Media platforms exploit networks to produce relations. Scholars often talk about two main kinds: economic relations, whereby platforms produce value for owners; and participatory relations. But platforms also produce a specific social relation: a mediated form of communality, or common-being online. This paper will use the platform as a conceptual frame for analysing the different forms that this communality takes. It will do so by reflecting on a collaborative project, ‘Algorithmic Identities’, conducted between the UK and Chile.
This project sought to understand participants’ feelings about recommendation algorithms. It studied these by making an app, ‘Big Sister’, that uses social media data to generate a profile and, through this, music recommendations. We conceived of this app as a ‘prototype’ that creates knowledge through making. Whilst it provided insights into algorithmic recommendations, it also provided insights into platforms.
This paper argues that making and using this app prototyped ‘platformised’ social relations. To use it as a research tool, we had to manage data between the UK and Chile. Operating under the GDPR, a European-wide suite of data regulations, participants in the UK had a markedly different status as ‘data subjects’. Conversely, Chile was negatively labelled as a ‘third country’ for data sharing regulation. Platforms materialise differently in these places. Whilst they mediate the seemingly-free circulation of data to produce value, they generate different users, different value regimes, and different forms of extraction across the globe. Or: they prototype different forms of communality. Treated heuristically, the platform brings these into relief.