Session 7

This session’s assignment is a tough one for me.  The sites I plan on studying are still relatively young, so there aren’t a whole lot of users on them.  Unlike Twitter or Facebook, social networking sites that integrate your location into them have not become mainstream yet. It might even take a while to become mainstream, since access to cell phone GPS is oftentimes limited by the manufacturer.  Nevertheless, I will continue my study into the Brightkite service.

Brightkite’s terms of service is quite similar to Twitter’s.  The age limit is slightly higher for Brightkite, possibly because they want to avoid fighting against pedophiles who stalk children.  I am sure it is quite easy to get around, but it definitely deters child predators. Basic term 3 indicates that “You must provide accurate, current, and complete information about yourself when registering for an account” and that you must keep it current and accurate.  While I can see that you don’t want your users to misrepresent themselves, it brings up an issue of privacy.  Many users on Twitter, for example, only use their screen name and never use their real name.  There is also the possibility that the user’s real name is also a pseudonym.  The rest of the basic terms are almost identical to the terms in Twitter, except that there is no term about harassment in Brightkite.

Brightkite also provides a privacy policy that outlines what information they log from their users and what may or may not be private.  Since the site uses your location, a key point is that it is the user’s choice to reveal your location and make it public. It is up to the user to set their own privacy modes.

Obscene Images on Brightkite

A popular use of Twitter and Brightkite is to post pictures of yourself or things you see around you.  Most pictures are innocuous, like a picture of your lunch or a picture of yourself with your significant other.  Once in a while though, there are images that border on the obscene.  The first offender is the Brightkite user “cakesandvinyl”, who posted an image of herself using the bathroom (image omitted because it could be offensive).  The image itself does not reveal anything (so it is not pornographic), but it’s something that many (myself included) find disgusting and offensive.  Since Brightkite is not a moderated community, it would be hard to come up with a proper response.  One solution that may already be in place is to report offensive posts and users to the moderators.  Given enough votes, the post could be removed.  Another potential solution is to have the moderators make the post private to the user’s friends (the image was found in the public feed).  Perhaps cakesandvinyl’s friends will not find this image as offensive as others.  Another potential infraction is from user “euroice”, who posts images of scantily clad women next to his Ferrari.  Since Brightkite’s users are supposed to be older, it is still something that is borderline offensive.  While Grimes’ paper applied to Virtual Worlds, one can argue that the users in Brightkite need to have their freedom of speech to express themselves on the site, but it needs to be controlled so that extremely offensive material (such as pornography) do not make it to the site.

Illegal material

As stated before, users should be allowed some freedom of speech.  However, publicly stating that you use drugs on a site that records GPS data is not a good idea.  User “luv4piggy” posted a few messages about being high on heroin.  His privacy settings were also set so that his exact address is being displayed!  Again, Brightkite is not moderated, so it is the duty of the members to do something about it. Much like the Twitter reading where a user tweeted about suffocating a child, a nearby user could report luv4piggy’s address and have a policeman sent over.  Fortunately (or unfortunately), luv4piggy didn’t provide their real name (which is incomplete data per basic term 3), so reporting him/her might be difficult to do.  While members do not need to validate submitted material like in Cosley’s paper, some member oversight in taking care of potential problems can improve the community as a whole.

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Communicating with Brightkite

Brightkite has its own Twitter account (which is presumably tied to their Brightkite account) where users can request features.  While not against the terms of service for Brightkite, users sometimes use @Brightkite to complain about the service or to complain when they feel that Brightkite isn’t listening to their users.

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Identity in Social Computing

In Social Networking Sites, identity is a key feature that users establish immediately.  Whether it’s an avatar, a list of books, or even a whole Myspace layout, users want to differentiate themselves from others, including their friends.  It really is no surprise that first time visitors to some of the larger SNSs spend a lot of time on their profile.  It needs to be just right and unique, as it is a display of your personal life.  A big reason why I don’t use Myspace is that I hate what some users do to their profile pages.  Text is sometimes unreadable and the music players often have me looking for the stop button.

