Sunday, February 13, 2011

Session 3

Summarizing the articles, or how I was tired and not in a charitable mood:
“Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities”
This article makes the shocking observation that “users participate in communities which share similar interests.”  It also categorizes the different user intentions for twitter as:
Daily Chatter
Sharing Informations/URLs, and
Reporting News
I can’t help but want to group the first two and second two categories together.
For a conclusion, the article states that there are high levels of close mutual connections on this social networking site and that determining the user intentions of individuals is difficult. 

“Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities”
Mentions that under contribution is a problem for online communities, and devised and completed several inconclusive experiments to test social psychology theories and their application to increasing contribution to online communities.  There were several variables that were tested in the experiments.  One variable was the user’s feeling of uniqueness of their contribution.  The experiments seemed to conclude that increasing this feeling would lead to greater participation by the user.  It seemed to me that giving the users a feeling of having unique contributions was a bit like patting a dog on the head for rolling over.  It works for getting the dog to roll over, but requires you to continue patting the dog’s head each time you want it to roll over.  I’m sure it is possible to create a program, for these online communities, that occasionally pats each contributing member on the head, but I wonder if a computer response will continue to get the same effect over time.  I wonder what a more long term experiment would find.
This article also points out that one reason why their experiments failed to agree with the social theory predictions is poor implementation.  They found that similar groups did not participate as much as dissimilar groups in experiment #1, but later realize that all the groups are in fact similar, as all were composed of movie buffs.  It seems correct to assume that people need a similar ground to beginning conversing, but if you’re too similar the conversation just ends up being “I agree. <silence>” “<silence>”…

“Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online”
This article gives the following reasons for joining an online community:
Information Seeking/Exchange
Social Support
The article also connects those reasons for joining an online community to the type of online community, noting that more serious topic communities (such as professional communities or health and welfare communities) are more likely to have member that joined for information seeking/exchange or social support.  On the other hand, more recreational communities, like forums about pets, are more likely to have people join for recreational or friendship reasons.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, I joined the Missy USA site, which has an area for health and welfare, mostly for information seeking or social support reasons, so this article did match with my own experiences.

“Examining social media usage: Technology clusters and social network site membership”
This article was interesting partially for being dated to 2009, but still mentioning MySpace so much. It seems like a very good example of how quickly times change and the issues researchers face in publishing their findings.  The article even mentions this fact in the conclusion as it mentions the moving target of SNSs.
The article notes that previous findings, in other studies, found extroverts to be unlikely to substitute internet interactions for real-life interactions.  This seems to be another example of the moving target of the internet and SNSs.  The study in this article found that extroverts are more comfortable in the newer SNSs, where they can post pictures and videos of themselves.  It seems to simply be a movement of their extroverted ways from real-life to the internet.  The study also notes that computer anxiety was negatively correlated with information seeking and downloading but had no effect on the use of one-to-one or many-to-many “clusters.”  The article states this, and I agree, that many one-to-one or many-to-many “clusters” such as email and SNSs like Facebook are relatively easy to use and therefore people who are not good with computers can still use them without fear.
One interesting point from the article is that women are more likely to use SNSs than men are.  I wonder why this is?  Part of me wants to say that the stereotype that women are better at interpersonal relationships is the reason why we flock to SNSs.  Perhaps the answer is even more sexist and has to do with having more free time.  Or perhaps, the majority in the study is not statistically important and just an error from the study’s sampling process?

“Motivating Content Contributions to Online Communities: Toward a More Comprehensive Theory”
This article, like the first is trying to determine ways to increase online community contributions and keep the communities alive and thriving.  One item this article touches on that the first ignored is the idea of types/levels of participants in the community. In the Missy USA community I joined, I would call myself a type two lurker.  I typically just search for the information I want and if I can’t find it I may post a questions.  I don’t usually respond to other members when they ask questions.  I do have a friend who spends a lot of time on certain “forums” and probably considers himself a type four contributor.  He sometimes brags about threads on one forum specifically asking for his response/help.  I wonder if this “they need me” feeling is one of those intrinsic motives or if the praise it gathers counts as an extrinsic motive.
This article talks about personality characteristics and environmental factors as part of the equation in determining/affecting contribution levels.  It also mentions reinforcement factors as an area that online community organizers might use to help increase contributions.

