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Cyborganic and the Birth of Networked Social Media (It’s here!)

Communities of Innovation: Cyborganic and the Birth of Networked Social Media is now available for download (PDF, 5.7 MB). I am especially eager to share my dissertation with the many Cyborganics who participated in the research, sharing their stories and insights. For those who prefer a quick synopsis to the 420-page version, I offer the following diagram and abstract.

Network of Firms, Projects and Communities

Communities of Innovation: Cyborganic and the Birth of Networked Social Media

Cyborganic, the subject of this study, was a community whose members brought Wired magazine online; launched Hotwired, the first ad-supported online magazine; set-up Web production for CNET; led the open source Apache project; and staffed and started dozens of other Internet firms and projects—from Craig’s List to Organic Online—during the first phase of the Web’s development as a popular platform (1993-1999).

As a conscious project to build a hybrid community both online and on-ground, Cyborganic’s central premise was that mediated and face-to-face interaction are mutually sustaining and can be used together to build uniquely robust communities. Yet, Cyborganic was also an Internet start-up and the business project provided both impetus and infrastructure for the community. The social forms and cultural practices developed in this milieu figured in the initial development of Web publishing, and prefigured Web 2.0 in online collaboration, collective knowledge creation, and social networking.

The objectives of this dissertation are several. The first is to demonstrate the role of Cyborganic in the innovation and adoption of networked social media through an ethnographic case study of the group, showing it as exemplary of the regional and cultural advantage of “technopoles,” and as precursor to contemporary phenomena of online social networking. The second objective is to interrogate the relation between entrepreneurial and utopian practices and social imaginaries in the Cyborganic project, identifying not only their synergies, but also their tensions. Finally, my third objective is to ground celebratory and utopian discourses of new media genealogically, showing that the social media heralded today as “revolutionary” grew from earlier media and practices, similarly hailed as revolutionary in their day. Rather than representing rupture with the past, the narrative of social revolution through technologies is a cultural legacy passed through generations already, and one that draws on quintessentially American attitudes and practice.

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