Comm 106I: Internet Industries (Spring 2014)

Tu Th 11am-12:20pm
Solis 104

Course website:


Lilly Irani (Professor)

Office Hours: Mondays, 1:30-3:30 or by appointment in MCC 103

Monika Sengul-Jones (TA)

Office Hours: Wednesdays, 3:30-4:30 and by appointment in Sequoyah 204

Course Description

Apple, Google, and Amazon are all businesses emblematic of the internet industries and the forms of social life, media circulation, and data work they make possible. This class examines the claims made about these industries, the realities of the industries' workings, and what the differences between the claims and the reality mean for us. This class examines the internet industries and how they rewire our everyday lives: the way we socialize, the way work, changing forms of social stratification, and modes of resisting or reworking these trends. Students will learn to participate in debates about the role of the internet in everyday life through argument and self-directed research.



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Course Details and Policies

Expectations -- On Responsibility and Why What You Do Here Matters
This class is a place of learning -- students learn, teaching staff learns, the internet will learn from your contributions to Wikipedia. We expect you to read carefully, read critically, evaluate the positions presented to you, and contribute how you see things differently. We expect students to attend all lectures, to work to interpret readings in context of their own experiences, and to bring their insights into the class for the benefit of all the learners in the classroom (including the teaching staff). You and the staff share responsibility for coming prepared, asking questions, and searching for how to connect what you learn in this class to your world. If you are unsure of the relevance, ask. Professor Irani teaches these materials because she worked in the internet industries after college and she wishes she had been taught these things going in. 

Students can miss one lecture per quarter with prior notice by email to Professor Irani explaining the reason for the absence. All other absences must be accompanied by a doctor's note, auto shop bill, photograph of meteor strike, or other evidence of the emergency. Attendance will be taken each day via a sign in sheet distributed in class.

Building off of the ethos described in "Expectations" above, participation can take many forms but fundamentally is about you bringing your experiences into the classroom and taking responsibility for making the class better -- more critical, more thorough, more reflective -- for all of us. Participation can take many forms: questions and discussions in class, office hours visits, thoughtful emails to the teaching staff, sharing of links to interesting material, responding to fellow students' discussion forum posts, etc. 

Readings and Materials
All readings should be read in full prior to class. Required books can be purchased at the bookstore. Other required readings will be posted to TED in the "Content" area. (Updated 4/3/2014). 

Peer Review
The goal of this class it to help you develop as a writer and critical thinker about contemporary technological cultures. A major part of that development requires soliciting, receiving, and incorporating critical feedback of your work. The two major writing projects will have multiple phases which will include peer review of drafts. You are required to provide peer review feedback, and you are required to incorporate the feedback you receive into your subsequent drafts. 

TED Response Prompts: Throughout the quarter, you will write a response to the class readings on TED. For some days, teaching staff have assigned a substantive response question for you to address. On days without a prompt, choose an aspect of the reading you found surprising or interesting, explain why you found it so, and either critique it or expand on its implications.

The TED responses are also a great place to log specific confusions about the reading so we can address it.

You must post your response by 8am the day of class because your responses will inform class content and activities. Responses should be at least 150 words. You can miss one response without penalty because, well, life happens.

Wikipedia Project: You will  develop a substantive contribution to WIkipedia. The purpose of this assignment is to draw on the tools of this course and your own experiences and concerns to put you in conversation with the massive compendium that is Wikipedia. You will identify a specific topic that you care about, research the topic, write encyclopedic material on it, and submit it to Wikipedia. 

Correspondence and Communication
For questions related to enrollment in the class, please contact your undergraduate adviser in the Communication Office. For all other matters, please attend the professors’ or TA's office hours. Generally, do not use email to replace face-to-face discussion with the instructors and TA about grades and course material. The teaching staff have scheduled four hours of office hours per week and are also available by appointment.

Why come into office hours? You may think you have a logistical question, but it is tied to a broader set of issues with your work or the class. Face-to-face, we can figure this out. You are also likely to get more detailed answers in face-to-face than over email because you can solicit the details that matter to you.

You are expected to check your UCSD mail for important class notices, including details on assignments and exams. 

Students with Disabilities
Any student who requires accommodations for a disability should bring the professors the requisite letter from the Office of Students with Disabilities specifying what accommodations are to be made.