The site I will be looking at for this session will be BrightKite, a social network designed for connecting nearby users through the use of geographic location.  I use BrightKite from time to time to check in when I’m out in public areas such as the gym or the mall.  BrightKite doesn’t seem to have anywhere near the number of users as Twitter or Facebook, but there is still an active community here in Honolulu.  The online identity for a BrightKite user is fairly similar to Twitter.  You have your user image, name, a short description, tags (i.e. programmer, student), and other basic information (sex, age, etc).  However, while BrightKite can be used on its own as a social network, it also plugs in to various other social networks.  These social networks are also listed in your profile.  For example, mine lists Facebook, Flickr, Myspace, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  This is one way of displaying “fashion” as Donath called it.  Showing off how networked you are can indicate to other users that you are aware of the latest trends.  Well, if they actually look at my profiles on Flickr or LinkedIn, I’m not quite the social butterfly I appear to be.

Scenario 1:

Keoki heads out to the gym because he needs to lose some weight.  When he gets to the gym, he checks into BrightKite along with a note about his workout plan today.  After doing that, he sees that Kaleo checked in not too long ago before doing some running on the treadmill.  Keoki has never met Kaleo before, but after looking at Kaleo’s update stream, he notices that Kaleo frequents the gym almost as much as he does.  Keoki looks at Kaleo’s profile to see what they might have in common.  While Keoki does not share the same love of mountain biking that Kaleo has, the fact that they work out in the same gym is common enough.  Keoki then decides to friend Kaleo in order to be notified of his updates whenever Kaleo checks in.

Scenario 2:

Kapua had a long week and is glad that it is finally Friday.  She goes home to take a shower and decides to head out to Waikiki with her friend Kamaka.  They had no plans in particular; they just wanted to get out after a long week.  When they get there, Kapua checks in to BrightKite on her phone.  After the check-in, she looks at what’s going on in the area.  She notices that a lot of other BrightKite users checked in at Kawika’s Bar, which is a short walk from their parking spot.  Looking at the posts about Kawika’s Bar, Kapua sees that the band “Kauai Kids” is playing there.  Users have posted pictures of the band as well as comments about the drink specials going on.  Kapua and Kamaka decide to head there and check out the scene.

From these two user scenarios, we can see that identity in BrightKite extends past the user’s profile.  There’s definitely potential for subcultures within BrightKite, similar to the goths and LiveJournal in Hodkinson’s article .  Possible subcultures could be the people who frequent a particular gym or the people who like a particular local band.  A user in BrightKite can be identified by the places that user visits.  When viewing your own profile or your friend’s, there is a tab that lists the places the user has checked into and the number of times.  Keoki checks into the gym 5 times a week, so he might be a fitness buff.  Kapua checks into nightclubs on Fridays, so you know she likes to party.  These locations that users check into add geographic information on top of the basic information that is already presented in BrightKite, like your friends or your profile.

Social Knowledge

I found the readings this week to be easier to read than some of the past sessions. The readings were much less statistics heavy than some of the others that we have read. Also, I think it’s the first set of readings that has connected libraries and social computing. Admittedly, I’m a ICS student and am aware that a lot of the people in this class are in the LIS program, but I did not really see the connection until now. Reading about the various ways libraries can take advantage of social annotation and mobile connectivity was quite neat and I hope that libraries take advantage of some of these technologies. And the issue of how easy it is to find bad information online (especially from popular sources like Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers) encourages users to take things at face value instead of tracing the information found on these pages back to the source.

Since my project has to do with social news, I also found the paper on Digg to be quite interesting. I do use Digg, but I don’t have a very large friend network there. Even though I receive “shouts” from some people I have friended, I tend to ignore the requests mostly because I don’t know who these people are in real life. It seems to me that the users who contribute on Digg want to friend as many people as they can so that they can get Diggs for the stories they create (which is one of the conclusions in Lerman’s paper). I’m also not that inclined to Digg what my friends Digg as well, as I mostly just Digg what I find interesting. Despite the fact that I don’t fully take advantage of some of the things that Digg does as a social recommendation service, I chose to compare online recommendation systems vs. real world advice seeking.  Instead of using Digg as the comparison, I’ll be looking at the news recommendation service SocialMedian, which is a service I’ve heard a lot about but have never really used

In Digg, you can view all of the stories that make it to the front page or you can view the front page stories in a handful of categories.  What SocialMedian does instead is show you the news in the networks you participate in.  Some of the most popular networks are the iPhone network and the social networking network.  According to their Getting Started page, there are over 2500 networks for users to join.  Instead of the self contained social network that Digg uses, SocialMedian allows you to import contacts from a variety of sources, including Twitter and Facebook (SocialMedian also implements FacebookConnect, so creating a profile is as easy as logging in to your Facebook account and
choosing a SocialMedian username and password).  The clips feature allows you to indicate what stories you want to share with other users in your contact list and the network (similar to the Digg feature on Digg).  If you’ve connected your SocialMedian account to your Facebook account, the clipped story can be posted to your profile.

