I first heard about "Unlike Us: Understanding social media monopolies and their alternatives" in November by reading about it in this blog post. It sounded interesting, but I didn't really "get" what it was. The first event took place in Cyprus in November and the second event is coming up soon (Amsterdam, March 8-10). This one-minute video will leave you scratching your head, but will still give you hints about what it's about. "Unlike Us" is also listed as a "project" at the Institute of Network Cultures (INC) in Amsterdam.
Unlike Us is about "alternatives in social media" and it brings together artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who are discontent with today's social media regime - where we trade our privacy for convenience, and where distant, powerful "others" convert huge amounts of personal data into revenue streams.
The goal of the Unlike Us network is to 1) "analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms" and 2) "propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software".
The concrete activities through which this will happen is events, readers, workshops, online debates and campaigns. The "about" page is detailed, bombastic and very long-winded and reads partly like a manifesto for... something different than what we have today: "social media [...] call for a new understanding of classic dichotomies such as commercial/political, private/public, users/producers, artistic/standardised, original/copy, democratising/disempowering". It sounds idealistic and perhaps also unrealistic, but I'm all for it - even though it's a little bit unclear exactly what will/should happen and how this will come to pass. Read for yourselves. Unlike Us lists no less than 15 "Topics of Investigation":
1. Political economy: Social media monopolies
2. The private in the public
3. Visiting the belly of the beast
4. Artistic responses to social media
5. Designing culture: Representation and software
6. Software matters: Sociotechnical and algorithmic cultures
7. Genealogies of social networking sites
8. Is research doomed?
9. Researching unstable ontologies
10. Making dense of data: Visualization and critique
11. Pitfalls of building social media alternatives
12. Showcasing alternatives in social media
13. Social media activism and the critique of liberation technology
14. Social media in the Middle East and beyond
15. Data storage: Social media and legal cultures
I have a feeling that it is difficult to understand what Unlike Us really is about (apart from what it - in a slightly convoluted way - says it is about) without attending one of the events. Hopefully I will get a better idea by following Astrid's blog since she will attend the Amsterdam event less than two weeks from now.
PS (March 2012). Here is the Unlike Us blog. The quality of the blog posts are high!