Pelle Snickars works as Head of Research at the National Library of Sweden. He is also an Assistant Professor at the Department of Cinema Studies, Stockholm University. Snickars’ has published numerous books on various aspect of media history as well as new media.

Recent books
Moving Data. The iPhone and the Future of Media, (eds.) Pelle Snickars & Patrick Vonderau (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012) – read the introduction here – or download it.

The YouTube Reader, (eds.) Pelle Snickars & Patrick Vonderau (Stockholm: KB, 2009) – download the book.

Submitted articles
“Himalaya of Data”, forthcoming in (preliminary title) WikiLeaks. A Reader (ed.) Christian Christenssen (New York: Peter Lang, 2012) – download a first draft.

“Against Search—Towards A New Computational Logic of Media Accessibility”, forthcoming in Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics (eds.) John Hartley, Jean Burgess & Axel Bruns (London: Blackwell, 2012) – download a first draft.

Recently published articles
“A Walled Garden Turned Into a Rain Forest”, Moving Data. The iPhone and the Future of Media, (eds.) Pelle Snickars & Patrick Vonderau (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012) – download a first draft.

“If Content Is King, Context Is Its Crown”, Critical Studies in European Television no. 1, 2012 – article can be found here.

View. Journal of European Television History and Culture

View. Journal of European Television History and Culture, the first peer-reviewed, multi-media and open access e-journal in the field of European television history and culture, has recently launched a new site and a new issue, Europe on and Behind the Screens. I am on its editorial board, and it is a really promising academic undertaking linking new scholarship with archival material in updated digital ways. According to the description, View, “offers an international platform for outstanding academic research and archival reflection on television as an important part of our European cultural heritage. With its interdisciplinary profile, the journal is open to many disciplinary perspectives on European television – including television history, media studies, media sociology, cultural studies and television studies.” Do check it out.

Has Apple Lost its Edge?

Columbia UP keeps promoting our book, Moving Data. The iPhone and the Future of Media. Apparently it has sold pretty well – and as long as Apple makes the news (and the company of course does constantly), the book will be of some relevance. The launch of the new iPhone 5 is naturally also a way of promoting our book, and today the Columbia UP blog published a post I wrote.

Many have argued that the iPhone 5 launch was the most important product announcement for Apple since the first iPhone arrived back in 2007. Previous new models and versions have, in effect, been minor upgrades, so it was finally time for Apple to face the increased competition and secure its cutting edge smart phone profile. It’s now been five years since Apple entered the smart phone market—and literally altered and redesigned it. The iPhone rapidly became the prototype of the constantly connected gadget, blending media consumption, mobility, and social media. No other mobile phone—before or after—has even come close to the iPhone’s sociocultural impact, or demonstrated the extent to which mobile technology shapes new media culture. The very term mobile media in fact means something completely different after the iPhone. However, with the release of the iPhone 5, the promise back in 2007 of the iPhone becoming an ever expanding mobile media machine might have come to a halt. At least temporarily.

The question still remains regarding what kind of technology a smart phone actually is—and has become. Is it primarily a piece of shiny hardware, a mobile platform for innovative code distribution, or a gadget targeting new forms of media consumption? What about the blurred boundaries between smart phones and tablets; are they different gadgets or essentially the same devices (only with screens in various formats)? Being mobile and connected as well as handling various forms of media—be they music, films, books or web based content—are important features that nearly all these new devices share. If the laptop or stationary computer once was our default machine, this is not the case any more. Today, mobile devices are our primary communication tools for voice, text, image, video, sound and gaming. The iPhone didn’t start this development—but it increased the speed of technological change dramatically.

Pre-orders and sales have apparently been strong for the iPhone 5—as usual with new Apple products. Jony Ive, Apple’s chief designer claims that the iPhone 5 has been “completely redesigned” and many have already praised the new phone’s beauty. Daring design remains Apple’s trademark, and some have even, perhaps with a touch of hyperbole, suggested that the iPhone5 ”glass-and-aluminum body carries the design cues of a Stealth bomber.” Marketed by Apple as an object of high tech desire the new smart phone is definitively fetishized as a true technological sublime.

