Monday, April 18, 2011

Sketch Theatre management and conflict issues

Sketch Theatre opening page

Sketch Theatre is a website where art and music meet. Artists are encouraged to share their artwork and give feedback on one another’s contributions. The website’s Forum Rules state that in order to participate in the Forums (where artists upload their work) they must agree to the rules, which “warrant” that members “will not post any messages that are obscene, vulgar, sexually-oriented, hateful, threatening, or otherwise violative of any laws.”

The mission of Sketch Theatre is to promote and inspire the arts and provide an opportunity for artists to match their creations with music, therefore musicians also can promote and inspire other musicians, too.

The mission makes it very clear that contributions should be centered around art, critiques and tips of other artist’s creations, and also can be a place to promote and spread awareness of various artists, events, and related news.  

Yet, obscenity and vulgarity can vary greatly according to each person’s values. These terms are vague enough that they are open to interpretation. Since there are no clear explanations of what constituents an obscenity or a vulgarity, the members take a chance when they upload their images, as the administrators ultimately “reserve the right to remove, edit, move or close any thread for any reason” theoretically.

Since this website was founded by an artist, Alex Alvarez, who has a background in 2-D and 3-D animation with dark creatures in harsh environments, his perceived view of vulgarity would seem to be quite different than someone who is not a fan of fantasy/science fiction images. See Alvarez’s artworks below. 

Some artists would praise Alvarez’s work for the high level of detail, intricate backgrounds and expert use of lighting and shadows, while other folks might consider these kinds of images the epitome of vulgar and obscene.

What is obscene or vulgar to someone who creates these kinds of images?

Sketch Theatre also holds monthly themed contests, such as “Zombie Love”, “Grave Digger” and “Freak on a Leash”. Most recently, the theme for this month’s contest is named “Vixen”. The artists then create a relevant piece and await placement for prizes and comments from fellow members.

Here is the screenshot of the contest guidelines.

Because the guidelines, like the rules, are really simple, many members post questions, such as whether or not ink/acrylics are an acceptable medium, if multiple entries are allowed, if works submitted from outside of the US are acceptable, and what are the preferred dimensions.

Some of the questions are answered by other experienced members, for example a previous contest winner answered that yes, it was okay to submit an entry outside of the US because he did and actually won a contest. Another member answered the question about the standard dimensions.

Example 1
Would something like this be consider vulgar and therefore subject for removal by the administrators?

The title, “rapid doggy style”, reveals a sexually oriented nature because of it is obvious character positioning and the explicit speech bubble images. I would argue that this image borders on vulgarity and can be considered obscene. It is not clear if the character on the bottom is thinking the thoughts included in the pictorial bubble or if the character on the top is justifying his eye-gouging, ear-pulling behavior with the images of a man with genitals plus a figure bent over equaling a heart/love.

In a long detailed comment made by a member jhagen22 (not a junior member) where he seems to be judging the artists to determine the winning entries, he does not seem to take issue with the image enough to demand removal. In fact, jhagen22 praises it with an “awesome” albeit the compliment is tempered with an additional comment that this image is “wrong on so many levels”. See figure below.

The artist who created the image in question clearly was not asked to remove his image or get disqualified from the contest. He even declares that the rabbits are not too offensive, while another member tries to get more specifics on what is acceptable.

As Grimes, et al. states in the article Obfuscatocracy: A stakeholder analysis of governing documents for virtual worlds, “community standards...are often written in an elusive and haphazard manner.” He goes on to question the feasibility of defining what crosses the line in acceptable norms. “How do you define precisely what malicious speech is?” In this case, I wonder how do the administrators define what vulgarity is? Perhaps the rules would benefit from clear explanations about what is unacceptable instead of leaving it open?

According to Kollock and Smith’s Managing the Virtual Commons, success in an online community is determined by “its members following rules of decorum.” And yet what seems to be the case in many online communities, “the cultural rules that define what is and is not appropriate are implicit or poorly understood and articulated, which can itself lead to conflict as participants with different expectations attempt to interact.”

Example 2
Furthermore, since the Sketch Theatre drawing contest guidelines were not specific, it remains unclear what is the administrator’s stance on multiple entry submissions. However, there was an interpersonal conflict between two members, one with junior status and the other not, over this topic.

