Thesis: Progress, Week 3

This past week I experienced some setbacks. I competed my thesis statement and the feedback I got was that the scope might be too ambitious/broad for a ten week long project. I decided that moving forward, I think I will start building the tool and incorporate small-scale user research into the design process.

I reached out to expert developers and academics to talk about my thesis idea. Here is who I’ve made contact with:

  • danah boyd – head of Data & Society, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, adjunct professor at NYU
  • Tarleton L. Gillespie – principal researcher at Microsoft Research, adjunct professor at Cornell University
  • Suyra Mattu – fellow at Data & Society, developer of Black Box tool
  • Hang Do Thi Duc – designer, developer of data selfie
  • Taina Bucher – professor at University of Copenhagen

So far I’ve spoken to Hang, who started developing her project data selfie while getting her MFA at Parsons. She had a lot of good advice, namely to think big but stay realistic about what needs to be completed for the MVP. She also raised some ethical considerations, including thinking about how personal data will be saved (her project saves everything locally and only uses a server to make API calls). She likes the idea of building a Chrome Extension that essentially gives you recommendations and reminders of how the platform is collecting or tracking your personal data.

I have plans to Skype with Surya and Taina on Wednesday. Hopefully they can help me narrow my focus.

While I feel less pressure now that I’ve narrowed the scope, I’m not sure that the kind of tool I’m envisioning will answer my thesis question: How does the way algorithms see us change the way we see ourselves?

Today I began digging into the code of existing Chrome Extensions, such as Disconnect and show-facebook-computer-vision-tags, tools that boost awareness about how the Facebook algorithm is operating. This week, I’m planning to make a simple extension that manipulates the Facebook experience.


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