Figure 1: iPhone Network on SocialMedian

Figure 1: iPhone Network on SocialMedian

Figure 2: Post on Facebook from SocialMedian.

Figure 2: Post on Facebook from SocialMedian.

The story of SocialMedian is an example of how news stories are found in the real world.  In the White House, people read all of the morning papers and clip out the stories that the staff needs to know about.  While not all of us have people to clip stories for us, we do scan through the stories in the newspaper or magazine in order to find the articles we are interested in.  Sometimes, we even tell our co-workers and friends about stories you’ve seen or read in a particular news source.  It’s highly likely that they have also seen the story, so you can have a conversation about it.  If they haven’t seen it, you can at least summarize the story and get some initial reactions from them.

There’s a lot of information on the web and services like SocialMedian and Digg allow you to filter this data based on the recommendations of other users.  Online systems have a big advantage in that it can extend far beyond your own personal network.  Instead of a small group of editors deciding what stories you should read, it is a user base with thousands of users.  One downside though is that stories based on rumors can make it into your feed (a la false Yahoo! Answers in Leibenluft’s paper), so there’s a question of trustworthiness from Session 4.  Issues of trust don’t usually arise in real world news sources, although it seems that some rumor stories are making it into the news as real world news sources try to catch up to online sources.  Also, Digg and SocialMedian follow heavyweight models of peer production, so a moderate amount of work is needed in order to get stories based on your preferences.  Perhaps online news services can highlight news from reputable sources like CNN or the New York Times and give them priority in the news feed.  However, I’m not sure how real world news services can learn from the online services, seeing as how the online services have a big advantage in that their costs are much lower.  If there are any ideas out there, I’d love to hear them.

Social Capital and Trust

Establishing Trust

I, like most people it seems, had a little trouble with some of the readings. Some of them were full of statistical measurements and analysis, which I don’t have a very good background in.  I found “A Survey of Trust Use and Modeling in Real Online Systems” by Paulo Massa to be the easiest to read even if it was a bit lengthy. The paper surveys different ways websites establish trust between users.  Establishing trust is especially important for places like eBay, where goods are auctioned off for services. You want to know if the seller is legit and if you are going to get the item you want.  However, trust is used in many other websites as well.  Epinions.com uses trust to establish how trustworthy a reviewer of a product is.  LinkedIn establishes trust by having others in your network recommend you.  The paper also mentions P2P websites, which I would not have considered before reading the paper.  It makes sense though, as you would still want users who provide trustworthy content and also remain connected to the network for downloading.  I also had a brief introduction into PGP in ICS 623 (Data Security), but did not hear about the web of trust.  The idea of verifying identity through the web of trust is quite novel and almost seems ahead of its time (according to Wikipedia, the idea was initially proposed by Phil Zimmerman in 1992 for PGP 2.0).  It’s very analogous to how we find friends in SNSs today, where we find people with similar interests through our initial network of friends.

Digg vs. Reddit

I’ve been a user of Digg for quite a while.  I’m not as involved with the community as I’d like, but I do rate stories that interest me as well as the occasional funny comment. I’ve been around enough to know of the Digg vs. Reddit rivalry that has been going on for a while.  They’re both very similar sites; they both are social news websites that display news stories submitted by the community and they have the community decide what news makes it to the front page.  In a way, I guess they’re both similar to Answerbag from our previous assignment since users submit questions to the community and have them rated and posted to the front page.  Anyway, Digg has become the much more mainstream product (Kevin Rose, one of the creators of Digg, has become a rock star as of late) while Reddit has remained fairly niche.  Thus, for the first website, I chose to take a closer look at Reddit to see how it compares with Digg.

