ICS 669 S13 Social Computing

University of Hawaii Dept. of Information & Computer Sciences

Month: February, 2013

Session 4: Social role, capital and trust

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.  In past sessions, some of you identified user profile pages or experience levels as a kind of evidence that helps other users evaluate which content is worth reading and responding to.   That’s one of the core dimensions of a social computing site: when you’re determining whether to read, believe, or respond to a post, you’re evaluating not just the content but its source.  And evaluating users in social computing sites isn’t just based on the answers they’ve posted and their self-authored profiles—in large part it’s based on how other users have rated their past contributions.  

The readings for this session give you a very brief introduction to three major concepts researchers in the field have been using to understand people’s behavior on social computing sites.  That doesn’t mean they’re the best ones, or applicable in all situations, but by this point in the course I’m sure you’re aware that critiquing readings is just as useful as applying them, arguably more so—as long as you present evidence to back up your assertions.

By Sunday, March 3, 11:59pm

  • After completing the readings, address the following on your blog in a paragraph or two:  if you were reading a research paper that claimed to offer some insights about users of social computing sites, what evidence would you find the most convincing?  You need not relate this part of your response to the readings; I’m asking you to do this so that when you propose your final project, you will incorporate the evidence you as a reader would find most convincing.
  • Compare two online communities that implement different social role/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 haven’t visited or blogged about before.
  • Define social role, social capital and trust, as they relate to social computing sites.  Describe the sites you chose, and compare their social role, capital and trust mechanisms.  What does social role, capital and trust mean on each site?  What do they allow you to do?  How does a new user earn them?  No need to collect and report data this time; I’d like you to address these questions anecdotally: discuss an experience or set of observations from each site where social role, 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.
  • Relate your experience to concepts from at least two of the four Session 4 readings, and suggest improvements to each site’s role/capital/trust mechanisms.
  • 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, using the evidence you would find most convincing from the beginning of this blog post as a guide.  Your goal here is not to commit to a final project topic yet, but to invite discussion and suggestions.

By Friday, March 8, 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 proposal.

By Sunday, March 10, 11:59pm

Conclude your discussions.

Final project guidelines

  • Identify a question rising out of the readings or your own experience during the course that you’d like to explore in more depth, and how you plan to address it.  You may work alone or in pairs.  You will post a proposed question in Session 4, receive feedback from students and me, then commit to a topic at the end of Session 5.
  • 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 and course sessions to structure your investigation, and base your argument on data, methods and evidence you would find convincing if you were reading a paper authored by someone else.  Conclude with a reflective discussion section where you evaluate your data and observations in light of your original question.  
  • Your goal is to produce a document that gives its readers non-obvious insight and understanding about your question, and is presented convincingly and compellingly enough that people might link to it, comment on it, and follow your blog (I know you can’t control this, but it’s a good goal to shoot for).  Planning, flexibility and persistence will also be key components of your grade.
  • Length should be roughly 20 double-spaced pages for a solo project, not counting screenshots (required) and bibliography.  One of the elements I’m assessing in your final projects is your understanding of the readings, so I’ll expect you to engage substantively with at least eight readings from the syllabus.  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 5.  As your final blog post for the course, post a one-page summary of your final project and findings–you are encouraged but not required to post the full document.

Session 3: Motivation for participation

Some outstanding work in Session 2, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with for your final projects.  A few of you ran into problems with site registration delays that prevented you from investigating your questions—when something like that happens, the best strategy to maximize your grade is to post what you can by the deadline, then edit your post with any missing information as soon as possible.

Session 3 is all about why people participate in social computing sites.  That’s a different question than why you think they participate, and in this session you’ll be investigating that difference.  You’ll be doing some observation, data collection and analysis about user motivation, and hopefully finding evidence that your initial conceptions change as a result.  Your choice of social computing site for this session’s assignment isn’t committing you to any community or topic for your final projects, you’re just getting practice to ground whatever project you do propose in real data, and make sure you’re asking the right questions.

By Sunday, Feb 17, 11:59pm

1) Complete the Session 3 readings.  On your blog, briefly summarize and evaluate aspects of three of the five readings you found most interesting, then provide two examples from your own social computing experience: one that supports a claim about user motivation 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.  Some of you have mentioned that you don’t participate in online communities, but hopefully the examples provided by your fellow students in their Session 2 posts illustrate that an extremely wide variety of sites fit this description, and that it’s pretty easy to participate.  Plus, it’s required :).

2) Observe at least 50 posts on a social computing site or online community that’s new to you.  For the purposes of this session, a post is defined as content that draws a response.  The canonical example is the first post in a forum thread.  Don’t count responses as posts.  Provide a brief description of the site, a link where people can see at least a few of the posts in your sample, and address the following questions on your blog:

  • 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 complete list of every participation action the site allows you to take.  No need to explain or elaborate (unless a participation function isn’t obvious from the name), just a list is fine for this section.
  • How is participation encouraged? Describe the 3-5 most common ways participation is encouraged with examples from your sample.  Consider types of encouragement from both the designers of the site and its participants.  Evaluate how well you think each of the 3-5 motivators you identified actually encourages participation, and suggest at least one improvement.
  • Which types of content draw the most responses? Careful: this part of the question is not asking you to group posts by the name of the forum in which they’re posted.  You’ll need to review the posts in your sample in depth, and create your own descriptive scheme that accurately distinguishes the five most common content types posted in your sample.  For example, in a social site for people trying to lose weight, content types might include posts dealing with temptation, announcements of weight loss milestones, rants about skinny people, confessions of backsliding, and healthy options in restaurants.  Present your descriptive scheme, include a raw count of the number of times each kind of content you describe 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.

3) Discuss and evaluate your findings.  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 22, 11:59pm

Comment substantively on at least five other students’ blogs.  Again, try to choose students with whom you haven’t already engaged in conversation.

By Sunday, Feb 24, 11:59pm

Conclude your discussions.  Continue to consider questions you’d like to investigate for your final projects–feel free to contact me to discuss possible topics, but next session’s blog will have more concrete guidelines on that.