Academic Integrity
All suspicions of academic misconduct will be reported to the Academic Integrity Office. Academic misconduct is not only blatant cheating (e.g. copying off another student during an exam or quiz), but also: copying other students' papers or assignments; copying or using old papers/reports; forgetting to cite material you took from an outside resource; turning in work completed in total or part by another; signing in your friend to class; taking a quiz for someone else. The Policy on Integrity of Scholarship ( list some of the standards by which you are expected to complete your academic work.

The midterm will be a take home exam. We will distribute it April 24 and it will be due through email April 28 by 8am. Late midterms will not be accepted. It is your responsibility to plan ahead.

The final will be the Wikipedia group project as well as an individual reflective essay on the process of researching and writing for Wikipedia. You will submit it on TurnItIn and in hard copy by the standard in-class final time, June 11.

TED Response Posts 30%
Midterm: 20%
Wikipedia Project: 40%
Participation 10%

Late Assignments
Assignments will lose 10% of the total grade for each day they are late. Responses will be docked one point per day for being late. Please see the TA or Professor if you are falling behind in course work.

Course Schedule

Week Date Topic Readings Assignments TED Response Prompt
1 Tue Apr 01 Introduction to Internet Industries   Complete the "Getting to Know You" survey (due April 3)  
Thu Apr 03 The Promises and the Erasures of the Information Economy Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, pp 1-7

Kreiss, Finn & Turner, passages on Benkler in "The Limits of Peer Production," New Media & Society, pp 243-247

Howard, "Why Do We Only Care About Programmers?" Model View Culture
  Due Friday by 5pm: 
Evaluate Benkler's celebration of the networked information economy in light of Howard's critique of high-tech progressivism.
2 Tue Apr 08 The Economics of Ideology in the Internet Industries
Berger, B. Selection on Ideological Work from The Survival of a Counterculture. pp 120-125

Irani, L. "The Cultural Work of Microwork." New Media & Society
  Briefly explain how Mechanical Turk lets tech workers do ideological work. Identify another example of ideological work from your own experiences of internet life.
Thu Apr 10 How the Web Makes Money: The Product is You McChensey pp 130-151   Choose an aspect of the reading you found surprising or interesting, explain why you found it so, and either critique it or expand on its implications.
3 Tue Apr 15 Privacy and the PRISM-Industrial Complex McChesney pp 151-171   YOUR CHOICE!
If you know about the Heartbleed bug, reflect on what you know and feel you can do about the bug in light of the massive and routine data gathering McChesney talks about. 
Choose an aspect of the reading you found surprising or interesting, explain why you found it so, and either critique it or expand on its implications.
Thu Apr 17 Lock in, fence off, or opt out?

Brunton & Nissenbaum. 2011. "Vernacular resistance to data collection and analysis: A political theory of obfuscation." First Monday.

  Propose a strategy for resisting data collection in an internet platform you use. Draw from Brunton & Nissenbaum or come up with a new proposal. We'll discuss proposals in class.
Write about how your views on the Data Debates statements for class changed as we went through class.
4 Tue Apr 22 Journalists and content farmers McChesney pp 172-205

  Evaluate Shirky's claims about Ushahidi and cognitive surplus in light of McChesney's account of journalism in the last decade.
Thu Apr 24 Wikipedia and the Politics of Neutral Content
Guest speaker: Brian Cox, a member of the UCSD community and a Wikipedian
van Dijck, Ch. 7, Wikipedia and the Neutrality Principle

Hall, T. "The Op-Ed and You." New York Times.

Start the take-home midterm Choose a topic you might be interested researching. What kinds of questions can you address under the neutrality principle? What kinds of questions does an op-ed let you address?
5 Tue Apr 29 Watch - We will watch 1 hour in class. Watch the rest at home. It'll provide context that will make later readings easier to understand.   Submit the take-home midterm by 8am Turn in midterm hardcopy in class. 