Creating an account on Reddit was very simple. No need to even submit an email address; just a user name and password (along with a CAPTCHA) and your account is created. The stories on the front page can be rated up or down by the community.  It’s very much a news site from the Massa paper, but unlike Slashdot, the moderators are other members of the community.  Like Digg, links are voted to the front page after they reach some threshold. They also use the word “karma” to indicate how involved a user is, which might be something they borrowed from Slashdot.  There are two types of karma, regular karma and comment karma.  Presumably, karma is the sum of the scores of all links the user has submitted and comment karma is the sum of scores of all comments a user has.  It’s interesting how the two are split apart. I would think that you want to friend people with high regular karma, since they seem to submit all of the hot stories.  You also don’t see if the user has received any negative feedback, since you just see a raw positive score.  I think that negative feedback for users in Reddit could be highlighted so that users can identify people who only gained social capital in order to spam the users of the community.

reddit

 

Overall, Reddit is an interesting site that I think I might be visiting a little more.  Digg has become a little more mainstream than I’d like.  Seeing programming questions like this on the front page of Reddit reminded me of the stories that used to make it to the front page of Digg.

Stumbling

There are other ways of sharing cool stuff you find on the web with others.  I have heard a lot about StumbleUpon, but have never used it.  During the Manoa Experience a few months ago, a high school student mentioned something that they found through StumbleUpon.  StumbleUpon is a website where you randomly visit (or stumble upon) sites rated by the community.  Using their toolbar (they have a bookmarklet and a Firefox extension as well), you press stumble to visit a new site. Once there, you can give the site a thumbs up and/or write a review of the site.  You can also view reviews from other users of the site to see what they thought.  There, you can meet friends who may or may not have similar interests to you.  There, you can give them a thumbs up or subscribe to their links.

stumble

It seems that both StumbleUpon and Reddit are similar in that there’s an algorithm tailoring the content to your tastes.  StumbleUpon is neat in that you can just use the toolbar and not have to visit the main page unless you want to accept friend requests and the like.  In Reddit you still peruse the headlines, while in StumbleUpon you just click the “Stumble” button to move through recommended sites.  StumbleUpon seems to use a 5 star system in their toolbar, even though they mostly use a thumbs up/down system in the site.  The toolbar could show the ratio between positive and negative reviews as well as the star rating.

Using Geographical Information to Establish Trust

While the readings were somewhat difficult to get through and understand, they did help me decide on my final project.  I’ve been doing a lot of mobile phone programming (specifically iPhone) and want to investigate mobile social software.  In the LILT lab, we already have an iPhone application called iGeoRSS (iTunes link) in the app store.  iGeoRSS is an app that acts as a GeoRSS reader, which is just an RSS feed with location information.  Using the application, you can see how far each news item is from your current location.  We also put in a commenting framework so that you can comment about the news item you’re viewing.  The comments are also geo-tagged so that you can see the location of the commenter.  Currently, the comments are ordered by their distance from your location, although they could also be ordered by distance from the location of the news story.  The idea is that you might trust the opinions of people who are closer to the news event than those who may be farther away.  On the other hand, you might be more interested in the comments of others in your area than you are of people farther away.  It’s all anonymous right now, but having users who comment and gain social capital is something I’m interested in looking into.

Session 3 Readings

What Brings Us to Communities?

The paper “Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online” by Ridings and Gefen attempts to categorize the reasons why a person may join an online community.  Based on a literature review, they initially decided on four categories; information exchange, social support, friendship, and recreation. Then, they asked members of various message boards why they joined the community. In their results, they found that information exchange was the number one reason to join the community. This reinforces the concept of the internet as the “information superhighway”.  Social support and friendship were the next highest answers.

I’m a little skeptical of the responses that the judges have classified as “friendship”.  Here’s the first example response:

These 2 boards are responsible for many of my closest friends. Some say that couldn’t be possible, but it is. I have traveled all over the U.S. in the last 4 years hunting, shooting and just meeting my cyber friends and i can tell you that there is somthing magical about these boards. I have had friends that have opened their homes to me without any hesitation and call me friend. I also have friends that I have never met but trust them unconditionally……….it’s magic.

I understand that the reason you stay in a community is because of friends that you’ve made, but I don’t think that’s what brought you there in the first place.  It seems that this first respondent did not even answer the question “Why did you join this virtual community” and instead stated why he/she is still involved.  It’s far more likely that you joined a message board community because you were looking for something, had common interests, or needed social support.  In fact, in the second example response, the person said that they “joined the board to make friends who are experiencing the same emotions that I am.”  While the respondent does explicitly mention friendship, the fact that they’re looking for people who have similar experiences says that they are looking for social support. The second half of that response is not too different from the first social support example response, which starts off by saying “I joined for the support of families who are in the same situation as I am.”

