Category Archives: Week 11

Sociotechnical Background of Spotify (Week11)

We treat the internet as a totalized and unified identity, but what hidden behind its simplified GUI is a designed complex sociotechnical system that is consisted of multiple layers and modules, Like the internet, Spotify, a music streaming service platform, can be also understood as a complex sociotechnical system. According to the top-level view of the major dependencies of the internet, the operation of the Internet service on our PC and devices is based on the interconnection of many system modules. Streaming service, belonging to the digital media and the “content” companies module, is a part of the internet service and is also supported by the internet. 

As a whole, Spotify has two types of licenses for its music, “Sound Recording License agreements, which cover the rights to a particular recording, and Musical Composition License Agreements, which cover the people who own the rights to the song” (CNBC). For the first category, Spotify has deals with three big record labels — Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment Group and Warner Music Group. For the second category, there are two main type of licenses Spotify has to secure: performance rights, basically paid to song publishers when the song is streamed, and mechanical royalties, generally paid to songwriters when a song is reproduced. Performance license is managed through two main firms in the U.S. — BMI and ASCAP. Mechanical rights for streaming services are governed in the U.S. by a government agency known as the Copyright Royalty Board.

The origin of Spotify has a lot to do with Pirate Bay, a website that provides file-sharing links, from which Spotify borrows many technologies of music sharing.  Spotify is based on a client-server structure and follows an “end-to end” design rule. It streams music in three ways: local cache, peer-to-peer and Spotify servers. Spotify has its own server, where the music data are stored. Before 2014, Spotify mainly adopted peer-to-peer service, the mode that does not require a dedicated server for the internet. “When the user plays a track from the desktop client, the audio stream comes from three sources: a cached file on the computer, one of Spotify’s servers, or from other subscribers through P2P”. In this case, each Spotify’s user could both be a server to provide service, and a client that enjoy the service.

According to the video from Code Academy, when the user requests a song, Spotify’s server sends a song broken up into many packets. Then, they choose the “cheapest” path, in the perspective of time, politics and relationships, based on the client’s IP address for the packet. When packets arrive, the transmission control protocol/ TCP does an inventory, sends back information acknowledging the acceptance of the packets and confirms the delivery. If TCP finds out that there are missing packets, the quality of the song will be lowered, or the song will be incomplete. Then TCP will send the missing signal back to the server, who then resends the packets. As long as the TCP confirms that all packets arrived, the song will start to play.

Spotify used to operates its own data centers and stores  data on physical server. In 2016, Spotify announced to transform much of their data from their own server to Google Cloud Platform, but Spotify’s music files will still be hosted on a storage service from Amazon, a dominant cloud hosting player. The transformation from physical server to cloud server makes the hosting of information more scalable and reliable.


“The Internet: Packet, Routing & Reliability”

Martin Irvine, The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures

Denning and Martell, Great Principles of Computing, Chap. 11, “Networking.”

Virtual Connections: Giving meaning to online presence.

This week’s readings highlight how we might observe the internet by shifting our thoughts from being users of the internet as a technology to active participants -as part of the internet itself. To be on the internet, therefore, refers to connecting virtually to a network of infinite virtual connections. On the other hand, the internet itself was created to allow these virtual connections by means of a protocol which compounds over time as more and more connections are added to an existing topology. 


For these virtual connections to happen and for participation to be enabled, we introduce the computer as the ‘general-purpose processor’ describing here how it gives agency to the internet. The internet is orchestrated and comes to be solely by the participation of multiple agents who converge in multiple layers called combinations and identifiable by a unique address written in accordance with the existing internet protocol. 


Due to the ‘commonization’ of the internet, it is common to subscribe to the school of thought where the internet exists as a ‘commodity’ thereby taking oneself out of the design and giving the internet meaning as an ‘object’. The user interface view which we are steadily exposed to when we make virtual connections over the internet via a computer or mobile phone, blocks off the complex history embedded in the design of the internet. In order to resist talking about the Internet in this way, we think of ourselves and the systems, components, and institutions that combine to orchestrate its being. This further explains the qualities of the internet as a complex, modular, scalable, and extensible system.