One member was policing another without any obvious administrator interference and without any policy reference or supporting documents to back up his claim that multiple entries are not allowed. There was no obvious comment from the administrator. It is not clear if Zaimy removed his images from PhotoBucket or had them removed by moderators or administrator enforcing the “single-entry rule” if it is in fact a rule.

In response to the Sketch Theatre drawing contest guidelines, one member explicitly asks a question about multiple entries, which remains to this day unanswered by the administrators.

In this case, this online community would clearly benefit from including the thoughts and opinions of its members into the guidelines. Should there be multiple submissions according to the administrators and the entire community? Or is the practice offensive or unfair only to another member (stephen fedewa)? And although Pollock and Smith of UCLA claim in their 1994 article Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities, “No set of rules is perfectly designed, and there will always be ambiguity in applying a particular rule…it is important to have some method to resolve the conflicts that will inevitably arise.” Unfortunately, the conflict between stephen fedewa and Zaimy went unchallenged by the administrators. Though, ultimately Zaimy did submit to stephen fedewa’s hypothetical rule.

To compound the lack of clarity and enforcement by administrators, another member decides to detail a list of suggestions to improve the contest.

Clearly, there are certain members who are invested in the success and integrity of the site and are willing to work, “enforce or delineate”, guidelines to improve the functionality of the community.

Example 3
 In one of the forums, a member posted an off-topic post that threatens the mission of Sketch Theatre, as members responded to the off-topic post and provided feedback. The post was a speech and the poster wanted to know if it was fluid and understandable. It didn’t explicitly mention art, music, or the cultivation of an arts program. Instead, the member used the Sketch Theatre forum to receive feedback on an irrelevant topic thus taking away time and attention from the intent of the online community. He or she could have easily posted his or her speech on a public speaking forum, but because the administrators are not that active in the forums, the post remained unflagged.

In Gazan’s 2009 article, When Online Communities Become Self-Aware, he states that “when an online community is based on user-generated content and interaction…conditions are ripe for oppositional views about what constitutes appropriate use.” Is this okay to share a health-related speech on this artistic forum? I am surprised that members did not rise up and request for the removal of such an off-topic post but instead wrote back with thoughtful responses. Although, clearly one of the members remarked that the question of asking for feedback on for Health Occupation Students of America speech was odd, the member still was courteous enough to read it and comply with the original poster’s request for helpful criticism.

If I was the administrator...
Example 1
If I was the administrator, I would take off the rabbits involved in a sexual act. I would also make it clear that any images that include sexual images will be removed, regardless if the images include human depictions or animal cartoon characters. The images conjures brutality with the dominant rabbit pulling the submissive rabbit’s ear so hard that it bleeds and grabs the submissive rabbit’s head so forcefully that the submissive rabbit’s eye pops out.
Despite a member’s comment that the image is awesome, this kind of image falls into the vulgar and obscene category. I was relieved to see that it hadn’t been selected as a winner, but wondered what would it take to be removed from the forum. Although not a directed assault on the entire forum, like the griefers mentioned in Dibbell’s 2008 article Mutilate Furries, Flying Phalluses: Put the Blame on Griefers, the Sociopaths of the Virtual World, the image left a disturbing image for all members to view. Even more frightening was the artist’s comment that this was “too offensive”. I wonder what was then?

Example 2
If I was the administrator, I would spend more time responding to the member’s questions to clear any confusion about contest rules. By not have any moderation by the administrators, community members are left to their own devices and clearly there will arise dominant users who as a result of their willingness to contribute, will ultimately dictate what is acceptable and what is unacceptable…without any supporting materials from the administrators. It appears that the only posts amended by the Sketch Theatre member account are the contest winners. The mission, rules, and guideline posts have not been altered and therefore are not representative of the evolution of the site.

In Grimes, et al. article Obfuscatocracy, he states that “it is not fair for users to be influenced by governing documents that they had no role in developing or modifying.” If I was the administrator, I would reach out to certain folks who are obviously active on the forums and in the chat rooms in the hopes of creating a group of moderators who can assist and greet new members and enforce contest rules.

Example 3
If I was the administrator in the third example, I would also contact the member who posted the off-topic post about a health occupation speech and give them a warning that this isn’t the place to request such feedback. Instead, the poster should re-read the mission and focus future posts about art or music. Pollock and Smith, in their 1994 article, Managing the Virtual Commons, wrote of responsible use of bandwidth. They share that “A great concern on the Usenet is…refraining from posting unnecessary information”. They reiterate this sentiment with their comment that “Being off-topic threatens the coordination of discussion that the Usenet rests on.”

