Humanities Going Digital

The celebrations of the School of Humanities Lustrum at Tilburg University were not merely entertaining. They painted a picture of achievements, but also challenges that the discipline currently faces.  What does the future hold for the humanities?

Impossible made possible

Imagine a set of millions books written in the course of centuries.  Reading only English language books from the year 2000 alone without interruptions for food or sleep would take you 80 years. But a computer can read and analyze them much quicker. Using computers and internet as tools in humanities research opens up previously unthinkable opportunities. So called e-Humanities, also known as digital humanities, combines methods from traditional disciplines, such as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art, archaeology, music, and cultural studies with tools provided by computer science. What does this digitalization mean for the future of the humanities in general?

This question was tackled during one of the lectures on e-Humanities organized by the lustrum committee. For Rens Bod, professor of Computational and Digital Humanities at the University of Amsterdam, the development of e-Humanities gives a chance for scholars to increase their cooperation with private companies. According to him, such collaboration shows that the humanities studies do not merely train critical minds, but also contribute greatly to the economy and industry. “E-Humanities is a next big step in Information Technology. Companies are increasingly interested in using data from the humanities for their investments, for example mobile applications or digital maps,” says Bod. Thus, the process of digitalization brings the humanities outside of the confines of the university and connects the scholars with private companies. Also, thanks to digital data visualization programs, research results can be made publically available in a more comprehensible, almost entertaining form.

But are digital methods just a way to sell the results of traditional research? According to Jan Scholtes, professor of Text Mining at Maastricht University, digital methods allow for much more than previously thought, for they help to discover previously unknown, or hidden, phenomena in culture. For example, they have a potential to show new patterns in language use, visualize sentiments and opinions in society, structure the unstructured data and map complicated social relationships.

Therefore, e-Humanities discipline is not only concerned with studying the internet but the society and culture as a whole. As prof. Richard Rogers, a Web epistemologist form the University of Amsterdam writes in his book The End of the Virtual. Digital Methods, “the Internet is employed as a site of research for far more than just online culture. The issue no longer is how much of society and culture is online, but rather how to diagnose cultural change and societal conditions using the Internet. The conceptual point of departure for the research program is the recognition that the Internet is not only an object of study, but also a source.” However, viewing internet as a source of data about society is not without problems.

A Drop in the Ocean

Rens Bod speaking during the e-Humanities lecture seemed to be overly enthusiastic about e-Humanities as an emerging discipline: “Humanists can be proud about their impact and valorization, but they could sell it better. They should make as many digital researches as possible, and send press releases one after the other. We should promote e-Humanities more!” The internet is not, however, the alpha and omega. Why is that? Because humanities scholars rely heavily on records, whether they are newspapers, photographs, letters, diaries, books, articles and other records of human experiences. If they start using digital methods for their research, they encounter a problem of the availability of cultural objects online. The majority of books, articles in printed journals and newspapers published throughout centuries can be found only in library catalogues and archives. Only about 15 million books have been digitized, which makes for 12% of all books ever published. It is true that there are many digitalizing projects, but they have a hard time translating materials being printed currently and those printed in the past. Unless we believe that in the nearest future the publishing industry will go entirely online, the digitalization process might never catch up.

We also have to keep in mind that books that have been translated from print to the online sphere are, to a big extent, only the canonical works representing just a tiny part of culture that was considered significant enough by our cultural institutions. According to Richard Rogers, if the researchers want to understand the changes and developments in society, they cannot just analyze “cultural sentences spoken by a few ‘great man’ but the patterns in all cultural sentences spoken by everybody else.”