But, in most other ways, the new iPhone 5 is essentially the same as before. It will definitively not have the same impact on spurring technological development as the first (and earlier versions) have. The iPhone 5 is longer—and that, more or less, seems to be it. One more row of glowing icons; will that actually be enough to keep market shares and leave competitors behind? Maybe the apple has, after all, become a bit soft. The original iPhone was revolutionary with its touch screen and its inherent and emerging app culture. This is not the case anymore. Apple has not lost its edge; the company has more money than God but no firm can be revolutionary all the time. The iMother of 2007 remains the same. Older and wiser, perhaps—but will she continue to attract users?

Smartphones launched this Fall (before Apple) by competitors like Samsung have been more daring: new, radical ways of wireless charging, longer battery life, more advanced camera solutions, etc. A copy cat that infringes on original patents might of course be regarded as a weak rival and unworthy competitor—but everything Samsung does is not second-rate. Digital development does not only stem from the brain of a genius; it can take many forms. And while the iPhone 5 seems to be a nice product, it’s hardly a life-changing object.

Finally, here is the original posting – With the iPhone 5, Has Apple Lost Its Edge?.

What Steve Jobs Did Not Know About Apps

In order to promote my new book on Apple’s iPhone I have contributed a blog post to the Columbia University Press blog. The piece starts of like this:

In January this year as Apple’s iPhone celebrated its five year birthday, its App Store surpassed half a million available apps with some 25 billion pieces of code downloaded (according to Mobile Statistics). Arguably, the iPhone iOS is—by just about any measure—the most innovative in the history of computing. It’s the combination of innumerable software apps and high performing slick machines that have made Apple into the world’s most valuable company. And since an iPhone5 is rumored to be on its way, the story will continue. Too much has already been said and written about the visionary talent of the late Steve Jobs. Still, it is worth mentioning that even he was occasionally wrong. Apple has often been described as a “closed” company striving for total control. But it remains a true irony that externally produced apps, which helped to define the revolutionary iPhone, were not on Apple’s radar in 2007. Initially, the iPhone had nothing to do with apps at all.

The other day my co-editor, Patrick Vonderau, did a similar promotion post on What Can Be Learned from an iPhone Bill – a great read.

Future of Media

The book that I and Patrick Vonderau has been working on is now finallly finished, Moving Data. The iPhone and the Future of Media published by the Columbia University Press, who are currently promoting the book on their first page. It is the first book to treat the popular handheld device as a key medium for decoding modern convergence culture. Our introduction has also been published online – read it here – or download it. I also hope to publish a blog post on the CUP blog to further promote the book, all likely on the topic “iPhone 5 years – 500 000 apps”. Why? Well, I still beleive apps are the most striking thing with this “phone” – and the way the app-concept has altered the computer and media industry. And with the paradox that although Steve Jobs was a computer visonary he didn’t see this one coming at all. Nothing is mentioned for example about apps in the first iPhone commercials – watch them here on YouTube. That is, “building a phone” from external code was radically new and hardly the Nokia way. I think this example has a lot to say about the real difficulties in trying to figure out what direction the digital media landscape is actually moving.

Journal of European Television History and Culture

Euscreen, the ongoing project on creating access to Europe’s televisual heritage, has recently launched a new online publication, Journal of European Television History and Culture. I have contributed with an article on television as data (in a broad sense), If Content Is King, Context Is Its Crown. The abstract reads as follows: “The future of television—if former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has his way—will use computational modes to attract viewers, structure results, contextual queries and/or evolving viewing patterns within an emerging televisual datascape. Departing from Schmidt’s recent MacTaggart lecture this article tries to track the coded consequences of TV as data, not the least from an audiovisual heritage perspective.”