Five “unwritten rules”: things that are not directly addressed by current policy and would help users get what they came to the site to receive, and reflect the lessons of the readings you cited.

1.     Members understand that the purpose of this website is to promote artistic growth. Anything that is off-topic and non-art or music related will be removed to maintain the integrity of the site.
2.     Members are allowed to determine amongst themselves via a one-month long open poll whether or not they wish to allow multiple entries into the Sketch Theatre monthly contests. This poll will be reinstituted annually to reflect consistency with the growing membership and possibly changing attitudes regarding this issue.
3.     A select group of members will also act as moderators of the forums and chat room to provide quick response and helpful tips about interacting with the community.
4.     Any materials that include sexually explicit images will be removed.
5.     If members are unsure if they images are potentially vulgar, obscene or violative of any laws, they must first submit via private message to an administrator for approval. If not, they are liable to be expelled from the community.


Kollock, Peter and Marc Smith (1994). Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities.  In: Susan Herring (ed.), Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social, and Cross-Cultural Perspectives.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 109-128.
Grimes, Justin, Paul Jaeger and Kenneth Fleischmann (2008).  Obfuscatocracy: A stakeholder analysis of governing documents for virtual worlds. First Monday 13(9).
Gazan, Rich (2009).  When Online Communities Become Self-Aware. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, HI, 5-8 January 2009.
Dibbell, Julian (2008). Mutilated Furries, Flying Phalluses: Put the Blame on Griefers, the Sociopaths of the Virtual World.  Wired 16.02.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Dark Side of Stickem

Stickam describes itself as “the pioneer of the live interactive video streaming space” community, where members turn on their webcams for others to see them.

According to the website, “With over 7 million registered members, [Stickam is] home to the largest live community online.” Members can broadcast via their computer web cam or a mobile app. They can also charge for views and access their member profile via Facebook and/or embed their profile onto another website.  

The purpose of this community is to “watch and interact with live people or live shows”. Members can do this three ways: by listening/sharing music, creating and/or responding to a show, and/or socializing via chat (text and/or video). The site is heavily dominated by teenagers and young adults in their early twenties. According to the About page the site was named “Top Video Destination for Teens” by Nielsen.  Members need to be at least 14 years old to join. Figure 1 features membership demographics.
Figure 1. Stickam membership demographics

Music can be shared live in real time with an audience. Artists can receive instant feedback by the live community. Audience can share their opinions of the music on a group platform in real time.

The second reason to join is for members to share content via a show format with friends and/or strangers. This can mean that some members simply turn on their webcams and do nothing different. Some members are interested in watching other members relax and watch TV and/or interact on their computer. There are many lurkers on line who like to watch and not interact at all. Some shows consist of a more traditional format, such as amateur DJs recording a radio program featuring guests via live webcasts. A schedule of shows is available for members.

The final reason to engage in the Stickam live community is to video chat or text chat with friends and/or new people.

The main reasons why people would join this site is to 1) to be entertained, 2) to meet new people, 3) to socialize with existing networks, 4) to be noticed by others.

I will focus on the social aspect of this live community instead of the radio stations because of the obvious difference in the amount of views the social format receives over the music and shows & celebrities formats.

Identities are shaped and expressed within the social community of this live site in various ways. One measurable way identities are expressed is through profile pictures. Even though the above membership demographics describe the community as being 55% male, the first page of the social community page features only females. See figure 2.

Figure 2 Social page includes all females

The site claims that the profile images are monitored to keep the site appropriate for the 14-17 members. Parental control is referenced, too, as the ultimate way to protect underage members from harm. There are also policies on harassment listed in the Safety Tips link.

Another way Stickam member’s identities are determined is by their lurker count, webcam viewers and number of chat room participants.

My proposed working definition of an online identity for this site is to meet new people in real time in real situations (i.e., at home in front of their computer, in their bed watching TV).  Hosts (those with webcams and live broadcasts) desire attention, don’t mind voyeurism or concern themselves with privacy, and hope to be entertained and/or hope to entertain. Like Wellman discusses in his article “The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism” this site exemplifies the way the Internet has invaded and “embedded” itself into daily life. Stickam’s social community allows for recording of trivial episodes such as lying in bed, sitting at one’s desk, or filming oneself in the home without any obvious purpose than to entertain has literally opened up homes to the worldwide community. Nothing is sacred when every moment can be exploited and commented on.

