👍 Independent Together: Building and Maintaining Values in a Distributed Web Infrastructure

Liked Independent Together: Building and Maintaining Values in a Distributed Web Infrastructure by Jack Jamieson (dissertation.jackjamieson.net)

This dissertation studies a community of web developers building the IndieWeb, a modular and decentralized social web infrastructure through which people can produce and share content and participate in online communities without being dependent on corporate platforms. The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate how developers’ values shape and are shaped by this infrastructure, including how concentrations of power and influence affect individuals’ capacity to participate in design-decisions related to values. Individuals’ design activities are situated in a sociotechnical system to address influence among individual software artifacts, peers in the community, mechanisms for interoperability, and broader internet infrastructures.

Multiple methods are combined to address design activities across individual, community, and infrastructural scales. I observed discussions and development activities in IndieWeb’s online chat and at in-person events, studied source-code and developer decision-making on GitHub, and conducted 15 in-depth interviews with IndieWeb contributors between April 2018 and June 2019. I engaged in critical making to reflect on and document the process of building software for this infrastructure. And I employed computational analyses including social network analysis and topic modelling to study the structure of developers’ online activities.

This dissertation identifies how values of import to IndieWeb’s community are employed in designing its material architectures as well as community policies. This includes an ongoing balance between supporting individuals’ agency over personal design decisions and a need to maintain commensurability for the sake of interoperability. In many cases, early decisions about this balance have contributed to barriers for certain types of participants. Yet, those who can cross those barriers experience a lack of stabilization in IndieWeb’s infrastructure as a means of achieving richer engagements with technology. By studying design activities as longitudinal and situated within broader infrastructures, this dissertation describes how changing situations and a variety of influences affect possibilities for articulating values through material engagement, offering insights about how to support positive and healthy relationships with technology.

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