Monday, April 11, 2011

Session 7--Management and conflict

Throughout the course we've looked at online communities as systems with affordances and constraints, and as arenas in which people interact. Use scenarios can be understood as scripts that site builders imagine people's interaction with system will follow; in our final session we'll look at the people responsible for managing and maintaining online communities once they're live--whether they're the designers, moderators/admins or users--and what happens when things go wrong.

The readings for this session present a number of perspectives about the ways online communities define, support and perpetuate themselves, from law (Madison) to HCI (Cosley et al.) to sociology (Kollock and Smith). Grimes et al. focus on the documents that govern online communities, and this Gazan fellow has a few observations about conflict in social Q&A sites. And I know it's late in the semester, but by all means, don't miss the Dibbell article.

By Sunday, April 17, 11:59pm
  1. After completing the readings, find the official rules governing the site you're studying for your final project, or another site if you prefer. Keep in mind that there may be more than one official document. Post a link (or links) with some brief explanatory text.
  2. Find three examples on the site where one or more rules have been broken, specifically in the form of interpersonal conflict (i.e. not just spam posts). Give a brief synopsis of each situation, along with any admin or user reactions if available, and provide a screenshot.
  3. For each of the three situations you describe, put yourself in the position of the administrator of the community, with the ability to take any action or set any policy on the site that you think best, and discuss your response to, and rationale for, each situation. Take time to consider the consequences of your prescriptions: for example, allowing users to remove inappropriate content instead of waiting for admin review risks coordinated suppression of content by motivated users or bots. Relate your examples and discussion substantively to at least four of the Session 7 readings.
  4. Conclude with a list of five "unwritten rules" for your site, things that are not directly addressed by current policy, and would (recalling session 6) help users get what they came to the site to receive, and reflect the lessons of the readings you cited.

By Friday, April 22, 11:59pm

As you have done so well throughout the course, comment on at least five other students' posts.

By Sunday, April 24, 11:59pm

Conclude your conversations.

Though we'll be emailing individually as you complete your final projects (due May 1), since this is my last post I'd like to thank you for taking this course. It's been your interest, interactions and enthusiasm that have made this course work so well, and you guys have inspired me to try to get this course listed as a permanent offering next year, so it can be taught more regularly. I welcome any suggestions you have, either in the course evaluation or via email, that will help make this an even better course for the next group of students.

Thanks and aloha,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Session 6--Online identity and interaction

I hope you all had an enjoyable spring break, and that you're ready for the final sprint to the semester's finish line...

As much as possible in Sessions 6 and 7, I'd like you to direct the assignments toward your final projects. This session's readings are about how people create and express their online identities within the context of particular communities. You're reading these papers now because you'll need to understand how some researchers have crafted their studies of online communities, and apply some of those lessons--both what they've done, and what they should have done but didn't--to your final projects.

Since I want to give you as much flexibility as possible to target your reading to areas most relevant to your final projects, I'm making some of the readings for this session optional:

Everyone should read: Wellman, Donath, Hodkinson, Ploderer and Liu.

Optional readings: Whittaker, if you're interested in Usenet and a historical look at online identity research. Huberman and Honeycutt, if you're interested in Twitter

If you read one or more of the optional readings, feel free not to read Ploderer or Liu. If you choose to read them all, perhaps I might interest you in applying to the CIS PhD program? ;)

By Sunday, April 3, 11:59pm

To complete this assignment you will need to have a strong sense of why people join and participate in particular online communities, and how their identities are shaped and expressed within them. The readings for this session can give you an example of the level of detail you need to address these questions.
  1. Propose a working definition of online identity for a site you are studying, and compare it to one or more of those found in the readings. Then contrast your definition with Wellman et al.'s sense of networked individualism.
  2. Write three informal use scenarios (outlines of common interactions) based on your observations of existing users. In each scenario, describe how an individual with a predictable need enters your community, navigates through common decision points and options step by step, then (ideally) exits with what he or she came for. Include functional interactions (decision points relevant to the user's goal; you need not exhaustively list all options) and interpersonal interactions. Don't worry about formal scenario structure, just communicate the information in a paragraph or bulleted list. Write two "sunny day" use scenarios (common interactions where all goes as expected), and one "rainy day" scenario (an uncommon but plausible interaction where it doesn't).
  3. Address this question: how is online identity shaped and expressed through interactions in this community? Your answer should be based on specific examples you observed and represented in your scenarios, and compared with examples from at least two readings. Include at least one screenshot.
People working in pairs on the final project may collaborate on this assignment and focus on the same community, but you must submit different definitions and scenarios on your individual blogs. And if you can't see a link between this assignment and your final project, or if you have any other questions, email me or post a comment to this entry.

