Exploring Computational Media as a Possible Future of Software

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis

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Abstract

Computational media is a vision of flexible and malleable software. Early systems like Kay and Goldberg's Dynabook from 1977 or diSessa and Abelson's Boxer from 1986 explored this vision of software in the past. This vision of software puts users in control of their software, makes software more understandable and programming easier, and blurs the line between development and use of software. Today's software landscape, however, falls short of this vision and instead follows an application-centric model in which applications act as silos for functionality and data. While this enables developers and companies to compartmentalize software into smaller pieces, it also makes them the keeper of control over software. This often leaves users disempowered and out of control: Users are unable to modify their applications and functionality and are at the mercy of companies and developers.

In this thesis, I revisit computational media as an alternative to the application-centric model. Through the internet, the web, and platforms like Webstrates it is now possible to explore software that is inherently open and malleable—to create alternatives to the taken-for-grantedness of software as applications. My research focuses on the scope of the technical capabilities of computational media and the use of computational media by individual users and small groups of users. I operationalize my research through prototypes, which act as computational alternatives in empirical studies, and through the design and implementation of new platforms supporting the principles of computational media.

My research contributes to a theory, design, and empirical strand of research: Drawing from existing visions of computational media, I contribute a theoretical framing of computational media including the four principles malleability, shareability, distributability, and computability, and facets for each of these principles. Building on top of the Webstrates platform, I contribute Codestrates v2 as a development platform for Webstrates and Varv as a programming model for inherently malleable and extensible software. Lastly, I contribute findings of three empirical studies that I conducted using prototypes built with computational media, demonstrating the potentials and challenges of computational media for its users. Together, these contributions are intended to demonstrate that there are alternatives to the predominant application-centric model of software and that the strict separation of development and use of software is not set in stone but can be broken up.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherÅrhus Universitet
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

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