COLLECT YOURSELF: Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly @pda2013

COLLECT YOURSELF: Data Storage Centers as  the Archive’s Underbelly @pda2013





My lightning talk attempts to bridge practical concerns, with archival theory as well real life impacts.

Those impacts are varied – they are social, environmental, political and personal.

I frame the digital archive, for this talk, in terms of the perpetual data streams that we feed into. I consider this archive to encompass data, which breaks down into at least content and a measure of our habits. Content being the interface, and habits being the underbelly.

There are numerous examples of the digital archive as defined through social media, aggregators and even cloud storage — for the sake of these five minutes, and because it speak most aptly to the archival framing I’m attempting to get at, I’m focusing on Facebook

We’ve come to understand Facebook as a story, about Zuckerberg, through the film The Social Network (2010), a story about ideas and ownership over ideas. A story about social rankings, privilege and belonging.

We’ve come to understand Facebook also a social network – a platform to engage with others.

Some of us consider Facebook to be foremost an advertising platform with a social network built on top of it.

But few of us consider Facebook a series ever expanding, highly protected, data storage centers. The most striking consequence of these centers at first appears to be about materiality (and in turn environmental ecological repercussions) but I want to suggest that these concerns cannot be separated from preservation ideals and politics, that are especially pertinent for the (concept of the) archive.

If we consider that:

Facebook accounts for 1 out of every 7 minutes spent online…

We collectively “like” things 2 million times a minute…

We upload 3000 photos to Facebook every second…

We ingest more than 500 terabytes of data every day…

It takes about 1 pound of coal to create, package, store and move 2 megabytes of data…

According to a 2011 Greenpeace report, How Dirty is Your Data?, Facebook’s US-based data centers are each consuming the electricity of approximately 30 000 US homes. Facebook eats up anywhere from 9 percent to 25 percent of Canada’s and the US’s Internet’s traffic.

The questions that arise are:

What kind of infrastructure and technologies are required to host such large amounts of ‘free’ information, offering up data so rapidly, across so many platforms?

How are Facebook’s servers powered?

How many servers does Facebook have?

Where are Facebook’s servers located?

To support the growing activity of its social network since 2004, Facebook has built several data centers, including its first non US facility. This offshore storage center is made to metaphorically accommodate the 70 percent of Facebook users who live outside the US. Facebook also leases server space in nine or so data centers bicoastally (Miller, 2011).

–       Prineville, Oregon: In 2010, Facebook built its first data storage center

–       cost of 210 million dollars

–       built on vacant grounds, on a high plain above the small town, exposing its 147 000 square feet

–       remaining conveniently out of sight.

–       Foresthill, North Carolina: double the size of Prineville center

–       building started before Prineville facility was complete.

–       Lulea, Sweden

–       The third and most recent storage center to be built by Facebook is to be in Lulea, Sweden, a town of 50,000 residents.

–       ideal location with its cold climate serves with the hopes of working off electricity derived entirely from renewable sources.

–       It’s regional power grid is said to be extraordinarily reliable—no disruption of service since 1979—

–       Is the size of three US-based complexes, is estimated to be fully operational by 2014.

–       Each of the three complexes is equal to the one in Forest Hill, which was itself double the size of the previous one in Prineville.


Like the data growth itself, the storage centers are proliferating at exponential rates, in size and speed.

What’s the relationship between these (dislocated) data centers and the archive?

What choices are we making about the way our lives are archived through Facebook?

What are our expectations of the always on always available archive?

This upgraded archive is always ‘on,’ always able to deliver content. But by the same token, it exists in a state of constant potential.

Facilities operate at their full capacity at all time, regardless of the actual demand, which means that an incredible amount of energy is reserved for idling. The entire process–much of it redundant–is constantly backed-up (often using polluting generators), in case of a power outage, activity surge, or glitch in the system, to ensure immediate and seemingly uninterrupted service

As recently documented in The New York Times, more than 90 percent of servers is reserved for and used for stand-by only, while the remaining 10 percent is used for computation (Glanz, 2012).

This may be the single most telling insight from an archival point of view: the ideal of instantaneity imparted onto it by users who are simultaneously creating and subjected to such an unsustainable modality.