By Friday, April 8, 11:59pm

You know how we do it--comment on at least five other students' posts, and remember to make your comments as specific and actionable as possible.

By Sunday, April 10, 11:59pm

Conclude your conversations. The Session 7 (final!) blog will be posted on or about Monday April 11.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Session 5--Social knowledge production and services

A quick technical note: for some reason, HansomeAvatar's blog wasn't triggering updates in most people's feed readers (including mine), so please double-check your links:

We're past the midpoint of the semester, and the quality of your blogs has been consistently excellent--for many of you I don't think the word excellent sufficiently captures the level of effort and insight you're devoting to your posts. Your interactions via comments have reminded me of some of the more tightly structured online communities we've posted about, and I hope you agree that the conversations within the comments have been a useful component of the course. Most of your final project proposals are understandably broad right now, and as you dive into the work, those blog comments are going to be one way to help you get some early reactions and focus on the most interesting and/or doable aspects of your topics. So when you post comments, keep them actionable; that is, linked with a specific aspect of the post and/or giving a specific suggestion.

Some of your final projects are concerned with applying successful aspects of social computing sites to more traditional information domains, and for you folks, this session's readings and assignment might be particularly well-timed. This dovetails with the last line of the course description:

" them with traditional professional equivalents, and evaluate how these diverse perspectives can inform one another."

By Sunday, March 13, 11:59pm:

Most of the readings for this session focus on social computing tools that do some of the same work as existing systems and services:
  • Online peer production (e.g. open source software development) vs. in-person collaboration
  • Social tagging vs. professional cataloging and classification
  • Social recommender systems vs. real-world advice seeking
  • Social Q&A sites vs. libraries or schools
Choose one of the above comparisons (or propose another), and discuss some of the ways in which the forms of information exchange you chose can inform each other. Use specific examples from the session's readings and screenshots from a relevant site when necessary to ground your points. And make sure you address both sides: for example, if you propose that a strength of Social Q&A can help address a weakness in traditional education, then also discuss how a strength of traditional education can improve a weakness of Social Q&A. Why do you think the two perspectives can benefit one other, and what would some tradeoffs be?

Some cautions: strive to make your analysis both actionable and non-obvious. If you find yourself thinking that the two environments you've chosen are too different to be usefully compared, then choose others. Your goal is to identify examples of how social and traditional knowledge production and services can plausibly inform one another.

By Friday, March 18, 11:59pm

Comment on at least 5 other students' posts. If there are people you haven't interacted with before, strive to even out your comments.

By Sunday, March 20, 11:59pm

Conclude your conversations--then get out there and enjoy Spring Break!

The Session 6 blog will go up on or about Monday March 28.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Session 4--Social role, capital and trust

While it's tempting to abandon the planned course structure and hold another current event driven session akin to the first--this time about the role of social computing in the political upheaval in Egypt and elsewhere--instead I'll use that as an example of the type of topic you might consider for your final projects. By the end of next session I'll be asking you to commit to a final project topic, so now's a good time to talk about the guidelines.

Final project guidelines
  • Identify a question rising out of the readings or your own experience that you'd like to explore in more depth. You may work alone or in pairs. Send me an email with your proposed question, and how you plan to address it, no later than Monday, March 7. Please do so even if we've exchanged email about your final project ideas already, since hopefully they'll change at least somewhat as a result of this session.
  • Address your question both analytically (include literature both within and beyond the course readings) and empirically (data gathered via your experience on one or more relevant social sites). Use data gathering models from the readings to structure your investigation, and conclude with a reflective discussion section where you evaluate your results in light of your original question. Planning, flexibility and persistence will also be key components of your grade.
  • Length should be roughly 15 double-spaced pages for a solo project, not counting screenshots (required) and bibliography. However, you are free to propose a different final project or format. If this option interests you, contact me as far in advance of the proposal deadline as possible.
  • Final projects will be due as a .doc/.docx or .pdf email attachment to me by Sunday, May 1

Session 4

In Session 3 you discovered some of the ways that different communities react and respond to different types of content. Now the focus will shift to the roles of users in those communities.

