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.


11 Responses to “The Social Stuff that Happens on the Internet”

  1. 1 richgazan January 19, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I will admit I was happy to read that some of the readings made you challenge your initial impression of the limits of social computing. The extent to which video games are social now (they weren’t when I grew up, unless you count putting two quarters into the arcade machine and alternating turns) certainly qualifies them for discussion in this course. When you relate to a character you’ve created in a modern game, and want to see that character succeed, you begin to get a sense of the emotional investment that can happen with any online identity, whether of your own creation (as in the “Rape in Cyberspace” article), or the identity of an unknown blogger you might follow.

  2. 2 D NI January 20, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    If you think the word “computing” is little bit misleading in the context of a reader posting some comments in a blog, you are certainly not alone. I believe “social computing” should only include those technology or virtual spaces that take advantage of the “computing power” of social interaction. Online reputation/voting systems like or certainly satisfy this definition but not blogs or games. Even though “social interaction” is involved in blogs and online games, there is no “computing”.

  3. 3 David K. January 21, 2009 at 12:32 am

    I signed up for the course with pretty much the same expectations you did (that this course would be about the popular SNS in particular). I did have some experience with MUDs (but not MOOs, I never quite saw the point of those) though, but like you, that second paper threw me for a loop for the first several paragraphs.

    You mention under one definition that all online games can be considered to be social computing. I do agree that MMORPGs like WoW do qualify to fall under social computing (after all I would consider them to be graphical MUDs). Would “non-personal-interaction” games that don’t offer interactive chat windows, like, say, the MS Hearts Network game that came with WinME(?) still be considered social computing? I would argue at that level, no, because while you could be technically interacting with another player(s), there’s no way to tell if the player is a person or a computer–all you see is moves from the opponent. Is that still social interaction (and thus social computing)?

  4. 4 karhai January 21, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    For some reason, I hadn’t thought of video gaming as social computing, even though most games I’ve played in the past few years have been online with other people. And your point about WoW guilds is true, and would extend to almost any other competitive game that has some type of team system. But how interactive does a game have to be to be considering social computing? David points out that Network Hearts should not be categorized as such because you might be playing against computers, but even if you were playing against people, could you still consider it social computing? Is there some level of interaction that needs to be met? Similarly, what if WoW had no chat component, and while the characters in the game could still interact by helping each other fight bad guys, is it still social computing without any personal communication?

    It’s interesting that video games can fall under the umbrella definition, whether or not there is agreement on it. I think as more games are going online and becoming interactive, there’s no way to leave video games out. Sony recently released “Home” for the PS3, following a similar setup that Nintendo did with “Mii” for the Wii. Companies are making their consoles more socially interactive, and tying these layers into the games themselves. We’re close to a point where the single-player game will be the exception to the rule.

  5. 5 keokilee January 22, 2009 at 10:09 am

    David and Karhai both bring up an interesting point and it is sort of where do you draw the line. For blogs, I drew the line at private blogs that no one sees. For games, I think it is a little more fuzzy. Taking the Hearts example a step further, a similar argument could be made for MUDs and MOOs. How are we supposed to know that the players in the MUD or the MOO are not computers following a set script? Couldn’t Mr. Bungle’s actions be the result of a computer running pre-programmed events on the members of the room?

    The question is then is crowd-sourced content (like wikis or games, where you provide the characters and/or competition for other players) social computing? After reading the articles, I think that as long as there is some kind of interaction with other people, that it is social computing. Social not in the sense that we are making friends or relationships, but rather that you are part of a community with a common interest, whether it’s playing hearts or editing wiki pages. Certainly some people will be more involved than others, but you are still partaking in a community of users.

  6. 6 tomjenni January 23, 2009 at 10:00 am

    From your first few paragraphs, it sounds like you knew about some of the social computing technologies such as Friendster, Live Journal, and MUDs, allowing you to make some initial comparisons. Because I have not participated in SNSs, blogging, and the other technologies mentioned in the session 1 readings, I did not have a good context to make comparisons.

    I did not know about both MUDs and MOOs until I read the Dibbell article. After I read the article, and based on the definition of social computing given in the syllabus, I initially thought that MUDs and MOOs did not quite fit the definition. However, after reading David K.’s response to the session 1 readings, I realized that MUD and MOO users create and share content by creating characters, rooms and other objects.