These demands are doubling globally every 18 months…

These figures continue to grow in tandem as demands multiplies: but to what end? Given the expansion rate, the model is set to fail if it’s based on the idea that we can continually match the growth of data to physical storage centers.


Who benefits?

What are the costs?

How is the impact measured?

Why does this matter?


Max Schrems: One telling anecdote that challenged the way Facebook determines layers of data (and user access to the past) is that of law student Max Schrems, of Vienna, Austria, who under EU law was legally entitled to request his dataset from Facebook. In December 2010, after using the site for three years, he demanded from Facebook a copy of all the information they had collected through his profile: he was sent a 1222-page PDF (O’neill, 2011).

This PDF outlines “records of when Schrems logged in and out of the social network, the times and content of sent and received messages and an accounting of every person and thing he’s ever liked, posted, poked, friended or recorded” (Europe vs Facebook, 2012; Donohue, 2011).

In this same article, Schrems is said to have remarked his amazement at the time about ‘how much it remembers’ and ‘how much it knows’—deleted posts or posts that are set to ‘private’ fall into the same data bank as public posts in the Facebook archive (Cheng, 2012).

Increasingly, the data generated in Facebook cannot be separated from the network or storage centers required to process, aggregate and preserve it. Tracking at all these levels demonstrates the extent to which the social network itself generates a parallel archive, of movement and habits, recording the interactions of the network itself, as a simultaneous—but exponentially bigger—living, archive. This parallel archive may come to make correlation about ourselves about which we are not even yet aware.

Users are detached from the contradictions embedded in the materialities of the process, and its technological stresses, and therefore necessarily continue to understand themselves, their mediated histories, and their roles within these data flows from this detached purview.

Torrenting the Archive, Part 2

We’re  (Eric Coombs and I) planning a festival / happening / experiment based on torrrent-ing the archive.

– decentralize information

– hosting media in a dynamic personal interactive community

– based on personal relationships

– magnet link and personal connections

– organic spread / chain-letter invitations (ask 5 people to ask five people to ask five people etc.)


Why is this important:

– distribution is not simply about getting media from one place to another

– method of distribution is in itself an environment for the media to live in and gives meaning to it

– theatre space and gallery – but what about the web?

– you can seed folders

– instead of simply seeding media, they should share information about

– the role of the curator: provide magnet links (as initiation)

– share the link itself

– spread of the archive through participation

– not fearing loss

– committing to seeding all magnet links you receive

To do:

– write instructions / draft invitation

– statement – not afraid of being lost

– like any other archive, things don’t last forever

– responsibility is shared



– imagine a website hosted this way

– terrible repository, great medium

– move to self-contained project (seeding archive application itself)


– military beginnings (Lovink) make data nuclear proof as a dispersed archive

– post-apocalyptic (post-ad) internet: how does it survive?

– if there is no host, there’s no way of making money

– source code is available for many torrent clients



– experiment research begins now

– send invites March 1

– seeding starts April 1 and last 2 weeks

– project write-up May and June

– present findings

– experiment, phase 2




Archiving Tweets (#)

A friend asked me how to archive a conversation happening over Twitter involving quilting using the hashtag #talknt


Step 1:


Step 2:

Then you take that bit of code and paste it into Google Reader’s Subscribe and it’ll give you this:


Screen shot 2013-01-22 at 8.31.32 PM


More info:


Torrenting the Archive

I’m working on a project with Eric Croombs that looks to use the torrent as an archival tool and strategy. Using, as a starting point, the idea that the web is an unreliable repository but a great transmission tool, we’re exploring the communicative component of the online archive.