Part 2, or watching over my friend’s shoulder:
I would never join a site on wargaming, but as my friend is a type 3 or 4 contributor to a site, I followed his lead to <> an online community dedicated to wargames produced by the company Privateer Press.
A little background information from my friend:  Privateer Press released a game called Warmachine in 2003 and recently went through a complete revision of the game performed via online open playtesting.  Participants on the forum were given (for free) the rules for the new version of the game and were requested to play the new rules a provide feedback for the game.  Per my friend, during this time (late 2009 early 2010) there were 1000s of posts per day. 
As I look at the forum now (near midnight Hawaii time), there are 216 active users, 62 of which are registered members.  The forum also tracks certain other statistics and notes that the most ever users online at one times was 898.  There are 50,864 threads, 722,045 posts, 39,808 members, of which 4615 are considered active.  One interesting thing to note is that there are subforums in: Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Dutch, Scandinavian, and Polish.  I did note, however, that these language subforums are fairly empty.
The largest sections are the general “Privateer Press Discussion” sections and the ones dedicated to the various in-game “armies”.  Other areas with a large number of posts include the section for “Rules Questions” and a section dedicated to “Miniature Painting and Modeling.”
With so many posts, I clicked on the link “Todays Posts” to narrow down my focus.  Because of this, I might not have seen the full picture of these forums.  Additionally as I have no knowledge of the game, my friend helped “translate” many gaming terms.

Modes of Participation:
-Members can Post Threads
-Members can Post replies to thread or to other replies
-Members can send each other “Personal Messages” though my friend tells me that the option to send or receive those “PMs” can be turned off.
-Members can upload pictures or other files, which included applications for Android.
-Members can add friends
-Members can join groups within the forum
-Members can flag posts that are against forum rules
-Members can update their personal profile, like a lesser version of Facebook
-Members can search for other members to see what those other members have posted
-Members can subscribe to threads to get email updates
-Non members can read threads and download the uploaded files (as they are hosted offsite)

How is Participation Encouraged:
-Members receive “titles” based on post count, and post count is tracked and publically shown.
-New members who post an introduction in the new members area are greeted by one of the veterans of the forum, who is also a “moderator.”  This moderator, who does not work for the company, usually posts a cutesy response such as “Welcome to the Iron Kingdoms! *gives <forum name> a cookie and a Defender plushie* ^_^  According to my friend the “plushie” type depends on the “army” the new member says they are interested in.  This shows the personal touch given to new members.  I am surprised that a male dominated wargame would use a cutesy welcome greeting, but I did not notice any case where the new member responded poorly.  In fact, it seems to be a sort of internet Meme?
-The company Privateer Press, has several employees who post semi-regularly on the forums.  It does seem that their posts are highly valued and generate large responses.
-A large number of posts seem to be self-generated by the community, with no attempt by the company or the moderators to encourage greater participation.
-There is also an “off topic” section where members can post about subjects that have nothing to do with the company or the game.  I believe this section allows members to stay at the site and blow off steam before contributing more game/company related posts.

Which types of content draw the most responses:
Type of Post: # of threads (total # of posts on counted threads)

Question about army list, what model to take, competitiveness, how to win: 22 (291)
Question on how to play game, rules question: 7 (40)
Posts about Miniatures (pictures of model painted by members): 4 (44)
New information for game (new models releases and speculation): 3 (136)
Reports of games played: 3 (31)
I noted that how to win threads were the most common, but also that these threads could perhaps be split into smaller categories.  Threads asking about the competitiveness of a specific army list (collection of game models) were frequent threads but usually had few responses.  Threads about the competitiveness of a specific model were not as frequent but had a large number of posts.
Questions about how rules worked were fairly frequent, but they often stopped once the question was answered.
According to my friend, the painting aspect of the game is fairly important, so it wasn’t surprising to see members showing off their painting skills.  Some of these threads had many posts by the same person as it appears there is a maximum number of pictures allowed per post, and some had many pictures to show.
Posts about new information for the game were not frequent, but generated a large number of replies.  It seems this community responds quite well to teasers.
Finally, in my sample of 50 posts, the 5th most common type of posts were those detailing games played.  This seems exhibitionist, and some posts got many responses while others received few.

