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An Ethnography of Relevance in the Digital Age Open Access

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This study examines the contestation between different modes of relevance creation in the current context of digital media. Relevance is understood as a selective direction of attention, and as a phenomenon generated through social processes. Relevance must be produced within a specific medium, and new media call into question established social processes, and offer opportunity for their renegotiation. Relevance is significant in that practices which direct attention determine the creation of publics, which are held by Michael Warner to be constituted though attention.Using ethnographic observation methods, I gathered data about web sites exemplary of two different modes of relevance creation, LibraryThing and MetaFilter. LibraryThing generates relevance through aggregation, in which many individual classifications are statistically merged. MetaFilter envisions itself as a community, a social body characterized by shared resources. Community members can create relevance by their individual selection of texts in accordance with the community's values. Each approach, despite appealing to the novelty of digital media, calls upon durable social categories in order to create value. LibraryThing's approach relies on models of the free market, in which individual selfish action produces overall societal benefit. MetaFilter defines community through exclusion of anonymous participation, and potential members must pass through obstacles and maintain a stable identity to participate. This approach envisions community as founded upon limits imposed to keep destructive human tendencies in check.

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