The choice of message board communities is an interesting one, since they’re usually based on some common interests.  If we involved SNSs like Facebook and Myspace, where the community is not based on common interests or needs, then I think we would see a lot more respondents cite friendship as the reason for joining the SNS.  This paper was written in 2004, so SNSs were not nearly as common as they are now.  Also, sites like YouTube and Hulu have made communities where users join for recreation and entertainment.  Running a survey like the one found in the paper that involves SNSs would be difficult, but I think the results of it will be almost the opposite of what Ridings and Gefen found.  It really demonstrates how our usage of the internet has transformed over these 5+ years (although information exchange still plays a big part in our general use of the internet).

What Keeps Us Going?

In “Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities” by Ling et al, they attempt to motivate contributions to a movie rating site called MovieLens.  They conducted 4 experiments that test their hypotheses.  In each experiment, they came up with a set of hypotheses and then tested them by making groups of users and sending them emails.  Out of their 8 hypotheses, their experiments only strongly supported one, that people will contribute more when they feel that their contributions are unique.

Some of their results were to be expected. For example, it’s hard to contribute and discuss things when you are in a group of people with similar opinions.  The goal setting experiment would have been better if there was competition with other groups or something they could win.  That would provide more motivation to complete the goal than just setting it.  This is something that Answerbag does well in that they prominently display your level next to your user name.  Hence, you want to ask, answer, and comment on more questions in order to boost your rating.  The authors mention that they have reached their limits as to how much they can motivate people via email.  I would like to see implementations on their web application instead.  They could have a leaderboard of top raters or a list of movies that need rating on their website rather than having to communicate with the users via email.  Different versions of the website could be presented to each group of test subjects.  While this would be more work than simply sending out emails, it will make benefits and goals more clear to the users.

The New Kid On the Block: Why We Tweet

When you first sign up for Twitter, you’re faced with a mostly blank page with a text box and text that says “What are you doing?” Its minimalist approach has made it so appealing, as we are no longer obligated to write a novel in our blog or to share our personal information with other users. While Twitter seems basic on the outside, there are still different types of communities within Twitter itself.  The paper “Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities” by Java et al attempts to analyze the groups that are found within Twitter and how users interact with each other.  The end result is that people use Twitter not only to report on their daily events, but to share links, chat with other users, and to even report on news.  The authors mention improvements that can be made to Twitter, many of which are already being considered. While Twitter itself has remained relatively simplistic, applications built on the Twitter API have the potential to address most if not all of Twitter’s weaknesses.  Some desktop Twitter clients, like TweetDeck, allow you to create groups of Tweets.  Sharing news is made easier with mobile clients and URL shortening services (so that the address takes up fewer characters in your Tweet).  There are many other companies that are creating applications based on Twitter because of its versatility.

The Answerbag

Joining Answerbag.com was easy enough. I (like some others) jumped in before finishing the readings. I lurked for a bit and came up with a few random questions to gauge how difficult this task was going to be. The first few random questions I threw out did not get very many answers or points, which was pretty discouraging.  The questions ranged from food related (“What’s the secret ingredient in a good hamburger?” ) to computer related (“What don’t you like about your operating system?”).  The first question got all of two responses while the  computer one didn’t get any.

After looking at the front page questions, I noticed that most of them were dating related. Of course, at the time, Valentine’s day was coming up. I decided that since I needed to make that quota of points and responses, I’d ask a few questions relating to Valentine’s day and dating. My first question was “How do you ask out someone when you feel they’re out of your league?”. As people responded, I commented on the responses to keep the thread going. Most of the responses were along the lines of “You need to have better self esteem” or “Just ask”.  I felt that I needed to develop a persona where I was a little insecure and unsure of myself. I’m not sure it helped generate more responses, but I tried my best to not only portray the role, but to provide feedback to all responses in order to make them feel like their responses mattered.

Sadly, this question died out fairly quickly. My other question, “What’s a good non-traditional Valentine’s gift (meaning it doesn’t involve chocolate, roses, or jewelry)” got 8 answers fairly quickly. However, the question only got about 25 points or so.  At least I finished 1/2 of the assignment, and it seemed like others were having lots of difficulty getting points on their questions and/or responses.  Fortunately, with the help of some classmates, my first question about dating was boosted to the front page again.  There, it received points from members of the community and reached 38 points before stalling out again. I’m ashamed to admit that I did ask a few others for a rating or two to fill out those last two points.

