While academics and journalists discuss how particular web applications (e.g. Google, YouTube, and Facebook) and hardware forms (e.g. smartphones) affect culture and behavior in networked societies, they pay little attention to the role browsers play as a common platform and interface for these applications and hardware. When we surf the web, we use browsers, and this thesis’ two case studies provide a starting point for analysis of how the form of the browser, expressed in its interface and underlying technologies, structures people’s experiences of the web. By studying browsers as technological artifacts, this thesis reveals how the experience of the web is structured by browser makers. Through the social construction of technology (SCOT) theoretical framework, I broaden the definition of browser makers to include executives at technology startups and established firms, standards writers, graphic designers, and government regulators in addition to software architects and engineers.
These are just two of numerous conventions that came to constitute the form of the browser, and web browsers either adopt or respond to these standards. Through analysis of how these features and languages became conventions and web standards, this thesis provides a platform and interface for discussions of how the web affects the people who use it.
This thesis was submitted for consideration for the Master of Arts degree in Communication, Culture and Technology at Georgetown University. I defended my thesis in a one-hour presentation on 15 April 2011 to Dr. David Ribes and Dr. J.R. Osborn. They awarded the thesis a high pass.
If you have the time and inclination, you can download and read my thesis (PDF, 462 KB).
To glimpse the scope I had envisioned for my research, you can see an early diagram of data codes and concepts (PDF, 70 KB).