With the Speed of Internet

The speed in which the news websites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook are updated and refreshed is definitely an advantage for users, but not for researchers. Humanities scholars are facing the problem of how to capture instable and ever-changing online data so that it becomes permanent and possible to analyze. It is a challenge to not only track changes online but to record them. Much of the content online, once it disappears or changes, leaves no trace and is not archived anywhere. Researchers looking into online communities or social media are also faced with changing rules, privacy setting, and interfaces. A relevant research can be made irrelevant only by an online platform changing its settings or design. It is also difficult to get online data from the past. For example, if you’re late with gathering public opinion data for your research on the American elections, you might never get tweets older than one month.

Is Virtual Reality Real?

While online data is undoubtedly useful for research of online communities and behavior of internet users, does it also reflect changes in society off-line? Can a research done entirely online make claims about social changes in the real life dimension, not only in the virtual one? Some scholars are still skeptic about online data, claiming that the internet is often a source of ungrounded claims, gossips and amateur research. They distrust any user-generated content such as Wikipedia and any data that is provided, and can be altered, by ordinary users. Humanities scholars have to now face the question whether the Web can be a source of solid, researchable data and if it adequately reflects dynamics in society.

Perspectives on the Future

So what does the future hold for the humanities at Tilburg University and for the discipline in general? The movement towards more modern, digitized and computerized research is a fact, but what will happen to more traditional aspects of the humanities? Judging from the nature of the lustrum events, the Schools of Humanities at the university struggles with the same question. The committee clearly tried to combine the traditional with the modern. The Asko|Schönberg music concert was a wonderful performance of classical instruments, yet combined with the more contemporary, minimal, and innovative music composed by Steve Reich. While this combination seemed to work just fine during the concert, it was not that successful during the masque ball.  What was expected as an elegant gala with long dresses and tuxedos turned out to be a party with party music, wine served in plastic cups and beer on the floor.  What should then be the balance between tradition and innovation?

Published: Univers no 5, 22 November 2012



Image Hunting: Travel Photography in Digital Age

Published: Masters of Media, University of Amsterdam

It won’t be a shocking discovery if I say that digital technology dramatically changed the art of photography. Travel photography gained (or lost?) the most, since digital equipment freed this art form from being a domain of experts. Now every traveler becomes an author of potential artworks, and has the means to publish them on social media platforms and photography communities’ websites. Such a transformation from analog to digital photography and its wide accessibility online provides many interesting points for discussion. Spending a few months in South Africa made me wonder about one question in particular: what does digitization of photography mean for the relationship between a traveler and a local community?

Hunting for the exotic

Exotic, faraway places have always been the most tempting ones. Since the beginning of colonization era, or even before that, travelers romanticized discovering places nobody has ever been to. To lift the veil of mystery they brought back local objects, lengthy descriptions in their notebooks, artworks, samples of unusual plants, and even local people. Nowadays we don’t need to bring a suitcase full of rocks (although we sometimes still do) or drag a few local children back with us on a plane. Thousands of photographs piled up on a hard disc are our proof that we’ve been there, and our way of showing the exoticism of those places to those who stayed. Thus, it comes as no surprise that online and offline collections of travel photographs are filled with the photos of African, Hindu and South American locals, often depicting their poverty, suffering, and hunger. For those interested in the topic photography, travelling and images in general, Susan Sontag’s essays are a must-read. Here she provides an explanation for our fascination for images from third-world countries:

The more remote or exotic the place, the more likely we are to have full frontal views of the dead and dying. Thus post-colonial Africa exists in the consciousness of the general public in the rich world- besides through its sexy music- mainly as a succession of unforgettable photographs of large-eyed victims. (Sontag, 2004; 63)

And the locals are not the only focus of those photographs. The internet is filled with pictures of travelers posing with the locals, especially with children. If those pictures are a documentation of a Westerner’s voluntary work in third-world countries, such images fit well into a cliché narrative of a European missionary helping poor, indigenous children.