Thank you Amanda, Junie, Mike, BJ, and whoever else!

Link to my profile

Thoughts on Session 2

How important is geographic proximity in social networking?

Anders Albrechtslund briefly mentioned the trend of geotagging in social networking sites. He specifically mentions mobile social software apps that use your location information (Mobile Social Software, or MoSoSo). One MoSoSo application that I use from time to time is BrightKite, which allows you to post where you are, along with an optional note or picture. However, you do not need to use a MoSoSo application to post your location. A popular use of Facebook status messages and Twitter is to post a little message about where you’re going. Users usually do this in order to get other people to join them (some people call the meeting of friends via Twitter “Tweetups”). Users may also mention it to get comments from their friends (i.e. Is this restaurant any good? Did you like this movie? etc.). I’ve been following some people in the Twitter community here in Hawaii and found that it is an excellent way of finding out what’s going on in the city.

In his paper, Albrechtslund seems to have mentioned MoSoSo because surveillance is different in this context. Certainly, the user is now making even more information available. Besides their personal information and interests, they are now posting the places they frequent the most. Like most social computing applications, MoSoSo applications tend to have privacy filters that allow you hide updates to people that are not in your friends list. Some applications also allow you to change the accuracy of your posts. For example, in BrightKite, you might want to let your friends know exactly where you are. For people you don’t know, you can set it so that BrightKite only displays the city your posting occurred in. When displaying location data, the user really needs to be careful of where they are when they post. When applications were first made available for the iPhone, many users posted pictures from their house. This wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t also posted their location for everyone to see! As far as I know, Flickr does not have the same type of privacy filters that MoSoSo applications have. Even though I have my privacy settings set, I’m wary of using any MoSoSo application while I’m at home. This is one way in which surveillance in MoSoSo applications differ from surveillance in SNSs.

Galston’s article briefly mentions “accidents of proximity” and how people online choose to be friends with people based on interests and not because they randomly encountered them while walking around. However, a big reason why people friend each other in MoSoSo applications is because they frequent common areas. This is what drew me to the local Twitter community. I think then that it is only natural that in any SNS, people will expand their network beyond their friends by first adding people that live nearby. I’ll investigate this by joining the SNS 20 Something Bloggers.

20 Something Bloggers is “a place for all twenty something bloggers to get discovered or find other bloggers they relate to”. It’s a relatively small SNS (4,456 members at time of posting) based on Ning. The requirements are that you must be between the ages of 20-29 (which I am) and that you must have a blog (which means that some members may be reading this very post). Joining 20 Something Bloggers was relatively easy; I provided my name, profile image, some brief information about myself, and a reason why people should read my blog. The membership request is then sent off to an admin who needs to approve it. Thus, the membership is somewhat stronger than other SNSs, but the request was approved in a few minutes. I first performed a search for “Hawaii” in their groups section. After finding none, I searched the members list for people in Hawaii. The search returned 14 members (not including myself). In the groups tab, I found a few other location based groups (Nebraska, Kansas, Nova Scotia, New Yorkers, etc.). I always thought that people from Hawaii had a great deal of pride for where they come from and was surprised to see that we had no representation on 20 Something Bloggers. Perhaps I will create the group and blog my experiences at another time.

How many voices can you listen to?

cartoons drawn on the back of business cards

Comic from gapingvoid: "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards"

 

 

I can definitely relate to the points brought up by Hague in the article “Usefulness and the Banality of Business”. Take the iPhone App Store for instance. The 3rd top paid application (as of this posting) is Sound Grenade Pro (iTunes link), which plays “seriously sickening sounds”. One of the top reasons for buying the app is to annoy friends and co-workers. The application costs $0.99, of which Apple takes 30%. I have heard that an app needs to sell about 500 per day to make it to the top 25. This means that Sound Grenade Pro is making about $350 per day! Maybe I need to stop trying to think of “useful” applications and just go for whatever comes to mind. Something useful could come out of my Twitter feed even if they’re just from people posting about their everyday lives. Perhaps a person I’m following on Twitter is wondering why I follow their “useless” posts.

Rosen’s article “Virtual Friendship and the new Narcissism” discusses how many SNSs prominently display the number of friends you have and that it encourages “frantic friend procurement”. I’m being followed by people on Twitter who follow in excess of 20,000 other Twitter users? Maybe I’m contradicting myself, but following updates from that many users seems useless to me. It’s far too much to process at any given time. It’s definitely a badge of honor for these “super users”, but maintaining that many social connections, no matter how weak, has to be a chore. If a super user were following Thordora, would they have noticed her tweet about smothering her baby, let alone done something?