Internet as a socio-technical system

In this week’s reading, I find out how Internet is a sociotechnical system and how it’s conditioned by history coincidence and design principles. The three-sector research model combining government, private industry and universities is essential for the intense research at that time, and Internet could not emerge without the rapid development of telecommunication and computer industry in 1960s-1980s. Standards and protocols make incompatible computers have the ability to communicate with each other. TCP is responsible for breaking data into packets and reassembling these packets into the original. IP lets data have their clear destination. IP has a standardized hierarchy of its name, so the whole network can organize the specific devices well. And the DNS associates every website name with an IP address, so the computer can easily index every requested website. There are some methods to guarantee the reliability. TCP and router system can assure scalable data transmission. Redundancy design is an Internet version of saturated rescue, making data transmission fault-tolerant. These design philosophies not only make computers communicate smoothly, but also make the whole system extensible and scalable—it could adapt and absorb new communication technologies infinitely.

Many designs within Internet are modular and have distributed hierarchy. DNS Servers have different layers and split into major domains so it can handle requests from thousands of computers. And the router system serves as mediatory computers to keep data traveling well. We frequently encounter the router system in our daily life, we use both modem and router in home to connect with Internet. Modem has public IP address and uses a WAN network, bringing Internet to our home. Router assigns local IP addresses to bring Internet to your devices, which creates a LAN network. When your devices are connected with wifi, the wifi is actually connected with Internet Service Provider, and then you are connected with billions of networks through ISP, such as AT&T and Netcom. Since the international channel leasing is very expensive, we need an ISP as an organization to provide services for accessing, using, or participating in the Internet. The data transmission also relies on rigorous materials. The Internet speed can’t be as fast as ideally thought partly due to the latency and many radio interference. How fast the data could be transmitted mainly depends on waveform’s bandwidth. Increasing bandwidth capacity is essential for speeding up Internet. Faster Internet speed means more possibilities. Streaming technology nowadays highly rely on fast Internet connection, since it allows you to start using the content before the entire file is downloaded. A speed of 2 Mbps is necessary for streaming standard definition video without skips, reductions in quality, or buffering delays. With the advent of 5G, “on the Internet” could mean more to us.

I have some questions about the reading. Every devices on the Internet will be assigned an IP address, and all websites also have IP address via DNS. I’m a little confused about how websites could have a specific “location” on the Internet. And I’m also confused about the “two waves” which modular waves superimpose their wave pattern on the simpler carrier waves. I’m wondering how the original message could be identified in the entire new waveform.


Martin Irvine, The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures.

Ron White, “How the Internet Works.” Excerpt from How Computers Work. 10th ed.

Be on the Internet: Our Socio-technical System

From this week’s reading, I found that internet is everywhere and in our everyday life, it’s almost unavoidable to interwind with internet, since our work and study are inseparable from communication, transportation, animation and a most basic one-food and all these now could be semi-achieved or achieved by Internet, by means of different kinds of applications, websites, and some hardware. Behind the applications, websites and the hardware, there are multiple social components- different entities, such as institutions, organizations and the rules and protocols set by them. Any action we take, even though we don’t interact with any digital interface, the interaction between the whole socio-technical system and us will happen, no matter in a direct way or an indirect way.

Examples for internet in our life are everywhere. For example, when you walk down M street, you see colorful advertising boards, many different restaurants and clothes stores. You may feel you escape from internet at that moment. However, the monitors in the street will screen you and the time you walk and what you do will be recorded in monitor network. When you make a payment by a credit card, your payment information will be uploaded to that store’s computing systems and the bank system depending on what kind of credit cards you use. In this process, you “interact” with monitor system, store computing system and the bank system indirectly. From this scene, we can imagine that a huge quantity of social systems with which we interact every day. Technology’s development connects us to different social components closely by LAN, MAN and WAN. A unimaginable huge quantity of packets of information is transmitted within these different kinds of network and these networks compose the environment we live in today.