Image Hunting

Let’s now move on to my own experience with photographing poverty. My hunt for the exotic began the moment I stepped out of the Cape Town International airport, but it wasn’t until my visit to a Kayamandi township that I started feeling uncomfortable with my camera. Poverty, lack of running water, and provisional shacks made a huge impression, even though life conditions in Kayamandi are considered one of the best among all South African townships. Me and my friend were walking the dusty roads with two local, 14 year old girls from the after school program. Even with them we drove much attention because of the color of our skin.

Photo: Sonia Kolasinska
Kayamandi, South Africa

While my friend was taking pictures of everything and everyone around her, I was hiding my camera and taking pictures only by sticking the lens out of my bag just a tiny bit. I wasn’t afraid of it being stolen. I was more concerned that by taking a photo of a woman sitting in front of her shack I would acknowledge that she and her house are merely a tourist attraction for me. That the color of her skin with the shabby surrounding make up a nice, picturesque image that I, the white tourist evidently displaced in this neighborhood, would take home and show proudly to my friends. I would admit that her misery is a perfect subject of my indifferent photographic exploration.

Safe Image Safari

After I came back home, my grandmother, having browsed through my photos from South Africa on facebook (yes, my grandmother on facebook!), asked me “where are all the photos of the locals? And the children?!” Travelling the way she does, in a touristic bus to Egypt or Greece, makes it easy to photograph whatever and whomever she likes. Not only are the locals used to touristic masses looking at them through the lenses of their Canons, but the tourists themselves are also safely hidden behind bus windows. This spacial distance and the clear tourist-local division make it possible to take a picture without feeling guilty. And even if you do, a second later a photographed person will disappear behind a bus anyway.

Photo: Sonia Kolasinska
Kayamandi, South Africa
I feel that in South Africa it is much different. Not only am I not protected by a window of a touristic bus, having to face people directly if I want to steal their souls, but racial issues in South Africa create tension so tangible that I feel embarrassed taking my camera out. The racial inequality and a still very recent history of apartheid adds another, nasty, hierarchical dimension to the relationship between a photographer and the subject. That does not count for children, though. Those still innocent creatures were running happy around us, holding our hands and laughing in front of the cameras. Apparently, seeing their faces on a small LCD screen on the photo camera was a pure joy for them. Only in this case I felt that digital technology has a potential to facilitate non-verbal communication between a traveler and a local, instead of creating a barrier between them.

References: Sontag, Susan (2004). Regarding the pain of others. London: Penguin Books Inc.

Memories: Dosage and Side Effects

This weekend I finally decided to organize my photo library. I have to admit, I’m far behind the digital revolution and I still haven’t migrated all my files to the cloud. It’s not a surprise, given that I get a mild panic attack every time my Samsung uploads photos from my phone to the online account. Almost fainting, I need to compulsively check the privacy settings of my photo albums to make sure they’re not for all two of my Google+ followers to see.

So my digital spring cleaning was happening on my hard drive, and flipping through countless folders, sub-folders and files was a nightmare. I discovered thousands of photographs from my four months trip to South Africa that I haven’t even properly looked into, random Skype snapshots, inappropriate selfies with ex-boyfriends, imported WhatsApp photos that somehow found their way to my folders…. I felt like all my life in images is trapped in this little black device, never having seen the light of my Facebook Wall and never having felt the flattering tickling of other Facebookers’ likes.

Since I was a little girl an idea of a scrapbook enticed me very much. A possibility of choosing a selection of images that best reflect the milestones in your life, briefly sum up the biggest achievements and show off the greatest adventures. This would be a kind of collection of highlights that Facebook automatically (and randomly) pulls from your profile at the end of each calendar year and composes a neat sideshow that your friends would then eagerly comment on.

Scrap booking in itself is a soothing practice. There is something therapeutic about going through memories, selecting the ones dearest to your heart, and imprinting them forever on colorful pages (given that a scrap book does not fall victim of a natural disaster of some sort, be it fire, flood or just plain human forgetfulness). Decorating the photo with drawings, descriptions, and quotations gives it a more multi-dimensional aesthetic quality. The picture then merges with the written word, with literature or tradition, and by doing so grounds your memory in history, imprints it in the flow of time.

