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The Power of Platforms - Inaugural lecture by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, U of Oxford

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Platform companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and others like them are amongst the driving forces in a profound transformation of our societies. This lecture focuses on the distinct forms of “platform power” that they exercise. It identifies five key aspects of platform power (standards, connections, automated action at scale, secrecy, and fungibility) and show how platform power is profoundly enabling, transformative, and productive, animated by how platforms empower other actors while also making them more dependent. Platform power is deeply relational and not a sovereign power that platform companies possess and can use at their pleasure—but it is a form of power nonetheless, tied to the institutional and strategic interests of platform companies themselves, and driving a structural transformation in our media environment and political life.

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The Power of Platforms - Inaugural lecture by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, U of Oxford

  1. 1. THE POWER OF PLATFORMS What can the case of publishers tell us about how platforms are reshaping the institutions that enable our democracies? PROFESSOR RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN INAUGURAL LECTURE, GREEN TEMPLETON COLLEGE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
  2. 2. Platforms: Large technology companies that—  have developed and maintain digital platforms that enable interaction between at least two different kinds of actors  who in the process come to host public information, organize access to it, create new formats for it, and control data about it  and who thereby influence incentive structures around investment in public communication (including news production).
  3. 3. THE RISE OF PLATFORMS
  4. 4. (1) Platforms increasingly central to distribution of news
  5. 5. Through rise of distributed discovery
  6. 6. … and distributed content
  7. 7. 8 Sources: Ian Maude, Be Heard Group, data from Google, Facebook, and estimates from Enders Analysis and eMarketer. Note: both Google and Facebook share some of their advertising with partners through various revenue sharing arrangements. (2) Platforms increasingly central to business of news 0 50 100 150 200 250 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 $billion Estimated global digital advertising revenues, 2005-2017 Google Facebook Others
  8. 8. Sources: Company reports. (3) Platforms have grown very big very quickly 0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 Google (1998) Facebook (2004) Axel Springer (1946) BBC (1922) New York Times (1851) $billion 2017 Market capitalization ($ billion) 2017 Revenues ($ billion)
  9. 9. PUBLISHERS’ REACTION
  10. 10. Onsite Off-site On-site versus off-site strategies
  11. 11. Three responses Coexistence Confrontation Collaboration
  12. 12. Three responses Coexistence “We need Facebook. Facebook does not need us.” Confrontation Collaboration
  13. 13. Three responses Coexistence Confrontation They are “content kleptomaniacs”, “thieves” Collaboration
  14. 14. Three responses Coexistence Confrontation Collaboration “This can be win-win.”
  15. 15. PLATFORMS’ POWER
  16. 16. Platforms’ Power Hard power Soft power Platform power
  17. 17. Platform power (1) to set standards RISJ Digital News Report 2017
  18. 18. Platform power (2) to make and break connections RISJ Digital News Report 2017
  19. 19. Platform power (3) of automated action at scale RISJ Digital News Report 2017
  20. 20. Platform power (3) of automated action at scale RISJ Digital News Report 2017
  21. 21. Platform power (4) of secrecy RISJ Digital News Report 2017
  22. 22. Platform power (5) that operates across domains RISJ Digital News Report 2017
  23. 23. Platform Power 1) Power to set standards 2) Power to make and break connections 3) Power of automated action at scale 4) Power of secrecy 5) Power that operates across domains
  24. 24. IMPLICATIONS?
  25. 25. Individual empowerment and dependency Institutional empowerment and dependency Increasingly urgent need for discussion of platform governance Implications?
  26. 26. THE POWER OF PLATFORMS What can the case of publishers tell us about how platforms are reshaping the institutions that enable our democracies? PROFESSOR RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN INAUGURAL LECTURE, GREEN TEMPLETON COLLEGE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
  27. 27. RISJ Digital News Report 2017 28 References and acknowledgements This lecture is based in part on research done with Sarah Ganter and has benefited indirectly from discussions with the whole research team at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (Alessio Cornia, Annika Sehl, Antonis Kalogeropoulos, Joy Jenkins, Richard Fletcher, Silvia Mayo-Vazquez, Tim Nicholls, and Tom Nicholls, as well as Nic Newman). In addition, I want to thank David Levy and Lucas Graves for inspirational comments, discussions, and suggestions. It builds on the work of many others, including— Bell E with Wardle C, Brown P, Rashidian N, Bengani P, and Gonclaves A. (2016) Who owns the news consumer: Social media platforms or publishers? Columbia Journalism Review. Caplan, Robyn and danah boyd (2018). Isomorphism through algorithms: Institutional dependencies in the case of Facebook. Big Data & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951718757253 Chadwick, A. (2013) The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. New York: Oxford University Press. Dijck J van (2013) The culture of connectivity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. Evans, P.C., and A. Gawer. (2016) ‘The Rise of the Platform Enterprise: A Global Survey’. New Yok: The Center for Global Enterprise. Giddens, A. (1990) The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. Gillespie T (2010) The politics of “platforms.” New Media Society 12(3): 347–364. Gillespie T (Forthcoming) Governance of and by platforms. Forthcoming in SAGE Handbook of Social Media, edited by Jean Burgess, Thomas Poell, and Alice Marwick. Grewal, D. S. (2008) Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Kreiss, Daniel and Shannon MacGregor (2017) Technology Firms Shape Political Communication: The Work of Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Google With Campaigns During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Cycle, Political Communication, 35:2, 155-177, DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2017.1364814 Latour, B. (1984) ‘The Powers of Association’. The Sociological Review 32 (S1): 264–280. Newman, Nic, Richard Fletcher, Antonis Kalogeropoulos, David A. L Levy, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. 2017. “Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017.” Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/. Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis, and Sarah Anne Ganter. 2017. “Dealing with Digital Intermediaries: A Case Study of the Relations between Publishers and Platforms.” New Media & Society, April, 1461444817701318. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817701318. Pasquale F (2015) The Black Box Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Plantin J-C, Lagoze C, Edwards P N and Sandvig C (2016) Infrastructure studies meet platform studies in the age of Google and Facebook. New Media & Society 00: 1-00.

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