Take a break from the midterm!
-- no response due today -- 
Thu May 01 Venture Labor

Neff, "The Social Risks of the Dot Com Era," pp 1-26
Wikipedia: Editing (1-24) tutorial

What are characteristics of "venture labor" according to Neff? Provide an example of work with venture labor characteristics from your own experiences (e.g. your own work, friends' experiences, the media). 
6 Tue May 06 The Work of Self-Branding Marwick, A. "Ch 4: Self-Branding" from Status Update Add 2-4 topic ideas you're considering working on to the course page section Topic Ideas Write a self-branding statement that emphasizes what makes you unique. Then write a paragraph reflecting on the self-branding exercise drawing on Marwick.
Thu May 08 Guest presentation: Lauren Blake, talking about Roxy Style Squad and new forms of online product development and value production
Wikipedia Project Check In / Debate Day: We'll debate issues about entrepreneurial work in the internet industries.
    Pick one of the data debate questions and write your position, drawing on Neff, Marwick, and evidence from your own experiences. Find the questions in TED > Content > 106i Discussion: Startup of You?
7 Tue May 13 What Internet Scamming Says about the internet Burrell, J. "Probematic Empowerment: West African Internet Scams as Strategic Misrepresentation" ITID  
Choose an aspect of the reading you found surprising or interesting, explain why you found it so, and either critique it or expand on its implications.
Thu May 15 The "Social" Industries van Dijck, Ch. 1: Engineering Sociality in a Culture of Connectivity   What does it mean to engineer sociality? Explain your interpretation based on the text. 
8 Tue May 20 Facebook: "Monetizing" Social Life van Dijck, Ch. 3: Facebook and the Imperative of Sharing

We will watch the following and discuss in class, but you can preview it if you prefer to have more time to read things: 
Ptak, Laurel. Wages for Facebook 
  Should Facebook share money with users who generate its data? If so, when? Why or why not?
Wed May 21 Extra credit opportunity:
Attend Professor Christian Sandvig's (U Mich) Design@Large talk on design, internet infrastructure, and inequality, 4:30pm Atkinson 4004.
(1% extra credit)
Sign in and put '106I" next to your name.    
Thu May 22 PeerStudio: Peer review Wikipedia contribution drafts in class. By 8am, submit your Wikipedia contribution draft to PeerStudio Comm106i (you'll need to make a login) 

Attendance mandatory unless you have a doctor's note (doing this is part of your final Wikipedia grade)
  -- no response, just your Wikipedia draft contribution --
9 Tue May 27
TV and YouTube
Guest speaker: Gabe Michael of Forge Apollo
van Dijck, Ch. 6: The Intimate Connection Between Television and Video Sharing   Come up with a question for Gabe Michael, based on the reading for today. Try to make it a question that comes from the work we've been doing together; in your written response, explain why this is a question we should care about in Comm 106i. 
Thu May 29
Watch Sleep Dealer in class
If you cannot be in class for any reason, you are responsible for watching the film before Thursday. You can view it at the library or streaming at the internet archive.
The film is largely in Spanish with subtitles. If you find reading subtitles difficult for any reason, feel free to read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia before class to aid your comprehension in class.

Facebook, "What names are allowed on Facebook?" (Help page)
boyd, danah. "The Politics of Real Names." Communications of the ACM. 
Scott, excerpt of Seeing Like a State, pp 64-71
  Discuss how Scott’s definition of surveillance connects to practices of naming on Facebook. What does this help us understand about Facebook? What is left out?
10 Tue Jun 03 Speculative Futures of Digital Labor: Discussing and debating Sleep Dealer --   Use a reading from this quarter to explain some aspect of Sleep Dealer you find interesting. Explain 1) how the reading is relevant to Sleep Dealer and 2) how that aspect of Sleep Dealer matters for your life.
Thu Jun 05 Facebook: Privacy, Surveillance, and your Authentic Self (Delayed lecture because Professor Irani was sick.) --   Fill out Comm 106i course feedback survey (counts as 3 pts reading response) (The survey is being run by the Center for Teaching Development. They will let me know who filled out the survey but will anonymize all responses.)
11 Wed Jun 11 Final Wikipedia projects and reflection essays due by 11:30am   Submit your Wikipedia project by email by 11:30am and in hard copy in the Comm main office box. Turn in 1) your Wikipedia contribution (text, references), 2) the name of the entry to which you contributed, 3) your Wikipedia username and real name, and 4) your reflective essay. 

More detailed directions are on Wikipedia: Final Project: Grading