Master thesis

Master thesis

I’m now finished with two semesters coursework for my masters, and the thesis is left to write before I hopefully will be entitled to receive my masters degree. I have learned much from the two previous semesters, and hope to learn even more from the process leading up to my dissertation is printed and handed in. As a part of my documentation and thought process I will use this blog to write about topics and findings related to my thesis. This way I can both contribute to the Internet community (or a tiny tiny fragment of it) by adding knowledge I acquire, gain more experience in English writing and conveying academic ideas and results. Since I already update this blog I think this is a better solution to write here, than to create a new dedicated master blog. To make it easier for you to find information related to my master thesis, I have created a cloud tag to refeer to articles linked to this final paper. The tag “master project” will lead you to general post written about my project, and the tag “master thesis” is dedicated to information about the specific paper.

During the two previous semesters I have written, among more, about the following subjects: what is information and data, the bloggosphere and the agenda of the mass media, advertising  and branding in contemporary digital media society, technological determinism, the philosophy of technology. I have also revitalised my interest in programming, so for my final project and thesis I want to combine knowledge learned from the courses taken and also include a practical element.

I want to look into governments sharing their data repositories with the Internet users, and various topics related to this. Here is my project description at the current stage:

 

Introduction:

Democracy:

The liberal democracy, and the modern national state are ideas indebted to ideals of the enlightenment. As the power of societies changed from the Feudal state to the Bourgeois, a structure where the political decisions were to be rooted in the citizens became a goal. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas has described the conditions which lead up to and followed from the rise of the bourgeois public sphere. In a period from the late 18th and to the early 19th century democratic decisions were a result of discussions, exchange of meanings and political activity in coffee houses, in pamphlets, and in private arrangements. With changed conditions in the mid 19th century the bourgeois public sphere demised. Core ideals of the liberal democracy are information, education, equality and impartiality. Good decisions are often those that are well informed, and information is a key value to make weighted decisions. Habermas’ concern is about contemporary society is, among other, directed towards the commodification of the mass media. Critique is also directed towards public management, and the transformation where citizens are now users of public services or consumers of private commodities.

Many have asserted that the wide diffusion of the personal computer, and similar devices providing interactive means of gathering, sharing, commenting upon, analysing and treating information, in combination with the Internet, providing a two-way channel of information will reinvigorate democracy. Users are now free to make their own information based on their own sources, and create their own knowledge communities outside the domain of the mass media.

Open Government:

The United States’ government opened the service data.gov in 2009, and in 2010 was United Kingdoms’ equivalent data.gov.uk released. Other governments have also created similar initiatives, sharing data repositories with the public. These data repositories contains data aggregated through the various state agencies, ministries, governmental organisations, and political administrations ranging from national to local levels. The UK government has shared 6,900 datasets, and the US shares 250,000. The sets are released under an open licence, and the sites encourage users to take advantage of the collections in creative ways by creating communities and sharing applications made from the datasets.

Visualisation:

Various open frameworks have been developed and made available for users to create their own representations from the datasets shared by the open government. I want to use two tools, which are not exclusively visualisation tools: Processing, and its HTML5 canvas-object portation ProcesssingJS (where JS is the abbreviation for JavaScript) and Python. In addition I may use Google’s Map API for integration with geographical data.

 

Research aim:

I will see how Open Government data is an can be used to democratise the representation and interpretation of information gathered and produced by the governments. I will see what information the US, UK and Norwegian government shares on their data sites and review some ways these data are used. I will mainly look at examples where data has been used in new and alternative ways to convey information about the society, and how this is visualised. I will look into why data is shared, which motivations lies behind this sharing, how it can be used and how this sharing fits in with democratic ideas. I do also want to look into the semantic web aspect of such services.

 

Methodology:

My research will consist of two approaches.

First, I want to get in touch with people who have combined governmental data in applications to learn more about their motivations, aims and process, and to ask about the results and their opinions on digital media. I will also, at an early stage of the process, get in touch with government sources working with Open Government to learn more about the motivations, challenges and practices. To conduct these interviews I will use a qualitative semi-structured research interview that I will record and transcribe.

Second, I want to have a closer look at how these data are combined, what data that are available, and combine two or three different dataset in an application. I will write an application taking data from two or more sources and combine these to create meaning from data. In this process I hope to experience first hand how these repositories can be used, and learn more about the technical aspects of gathering, structuring and displaying data.

In addition I will read relevant literature ranging from the practical aspects with DIY-handbooks and blog post tutorials, to philosophy on democracy, public sphere, information and rationality.

 

Learning outcomes:

I want to combine the theoretical normative ideals of democracy, transparency, creativity and knowledge with the practical approach to sharing information and data. The theoretical aspects will be beneficiary for understanding information and its importance for democracy. The practical aspects will give insights to widespread technology that is expected to be utilized in more areas and to a greater extent. The project will also be interesting as many relevant theories within the field of digital media can be combined, e.g. intellectual property, crowd-sourcing, decentralisation of knowledge, bricolage, and semantic web. The project does also potentially hold an interesting philosophical debate in the epistemological questions which can be raised from a “data as truth”, and instrumental reason.

 

The article illustration is licenced under a Creative Commons licence, and is the property of OpenSoruceWay. It is found through Flickr. Please refer to link for more information about the illustration.

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