IS289 Week 2 Class Notes

Star and Ruler 8 dimensions of infrastructure


Embeddedness. Infrastructure is sunk into and inside of other structures, social arrangements, and technologies. People do not necessarily distinguish the several coordinated aspects of infrastructure. In the Worm study, our respondents did not usually distinguish programs or subcomponents of the software—they were simply “in” it.
Transparency. Infrastructure is transparent to use, in the sense that it does not have to be reinvented each time or assembled for each task, but invisibly supports those tasks. For our respondents, the task of using ftp to download the system was new and thus difficult; for a computer scientist, this is an easy, routine task. Thus, the step of using ftp made the system less than transparent for the biologists, and thus much less usable.
Reach or scope. This may be either spatial or temporal— infrastructure has reach beyond a single event or one-site practice. One of the first things we did in system development was scan in the quarterly newsletter of the biologists so that one of the long-term rhythms of the community could be emulated online.
Learned as part of membership. The taken-for-grantedness of artifacts and organizational arrangements is a sine qua non of membership in a community of practice (Bowker & Star, in press; Lave & Wenger, 1991). Strangers and outsiders encounter infrastructure as a target object to be learned about. New participants acquire a naturalized familiarity with its objects, as they become members. Although many of the objects of biology were strange to us as ethnographers, and to the computer scientists, and we made a special effort to overcome this strangeness, it was easy to overlook other things that we had already naturalized, such as information retrieval practices over networked systems.
Links with conventions of practice. Infrastructure both shapes and is shaped by the conventions of a community of practice (e.g., the ways that cycles of day-night work are affected by and affect electrical power rates and needs). Generations of typists have learned the QWERTY keyboard; its limitations are inherited by the computer keyboard and thence by the design of today’s computer furniture (Becker, 1982). The practices of reporting quarterly via the newsletter could not be changed in the biologists’ system—when we suggested continual update, it was soundly rejected as interfering with important conventions of practice.
Embodiment of standards. Modified by scope and often by conflicting conventions, infrastructure takes on transparency by plugging into other infrastructures and tools in a standardized fashion. Our system embodied many standards used in the biological and academic community such as the names and maps for
genetic strains, and photographs of relevant parts of the organism. But other standards escaped us at first, such as the use of specific programs for producing photographs on the Macintosh. Built on an installed base. Infrastructure does not grow de novo; it wrestles with the inertia of the installed base and inherits strengths and limitations from that base. Optical fibers run along old railroad lines; new systems are designed for backward compatibility, and failing to account for these constraints may be fatal or distorting to new development processes (Hanseth & Monteiro, 1996). We partially availed ourselves of this in activities such as scanning in the newsletter and providing a searchable archive; but our failure to understand the extent of the Macintosh entrenchment in the community proved expensive.
Becomes visible upon breakdown. The normally invisible quality of working infrastructure becomes visible when it breaks: the server is down, the bridge washes out, there is a power blackout. Even when there are back-up mechanisms or procedures, their existence further highlights the now-visible infrastructure. One of the flags for our understanding of the importance of infrastructure came
with field visits to check the system usability. Respondents would say prior to the visit that they were using the system with no problems—during the site visit, they were unable even to tell us where the system was on their local machines. This breakdown became the basis for a much more detailed understanding of the
relational nature of infrastructure.
Is fixed in modular increments, not all at once or globally. Because infrastructure is big, layered, and complex, and because it means different things locally, it is never changed from above. Changes take time and negotiation, and adjustment with other aspects of the systems are involved.1 Nobody is really in charge of infrastructure. When in the field, we would attempt to get systems up and running for respondents, and our attempts were often stymied by the myriad
of ways in which lab computing was inveigled in local campus or hospital computing efforts, and in legacy systems. There simply was no magic wand to be waved over the development effort.

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often not aware of them until they break down

tends to build

"moral economy" what is it that they feel they owe to each other
shift in power
we'll be working with them to help them understand that what the researchers are doing i part of sthg much larger
new ideas of what counts as knowledge
convergence of the formal and the informal
(now your CV can include research products)

data management plan is like a spotlight n the connection between the project and the underlying knowledge infrastructure
funding agencies are reluctant to mandate data sharing, etc., but at the same time they feel that moving toward more openness is to get people to be more reflective and to think about their data assets as being available for broader reuse.

invisibility of infrastructure is key; must determine the articulation of the (I have no idea what she's talking about)