Like Ploderer’s passion-centric social network site that connects members to others online who would normally never meet in real life, the Stickam site brings together people who would probably never socialize otherwise. And like the bodybuilding social network, this community is unabashedly focused on member’s physique.

A stark difference is the intent of the site, whereas the bodybuilding site can help motivate better healthy habits, inform participants about proper nutrition and weight training tips, and provide emotional support to fellow bodybuilders, Stickam host users seem to benefit from attention by their followers. Followers can support hosts with their lurking eyes, chat messages, and video chatting in real time.

With the stated imbalance of front-page female profiles, there are several references to pedafilia and pornography. Below are three scenarios that outline common interactions based on my observations of existing users.

First Scenario
Individual with predictable need:
Lonely man looking for some female companionship

Enters and navigates community:
By selecting someone from the opening profile page, searching for a certain name, performing an advanced search on the gender, age, location, and/or status (with profile image, cam on, friends only chat). Finds someone he is interested in viewing and perhaps chatting with.

Exits with what he came for:
Yes, if the user is able to get the host to respond to his comments, then the user is successful in his engagement of the host.

Sunny Day scenario:
User: Where are you from?
Host: Los Angeles, you?
User: You look like you were from Florida

Second Scenario
Individual with predictable need:
Intoxicated man looking for some female companionship

Enters and navigates the community:
Finds someone he is attracted to by her profile picture and enters in her chat room. He also broadcasts his image via web cam in hopes of engaging the host.

Rainy Day Scenario:
Intoxicated man: WAT NATIONALITY R U
Host:  no direct response
Host:  goddammit you guys are boring
Host:  I should go on shuffle

Host: 50 is nothing
Host: i’ve has a few hundred before

If the host only wanted viewers and not someone to engage with, she would be happy with her 50 plus lurkers. She clearly is unimpressed with the users who are trying to engage her. She did manage to boast about her previous high lurker count though. This proves that it is important or at least worth recalling and sharing with other users.

Third Scenario
Individual with predictable need:
Host looking to be entertained and noticed by others

Enters and navigates the community:
Turns on web cam and interacts with her followers.

Sunny Day scenario:
User1: someone needs to learn to turn on webcam
Host: I know how to
User2: We want to see you
Host: I am great
User3: Everyone loves the host

The host turns on her webcam after several minutes of keeping it off. Meanwhile, there were almost 500 lurkers, several followers (who all appeared to be male) also on webcams and in her chat room waiting to see her. For the host, she must have been happy with the turn out.

How is online identity shaped and expressed through interactions in this community?

Hosts want their profiles to be accessed for a variety of reasons. One the social community part of the website, hosts are looking for entertainment and perhaps also looking to entertain. Hosts don’t mind adoration or more innocently interest in their broadcasts, but seem to thrive on it. As evident in Scenario 2, the host mentioned that she had more lurkers before as if it was a feat.

Therefore, the online identity is shaped by the amount of attention (overt and covert) the host receives. The host depends on followers for some kind of affirmation that he or she is worthwhile or better yet interesting or attractive enough to view.

It is uncertain if lurkers are frequent visitors (loyal) to certain hosts or if they randomly find them each time they log on, but my guess from the third scenario is that there are repeat lurkers for certain hosts. This site reminds me of a digitized peep show, where the hosts might keep their shirts on, but do their best to entertain/engage their followers with their looks.

Stickam is a prime example of a site full of weak ties, “narrow social relationships restricted to a single shared interest or confined to a particular site of interaction” as discussed in Hodkinson’s chapter titled “Subcultural Blogging? Online Journals and Group Involvement among UK Goths”.  Although, Hodkinson came to the conclusion that the subculture of Goths was able to flourish when community members left an online forum for individualized blog space on LiveJournal thereby making their community a network of strong ties. Stickam seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum. By creating individual profile and views, the hosts seem to be somewhat aware of their competition and therefore at least one host prided herself on a high participation count.

