Infrastructure Studies Meet Platform Studies

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* Article: Plantin JC. Lagoze C., Edwards P., Sandvig C., (2016) “Infrastructure studies meet platform studies in the age of Google and Facebook,” New Media & Society. Pre-publication version, August 2016



"Two theoretical approaches have recently emerged to characterize new digital objects of study in the media landscape: infrastructure studies and platform studies. Despite their separate origins and different features, we demonstrate in this article how the cross-articulation of these two perspectives improves our understanding of current digital media. We use case studies of the Open Web, Facebook, and Google to demonstrate that infrastructure studies provides a valuable approach to the evolution of shared, widely accessible systems and services of the type often provided or regulated by governments in the public interest. On the other hand, platform studies captures how communication and expression are both enabled and constrained by new digital systems and new media. In these environments, platform-based services acquire characteristics of infrastructure, while both new and existing infrastructures are built or reorganized on the logic of platforms. We conclude by underlining the potential of this combined framework for future case studies."


Infrastructure Studies

JC Plantin et al.:

"Infrastructure studies .. have focused on analyzing essential, widely shared sociotechnical systems. Using case studies ranging from electric power grids (Hughes, 1983) to communication networks (Graham and Marvin, 2001) to scientific “cyberinfrastructures” (Edwards et al., 2007), this school of thought has highlighted key features of infrastructure such as ubiquity, reliability, invisibility, gateways, and breakdown."

Platform Studies

JC Plantin et al.:

"Platform studies explores how computing devices (such as Intel-chip-based PCs) and software environments (such as gaming systems) affect the characteristics of application software built upon them. In media studies, the concept of “platform” has been extended from game design (Montfort and Bogost, 2009) to content-sharing websites (Gillespie, 2010; Helmond, 2015) and social media applications (Langlois and Elmer, 2013; van Dijck, 2013). Key features discussed in platform studies include programmability, affordances and constraints, connection of heterogeneous actors, and accessibility of data and logic through application programming interfaces (APIs)."