Standards Revisited

Thursday, 24 January 2019, University of Siegen
Herrengarten 3, 57072 Siegen, room AH 217/218

13:15 Opening Remarks: Standards Revisited
Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen) / Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)

13:30 Anna Echterhölter (University of Vienna)
Red and Black Boxes: Standardization as Mesuroclasm in German New Guinea

14:30 Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)
George Eastman and the Calendar Reform

16:00 Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of California, Irvine)
Standard Time: Computers, Clocks and Turtles – via Zoom Conference

17:00 Lawrence Busch (Michigan State University)
Markets and Standards – via Zoom Conference

Friday, 25 January 2019

10:00 JoAnne Yates (MIT, Sloan School of Management)
A New Model for Standard Setting: How IETF became the Standards Body for the Internet

11:00 Thomas Haigh
(University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee / University of Siegen)
The Accidental Standard: How a Box Became an Industry

13:00 Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen)
Standardizing Digital Payments

14:00 Anne Helmond (University of Amsterdam)/ Fernando van der Vlist (University of Amsterdam / University of Siegen)
‘It’s Graphs All the Way Down’

Standards are not easy to come by. As infrastructural media they coordinate the social to an ever-growing extent, thus creating conditions of cooperation. Standards do so not just by their sociotechnical power, but also by public uptake and controversies that put their accountability into question. They can also be understood as engineering and bureaucratic media that form a basis and condition for cooperation.

Historically, practices of standardization can be traced back to antiquity, especially in the history of coins, writing, and measurements. But pre-modern standards were bound to flounder and dissipate. Early modern knowledge cultures – partly – realized standardization via hand-made scientific instruments that extended metrological chains. While pre-industrial attempts to standardize the aggregation of information in administrative forms have been limited in scale and scope, 19th century industrialization interconnected with nationalized politics extended the territories of standardization. Media infrastructures such as the postal service and telegraphy became transnational through their administration in international organizations and a legal foundation via international treaties. Scale and scope of – inherently political and normative – standards and metrologies were at the same time constitutive for colonial prospection and rule.

Computing has given rise to its own regimes and obsessions of non-governmental standardizing. While early digital computers were unique, the trajectories of standardization were then tied to governmental contract research, commercialization and its coordinative and delegative practices. Serial production and the diffusion of architectural norms became a matter of economic competition in the era of mainframe computing in organizations. In multiple ways both the networking of heterogeneous computers and the success of the IBM-compatible PC did create a pathway to “open standards” that made computers publicly accessible. In the transpacific and global arena of hardware and software production, hyper-standardization has been an issue ever since. This also involves the questions of formats that mediate bureaucratic processes, textual representation, visual and auditory perception, and digital audiovisuality. Formats thus have become standards that mediate digital practices in their own right, just like network protocols and Internet standards. In many ways, the ecology of the World Wide Web is an ecology due to its standardizing bodies, communities of practice, and institutions like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Our aim is to understand how standards generalize and universalize media technologies, and to ask: How do metrology, industrialization, and imperialism/colonialism intersect with standards? What is the relation between standards, digital media, and coordination? How to explain the longue durée, ecology, and the enduring power of standards to configure cooperation? What is the relation between standards, delegative power, scale, and scope of media?

Collaborative Research Center Media of Cooperation, University of Siegen CRC project A01: “Digital Network Technologies between Specialization and Generalization

Money, Credit, and Digital Payment 1971/2014: From the Credit Card to Apple Pay

NFC terminal with iPhone 6, video still, 2014The article intertwines the history of the American credit card, its standardization, and interactional realization with the latest developments in payment systems. Understanding both credit cards and systems like Apple Pay or blockchain-based applications as part of an administrative longue durée, it argues for a different understanding of the Internet of Things. It should be understood both as a technical-informational and as an accounting infrastructure, with tensions arising between both segments.

Check out the full text, published in Administration and Society’s special issue on ICT@Administration at

Vier Thesen zur Plattformgesellschaft (1)

Michael Seemann und ich haben im Vorfeld der re:publica 2015 in Köln und Berlin, online und offline intensiv diskutiert: Gibt es so etwas wie die Plattformgesellschaft schon? Im „Neuen Spiel“ geht es bereits um den Aufstieg der Plattformen, wie man in Kapitel 4 und 6 nachlesen kann. Und sowohl in den Science and Technology Studies als auch in der Medienwissenschaft wird schon seit einigen Jahren über Plattformen als neue Organisationsform und Ort der Verbindung von vielen mit vielen nachgedacht, also über Interaktion im Modus many-to-many. Ich selber bin durch meine Forschung zur Geschichte der Kreditkarte auf Plattformökonomien und die Schaffung zweiseitiger Plattformmärkte gestoßen, dazu kommt ein medientheoretisches Interesse.

Aus unseren Diskussionen heraus haben wir in unserem re:publica-Vortrag „Von der Netzwerk- zur Plattformgesellschaft“ vier Thesen entwickelt. Hier die Übersicht dazu:

  1. Plattformen sind Selektionsprozesse.
    Die Plattformgesellschaft wird getrieben von den Netzwerkeffekten potentieller Selektionen. [unser Beispiel dazu: die Geschichte der Telefonvermittlung]
  2. Plattformen setzen Standards.
    Die Plattformgesellschaft beruht auf Plattformökonomien, die Vertrauen, Kontrolle und Standardisierung miteinander kombinieren. [unser Beispiel dazu: die Geschichte der Kreditkarte]
  3. Plattformen sind Kooperationsbedingungen.
    Die Plattformgesellschaft braucht Plattformen, um Kooperation zu organisieren. Generativität wird eingeschränkt, bleibt aber bei zentralen und dezentralen Plattformen möglich. [unser Beispiel dazu: Apple vs. Linux]
  4. Plattformen reduzieren Selektionsoptionen.
    Die Plattformgesellschaft organisiert sich über sich zunehmend ausdifferenzierende und einander nicht rivalisierende Plattformen. [unser Beispiel dazu: die Entwicklung der Social Media]

„Vier Thesen zur Plattformgesellschaft (1)“ weiterlesen