But I never made a scrap book. Or, rather, I started many but could never keep on pasting fresh memories onto the blank pages. Doing so has a certain finality to it. Acknowledging something as a memory paralyzes a still living, vivid experience. I could never bring myself to lock my memory between two covers and, literally, close a chapter of my life for good, admitting that from now on it can only lend itself to nostalgic reminiscing.

I much rather collect bits and pieces of my memories in form of cinema tickets, bills from bars with too many wine glasses mercilessly printed on them, and cards from restaurants in which I would end up by pure chance. I would then place all of those pieces of paper in random places only to come across them months later between book pages, in my calendar, or in a pocket of my summer coat, and suddenly be entirely overtaken by this one specific memory.

Watching a scrap book, a photo album, or an entire slide show from holidays past is like getting drunk on memories. You just down all of them at once, only to find yourself in a state of melancholic hangover of the soul afterwards. Moderate dosage of memories, re-living one of them one day, reminiscing another one a week after, is much healthier. It keeps your emotions alive among your daily routines and can brighten many of your ordinary days.

Kitchen vintage

Pinning Down Female Roles

Published: Masters of Media, University of Amsterdam

I have to admit: browsing through countless, perfect images and saving those that I enjoy looking at the most is quite addicting. All the images clothes, accessories, furniture and jewelry that I wish I had can be neatly organized in categories, which I can come back  to whenever I’m ready to redecorate my room, change my style or re-think my haircut. It seems that by being active on Pinterest we engage in a kind of a shortcut identity formation through pre-existing images. It is not only about collecting images that relate to our perfect life and aspirations, but also having an absolute control over them. The way we neatly arrange image boards contrasts with our busy, often disorganized life style. In that sense Pinterest can have a therapeutic effect; we can collect (images of) things we can’t have in real life, and organize them in a way that would be impossible in our fast-changing environment.

Let me focus on one aspect of Pinterest that (p)interests me the most. Scrap-booking, collecting photographs, and cutting out illustrations from magazines have always been hobbies engaged in mainly by women. Since Pinterest is a digital extension of such activities, it comes as no surprise that 87% of Pinterest members are female. Yet, when I first visited the site I was surprised by the amount of cute, girly, and feminine photos. Especially in the age of feminist movements and focus on female self-sufficiency, I did not expect such a display of fascination by the old-fashioned and the traditional. The question then arises, whether Pinterest is a testimony of a growing anti-feminist trend? Are young women coming back to their traditional roles in society?

In order to find out whether the majority of content on Pinterest does in fact refer to traditional roles of women, I have analyzed a sample of images (pins). I have selected three random samples of images in the course of three days. The images I obtained through Image Scraper were the latest ones pinned and included in the Popular category.  I was hesitating between one of the two categories: Popular and Everything, simply because the latter seems less selective. However, I wish to analyze a particular trend in society, and trends are reflected in popularity of certain ideas; in this case images. Therefore, I’ve decided to analyze the most popular pins.

The Popular section, just like the Everything section, takes into account images from all categories, not giving privilege to female-related ones such as Weddings or Hair & Beauty. I was not logged in during the scraping process, so that the individual preferences linked to my account would not influence the selection.

A total sample of 271 images was chosen. I have applied a simple coding system, or at least I though I did. I drew a distinction between images that do refer to traditional roles of women and the ones that don’t, but I encountered some difficulties specifying the first category. Do fashion images belong to the traditional women’s domain? Images of colorful nail polish? Hair styles? Citations from the Bible? In the end I’ve decided to include three main themes in this category:

House: house and garden ornaments, Do It Yourself decorations, cleaning tips, cooking and baking tips.

Marriage: husband, wedding planning, engagement, bridal shower, bachelorette party.

Family: children, pregnancy, baby shower, Do It Yourself children clothing and toys.