The iPhone and the Future of Media

Together with Patrick Vonderau I have during 2011 edited and worked on a forthcoming book on Apple’s iPhone – Moving Data: The iPhone and the Future of Media. The book will be published by Columbia University Press in July next year, and has now been announced online:

Less than two years after its 2007 release, the iPhone revolutionized not only how people communicate with each other and the world, but also how they consume and produce culture. Combining traditional and social media with mobile connectivity, the iPhone and other smart phones have redefined as well as expanded the dimensions of everyday life, allowing individuals to personalize media as they move and process constant flows of data. Today, millions of consumers love and live by their iPhones, but what are the implications of its special technology on society, media, and culture?Featuring an eclectic mix of original essays, Moving Data explores the iPhone as technological prototype, lifestyle gadget, and platform for media creativity. Media experts, cultural critics, and scholars consider the device’s newness and usability—especially its “lickability”—and its “biographical” story. Contributors provide ethnographic studies illuminating patterns of consumption; the fate of solitude against smartphone ubiquity; the economy of the app store and its perceived “crisis of choice;” and the distance between the accessibility of digital information and the protocols governing its use. Alternating between critical and conceptual analyses, essays link the design of participatory media to the iPhone’s technological features and routines of sharing, and they follow the extent to which the pleasures of gesture-based interfaces are redefining traditional notions of media usage and sensory experience. They also consider how user-led innovations, collaborative mapping, and creative empowerment are understood and reconciled with changes in mobile surveillance, personal rights, and prescriptive social software. Presenting a range of perspective and argument, this collection reorients the practice and study of media critique.

Himalaya of Data

I have previously done some writing on WikiLeaks, a review for instance of Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s experience of this ‘organization’, and recently I submitted a first draft of an article – in an upcoming book on WikiLekas, edited by Christian Christensen (and hopefully published next year by Peter Lang), which tries to situate WikiLeaks within a broader archival discourse on data distribution. What type of ‘archive’ (or database) is WikiLeaks, and how does the site challenge traditional archives and libraries through new forms of massive information and data retrieval, as well as user oriented exploration? If (more or less) public data can be found online by anyone at all times, what are the implications for, and the contemporary role of archives and libraries (understood in a broad sense)? Naturally, the controversial nature of the leaked information from WikiLeaks is truly ‘hot data’, which is hardly the case at most heritage institutions. Still, the way the site’s massive amounts of freely distributed documents have entered the cultural circulation of the digital domain in general, as well as more media specific and web 2.0 areas in particular, does hint at various emerging archival models, where free access to hitherto locked material can generate innumerrous forms of new knowledge (of the past and sometimes even the future)—which, after all, is the purpose of most memory institutions. Hence, the importance of WikiLeaks as sort of a new archival modality. The article takes of using the Wayback Machine:

The Wayback Machine is truly an incredible piece of crawler software. Through its three dimensional index, basically anything that has appeared online in the last couple of years can be made visible again. This particular search engine, in fact, serves as a correction to the general newness and ‘flatness’ of digital culture—even if some would indeed argue that the web means the end of forgetting. All likely, we are only beginning to grasp what it means that so much of what we say, think and write in print and pixel is in the end transformed into permanent (and publicly distributed) digital files—whether leaked or not. Then again, all code is deep, and the Wayback Machine is, arguably, one of the more sophisticated digital methods to extract and visualize the specific historicity of the web medium. Essentially, the Wayback Machine (run by the Internet Archive) stores screen shots of various GUIs. This means that the web cannot be surfed through its interface, rather specific URLs are always needed. Still, some 150 billion web pages have been crawled since 1996. In fact, archived versions of web pages across time and space appear through the Wayback Machine’s digital time capsule almost akin to magic.

On January 17, 2007, the Wayback Machine’s software crawler captured for the first time. The crawler’s act of harvesting and documenting the web, hence, meta stored a developing site for “untraceable mass document leaking”—all in the form of an “anonymous global avenue for disseminating documents”, to quote the archived image of the site. The initial WikiLeaks captures in the beginning of 2007, and there were additional sweeps stored during the following months, vividly illustrates how WikiLeaks gradually developed into a site of almost unprecedented global media attention. The WikiLeaks logo, with it’s blue-green hourglass, was, for example, graphically present right from the start, with subsequent headings to the right as ‘news’, ‘FAQ’, ‘support’, ‘press’ and ‘links’—the latter directing users to various network services for anonymous data publication as or Tor. Interestingly, links to the initial press coverage is kept (and can still be accessed). Apparently, one of the first online article’s to mention what the site was all about stated: “a new internet initiative called WikiLeaks seeks to promote good government and democratization by enabling anonymous disclosure and publication of confidential government records.”