Our prototype for this project is a creative curated application.
Some very preliminary research notes:

  • the first thing we’ll torrent is the application itself
  • use idea of ‘constant state of sharing’ to underly concept of torrent as archive
  • search as exploration of unknown rather than something you already know and need to locate
  • archive that is not searchable
  • all media attached and organised by tags
  • connections are highlighted
  • use metaphor of gallery walls
  • ‘seed’ instead of ‘like’ button
  • users promote works by seeding them
  • seeding means offering up bandwidth (which can be limited in terms of kbps)
  • works with more seeds are graphical larger
  • users gain access to a list of everything they seed (reward)
  • rely on magnet links (no trackers)
  • indexing of magnet links
  • torrents require participation to avoid central server
  • lots written on the ‘living archive’ but what about the ‘dying archive’

As I test, I made a torrent of my PhD r/c dissertation. The magnet link is:



Performing the Archive (PTA) initiative – UC Boulder



Final Report

Prepared for the ICJMT Call for Curriculum/Program Proposals

University of Colorado, Boulder

Date: January 14, 2013


Faculty Group Members:

  • Kirk Ambrose (Art & Art History;
  • Reece Auguiste (Film;
  • Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin (Theatre & Dance;
  • Deborah Hollis (Archives and Special Collections;
  • Thomas Riis (College of Music;
  • Mél Hogan (Postdoctoral Scholar;



  • Gesel Mason (Dance;


Graduate Assistants

  • Claire Larose, Art & Art History
  • Jenna Moghadam, College of Music
  • Megan Odom, Dance





Our proposal is for the implementation of Performing the Archive (PTA) Initiative, which situates the archive as a locus of critical inquiry, historical research and performance practices across the arts, humanities, and sciences/technology. Utilizing the growing and diverse expertise in the archive among CU faculty, we propose establishing Undergraduate and Graduate Studies programs in creative archival practices, including: (1) a Master of Fine Arts degree in Performing the Archive, (2) a PhD in Creative Archival Practices, (3) a BA/BFA in Creative Archival Practices, and (4) a minor in Creative Archival Practices. The institutional framework for the proposed degree programs could operate in a variety of administrative structures, including a new school, program, institute, center, or certificate program. In whatever institutional form it takes, Performing the Archive Initiative at CU Boulder will serve as a locus for pedagogic research, performance inquiry, seminars, a ‘home’ for visiting artists, scholars, and the institutional ‘bridge’ from CU Boulder to regional, national and international partners.




Digital Detritus Interviews: Michael Stevenson of Delete From Internet

As part of a series dealing with digital detritus, I completed my third interview this week with Michael Stevenson, part of the DMI team, who created Delete From Internet. Here’s a sample from Stevenson (more to come):

It started as a joke about ugly websites. We just wanted to create a way for Marieke to designate sites that had to go, and then compile that so we could laugh at it together. But after Erik suggested using a bookmarklet (javascript code that you put in your bookmarks to perform an action), someone suggested turning it into a parody of Delicious, which at the time was one of the primary examples of Web 2.0-style ‘peer production’. By sharing their bookmarks and tagging URLs with each other, Delicious users were supposedly creating collective intelligence – their aggregated tags would be rich descriptions of web content, in turn creating new browsing experiences and so on. With Delete from Internet we were poking fun at that idea by basically turning it on its head – “can we aggregate all this distributed behavior to do something useless and destructive?” (Of course, no pages would actually be deleted, but we discussed sending automatic notices to the webmasters of sites that were at the top of the list.) On top of that was the irony that selecting a site for deletion also meant linking to it, and thus extending its life by increasing the chance it would be indexed by web crawlers.

Archiving ArtSpots with Mary Elizabeth Luka

Archiving ArtSpots with Mary Elizabeth Luka – Mél Hogan


What follows is an interview I conducted with M.E. Luka over the course of several months over email and Skype. Luka’s project explores CBC’s Artspots, a showcase of art and craft made by Canadian artists.


CBC ArtSpots giveaway for artists, crew, Advisory Group volunteers. Image courtesy of M.E. Luka.

Mél Hogan: In a few lines, can you tell me, what is ArtSpots today?

Mary Elizabeth Luka: It’s a reminder that Canadian visual art exists and has enormous range. Also that it can flourish in tandem with popular culture / broadcast media, when resources are applied, creative control is shared, and a focused conversation is generated around it. The current website (if I can call it current!) is a placeholder – or a kind of elaborate bookmark. Traces of media production remain, including visual images (mostly stills), text, and broken video links, as well as navigation and still-functioning connecting links (e.g. to other websites). Additionally, some of the 1,200 short videos produced during that period are still played on television from time to time, usually late-night, or used by the artists involved to promote their own work.