    After realizing that MUDs and MOOs were considered to be social computing technologies, I immediately thought about World of Warcraft. I now had some context of social computing, because I played WOW 2 years ago. I created a character and joined an all female guild. Well, our characters were all female anyway. I did not consider MMO-RPGs as social computing because I did not get to know the other players personally in real life (real life names, where they live in real life, their real life jobs, etc). I only knew about their character names, stats, abilities, and gear. However, using our characters we did work together to figure out how to do quests and how we could improve our stats and acquire better gear. Rather then socializing in real life, we socialized using our characters as with the MUD/MOO. Note that we did not run into any of the extreme moral dilemmas as mentioned in the Dibbell article.

    I do reference knowledge logs and Wikis, but I do not participate in adding content. I always wanted to add content to knowledge logs and Wiki’s but have not had the time to do so. On my blog, the question was asked whether lurkers are considered to be involved in social computing. Do you feel that lurkers are a part of the social computing community?

    In your final paragraph, I’m glad that you mentioned that “community is an important aspect of creating new software today.” Do you feel that incorporating a sense of community will encourage individuals to use the programs and interfaces that programmers create, and do you feel that this is why some technologies fail?

  7. 7 Linnea January 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    This discussion is fascinating. Where DO we draw the line? I would consider WoW to be social computing because there are social and computing aspects to the game. Not all users immerse themselves in the social environment online to the same degree, so would you still consider a fringe user to be participating in social computing? Also, I do not think that a real life connection is necessary for online connections to be considered social…the only requirement would be some sort of communication between users.
    After reading these comments and some other Posts I think some people are going even further than trying to define “social computing,” it appears that some are challenging even what we consider “social” and what we consider “computing.” A worthy excercise, I think, since it is clear that some of us may have slightly different definitions for each term, which then leads to difference in defining the two together.

  8. 8 tom January 25, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I think your post was well written. I like your take on most software being social, depending on the degree of interaction. I do agree that games online games are social. In fact I think that games push the envelope in terms of social interactivity. The advantage that games have over other software is that they are not as constrained by business and professional morays. Specifically making software intuitive to the lowest common denominator (user). Games give the programmers more room to implement new features and to be creative an unique in how to implement these features.

    I new to both facebook and myspace. So far I consider myspace to be superior in terms of ease of use and access to features. Which did you prefer?

    I will have to try twitter.

  9. 9 molly due January 25, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    There is certainly a lot of discussion on what it is exactly we are studying in this course and a lot of discussion on what is or is not social computing. Keokilee states that “as long as there is some kind of interaction with other people, that it is social computing.” Tomjenni then brings up the issue of lurkers, which I find intriguing. I don’t believe there has to necessarily be interaction for there to be social commuting. I also believe lurkers are a part of the social commuting community. They are like potential energy; at any time they can express themselves because they have the ability to do so.

  10. 10 keokilee January 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    I do think lurkers in some way still contribute to social computing, which I think I wrote in Tomjenni’s blog. Molly does bring up the point that lurkers can get themselves more involved because social software allows them to do so. I think that’s a great point and perhaps my definition should be more along the lines of “as long as the software provides the ability for some interaction, then it is social computing”.

    As for my SNS background, I’ve only been really serious about it for the past few months. It probably happened around the time I got my iPhone, as the mobile social network intrigued me. I mainly use Facebook but I have a Myspace account as well. I do think Facebook is rather complicated and inflexible compared to Myspace, but I’m rather annoyed by bad Myspace profile pages. Some things I hate about Myspace profile pages are poor background choices (often makes the content difficult to read) and embedded music players that play automatically. I like Facebook’s activity feed too, as it allows me to see what my friends are doing. Myspace is just playing catchup in that regard.

    Tom, I think you’ll either like or hate Twitter. It’s not as complicated as either Facebook or Myspace. You don’t need to create a profile and you can follow pretty much anyone you want to follow (they don’t need to approve you unless their updates are private). Facebook is the thing I use to keep in touch with friends I know in real life. I use Twitter to connect me to people with similar interests. For example, the Honolulu Twitter community is pretty active and you get updates on what’s going on in town.

  11. 11 keokilee January 25, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Oh, I also missed the bit about community and software. I think it’s important because it provides a way for users to give feedback about the particular piece of software. Users who do things like report bugs and such are few and far between in my opinion. As I said about the brief history of SNSs, listening to some comments by the community may be a reason for Facebook’s and Myspace’s success. Leveraging existing social networks like Twitter and Facebook to get the word out is also a good idea and I think it could encourage others to use a piece of software. If your friend is using a particular piece of software, maybe you should check it out.

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