Looking and clicking at, reading and thinking about the first stored captures of through the Wayback Machine, one cannot help but notice how the site initially wanted to become a new Wikipedia. In short, WikiLeaks strived to ‘wikify’ leaking by way of incorporating advanced cryptographic technologies for anonymity and untraceability, all in the form of a wiki. Massive amounts of documents were to be combined with “the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface”, at least according to initial FAQs. To users, WikiLeaks will “look very much like Wikipedia. Anybody can post to it, anybody can edit it. No technical knowledge is required. Leakers can post documents anonymously and untraceably.” Furthermore, it was argued that all users can “publicly discuss documents and analyze their credibility and veracity.” As a consequence, users of the site would have the ability to openly “discuss interpretations and context and collaboratively formulate collective publications.”

As is well known, WikiLeaks did not become what it promised back in January 2007. Rather—to quote the site it wanted to resemble—WikiLeaks was “originally launched as a user-editable wiki (hence its name), but has progressively moved towards a more traditional publication model and no longer accepts either user comments or edits.” What did not change, however, is the fact that WikiLeaks was (and is) a distinct archival phenomenon, more or less aptly described as a database of scanned documents, forming a giant information repository. It comes as no surprise that web captures of the site in February 2008—a little more than a year after WikiLeaks was launched—claimed a database of more than 1,2 million documents.

If Content is King, Context is its Crown

One of the major projects at the Resaearch Department that I am heading (at the National Library of Sweden) is EUscreen – a beta version of this televisual heritage portal is up and running at One of the subtask attached to this project is establishing an academic journal, all likely in association with Critical Studies in Television. I have promised to write a piece for the very first issue to appear next year, and the other day I submitted a first draft of an article entitled “If Content is King, Context is its Crown”. The quote in the title is taken from Eric Schmidt’s recent MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh, and, if the future of television is located online, Google is naturally bound to have an interest. In short, the article tries to reflect on new tele-computational structures, modes and search modalities in relation to digital media collections online (as, and the ways that ‘context of data’ might differ and alternate at major media sites as, for example, YouTube. The article starts as follows:

Some people truly believe that “the Internet is fundamental to the future of TV”. Be that as it may; given the convergence of televisual and net based interactivity, similar software and hardware screens—or even program formats for that matter—such a claim could, naturally, be regarded as merely stating the obvious. But if delivered by Eric Schmidt, former CEO at Google, it somehow makes a difference. As a television industry outsider, in late August 2011 Schmidt presented “a hard-hitting MacTaggart address to TV broadcasters in Edinburgh”, according to the contextual description accompanying the video of the filmed event on YouTube. As the first non-broadcaster to deliver the MacTaggart lecture in 35 years, Schmidt’s talk on Google’s ‘small tube business’ has been widely debated, and is, indeed, interesting on many levels. Centered on viewers ability to mix web and television content on TV screens via a Google Chrome browser (on a PC, Android smart phone or tablet), it can arguably be perceived as one of the more intriguing speeches in recent years on upgraded forms of television and computational mode(l)s to come.

