The German version of Facebook’s homepage greets its visitors with the following euphemistic self-description: “Facebook enables you to connect with the people in your life and to share content with them.”1 If this motto is taken seriously (and there seems to be no reason not to do so, given the platform’s 1.5 billion users), this raises the question of how this connecting and sharing is designed to take place under the conditions of digital technologies and algorithms. What sort of relationship between media and the masses manifests itself in the interaction between formalization, staging (Inszenierung), and user activity on Facebook?
In an effort to answer this question, we direct our attention to one of the central features of Facebook’s technical infrastructure, namely its Open Graph protocol and the various applications, such as the “Like” button, that are based on it. Within a few years, the Like button has become a ubiquitous element of the World Wide Web. It is now possible to “Like” everything from individual texts, videos, and photographs to entire websites. At first glance, the main function of this button is seemingly to rank the popularity of online content by counting the number of times such content has been “Liked.” Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that the growing prevalence of the Like button – and the Open Graph protocol with which it is associated – is establishing a new paradigm of order on the web.
Here we would like to investigate how the use of Open Graph generates a sort of interaction between organization and communication in which the media and the masses mutually (re)configure one another. In this regard, we are especially interested in the technical details of the markup protocol as well as its medial staging and types of use. We hope to focus above all on how the masses are currently ordered and classified by a stratification of algorithmical and staging processes. In historical terms, such processes can be associated with particular medial and phantasmatic conceptions of oversight and emergence. The reconstruction of these historical genealogies will allow us to provide a more precise definition of the interaction between the characteristics of the media and our understanding of the masses.
II. From Like Buttons to Profiles: The Technical Infrastructure of Open Graph
Open Graph is a protocol that enables content on the web to be tagged...