I noticed on Facebook that there is a group doing the “Six Degrees of Separation” experiment. I would think that when tracking these connections, every user will probably go through at least one “super user”; one that has a lot of weak connections to other Facebook users. While their results have not been published, I would like to see if there are indeed six degrees of separation or if it’s fewer. I would guess that a user on Facebook has at most 3 degrees of separation from a super user (for most users, I would guess that it’s probably 2 degrees). I would also think that these super users are probably connected to each other (they’re all trying to boost their friend count after all), so maybe another connection or two until you find the user who is closest to the person you’re looking for. I’d love to see the results of the experiment and see if my thoughts are correct.

The Social Stuff that Happens on the Internet

The internet has become a large source of information for millions of users worldwide. For a lot of users, it has also become a way to form connections with other people, whether they read blogs or play online games. What are the different types of social activities out there? What term do we use to describe these interactions?

When I first signed up for the class, I thought that we would focus more on social network sites (like Facebook and Myspace) and blogs.  The history in the first article definitely reinforces my initial concept of the class. I even remember some of the older SNSs described in the article, such as Friendster and LiveJournal. It seems that the more successful SNSs adapt to the demands of the users. Friendster failed because they started to moderate content created by users and imposing more restrictions. On the other hand, Myspace responded to the requests of its community by implementing new features. Recently, Myspace allowed the addition of “apps” to their pages, similar to what Facebook already has. Of course, when designing software in general, it’s good to listen to some of the user’s requests, which SNSs like Myspace and Facebook have done and is part of their success.

After reading that first article, I felt like I had a good handle on what we would be discussing in class. Then, it got a little weird. I read that article while sitting in our lab, which made me feel a little uncomfortable. It’s easy to see how SNSs, blogs, and other “Web 2.0” things relate to the term social computing, but I didn’t even consider MUDs and MOOs, which predate Web 2.0. I didn’t know anything about MOOs until I read the article. It was interesting to see how a player and the community as a whole make a transition where it becomes more than a game. Because of this formation of virtual communities, a MUD or MOO does qualify as social computing.

It was at this point where I realized that even though SNSs like Facebook and Myspace are indeed part of my initial concept of the course, there are many other social activities on the web. If MOOs like the LambdaMOO in “A Rape in Cyberspace” fall under the term social computing, then it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that games like World of Warcraft also fall under social computing. In fact, the guild system in WoW facilitates making connections with other people. Then, if we take it a step further, all online games fit under the umbrella of social computing (obviously, I’m kind of a gamer). The content that we “share” in Rich Gazan’s definition in this case would be either our skills in the game or how we developed our in-game character. Internet forums, IRC, and newsgroups also fit the term social computing.

Where do blogs fit into social computing?  Certainly news filter blogs that involve a lot of comments from users (like Engadget or Slashdot) makes sense. Knowledge logs are shared with co-workers and colleagues. What about personal blogs? Some blogs still do have a community, like your friends. Some of the bigger names in the tech world also have their own blogs and have users regularly commenting on those as well. But commenting isn’t the only thing that is social about blogs. Many blog writers comment on other people’s blogs, which we sort of see in “Blogging as a Social Activity”. In short, if you’re communicating with at least one other person with a blog, then it is definitely social computing. An online diary visible to no one is no more social than a written diary in your desk (unless you want to open it up to someone down the line).

There are tons of examples of social computing, so what is it? I think that social computing is more about the interactions between people connected over the internet. Of course, as we saw in the articles, so many things may fall under this broad term. To me, it’s the next step beyond the idea of the internet as the “information superhighway”, which may be why the term Web 2.0 was coined (even though some social activities started before O’Reilly came up with the term). The word computing is a little misleading though, as I correlate computing with boring things like calculating numbers and word processing. However, I’m not sure I’ll come up with a better term to describe all of these interactions over the web.

I’m in this class because I think community is an important aspect of creating new software today. Whether I’m in the industry or in academia, I want to incorporate community into my projects in some way. At the very least I hope that I can communicate with users through blogs, SNSs, or even Twitter (follow me on Twitter if you’d like). I may need to develop slightly thicker skin to shield myself from complaints and name-calling, but that’s the way it goes in social computing.


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