>> more

Digital Detritus Interviews: Timothy Holman of The Useless Web

As part of a series dealing with digital detritus, I completed my second interview this week with Timothy Holman, creator of The Useless Web. Here’s a sample from Holman (more to come):

My guidelines and standards have changed a bit over time… but:

1. Family friendly (no swear words/nudity etc)

2. Website has to have its own domain: eg:… no subdomains (eg: and no nested directories: (

3. No advertising. ( has some, but its VERY little, and barely noticeable. And its an amazing site, so its allowed)

4. Website has to stay up under traffic, if it goes down, it will likely be removed for good.

5. No/very few external links. A link to twitter acct is ok, but they need to be very small/unnoticeable… otherwise the website has a use.

6. The website has to actually be good… or unique. I’ve already got a few that just say “NO” or “YES”, so those are out…  And some are just terrible: (


Brakhage Center: Demo Live

We’ve got a working demo of our curatorial project built in Korsakow.

For now, we’re using the default interface and have a few glitches and details to work through but we feel that already Korsakow is proving an efficient curatorial tool – making the media richer in its connections.

Some of the issues we are working through include the design and layout as well as the limits of the technologies: the software, the platform, the media formats, and so on. There’s been a lot to consider.

Stuff we’ve learned so far (which may be a reiteration of the software FAQ):

Naming your files properly is important. Don’t put in any spaces or weird characters or else the path isn’t likely to work in certain browsers, like Chrome.

The web can handle much better video compression than it once could, and formulas could re revised to reflect this progress. Depending on the source of your video, video online can be of high quality using the H264 codec with mp4 as a container. In our experience mp4 looks better and generates smaller files, but mov load faster. This requires further explorations.

For audio, acc and mp4 don’t work so stick to mp3.

The playhead the comes with the software seems to run off the page.

Transparent png don’t work – they come with a boxy background.

On our end, we need to add titles to some of the images to give them context and guide users. We also need to rethink the trajectory – while nonlinear, it is thought out to guide the user in a choronological order i.e., you can only go forward in time, not back, but you have many options for moving forward. I’ve noticed in testing it out, however, that some trajectories are less likely to the point of being likely passed by completely. This will need tweaking. Some “main” SNUs don’t have enough previews popping up to complete the three, which becomes a design consideration. I’d like for us to test out the Preview text that comes in Korsakow, and a few of the other features we haven’t yet explored… look forward to Demo 2 in the next few months.

Digital Detritus Interviews: Justin Blinder of Dumpster Drive

As part of a series dealing with digital detritus, I completed my first interview today with Justin Blinder, creator of Dumpster Drive.

Here’s a glimpse from Blinder (more to come):

Some of the praise that Dumpster Drive received regarded the potential for allowing people to open source retired ideas and projects for others to rekindle and make their own. This was not an aspect I had thought through before releasing the project, but it is a perspective that I find quite intriguing. Quite a bit of press targeted the project for violating copyright infringement, yet very few extended into an inquiry into what it means to download a file that is effectively “ownerless.” I think the highlight of the feedback was from Glenn Beck’s blog The Blaze, who officially gave the project a political agenda in an article entitled “The Green Movement Hits Your Hard Drive? Now You Can ‘Recycle’ Computer Files.” Although Dumpster Drive is a fully functional application, the online debates that the project has spawned are arguably the more fascinating than the application itself—which is great, as I ultimately designed it to be a platform for discussion.

Mél Hogan interviews Nicole Robicheau, creator of ‘The Border Between Us’

Mél Hogan interviews Nicole Robicheau, creator of ‘The Border Between Us’

by MATT on NOVEMBER 10, 2012

This interview with Nicole Robicheau, creator of the brand new Korsakow film The Border Between Us was conducted and written up by Mél Hogan, Digital Curation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Hogan has used Korsakow in the past, and is currently exploring its potential as a tool for digital curation at the Brakhage Center for Media Arts.

– Online