Algorithms have developed into somewhat of a modern myth. The subject of media reports, research projects, and congressional hearings, they are increasingly portrayed as powerful yet inscrutable entities that govern, sort, shape, or otherwise control our lives. But what if their operations are not as straightforward as expected? What if it turns out that there isn’t much to hide? This talk will explore these questions through an ethnography of search engine optimization (SEO) consultants—a growing industry of marketing professionals that help their clients rank in search engine results pages. Moving back and forth between spreadsheets, software tools, client meetings, industry conferences, and online conversations, I shall explore the everyday practices of secrecy, publicity, and experimentation that make the engine work. What is often portrayed as a technical tool for ordering and evaluating information turns out to drive a mode of ordering based on ambiguous analytics, continuous provocation, and a self-perpetuating "need to know."
Malte Ziewitz is an assistant professor at the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University with a graduate field appointment in Information Science. Broadly based in science and technology studies, ethnography, and public policy, his research revolves around the practicalities of valuation, governance, and accountability in digitally networked environments—the dynamics at work, the values at stake, the design options at hand.
In his recent work, Mark has been looking at the practical politics of novel review, rating, and ranking schemes in healthcare and search engine optimization (SEO). He is especially interested in the everyday work of establishing, maintaining, and subverting these schemes and how new practices of evaluation challenge our understanding of care, accountability, and governance.
Mark has also been interested in algorithmic ordering, the history and performativity of internet governance, the nature and uses of "crowd wisdom" in regulation, and computational approaches to privacy. As principal investigator, he headed the ESRC-funded How's My Feedback? project, a collaborative design experiment to rethink and evaluate online review and rating websites.
Previously, Mark was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and the Information Law Institute at New York University, a McCloy Fellow at Harvard University, and a junior researcher at the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research. he holds a DPhil from Oxford University, an MPA from Harvard University, and a First State Exam in Law from the University of Hamburg.