Online Credibility and Information Labor: Infrastructure Reverberating through Ethos

Online Credibility and Information Labor: Infrastructure Reverberating through Ethos

Nathan Johnson (Purdue University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2663-8.ch003


This chapter examines how information infrastructure influences ethos in information labor. The primary text is discourse about ACID3, a web page created by members of the Web Standards Project. ACID3 tests the compliance of infrastructural standards for web browsers. In addition to analyzing ACID3 code, several other related conference presentations, job announcements, and web pages are analyzed to theorize ACID3 as a rhetorical text. This chapter argues that three rhetorical commonplaces (mastery, purity, infallibility) are central for the credibility of ACID3 as a text of legitimacy. This study provides a better understanding of rhetoric and infrastructure. To understand rhetorics of infrastructural standardization is to understand the power structures embedded within the modern world. ACID3 is a significant case because of its criticality for standards that enable publics to publish Web content. This chapter contributes to literature in information infrastructural studies, science and technology studies, and the rhetoric of science.
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The evolution of the web browser as a technology has been tumultuous. Different vendors have historically clashed over what capabilities to include in their browser technologies. Some have used differences in browser standards as a type of competitive advantage (Miller, 2005). Developing standards that can only be used with browser-specific code writing practices has been a technique to increase market share. Microsoft has often been criticized for this practice. When designers create for one browser, it benefits the single vendor, but not necessarily the larger community of web developers (or consumers, for that matter). For instance, when one vendor becomes more powerful, like Microsoft was in the mid 1990s, that vendor is better able to dictate how the web should be rendered.

Web developers are among the first to notice this issue, because as some vendors become more powerful, the developers, distributed across a multitude of organizations, lose voice in conversations that shape the web and browser capabilities. To assuage the issue, gatekeepers within the community have often participated in online protests. These have included “CSS Naked Day,” when developers stop using the CSS standard for their web pages to shows how important the standard is. ACID tests show how well the browsers adhere to standards and also show weaknesses in each standard by providing a benchmark for visualization.

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