By Sunday, February 27, 11:59pm
  • After completing the readings, find, join and compare two online communities that implement different social capital/trust mechanisms. Try to make the communities somewhat comparable in terms of size and topic scope. Since part of the fun of reading other folks' blogs is discovering new sites, choose communities you have not visited or blogged about before.
  • Compare the two mechanisms, and include one anecdote and screenshot of an illustrative personal experience you had with each where social capital or trust came into play. This might include your experience as a new member of the community without any social capital, your interactions or observations with experienced members, or something entirely different.
  • Suggest improvements to each site's role/capital/trust mechanism, based on the community, four of the six Session 4 readings and your own experience with other sites. Note that the JCMC readings have migrated to the Wiley online library available through Hamilton at this link
Important: Conclude your post with one or more ideas for a final project, which need not be connected to this session's topics. Phrase it as a question you're interested in exploring, and include some specific ideas on how and where you might address the question. Your goal here is to invite discussion and suggestions.

By Friday, March 4, 11:59pm

Comment on at least five other students' blog posts, and include a reaction to their final project idea(s). You can contribute questions you think they should consider, outside resources you think may be of help, problems/pitfalls you think might arise, or any other contribution that helps them focus and finalize their project proposal.

By Sunday, March 6, 11:59pm

Conclude your discussions, and remember to email me your final project proposal the following day.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Session 3--Motivation for participation

First, my compliments on an excellent set of posts and comments for Session 2. An asynchronous course like this is only as engaging as you make it, and the effort you've put into your posts and responses benefits everyone. Changing the deadline for your five comments to Friday of the second week of the session seemed to work well, so we'll stay with that for the time being.

For Session 3 we'll be doing something a little different. You've already had some experience with the challenges of getting replies and feedback in online communities, and found that one of the keys seems to be matching the content of your post to the rules, traditions or mood of your community. This can also include a community's unwritten rules, such as certain controversial topics, and how newbies need to approach longtime members with respect in order to get any response. Understanding how and why people participate in social sites will be extremely valuable, whether you are a designer, provider or user of social computing systems.

By Sunday, Feb 13, 11:59pm

1) Complete the Session 3 readings. Briefly summarize and evaluate their diverse senses of online participation and motivation, then provide two examples from your own online experience: one that supports a claim in one of the readings, and another that challenges or extends a claim in another. An example of the latter might be some reason you participate in an online community that you did not find covered or adequately explained.

2) Observe (don't participate this time) an online community that's new to you, and gather data from at least 50 posts in the community to answer the following questions:

--What modes of participation are there? For example, you may be able to post content of your own, comment on others' posts, rate posts, flag posts, friend people, send private messages etc. Provide a short but complete list of participation modes for the community you choose.
--How is participation encouraged? Include types of encouragement from both the designers of the site and its participants, with a brief example of each. You may need to go beyond your 50+ post sample to create a complete list, but if you observe more than five types, just present the five you observed most often.
--Which types of content draw the most responses? Create a list of the five most common forms of content you observed in your sample. For example, in a car community, you might have a list like the following: Questions about which car to buy, how to modify or customize it, evaluation of accessories, mechanical reliability and purely social chatting. You should have a raw count of the number of times each type of content is posted, and (importantly) add up the number of responses each post receives, in any mode you can detect, to arrive at a total response count for each content type. Make sure each of the 50+ posts in your sample were posted at roughly the same time, so that each has had equal time to accumulate responses.

Discuss and evaluate your findings, incorporating concepts from two of the three readings you did not address in 1), and focus specifically on anything you found surprising or unexpected. Your goal in this section is to evaluate whether your observations support, challenge or extend concepts from the readings, which may be different than the conclusions you drew from your own experience.

By Friday, Feb 18, 11:59pm

Comment substantively on at least five other students' posts. Try to choose students with whom you haven't already engaged in conversation.

By Sunday, Feb 20, 11:59pm

Conclude your responses and discussions. Continue to gather ideas for your final projects--feel free to contact me to discuss possible topics, as some of you already have, but next session's blog will have more concrete guidelines on that.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Session 2--Social aspects of social computing

Session 1 feedback

Before we start the second session, I'd like to give you some feedback on the first. Hopefully reading other students' blogs gave you some good ideas about how to present your ideas in this format, and the level of analysis the assignments require. One of the strengths of the blog format is that it allows for individual expression within the framework of class assignments, so while I encourage you to learn from the posts of others, please don't use them as a strict template--be as formal or informal as you like with your posts, as long as the content is there.

I left comments on most of your blogs yesterday, and noticed that while many of you had left excellent comments on the minimum five blogs (or more), some of you had not. While waiting until the deadline to post your blogs in the first week of each session is fine (and perhaps preferable), holding back comments til the last few hours or minutes restricts interaction. So for this session, I'm making your initial five comments due by Friday night instead of Sunday, to give everyone more of a chance to react and interact. We'll see how this works, then decide whether to continue or change it for Session 3.