This social community reveals a dark side of the internet as voyeurism is encouraged. Even more frightening is the minimum age requirement and the imbalance front-page profile images of females. Overall, I think that an online identity from this site is based on an unhealthy need for attention, particularly from men to females. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Can the old directory be just as helpful online?

Thursday night sirens blared, TV and radio programs were interrupted for an emergency broadcast that warned everyone about a tsunami. Everyone was advised to look in their trusty phone book to find out if they were in the danger zone and if so, they needed to move to higher ground immediately. Maps identifying safe and danger zones are clearly depicted in the phone book’s opening pages.

Everyone knows that the telephone book is the reference tool you want to refer to in a time of crisis. People associate disaster preparedness with the directory. It would then seem critical for the online version to also have readily accessible information about disasters, too. After all, customers will expect the information to be there and  likely demonstrate a fidelity to the source online.

Unfortunately, the web version of the Hawaiian Telcom Yellow Pages is not so easy to navigate and recovering information about disasters on the website is not straightforward at all.

If for some reasons folks discarded their phone books thinking that they can find everything on line, they would be terribly surprised at how difficult it is to find emergency information on the Official Hawaiian Telcom’s Yellow Pages website. 

In the traditional publication, the emergency information is all found conveniently within the first pages. In fact, upon opening the cover, users find in clear bold capital red letters and numbers CALL 911. Below is a list of other important numbers and the general categories of the book found on the first page:

One can easily find out more information about the safety/vulnerability of their location in the event of a disaster by easily flipping the pages to the yellow-edge section, where there are several tsunami evacuation maps included, see below. 

It’s comforting to quickly find the information needed, so precious moments can actually be spent on preparing for the disaster, not searching for information about how to prepare. However, if someone was using the online equivalent, they would struggle to find the relevant information quickly.

On the website’s homepage, there are many ways to retrieve information.

This is normally a great feature, except when there is an urgent, time-sensitive need for information that may affect your life. If a user clicked on the maps links (one on the main header options and one on the side bar) to find out if their home/location is in the danger zone, they would get the same dead link. Please see below.

This isn’t the link you want to see if sirens are blaring in the background.  Persistent and sophisticated users might not get flustered, but would probably try other links to retrieve the information.

By clicking on O’ahu in the state map image users would be led to an informative page with many links about safety tips that might overwhelm users and certainly would not immediately provide map information about safety and danger zones.

Besides listing duplicative sites (see Pacific Disaster Center’s link is listed twice), users would still need to do some mining.  Albeit the links do have important information, such as educational videos on the dangers of surfing in a tsunami, it still does not easily provide evacuation maps like the telephone directory does.

One way could improve its interactive website which provides opportunities for its visitors to access coupons, greeting cards, menus, maps, is to ensure its compatibility with the physical book.

The website could expand its existing side bar options on the home page so that it better resembles the physical opening pages of the telephone book. Since many people look to the telephone book for emergency information and indeed, it is even suggested on the emergency broadcast announcements to look up your location (to determine your safety) in the phone book, offline users are likely to continue looking to this tool online. By providing a similar format as the familiar telephone directory, online users would not have to click on several links, get redirected and most likely abandon the site altogether to retrieve disaster information from somewhere else.

The telephone directory has authoritative information that is recognized by disaster response agencies; it needs to capitalize on this trust and provide accurate and accessible information or risk losing their audience to non-authoritative sites users might encounter by typing in generic search terms. In Leibenluft’s article “A Librarian’s Worst Nightmar-Yahoo! Answers, where 120 million users can be wrong” we know that there are sites that might easily come up with a seemingly relevant answers quickly, yet can also be riddled with incorrect information. In a time of a crisis, this can be deadly. 

A digital advantage the new interactive Hawaiian Telcom’s Yellow Pages site can realistically employ quite easily is the search box feature, a tool that the old directory simply cannot provide. Besides the physical book’s generic list of categories in the opening pages (that don’t even qualify as a table of contents as there are no page references) and the alphabetical order of businesses there is no other organizational tool (index, glossary, or controlled vocabulary menu).  If someone is looking for a Doctor, they would need to surmise through their own synonym generations that the Doctors information is under Physicians.

