Twitch as a Socio-technical System

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

According to this week’s readings, the internet and the applications that function through the use of the internet are inherently modular in design and belong to a “socio-technical system”.  A sociotechnical system is any system that “considers requirements spanning hardware, software, personal, and community aspects” to inform its design decisions (“What Are Socio-Technical Systems?”, n.d.). A sociotechnical system embodies and tries to understand the social structures, roles, and rights of systems that involve communities of people and technology. It is interdisciplinary in that it requires the contributions and research of experts who study various types of systems, i.e. sociologists study social systems, psychologists cognitive systems, computer scientists information systems, and engineers hardware systems, (ibid.). All of these systems are valid and important in the study of socio-technical systems. Today, we will discuss the socio-technical system that informs the design of the extremely popular streaming platform, Twitch.

The website and video-streaming platform Twitch is the overwhelming market leader in the live broadcast of user-created videos over the internet, especially for video game-play, “In both 2016 and 2017 over two million people regularly broadcast on the platform, resulting in over a million years of video content in total viewed by over one hundred million people,” (Johnson & Woodcock, 2018, p. 1). Content creators on the platform create an online channel that attempts to bridge the gap between themselves and their audience. Twitch streamers usually intend to create large communities where people can come together and share ideas. If we were to examine this using a network view, each Twitch user is a node in the Twitch network, with the edges being the relationships and interactions that connect them all. In attempting to build a community through their channels, Twitch streamers, are trying to become a “hub” of information and influence in their network (Denning & Martell, 2015, p. 237). However, to successfully do this, they must understand the sociotechnical systems that inform the ever-evolving design of the platform.

Recently, my best friend started his own Twitch Channel, and in discussing all of the components that go into building a twitch channel, I realized how complex and modular the design and socio-technical systems for Twitch are. Originally, I had assumed that all you needed was a good computer with a camera and streaming capabilities. However, I was very wrong. In order to build a quality Twitch channel, there are various hardware requirements, software requirements, social structures, roles, and rights of the systems that need to be addressed. With regards to hardware, my friend explained that not only should you have a good quality mic, a camera with streaming capabilities, lighting, headset, desktop, multiple monitors, gaming hardware (if you want to go the gaming route), you also need to purchase game capture cards in order to be able to stream both your game and yourself at the same time. Let me tell you, streaming is not a cheap hobby. knowing the amount of financial investment that goes into doing a quality stream also helped me understand why users would subscribe to or send money to support their favorite streamers. Below is a picture of my friends set up.

With regards to software, your computers must have a fast enough processor and enough memory to properly stream. Your internet connection also has to be incredibly strong in order to run all of the streams and programs at once. I used to believe I had fast internet, however, my friend informed me that any quality streamer has to have a wifi speed of at least 100 Mbps. His is around 120 Mbps. When I tested mine, I received a whopping 80 Mbps, meaning that while my speed was good enough to game online, stream services like Netflix on multiple devices and download large files, my speed would not be enough to stream UHD on multiple devices. Therefore, if I ever did have all of the hardware necessary to be a Twitch streamer, I would not be able to stream quality UHD video.

When I first started supporting my best friend on his channel, I also had to learn the social structures and roles of the platform. Twitch has its own culture and in order to fully utilize it, I had to work to understand it. For example, Twitch is extremely modular in its design and affords users the capability to completely customize their experience with the creation of “panels” to decorate your channel, emoticons and sound commands to customize a chat, the assigning of roles within channels as a sign of trust and authority (i.e. mods for a channel), and the creation of clips to capture your favorite streamer moments. These were all new and foreign concepts to me because they were norms that were not found on other platforms. Twitch streamers must also be aware of their demographics. If a user is not young audience-friendly, meaning that they use expletives and talk about more adult topics on their streams, they employ warnings and market their channels as 18+. If a channel does want to be open to all ages, they utilize rules of the channels and will employ mods to censor the chats of any explicit content. The website/application itself also categorizes content in order to help users and content creators build strong communities based on similar interests, i.e. art, among us, just chatting, food, etc.

With regards to streaming rights, a user is afforded the right to stream anything that is their own creation, including video gameplay, however, there are some constraints. Twitch users do not have the right to stream content they do not own such as copyrighted music and movies/shows. If a user fails to adhere to these terms of service, their videos could be taken down. Twitch has addressed the music problem by creating a soundtrack of licensed music that streamers may use in the background of their streams, “We understand that music rights are complex and that many of you would like a simpler way to add high-quality music to your Twitch live streams. That’s why we built Soundtrack by Twitch, to give you the ability to feature a curated library of fully licensed music within your live streams,” (Twitch, 2020).

After learning about the socio-technical system that informs the design of Twitch, I have developed a deep appreciation for the creators who put their hearts, souls, and money into creating quality content and strong communities. I also am incredibly impressed by the modularity and complexity of the application design that affords creators the ability to do this.

References

“What Are Socio-Technical Systems?” The Interaction Design Foundation, The Interaction Design Foundation, www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/socio-technical-systems.

Johnson, M. R., & Woodcock, J. (2018). THE SOCIO-TECHNICAL ENTANGLEMENTS OF LIVE STREAMING ON TWITCH.TV. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2018i0.10489

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

Twitch.tv – Music. (n.d.). Twitch.Tv. Retrieved November 4, 2020, from https://www.twitch.tv/p/legal/community-guidelines/music/