a week of platforms


For the final week of the teaching block, I recorded the software/applications that I used each day to investigate which platforms/tech ecosystems I use regularly, reflect on those that I could not separate from, and identify ways I could make the apps that I use more “efficient”.

Each day, I recorded the apps that I was opening or focusing and whether the app is free, open-source, and/or I use the app primarily for work or school activities. The resulting visualization was inspired from the Dear Data “Week 50 – A week of our phones” postcard by Giorgia Lupi.


From the visualization, I primarily use applications/services from Google and Microsoft – nearly half of these all applications and half of the applications that I used everyday were from these two companies. However, this representation ignores some of the hidden infrastructure behind the other applications:

  • Amazon web services (AWS), Amazon’s on-demand cloud computing platform, dominates the web server industry controlling roughly 40 percent of the cloud market. Disney+, Reddit, Spotify, Zoom, Facebook, Twitch, LinkedIn, Instagram all depend on the AWS and other apps like Moodle and WordPress having the ability to be hosted on AWS.
  • Chromium is a free and open-source browser developed initially by Google (through the Chromium project). Electron is a software framework that depends on the chromium browser to render desktop GUI applications such as visual studio code, WordPress desktop, Slack, Discord, and Teams.
  • React and Angular are two popular open-source web application frameworks maintained by Facebook and Google, respectively. As such, many website and applications built in Electron (such as Discord) use one of these frameworks.

This all goes to show that the “Big Five” (van Dijck, 2018) influence more web services/applications that what is immediately obvious. It is not hard to imagine the ease activity from a group of seemingly unrelated websites/applications could be collected and analyzed to give some holistic insights to our “data doubles” (Williamson, 2020) for monetization purposes. van Dijck (2018) highlights learning data has become increasingly valuable to continue to complete our “data double”. Promises of personalization and democratization of education distract from the concerns of privacy, security, and commodification of student data and the potential of increased surveillance.

Educational platforms rely on these promises of personalization and democratization of education and are quickly being dominated by the “Big Five”. These platforms are impacting teaching and learning practices and autonomy and pose a risk of developing a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education (van Dijck, 2018) that is globalized and potentially lacks local and cultural values. Creating free and open-source educational material, platforms, and data has been offered as a way to democratizing education and push back against corporate platformization. Unfortunately, these initiatives are often quite costly and require time and expertise to develop.

van Dijck, J., Poell, T., & de Waal, M. 2018. Chapter 6: Education, In The Platform Society, Oxford University Press

Williamson, B. Bayne, S. Shay, S. 2020. The datafication of teaching in Higher Education: critical issues and perspectives. Teaching in Higher Education. 25(4), pp. 351-365.

1 thought on “a week of platforms

  1. Really engaging visualisation here Dillon – it reminds me how app icons are such striking, highly recognisable, graphics (even the new Google ones!).

    The tracking of data around each icon is really clever. In a way, it looks like a phone screen, with apps ready to open, but at the same time, and more subtly, it is displaying ‘backend’ data. I thought that was a useful comment on how these apps have overt functions for users, but also hidden data gathering functions underneath. And that is in addition to your interesting points about the hidden infrastructure, which were really pertinent.

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