If the default value of ‘digital TV’ has shifted towards online, executives within the industry—like in other media sectors—are, nevertheless, still trying hard to think about, and try to come up with viable commercial and public service strategies for ‘old media’. The stakes are high, and as a web tech insider, Schmidt’s take is, of course, different, literally suggesting new ways of looking. So, even if seen as “a CompSci guy in the world of telly”, as one commentator put it on YouTube, his talk is nevertheless illustrative for a shift of perspective, accentuating a web centric view of the televisual landscape, notably with various forms of catch-up and on-demand TV services like the hugely popular BBC iPlayer. From a Google perspective with its clear cut mission (and commercial strategy) to attract as many users as possible, Schmidt was crystal clear in his talk about the company’s absolute commitment to its Google TV launch during 2012, as well as a strait forward acceptance that TV “is clearly winning the competition for attention”. Despite the hype in recent years around new media in general and the video vortex online in particular, global viewing patterns for traditional forms of television still outnumber web usage. All digerati knows this; lack of attending eyeballs remains a problematic, not the least financially since online advertisement is akin to follow the decreased formula of trading ‘analog dollar into digital dimes’. In the UK alone, for example, adults spend more time watching television in four days then they do using the web in a month. However, according to Schmidt, “you ignore the Internet at your peril. The Internet is fundamental to the future of Television for one simple reason: because it’s what people want. Technologically, the Internet is a platform for things that traditional TV cannot support. It makes TV more personal, more participative, more pertinent.”

Against Search

The other day I submitted a first draft of an article entitled, “Against Search—Towards A New Computational Logic of Media Accessibility”, to be published within the fortcoming Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics, edited by John Hartley, Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns. The article tries to map out, explain and understand, as well as situate and critically examine new search modalities within a larger framework of information retrieval in general, and alternative forms of media archival accessibility in particular. In short, I argue that new forms of different computational logics should be deployed in order to facilitate access to deep data as well quantitative surface data in both web n.0 media collections and at more traditional digital archives and libraries currently being coded online. I look forward to the editors comments – the article begins like this:

Let’s start off with one of the most compelling questions of our time: what does it mean to be human in the digital age? Well, one overwhelming challenge facing us all is having digital access to more information, data and knowledge than any previous generation of humankind. A burden perhaps—at least for some. But for the majority of us, a blessing. The often invoked libertarian information-wants-to-be-free paradigm not only insists on free flow of data. All these bits and bytes in the digital domain has to be organized and found, which needless to say is the underlying rationale for the most successful web behemoth of all. Suffice to say, we all live with an increased screen attention (of various sizes), and giving computers (and their mobile clones) textual and haptical commands has also become a ubiquous normality. Access to whatever we want literally lies at our fingertips; information is there somewhere waiting—and the question are always where to look. So, you search.

Ever since Google introduced its white and clean search box interface in the late 1990s—Internet Archive crawled the site for the first time in mid November 1998—the blank frame has been waiting for input. During the last decade this peculiar type of white box has become the new search default, especially within the information retrieval sector par excellence at archives, libraries and museums. “Search the Collections”, is the standard phrase awaiting every online user, implying a more or less vague notion that one already needs to know what one came for. Users are, of course, experienced since surfing the web basically means searching it. Subsequently, the notion of ‘search’ is key for the digital domain in general, and the web in particular. Understanding Google, Steven Levy notes, is trying to “grasp our technological destiny.” From a more scholarly perspective, ‘Search Studies’ is on the brink of developing into an academic field; ‘search’ is, after all, the primary human-computer interaction mode. Mining search patterns and optimizing the engine is what Google and other search companies does on a daily basis, and through online ‘search’ events IRL, like the spread of flues, can increasingly be anticipated. Search per se has in many ways somewhat paradoxically become the answer to questions asked.