Currently, the website does not have a generic search box, but instead only has it for business name/category and for city and state on its home page. A search box that would include all the reference information a typical telephone directory traditionally provides would allow users to access the important sections commonly found in any phone directory, such as community information; area maps and street guides, and of course the critical disaster preparedness guide. One reason why this information might not be so readily available is because the website is too broad. It is connected to the national website, as evident with the maps links.

Once users experience difficulty in accessing information online that was uniquely (for most households) found in their physical copy of the telephone book, they will leave the company’s equivalent informational online offering and instead peruse other sites to find the desired data. If the Hawaiian Telcom Yellow Pages wants to retain their customers, they must make their website as familiar and easy to navigate as the old tried and true telephone book.

Interestingly enough, Hawaiian Telcom’s Yellow Pages is obviously striving for relevance with it’s strong presence of advertisements (in print, online, on TV and radio) that purport to help local businesses maintain contact with their customers. Yet, without attending to these glaring oversights, they risk losing their established authority a critical, niche informational need. Like Duguid wrote in his article “Limits of Self-Organization; Peer Production and Laws of Quality” the backwaters of the indicate a weakness in the overall quality of the online “always on” (the website's catchy slogan used by Hawaiian Telcom) version of the telephone book.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Session 4 – Compare social capital/trust mechanisms

RL asks newbies to fill out a user profile. It is optional, but because of its brevity, I quickly completed the profile, therefore contributing to the OC without too much reservation.

Most of the questions were interest/topic specific, making it easy to answer. For example, the profile prompts include: number of years running; favorite type of runs; why I run; what I want to know about running; my past and future running goals (see Figure 1 and Figure 3). Also, RL gives an option to post a photo or use a variety of generic photos that include images of diverse runners (gender, ethnicity or a non-detailed drawing) in a variety of settings (urban, rural desert, country) [see Figure 2].
Figure 1- Basic Qs re: running
                                                 Figure 2: Option to choose image

                                              Figure 3- Only two open-ended questions

Adding these details personalizes my profile and makes me feel more welcomed in the community. I have established myself as a legitimate runner (with my public display of experience and my past race results). Also, by publicly posting my goals I might increase my chances of obtaining my goal, as others are aware of my commitment. The date my profile was created is included (see Figure 4), but it is the seventh detail you would find on my profile.

                                                         Figure 4 – Profile Summary                                                

Figure 5 – Automatic Friends

Another feature of RL that gives new users confidence to stay is the automatic friends upon creating a profile. I vaguely recall MySpace had an automated feature like this, everyone’s first friend was another guy named Tom. On Runner’s Lounge, Amy and Tom will act as my tour guides (later on I will discover that Amy and Tom are the original hosts of this website). I can click on their profiles and find out if we have more in common than just running. For example, do they too enjoy short runs or do they live in Hawaii? I am not sure, but I can easily find out through their profiles, blogs, widgets, and links.

In Figure 4, there are two images of running shoes that signals the user added content to these prompts. Anyone can click on the running shoe to find out more About Me and My Goals/Races.
In Tom’s profile, he has little running shoe icons on all his tabs: About Me; My Goals/Races; My Notebook; My Running Log; and My Bulletin Board. Since Tom is the co-host of the site and is one of my first friends, I trust his opinion already.

His tab My Notebook has products, tips. This is helpful way to learn more about running through someone else’s(a trusted runner/creator of this OC)  experience and preferences. In Massa’s “A Survey of Trust Use and Modeling in Real Online Systems”, this concept of opinion and activity sharing sites is one of the ways trust is modeled and used in online communities. Tom has linked to certain products publically thereby sharing his opinion of them. New users can link to these products and feel confident that they worked for a runner who has been running for 36 years now (as evident from Tom’s profile page).

Another detail that I appreciate as a newbie is the lack of a friend count. Amy (co-host of the OC, which was created about 3 ½ years ago) clearly has a lot of friends, I can scroll for days and see hundreds of images of other runners. Yet, there is no evidence of a friend count on her profile. This site isn’t promoting friend count competition, which is refreshing.

The House Rules of RL state that multiple user ids are discouraged (which according to Massa can lead to trust exploitation), as well as posting commercial endeavors on personal content tabs. Yet, in a recent response to a post by the co-hosts of the site, one of the comments describes specialized coats, a response clearly irrelevant to the OP and potentially indicative of a break down in site/comment monitoring (Figure 6). The inappropriate comment was even more pronounced as the OP was about the co-hosts relinquishing responsibility for the site.