Oddly enough, despite the claim in “Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online” that recreation type communities gather people who joined for recreation or to gain friends, this forum for gaming seems to be heavily populated with posts asking for or sharing information.
Additionally, it seems that the forum generates contributions primarily through the efforts of the participants in the community, with members trying to make other members better at playing the game.  There seems to be a small amount of “play nice” from the moderators, but little extrinsic encouragement.  I still find the cutesy greeting to be a bit surprising, and noticed it used outside in new member introductions area of the forum.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Session 2

My selected readings are:
-          Galston, William A. (2000). Does the Internet Strengthen Community? National Civic Review 89(3), 193-202.
-          Weeks, Linton (2009). Social Responsibility and the Web: A Drama Unfolds. 8 January 2009.
-          Albrechtslund, Anders (2008). Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance. First Monday 13(3).
-          Rosen, Christine (2007). Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism. The New Atlantis 17, 15-31.
-          Bigge, Ryan (2006). The Cost of (Anti-) Social Networks: Identity, Agency and Neo-Luddites" First Monday 11(12).
While I was reading those articles, I found some similar concepts and connections within them and some contradictions as well.
Virtual Community as Actual Community
While Galston noted that ‘the Internet’s virtual communities are not communities’, Weeks’s article quoted Evans, ‘unlikely to change core human concepts of friendship and community’. Albrechtslund also says that there is a reciprocal action between online and offline and online social networking is not distinct from offline networking.  From my experiences of participating on online communities, it’s hard to define what an online community is that is really separate from offline communities.  I’m not sure if this is just because most of the online communities that I had joined were merely ‘offline’ gathering communities.  Because of this I didn’t think there was a big difference between virtual communities and real life communities.  The following is an example of one of online communities that I have joined.  It is online community for fans of a specific Japanese band. It is a certainly a group by ‘a fascination with a narrowly defined topic’, so in J.Snyder’s view from Galston, this online community is not a community. However, I continued to use my pseudonym at offline meetings of this community, and we all called each other by our pseudonyms.  The members of this online community were bound by not only a perception of self-interest,  which is that of the Japanese band, but also by affective ties as well because ‘we’ became ‘friends’ who had the same interests . Whether the ties are as strong as those of purely offline communities or not is different story, however.
Online Social Networks as a Tool for ‘Managing’ Friendship
Rosen indicated many people take advantage of one of the virtues social networking website, which is to maintain their relationships with their offline acquaintances or friends who haven’t kept in touch for a long time.  Albrechtslund also noted that many teens use online social networking to maintain friendships with a large circle of friends. They find it easier to keep in touch with them online and to update their information on these websites, rather than face to face. I have friends, friends who are considered acquaintances, and “friends” who are almost acquaintances from all over the world – Japan to Argentina. Of course I can use email to contact them, or to update my personal info, but by having them connected on my social networking site – Facebook it is much more convenient to ‘just’ keep in touch with them by commenting “Happy Birthday” or simply “poking” once in a while. Also, I can easily just let them know about changes in my personal information, like graduation, going on a business trip to  Tokyo, a family member’s illness, without having to individually call or email all of my ‘friends’.

Voluntary Community vs. Enforced Volunteerism
Galston pointed out that online groups are typical examples of voluntary community.  There is low barrier to entrance and low exit online communities. Despite of its lack of obligation and a certain reinforcement to join ‘majority’ communities, online groups are still considered as voluntary communities which can fulfill our emotional needs.
Bigge claims that we, who live in web2.0 era, have no choice- whether join up online social networking website or not. If we don’t have online identity it means we don’t exist. It is an interesting comparison to say that social networks work as a ‘guest list’ in club culture or to say that social networks can be used as tools of exclusion.  Under this social (at least online social) pressure, we need to join the online social networking to have an online identity, to be, to exist. So this is not exactly ‘voluntarily’ being a member of an online community. Although there is not a requirement to join, still there is pressure.  One of reasons why I signed up for Myspace and Facebook is because most of my friends have at least one of them, and they consistently asked me to join. Finally I realized that I had to have one when friends of mine had conversations, excluding me, about photos they posted or ‘quizzes’ like ‘what’s your color?’ from Facebook, and I had no idea what they were talking about.
Quantity > Quality
Both Rosen and Bigge indicated number of friends as social status. How many online ‘friends’ you have shows your online social status, so people compete with others who have more ‘friends’ and race to see how quickly they can get more friends, and some are even anxious about it. In this case, who are your real friends or how we define ‘friends’ doesn’t matter anymore.  Only ‘how many’ is all that matters. I am reminded of one of my friends who is on my Facebook list. It was a couple of days after I ‘invited’ him to add me as his friend. In a few days, I noticed he had over 800 ‘friends’!  The only thing in my mind was ‘is he insane?’  Why, and what makes him, who is a super popular guy in the offline world, that obsessed with his ‘friends’ count?
Question Raised:
Weeks article leads me to ask one question: according to Fogg in Weeks article, “people use Facebook as a ‘call for help’.  Facebook, blogs, or tweets are actually based on interaction with revealed identities, at least the identity of the one who establishes the message. In other word, we know who is screaming for help. Then, what about using random online communities as an anonymous ‘call for help’?  Will readers of the message still feel responsible for responding to the message?
I selected a huge online community as called ‘MissyUSA’ which is a community for Korean-American ladies who live in the USA. Members who use this community share their information about all sort of things related with Ms’s, such as where are good SAT prep schools, what is the best cleansing cream, etc.  I did not need to use my pseudonym to post my comments, instead my comments appeared under my partial IP address.  This means it is almost impossible for other members to identify who I am.  I posted to say I’m so sick and I have a pain whenever I take antibiotic pills. Please excuse that the post is in Korean (as I mentioned, the community is for Korean Americans, so most posts are in Korean).
The first response was posted two minutes after my complaining. It’s not really a helpful comment, and it says that “in my case, I have diarrhea when I take antibiotics” But soon after the first response, rapidly other sympathetic, and yet helpful advice and comments followed. I omit translation on all comments since it’s about how to deal with my symptom.
The point is, although it’s not a life threatening situation, nor an actual ‘cry for help’ (I even didn’t ask about what I should do for this, nor did I use the word ‘help’ in the subject), a total of ten people responded immediately.  Is this because of the users’ gender – which tends to be feminine, or did it captured the users’ attention because of its extravagancy (not a typical subject in this community)? Unless I investigate more with other online communities, I cannot be sure what motivates this response. However, I got an answer for my question – people still feel responsibility in reading online comments even it’s anonymous.  Like Weeks noted Fogg’s statement – “people will respond to people who sound like they are in trouble – online or off” and I’m glad I find there is normal human behavior exercised even online, despite of all of the negative aspects of a virtual community.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Session 1, Week 1