To diagnose the cultural logic of online search is, naturally, a vast topic—ranging from the omnipresent potential of Google analytics to the critique of the ‘googlization of everything’ and unfiltered initiatives like Scroogle. Being coded and technical by nature ‘search’ remains highly complicated, with constant upgraded algorithms exploiting the link structure of the web. Since studying tech infrastructures is a blind spot for media studies, complexities are particularly striking from this perspective. Accessibility to various media content in an age characterized by dynamics and volatility is, however, regulated by notions of search, and therefore it remains essential to analyze and grasp how and why ‘search’ has become so important. During the last decade the notion of search has also been challenged by new and alternative computational modes of accessibility, which is yet another argument why ‘search’ needs to be taken seriously (and, admittedly, few would argue otherwise). Tags, folksonomies, or social tagging are, for example, new transformative web based practices and methods to annotate and categorize information and media content in an effort to collectively classify, tease out and find data in other ways than simply through the mantra, ‘search the collections’. Online browsing is, of course, a widely used option, as well as simply ‘clicking’. On YouTube—the quintessential new digital ‘archive’—one textual search is often enough, and then tags and linked videos leads the user into a streaming vortex of differentiated media. Context of content is often fleeting and arbitrary; odd juxtapositions norm rather than exception, and material regularly detached from its place of origin. Clicking rather than searching, thus, becomes an epistemic way of locating and perceiving media material, often in unintended ways. Usage resembles that of walking around in (weird) open library stacks, even if the much appraised digital ‘openness’ on the net in general, and on web 2.0 platforms in particular, always remains modulated on a protocological basis. A web browser is, after all, a translator of code and an interpreter of digital data that profoundly shapes user experiences. Then again, from a strict computer-science perspective, user generated and participatory platforms like YouTube are nothing but databases. Still, in any given cultural context, surfing onto a platform and watching a video at, say, YouTube obviously entails more than that. From a media studies perspective it is therefore debatable whether we ‘watch databases’ only (Lovink), or claims that there is ‘no content, only data and other data’ (Galloway & Thacker), has much relevance in regards to YouTube, or for that matter other cultural heritage or social media sites.

Nevertheless, given the sheer size of contemporary online media collections—from the vast information repositories of data at Wikileaks or The Pirate Bay, to billions of UGC on YouTube and Flickr, or for that matter the 20 million digitized heritage objects at the Library of Congress—simply having a look what’s inside the digital ‘archive’ is no longer possible. However, the contemporary ‘flood of information’ is, by no means, new. On the contrary, libraries and archives have during the last century repeatedly complained over way too many books and documents. The major difference, today, is that in digitized form such material can be analyzed collectively as major cultural sets rather than on a singular basis only. Singularity works for analyzing the particular. But the general is arguably more interesting, and often of greater importance. Hence, massively linked data has nowadays the potential to reveal new human patterns that hitherto remained invisible. The notion of a particular ‘search’, then, is not the answer to the more or less infinite digital archive.

EUscreen Conference on Use & Creativity in mid September 2011

EUscreen, the best practice network for Europe’s television heritage, organizes its Second International Conference on Use and Creativity. The conference takes place at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm in mid September (15-16). The programme consists of two workshops, a plenary session with keynotes as well as case studies by renowned experts in the field.

Attendance is free but on-line registration is required at the following address. A press release can be found here, and the conference will discuss the online potential of European television heritage. It will further explore creative approaches to enhance online accessibility of European television heritage, all with the goal to expand methods to reach a wide range of users and to increase their engagement with online heritage materials.

Moving Data. The iPhone and the Protocols of Media

The final manuscript for the upcoming iPhone book that I have been working on together with Patrick Vonderau was today (6 July 2011) delivered to Columbia University Press (CUP). We are quite pleased, and now the copy editing process will hopefully get going quite rapidly. The book contains more than 20 articles, and together with a lenghty introduction it does actually tell you something about Apple and mobile media. According to CUP the book will soon be announced online, and hopefully there will also be an e-book version published already during late autumn.

Fortchcoming publications during autumn 2011

I am currently finishing a book manuscript (in Swedish) centered around heritage and data. However, there are also a few English articles that I am currently (or soon) working on. First of all, I am doing a piece for a Companion to New Media Dynamics, edited by John Hartley, Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns – to appear in the series, Blackwell Companions to Cultural Studies – which will focus on new search patterns in online media archives. Secondly, I am writing an article for the forthcoming e-journal (linked to, Critical Studies in European Television. The first issue is devoted to making sense of digital sources, and my own piece will discuss YouTube and its challenges to traditional archives – an abstract can be found here. Finally, there is also a text that will be included in a forthoming book on new forms of tv, Television in the Age of Convergence, edited by Sonja de Leeuw and Eggo Müller, where I will take a closer look at Apple TV (download my abstract here).

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