens, is truly democratic, makes a real difference and cannot be stopped only when is not tied to any specific hardware or software platform. In other words, network politics to its best is based on data that:

  • are arranged in ways that people can collect, share, reorder and reanalyze in any way, including automatic data mining and visualization, with any software they choose, to build their own relationships, strategies and actions
  • can be immediately moved to other hardware/software platform when new, more efficient platform appears or when existing ones (be they Facebook, Blackberry messaging or anything else) start to be subject to censorship or technical limitations

However, this is only possible if both the data and the metadata that connect them and give them meaning are always available in raw, open formats that can be used on, or moved to, whatever hardware and software platform. People use software and hardware to make sense of data and decide accordingly, not the reverse.

But this is equivalent to say that the first, universal platform of network politics is not some “app”, website or social software, but the data they display and connect, and that a necessary political action is to make sure that not only data are made available, but that they are always formatted and stored in the proper way.