Regarding articles with references to the role of social media, in terms of what motivated the recent tragedy and people's reactions to it, I found two I would like to discuss.

Gabrielle Giffords shooting: Social media's power, limits on display(by Bill Goodykoonstz)

Social Media's Dark Side Casts Long Shadow Beyond Tucson Shopping Mall (by Ron Callari)

Both articles point out the negative aspects of the 'role of Social media' and I tend to agree with these two articles' point. The shooting of Arizona Rep.Gabrielle Giffords and other people reflects many aspects of Social media, includes it's role.

First of all, I would like to point out the media's erroneous reporting, which said 'Giffords was killed.' Later then, they admitted their shameful mistake. I am not sure which one leads which, but it is certain that people deliver "news" - we can say here, 'posting', 're-posting' and 'tweeting' and 're-tweeting' - without checking the source's authority, and so this incorrect information spread out. Like Goddykoontz's writing, many people, including himself, followed the story on social media. This leads me to remember 'rhetoric of democratisation' in Beer and Burrows' 'Sociology and, of and in web 2.0: Some Initial Consideration'. Unlike traditional media, "people" take control of the contents of information, but are not able to control who might be their audience in social media. In this case, it seemed that it did not really matter to the posters if the "news" was true or false, the only thing that mattered was delivering 'hot' issues to their "friends" via social media. I liked the idea that blogs are defined as being like radio in 'Blogging as Social Activity, or Would You Let 900 Million People Read Your Diary?' Just as with radio, the blogger can 'broadcast' whatever they want to say, but without responsibility for their messages. This 'democratizaing' effects of social media runs into my next point.

Then, what about 'motivation' of this tragedy? Callari's article says, " radical rhetoric expressed on social networks can also cause hundreds or even thousands of followers to impulsively act out based on the belief that their actions are in alignment with a greater mission, condoned by political leaders." We saw Sarah Palin's infamous 'crosshairs' map posts all over the place - friends' facebook, blogs, and even major media. Obviously, we don't know what was the real trigger to make the shooter take action at this point. However, many social media users assigned political motive to this incident. It reminds me of Tenopir's article 'Online Databases - Web 2.0: Our Cultural Downfall?', Keen warns about losing the accuracy that comes from reliance on experts. 

I like the description of social media as "pushbutton publishing for the people".  It is efficient, easy, and democratic in a way. While I was reading Boyd's 'Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship', I agreed that social network sites are unique because on not only they allow individuals to meet strangers, but also they enable user to make visible their social networks.

Although I don't agree 100 percent with Keen's "ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule", but deeply agree with his warning of  traditional media's danger of being replaced by widespread social networking sites. Because still there is a good role of social media, which is rapid dispersion, and it's "democratization", ironically.