The results were surprising, and they did not confirm my hypothesis that the majority of content on Pinterest refers to a traditionalist discourse. Only 86 out of 271 images could be clearly associated with a traditional female position in society. The remaining 185 images were either not gender- related, or were targeted at women but did not display any clear traditionalist tendencies.

Nonetheless, one can still argue that the 31,7 % of the images belonging to a traditionalist discourse still mark a visible and research-worthy trend. In order to define the categories more specifically, such a research would have to be based on theory on feminist and traditionalist discourses, as well as on pictorial semiotics.


Russian Fashion Dominance on the Web. A Study on Local Googles in post- Soviet Countries.

Even after the dissolution of physical borders, can we still see the cultural influence of a particular country on the others? Can these social conditions be seen on the Web?  The countries belonging to the USSR used to revolve around Russia and Russian language.  After the collapse of this empire Russia still remains a leading economic power. But what about culture? Are the former USSR countries nurturing their own (online) cultural independence, or are there still some remains of Russia’s cultural dominance?

The local Googles can be peep holes through which we may see how much content on the local webs of the former USSR countries is really local, and how much is global or imported from other countries. The plural form “Googles” is used on purpose, since the results obtained from different geographical locations (different local Googles) differ to  a great extent. Some scholars even talk about the “transition of the Internet from “cyberspace”, which invokes a placeless space of email and packets, to the web of identifiable national domains” (Rogers et al. 1), therefore, forming a network of many national webs (spheres). Precisely because of these local differences the internet can be useful for studying local cultures. As Richard Rogers says, “the Internet is a site of research for far more than online culture and its users. With the end of the virtual/real divide, however useful, the Internet may be rethought as a source of data about society and culture.” (Rogers, The End of the Virtual)

A starting point of this research is a claim made by Daniel Ford and Josh Batson on their Google Research Blog, “The language webs of many former Soviet republics link back to the Russian web, with the strongest link from Ukrainian. While Russia is the major importer of Ukrainian products, the bilingual nature of Ukraine is a more plausible explanation. Most Ukrainians speak both languages, and Russian is even the dominant language in large parts of the country.”# This research tests the relevance of this claim for Ukraine and other former USSR countries. It is a study on the national webs in six Russian speaking countries, i.e. the countries in which more than 10% of the population are native Russian speakers. Thus, the analysis does not include all post-Soviet countries, since some of them, like Armenia and Moldova, do not have a significant percentage of Russian native speakers# and, therefore, we assume that Russian online content plays relatively insignificant role in their national webs.

We attempt to see to what extent the web in Belarus, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan rely on Russian content related to fashion. The query “fashion” was used to find out the degree to which those countries have developed their own tastes and trends visible online, and to what extent they look up to Russian fashion trends and import them to their culture. More specifically, what is the proportion between local and non-local content per country when using national search engine?

Since for using most search websites it is necessary to choose a language in search settings, another question was posed: to what extent do the search results differ depending on the language identified in the search settings? To check this, the query was googled twice in Russian, but with different language preferences (once with a preference set on the dominant language of the country, and once with Russian language preference).

It should be mentioned that this research does not aim at showing Russian dominance in a sense of deliberate imposing of values, language or culture on other countries. That is why the query chosen for the analysis is not politically or morally charged, but relates to tastes and trends. We assume that the presence (or absence) of Russian websites among results on local Googles is a result of an organic process, and these particular websites are simply the most popular and most viewed in a particular country.

 Open the document pdf.

Apartheid According to Wikipedia. A Comparative Analysis of English, Dutch and Afrikaans Wikipedia Pages on Apartheid.