The interaction between us and these social institutions and organizations is only a fraction of the whole socio-technical system. There are complicated relations between these components, systems and their subcomponents, subsystems: some of them interact with each other and some of them overlap with each other, etc. For instance, the mobile phone industry, mobile applications companies and the communication technology are close related mutually. 4G’s appearance sets higher requirement for mobile phone’s functions and features. Due to 4G’s high speed and efficiency, people can watch videos everywhere instead of having to find to WIFI hotpot to download them. In this way, many video applications appear and become popular, like YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat.  Larger capacity battery, better baseband technology and bigger screens come to adapt to these applications. In addition, we know that TikTok is an application from China. Why it could be imported to USA? It’s because the cooperation between international internet service companies and the cooperation standard set by governments.

All these mutual interaction between systems, components and our interaction with computers and phones start with human’s desire to communication. Information theory offers a theoretical base of information transmission. The telephone circuit system at first is for live chatting but later it is used for internet. With the ever-developing communication technology, we now don’t use circuit system for surfing online, but rather optical fiber transmission system and WIFI system.

Based on what I have talked above, we can’t never set internet independent from other systems, components, institutions. It’s better for us to treat them as a whole and try to figure our position in this complicated system. In my opinion, the way to achieve it  is by deblackboxing the technology you use, knowing some basic principles about product design and system design and asking more questions about the internet and than trying to answer them, like why the YouTube can always give me the advertising of products in which I am interested?



Martin Irvine, The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures.

Ron White, “How the Internet Works.” Excerpt from How Computers Work. 10th ed.

Denning and Martell, Great Principles of Computing, Chap. 11, “Networking.”

Invisible principles of the internet


The development history of the internet is essentially a history of innovation. It is an interwoven and interactive process of technological innovation, commercial innovation, and institutional innovation, and ultimately forms an evolutionary account of human civilization in the Internet era.

The internet is a global network of computers that communicate with each other in standard protocols. Internet is not a specific technology but a mixture of various components and agencies. So “on the internet” means connecting to one of its nodes and gaining access to services on the sociotechnical systems. If we regard the internet as a variety of subsystems, subcomponents, and social institutions, we first need to understand the three principles brought by Barbara.

Firstly, the internet consists of independent modules that work together. The internet does not rely on one central computer but distribute on any device. That’s why we can surf the web anywhere as long as our devices connect with the WIFI. Modularity also provides adequate flexibility for information communication. Each module has its function, so when a module occurs breakdown, it doesn’t affect other modules. Also,each module provides a standardized process interface to the directly coupled module. No matter how the internal implementation of each module is not stipulated, the external interface must be a standard part, so that the coupled module can be connected seamlessly

Secondly, the internet is based on relaxed layering with a portability layer. The portability layer is the first layer that contains the central program and theory. People can use the services between the layer they chose and the portability layer. Based on the portability payer, people can use the internet to send an email or watch a video. Still, they can’t change the algorithm or the transmission time of the information on the internet. The layers are independent. The layer does not need to know how its next layer is implemented but only needs to know the services that the layer provides through the interface between the layers. Because each layer performs only one relatively independent function, it is possible to decompose a complex problem that is difficult to deal with into several smaller issues that are easier to deal with, thus reducing the complexity of the whole problem.

Thirdly, the internet use end-to-end argument. The end-to-end principle divides the operational process into two stages: the input end and the output end. When people are using internet they only need to care about the information they want to convey. Transmissions through layers are completed by machine itself., which improves the accuracy and reliability of the internet.


Martin Irvine, The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures

Ron White, “How the Internet Works.” Excerpt from How Computers Work. 10th ed. Que Publishing, 2015.

Barbara van Schewick, Internet Architecture and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray. Personal Computers and the Internet, excerpt from Computer: A History Of The Information Machine. 3rd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2014.

On the Internet or On the Interface?