Asking you to review and comment on each others' work might be a good meta-example of social computing, but I thought at this early stage you might also be interested in the opinion of the person giving you your grade ;). To give you an example of what constitutes excellent work, here are some Session 1 blogs that met (and surpassed) my expectations:

If your blog doesn't appear in this list, it doesn't mean your work wasn't excellent--it probably means you analyzed fewer than four readings, did not provide a substantive analysis of the readings you did cite, or did not address all aspects of the assignment, such as neglecting to provide your own definition of social computing. Other problems were people who quoted from readings or other sources as much or more than they wrote their own opinions. Compare your blog to these examples, and you should both see the wide range of diverse and effective expression styles, and have a better idea of the expectations of the assignments going forward. If you still have questions about your work, feel free to email me directly anytime.

Session 2

In this session we begin to confront some of the consequences of squeezing human interaction and social dynamics through the Web infrastructure. This session's readings and assignment give you a lot of freedom to follow your own interests, so it's a perfect time to start thinking about what you'd like to explore in more depth in your final projects.

By Sunday Jan 30, 11:59pm:

1) Choose five of the seven assigned readings for this session and point out specific connections or mismatches between concepts within them, examples and/or counterexamples from your research or experience, and one question raised by the readings that for you remains unanswered.
Example: Albrechtslund mentions "empowering exhibitionism" as one rationale for online information sharing. What are some specific examples of empowerment, and is there a corresponding (or overriding) loss of power when putting personal information online?

2) Join an online community (loosely defined) under your pseudonym, and investigate your unanswered question. Choose a topic and community that is of genuine interest to you, not something made up, and discuss your experience. Make your comments as data-driven as possible (linked to specific actions and interactions), and relate your experience back to concepts you raised from the readings. What did this experience allow you to do that you couldn't have done offline? Provide at least one screenshot or link to your interaction (or relevant portions), and post it on your blog along with your discussion.

By Friday Feb 4, 11:59pm:

Comment substantively on at least five other students' Session 2 posts. Try to choose students you didn't engage with during Session 1.

By Sunday Feb 6, 11:59pm:

Conclude your discussions, and take one last look at the posts and comments you found most interesting. Use this opportunity to guide your future posts, and to get some ideas for your final projects.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Session 1--Intro and overview

Welcome to the course blog for ICS 691: Social Computing, for Spring 2011. If you haven't already reviewed the syllabus, please do so now to get a sense of how this online course will be structured and paced:

However, don't get too attached to the reading list, as some readings will likely change as we progress. This is the second time this course has been offered in this format, and though much of the syllabus may look similar, all of the assignments will be different. While your blogs and comments should of course address the guidelines in each session's assignments, you are encouraged to express and analyze any tangential or topical issues you find interesting--these usually are the seeds of the best final projects.

For now however, let's dive in with the guidelines for Session 1:

Session 1, Week 1 (Mon Jan 10-Sun Jan 16)

1) Create a blog specifically for this course, and post a link to it as a comment to this post as soon as you can. Please post under a handle or pseudonym, and use the same one consistently throughout the course. Email me individually so I can link your blog handle with your real name.
2) Choose and set up an aggregator to follow this blog and those of the other students, so you can be notified of updates on a single page. If you're not familiar with these tools, here's a gentle overview:
3) Complete the Session 1 readings
4) By 11:59pm Sun Jan 16, post on your blog your response to the following:

The shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the 19 other people injured or killed on Jan 8, 2011, is being reported with many references to the role of social media, in terms of what motivated the tragedy and people's reactions to it. Find one of these references (include a link) and analyze, evaluate and apply what you feel are relevant concepts from at least four of the six required Session 1 readings to the role of social media in this story. You may post links to more than one news story to illustrate concepts from different readings if you like, but be sure your post is substantive enough to demonstrate your understanding of the relevant concepts from the papers you cite. Conclude by providing a brief definition of social computing, and comment on its potential power as a motivating force for positive and negative social phenomena.

Session 1, Week 2 (Mon Jan 17-Sun Jan 23)

1) Subscribe to the other students' blogs
2) Read as many posts as you like, but comment substantively on at least five.
3) Respond to comments on your blog, and those of other students, as appropriate. I'll be jumping in too, though I may not comment on every post every week.
4) Toward the end of the session, skim the other students' blogs and see if you can identify any common characteristics of the most informative and engaging posts, and those which generated the most lively/interesting comment threads. Use these characteristics as a set of guidelines for all your future posts.

Okay, that should be enough to get you started. Please post any questions about the course as a comment to this blog so all students can view them, and always feel free to make technical suggestions about good blog hosts, readers and other tools to make our communication easier.