An issue of apartheid history is a fascinating one. It involves actors of many nationalities and languages, from native South African inhabitants, descendants of slaves (often of Asian origin), former Dutch and British colonizers, to the apartheid government itself. Brendan Luyt in his research on The Nature of Historical Representation on Wikipedia writes that “the basic premise is that Wikipedia history pages represent a collective vision of the past, one that is shaped by the dominant historiography of the country or region so that the potential of digital history writing is more or less circumscribed according to preexisting social visions of what constitutes valid or accurate historical representation.” (Luyt 1058) However, if an issue involves many countries, societies, languages and cultures, what is the “dominant historiography of the country”and by whom is it created?

A comparative study on Wikipedia pages about apartheid would reflect different accounts on history of apartheid and illustrate whether, in fact, we can talk about a dominant historical narrative. By comparing and contrasting content and history of changes on Wikipedia pages in English, Dutch and Afrikaans, this research attempts to answer the question: to what extent do national points of view on apartheid history emerge on these particular Wikipedia pages? It also tries to investigate how Wikipedia is a bearer of these differences, i.e. what these differences consist of?
This research can also test two of the claims posed by R. Rogers and E. Sendijarevic. First hypothesis is that “Wikipedia language versions “distort” by emphasizing the local over the universal (Rogers, Sendijarevic 544). Second premise is that there is a “bias in Wikipedia in the sense of the coverage in the articles, with the English- language ones containing more information.” (Rogers, Sendijarevic 544)

Some researchers, like Livingstone, also doubt the adequate representation of particular geographical areas on Wikipedia, such as Africa, Latin America, Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe. (Livingstone 503) This research, since it relates to the part of South African history, addresses Livingstone’s doubt. It has a potential to illustrate the extent to which the area of South Africa is covered on Wikipedia, and whether the content on page in Afrikaans emerged organically from within South Africa.

Open the document pdf.

The Censorship of Extremist Content in the Russian Internet

This research paper aims at investigating the effectiveness of the Russian law enforcement in combating cyber hate. The implemented research strategy consisted of two major steps: building a list of the extremist websites in Runet and testing whether they are accessible in Russia and in the Netherlands. For building the URL list the editorial approach was used; the federal list of extremist materials was used as a source for the list. For checking the accessibility of the websites we used the Censorship Explorer tool and ten proxies located in Russia. The research shows that the implementation of the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity in Russian internet has not been done rigorously. Even though some websites display extremist content, they are still available online.  The research also did not detect any instances of the first generation control. That means that online content, at least content officially listed as forbidden, is controlled in different ways. The majority of investigated websites was most probably taken down or deleted entirely, instead of blocked only on the territory of Russia. In addition, researchers and reporters wishing to monitor the instances of censorship in Russia will face a challenge of very low transparency of the Russian internet control. It is not common to see a message clarifying the reason for a website being deleted. It is interesting that the blacklist of extremist content is official and publicly available, whereas the execution of the law is not that transparent.



App Review: Pulse. Re-imagining the news

By: Juliana Marques and Sonia Kolasinska

Published: Masters of Media, University of Amsterdam

Tired of checking many news websites every morning to get the full overview of what’s going on? Pulse is the solution. With the help of this app it’s a piece of cake to gather posts from your favorite news websites and blogs in one place. Released two years ago, the app gives an overview of chosen news sources in a clear, simple way. Scrolling, sliding, refreshing, navigating  and managing content is very intuitive, and the graphic design is pleasant to the eye.

Two Stanford graduate students, Ankit Gupta and Akshay Kothari, launched the app as the assignment for one of the courses. Unsatisfied with news apps at that time, Kothari believed that it’s possible to create a rich, aesthetically pleasing platform. Gupta’s and Kothari’s main goal was to build a simple page which would aggregate RSS (Rich Site Summary) feeds from chosen online newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Pulse was officially founded in May 2010, and it’s popularity was boosted after being introduced by Steve Jobs on the developers’ conference. What began as a class project soon became a top selling app at the Apple Store.


There are certainly many characteristics for which Pulse creators deserve a pat on the   back. It is a cross-platform app, so it saves your account in all devices you use. You can then check news on your PC, smartphone, tablet, etc.

