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Working out the plot: the role of Stories in Social Machines


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Paper by Ségolène Tarte, David De Roure and Pip Willcox, presented at 2nd International Workshop on the Theory and Practice of Social Machines, in conjunction with WWW2014, Seoul, Korea, 7 April 2014. Proceedings in ACM Digital Library, preprint on

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Working out the plot: the role of Stories in Social Machines

  1. 1. By Ségolène Tarte, David De Roure* and Pip Willcox Working out the Plot The Role of Stories in Social Machines * @dder
  2. 2. Real life is and must be full of all kinds of social constraint – the very processes from which society arises. Computers can help if we use them to create abstract social machines on the Web: processes in which the people do the creative work and the machine does the administration... The stage is set for an evolutionary growth of new social engines. The ability to create new forms of social process would be given to the world at large, and development would be rapid. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, 1999 (pp. 172–175) Social Machines
  3. 3. New Social Process
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  7. 7. Scientists Talk Forum Image Classification data reduction Citizen Scientists
  8. 8. “Yet Wikipedia and its stated ambition to “compile the sum of all human knowledge” are in trouble. The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia—and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation— has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking… The main source of those problems is not mysterious. The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage…”
  9. 9. The Yongle Encyclopedia (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Yǒnglè Dàdiǎn; literally The Great Canon or Vast Documents of the Yongle Era) was a Chinese compilation of information commissioned by the Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle in 1403 and completed by 1408. It was the world's largest known general encyclopedia at its time, unsurpassed for six centuries. Over two thousand scholars worked on the project under the direction of the Yongle Emperor, who reigned from 1402 to 1424. The scholars incorporated 8,000 texts from ancient times through the early Ming Dynasty. Many subjects were covered, including agriculture, art, astronomy, drama, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural sciences, religion and technology, as well as descriptions of unusual natural events.
  10. 10. http://www.publicbooks. org/nonfiction/books- not-moocs
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  12. 12. Stories within Social Machines Stories about Social Machines Social Machines for stories Now we consider... SOCIAL MACHINES AS STORIES
  13. 13. Why adopt a storytelling perspective to study Social Machines? This idea is rooted in the observation that much attention has been given to the internal functioning of a Social Machine, thereby tipping the balance towards the “machinery” side of Social Machines; the question that remains wide open and relatively unexplored is the following: what is social about a Social Machine? By adopting a storytelling view on Social Machines, we facilitate the exposition and expression of their sociality.
  14. 14. Are we looking for machines or for socials? sociality
  15. 15. Rather than looking at a Social Machine as an entity where the “machinery” is a set structure of hardware, software, and assigned roles that would somehow allow for sociality (how?), we consider the “machinery” as plotpoints through which stories can pass, allowing for non- deterministic communication, for non- combinatorial circulation of ideas, for non-preset cooperation, for innovation, for invention, and thereby for sociality.
  16. 16. STORYTELLING AS A STETHOSCOPE FOR SOCIAL MACHINES 1. Sociality through storytelling potential and realization 2. Sustainability through reactivity and interactivity 3. Emergence through collaborative authorship and mixed authority Zooniverse is a highly storified Social Machine Facebook doesn’t allow for improvisation Wikipedia assigns authority rights rigidly
  17. 17. Thanks to Kevin Page, Zooniverse, Bodleian Libraries and attendees of the Social Sciences and the Social Machine workshop (Oxford, September 2013) ne Tarte, David De Roure and Pip Willcox, (2014). Working out the plot: the role of stories in social machines. 2nd International Workshop on the Theory and Practice of Social Machines, in conjunction with WWW2014, Seoul, Korea, 7 April 2014. Proceedings in ACM Digital Library, preprint on SOCIAM: The Theory and Practice of Social Machines is funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under grant number EPJ017728/1 and comprises the Universities of Southampton, Oxford and Edinburgh. See