People have always used prepositions as metaphors for the way they interact with media. We read through books, talk on the phone, and look at pictures. And while none of these metaphors entirely capture the experience of interacting with these human artefacts, none miss the mark quite so bad as claiming to get on the Internet. However, even though the preposition fails to offer much help by way of an accurate description, just as much confusion arises from the object to which it refers: the Internet.

Of course, in some ways, we need some sort of nominal indicator so that we can refer to this network-of-networks in some workable way during casual conversation. Unfortunately, the tendency of this sort of conversation tends to regress into reifications of “the Internet” which further black-box this human artefact and only stand in the way of understanding what actually occurs when going “on the Internet.”

Essentially, when one claims to go on the Internet, he or she refers to accessing an interface (such as a web browser) designed to send and receive small bundles of data called internet packets according to pre-established protocol which are asynchronously sent across computing machines called routers. What the Internet-user in 2019 experiences as “getting on the Internet” is really the back-end of this complex (albeit almost instantaneous) process: the arrangement of packets received from routers by the interface. In a certain sense, it might be more accurate for the digital citizen to talk about getting on the interface instead of getting on the Internet. In other words, the Internet is not the thing that one uses, but the process of distributing information and data which become manipulatable through interface design.

Aside from de-black-boxing the online world for the average user, understanding the Internet as a process of distributing information across a network of computing technologies can help the scholar or designer understand more specifically their object of study. In other words, one can examine the design of an interface, the design of the data/information, the design of the network, the design of the protocol, or the design of the physical, computing machines. Not to mention studying the history, effects, politics, and economics of any of these things. To study the design, history, or effects of the Internet is a massive undertaking which would probably take several lifetimes. However, by understanding the Internet as a complex set of practices, media scholars can achieve rigorous and meaningful conclusions about the role of the Internet in the modern world by focusing on particular moments in this process.

Works Cited:

Martin Irvine, The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures

Denning and Martell, Great Principles of Computing, Chap. 11, “Networking.”

Internet data transmission: from LAN to Internet

Xueying Duan

This week’s readings bring us to the interaction between internet devices and what is behind the interface that presents to users. The success of the internet (or what we see today) is all based on a uniform principle — online communication. There can’t be a further connection between digital devices unless they have access to the same online system. Everything we do on the “internet” is actually all based on communicating in an invisible space. Before the existence of the World Wide Web, I remembered that there used to be “Network Neighborhood” that links all digital devices like computers, printers and other resources that are connected to the same “Local-area Network”. Computers in it create a special folders to store files and informations of each single computer and share them within the whole group like a “cloud”. Also, there’s one “browse master” that takes control of the whole network system. Until now, there’re companies using this kind of half-closed network connection to collect and manage their sharing materials and information.

We can now connect into one Wifi networking (Wireless-LAN) and form some connection with each other. Or we can turn on the airdrop or Bluetooth to send packages all in a second. And the online applications, we managed to communicate with other people instantly based on the information/data transforming quickly through some techniques. The internet is not telling us how it was made to accomplish those functions, but just present it to us and benefit our daily life. After this week’s reading, I notice the internet common protocols which are designed to allow individuals to connect to the internet under the same transmission system. This common protocol is developed out of how a telephone is conducting a two-way communication through a reserved circuits. The IP, however, breaks down the data into different packets and allows them to transmit separately and also at a high speed. In this case, our information is like being stored in a public domain. When the software or applications have the demand to reach some specific information, they get access to easily subtract what they need from specific packets and deliver them into further processing program.

The design of computer and the internet can never be finished. I see the transition from PAN to LAN, WLAN, MAN, WAN, and to Internet in a rapidly-developing speed when searching for information. The scalability and extensibility of the internet allows virtual data communication technique to gradually update and integrate continually. The future internet connection development is also built on new modules, layers and so on in a pre-existing principle and increase its connection scale and data quantity. But I still cannot recognize the difference between WAN (Wide-area Network), Internet and WWW (World Wide Web) and am looking forward to further explanation.


Martin Irvine, The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures (Why Learn This?)

Denning and Martell, Great Principles of Computing, Chap. 11, “Networking.”

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, April 29). My Network Places. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:04, November 15, 2019, from