Pulse also offers the option to personalize its layout. It is possible to select font size, font style, background color, and choose between three different layout styles. Perhaps it’s not a very practical option, but it certainly gives a warm feeling of control.

Pulse, with its Chrome extension, also offers functions of a note taking tool. It is possible to save blog posts, articles or news posts to read later, even offline.

With a design similar to Pinterest, Pulse presents news in a very simple way: one image, one headline.  It takes some time to get used to various websites’ graphic designs, but with Pulse you can gather all of them in a single page.  Articles are organized in categories, such as news, music, entertainment, politics, sports, food, technology, fashion, and many more.  If you already have your favorite source of news, such as BBC NewsThe New Yorker, or Mashble, you can just add it to your feed with one simple click.

If you have any problems with the app or want to give feedback, it is very easy to get in touch with the Pulse team. Not only their Twitter and e-mail accounts are displayed on the site, but there is also a forum for submitting questions and suggestions.

What does Pulse offer me that Google Reader doesn’t?  In terms of organization and interface, Pulse is simply more attractive. It is easier to include your favorite sources on the feed, and it is free of annoying advertisements. If you can’t let Google Reader go entirely, you can synchronize it with Pulse. You can then save your news on both platforms at the same time, although if you do, you probably missed the point…


The app works just fine with Chrome for Windows, but  Mac and Linux users complained that the saving function didn’t work on many websites. Some users also reported that longer articles take a long time to load, and the app launched on iPads and smartphones often crashes.

Another problem with Pulse is that some content, such as pictures, slideshows, and videos, can be omitted on the feed if a website is not properly integrated with the app. Currently, U.S. based websites are the most representative on Pulse, which heavily influences the type of content displayed. On the other hand, it is possible to include your own blog or website. Just submit your URL in an e-mail to Pulse Connect and wait for their approval. Of course, it does not guarantee that your website will appear on other people’s Pulse as a suggestion….

For users who like sharing, the app is well integrated with Twitter, Facebook, Evernote and Google Reader, but unfortuntely not with Google +, Pinterest, or LinkedIn.


Further critique

One of the points of critique of Pulse is, paradoxically, its strength. Because readers can choose their favorite newspapers, blogs, and magazines, they end up with a neat set of “my faves” to check every morning. As Larissa Hildebrandt writes in her blog post, it is then “easier than ever for audiences to ignore news that don’t coincide with their beliefs, limiting their chances to come across opposing viewpoints, like in a print newspaper”.

The services offered by apps like Pulse belong to the bigger trend of personalization of everything, from news and fashion choices, to playlists and images. Personalized news search creates, what Geert Lovink describes as “’echo chambers‘, where groups of like-minded individuals, consciously or not, avoid debate with their cultural or political adversaries”. Filtering news gives a feeling of control over unnecessary information overload, while in fact it limits our access to diversity of opinions, beliefs and viewpoints.

Apps like Pulse, especially when used on a tablet, also result in incidental news reading. PEW Research Center’s study on news reading on the tablet shows that nearly 88% of those who read long articles ended up reading articles they were not initially seeking out.

The age of information overload also poses many challenges for journalists. Because online readers desperately try to filter an enormous number of news posts, articles, and information provided through social media, journalists have to additionally struggle for their attention. The story has to- literally- make headlines on the website, social media and news apps. If an article is not well integrated with these platforms, it might never even reach the readers that it was supposed to reach. It will simply be lost in the landfill of online content.


Lovink, G. (2011) Networks without a Cause. A Critique of Social Media, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Mitchell, A., Christian. L.,  Rosenstiel, T. (2011) The Tablet Revolution and What it Means for the Future of News, Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Washington, D.C.

Simon, D. (October 2010), With surprise boost from Steve Jobs, news app is a hit, CNN website, revived on 29.09.2012