"The recipient of the Nancy Baym Book Award is Robert W. Gehl for his book Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism (Temple University Press, 2014). The committee -- which included Adi Kuntsman and Kylie Jarrett and was chaired by Andrew Herman -- found this book to be theoretically sharp and elegantly written, with a rich sense of historicity. By taking into account software engineering and the power inscribed into its socio-technical affordances, the book articulates a valuable method and model for further analysis of social media. The committee was particularly impressed with Gehl's presentation of alternative scenarios and alternative possibilities for social media." - From the Association of Internet Researchers Nancy Baym Award announcement
"Gehl uses the 'reverse engineering' metaphor as a framework for analysis, arguing that we can start with an established social media site and then work back with whatever tools are at one's disposal to determine its logics, constraints, and incentives.... Gehl takes on central elements in the political economy of media, including ownership and advertising. The contradictions of social media -- the dubious rhetoric of user control while in a corporate-controlled and monetized site -- are deeply troubling for democracy and agency to Gehl. Gehl's book has strong empirical components.... [E]specially valuable sections of the book [are] focused on Gehl's formidable insights about the commercialization of social media and its noxious effects." - Matthew P McAllister, Chair of Graduate Programs, Professor, Media Studies, Penn State.
"Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism is another good example of the maturity of the field of social media studies. In it, Robert Gehl builds a careful argument to consider the cognitive and affective exploitation behind social media. Its main asset is its turn to a Marxian analysis of culture and economics in search of a solid theoretical ground on which alternative proposals can grow. Therefore, it is not just another analysis, but a positioned analysis, aimed at the search for alternatives." - Javier de Rivera, Digital Media Sociologist.
"Reverse Engineering Social Media is a smart book on a hot topic. Gehl provides original and substantive advances in theoretical approaches that are unique and fruitful, and enable the development of software studies in a useful critical direction. His close reading of the software architecture of social networking sites is original and insightful, as is Gehl's combination of critique and solution. This book represents an important contribution to the field of digital media studies." - Mark Andrejevic, University of Queensland, and author of iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era.
"In a world dominated by graphic interfaces and slim screens, Robert Gehl implores us to dig deeper into software platforms to rethink the values embedded in their underlying code. Drawing upon the work of software designers and engineers, Reverse Engineering Social Media refuses the default settings of software criticism, imploring us to re-engineer the past into a more politically engaged future." - Greg Elmer, Ryerson University, and author of Profiling Machines: Mapping the Personal Information Economy
"Bored with Vice, Daily Dot and Reddit? Finally there is a study that leaves aside the depressed user cultures and instead positions social media as an integral part of computer science. Gehl successfully connects cybernetics and European thinking with contemporary internet culture. Utilizing the theory of abstraction failure, he explains the rise of social bots, how the rough MySpace was wiped away by the standardized templates of Facebook, and how Wikipedia eventually became a non-profit. And, instead of moralizing about usage or preaching offline romanticism, Gehl concludes that we have to team up with emerging social media alternative platforms." - Geert Lovink, media theorist, internet critic and director of the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam
"This book is welcome contribution from a friend and colleague of this community to the growing critical perspectives that question the artifice of digital communication technologies, practices and social structure. Robert's is a unique perspective in that he posits alternatives to our increasingly digitally-platformed social life." - Hector Postigo, Temple University and author of The Digital Rights Movement.
"Reverse Engineering Social Media makes its substantial contribution to existing social media criticism by offering a detailed look at how social media operate, as well as a concrete vision for realizing alternatives.... Gehl's interest is in the specific ways these platforms format, organize, capture and profit from user activity.... what's central to his account are the material artifacts that turn communication into labour and extract surplus value, as well as how companies control the data, algorithms, servers and software that constitute the means of production. Rather than measure social media platforms against the 'false consciousness' of digital utopianism, the idea is to pinpoint exactly where and how they exclude and exploit in order to 'reverse engineer this system and look for something better.'" - Michael Stevenson, Assistant Professor of New Media & Digital Culture at the Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen.
"In one traditional stream of critical political economy of communication research, commercial media are contradictory products by virtue of their conflicting messages, or are contradictory in the sense of being mere resources which can serve whomever uses them (in which case, the political economic analytical concern is with the equitable access and use of such resources). For Gehl, social media are contradictory because they simultaneously empower and exploit users. The idea of hegemonic technological architecture is certainly not new; but he eloquently places it within a theoretical framework -- the theory of heterogeneous engineering." - Baha Abu-Shaqra, University of Ottawa.