   Figure 6 – Site hosts stepping down

            Figure 7 – Irrelevant comments (possibly SPAM) mixed into comments

The most recent update by the now former co-hosts of the site was on Feb 11th (see Figure 8), which verifies that the site has indeed changed hands, but oddly enough there was no information about the new hosts. This could disrupt confidence and trust especially among newbies, like myself, who are less likely to invest in a seemingly transitional site.

            Figure 8 – New Owners not introduced or identified, only briefly mentioned

The functionality of the site is still apparent, but I can’t help but to wonder how long established users will stick around. Massa talked about the idea of extracting “precious data users entered into the system” as a backup and for migration purposes. This is a good example of why this concept is important. What happens when an OC is in danger of decaying? What if the new hosts don’t interact as much as Amy and Tom interacted with the Runner’s Lounge? As it is, some of the users were complaining that the co-host’s feedback had slowed down (see Figure 9 and 10). 

            Figure 9 – User expressing concern about Tom’s decrease in contributions

Figure 10 – Same user expressing concern on Amy’s page (no reply indicates possibly unanswered query)
It is clear that Tom responded to AllenKenya’s concern, as evident by the additional response by AllenKenya the following day included in the comments section. Here is where I think a display of Tom’s response would be valid and useful. Instead, users only see concern and a sympathetic response. Making the entire exchange visible or optional (with a Hide Comments link) would be a better way to inform not just AllenKenya of the reason for a lapse in contributions, but to inform everyone else who is thinking the same things, but hasn’t written/inquired about it.  

Amy, the other site co-host, had an inquiry about the lapse. It appears that she did not reply, since AllenKenya didn’t respond again, like he did on Tom’s page. It seems that Tom and Amy both had a decline in contributions around the same time, around 2010. Although Amy’s page does have some comments from this year, Tom does not and he only had four comments for 2010. Meanwhile, he had pages and pages of comments in 2009, which indicates that he was reciprocating comments to users. Once there was a decrease in reciprocation as mentioned in Allen et al “Forming Social Networks of Trust to Incentivize Cooperation” there was evidence of the difficulty to maintain relationships, which then affects the larger cooperation of the OC and threatens its trustworthiness.  

I can use this OC to tap into offline running groups, by searching profiles. I found 6 other runners in my state and three running clubs in Honolulu. Yet I wonder how long this site will have viable links and contributions. Another important suggestion I want to make for this site and the retiring co-hosts is that they should immediately introduce the new owners! New owners should have been introduced by name and should have included a real image (like Tom and Amy). The healthy of this OC depends on the personalization of the new hosts. If not, then I wonder how long AllenKenya will stick around.

This site is for triathletes. It is up-to-date and easily navigable. There are opportunities for users to upload photos and videos, share training tips, publically post upcoming races and desired target times, and arrange offline meetings/trainings. It has Ford as an advertiser; the site feels professionally managed and very interactive. Here is a shot of their opening page (Figure 11). It describes the OC for a variety of athletes from seasoned pros to newcomers. With no triathlon experience, I am definitely representative of a newcomer.

            Figure 11 – This site is supposedly marketed for seasoned pros or newcomers

Figure 12 – On opening page, lurkers are discouraged from browsing anonymously

There is a definite push into joining the community as evident from Figure 2. And for a newcomer it does sound advantageous to join. I signed up to join the community and came across the first vetting process (Figure 12) and quickly realized that newcomers, that is folks with not that much knowledge about or experience in triathlons, were not that welcome after all (see Figure 13). With such specific prompts and language, newcomers can quickly feel like there is a high entrance cost to join the club. 
Figure 13 – Although levels are seemingly irrelevant, it appears like this site caters to experienced triathletes more than novices.

The sign up process undeniably states that the “security and safety” of the OC are a primary concern and all applicants will be screened. This is not just a formality; upon completing the sign up I was put on a wait list for administrator approval. Some of the questions to establish my profile deviated slightly from the topic. In the Runner’s Lounge, my relationship status was not important. I could have shared it in one of the open-ended questions, but here in the iamTRI OC the relationship status was one of the prompts. Newcomers need to also upload a photo, a mandatory requirement to join the site. These prompts made me think that this site was more of a hook-up site than just a strictly training/common interest OC (see Figure 14 and 15).

Figure 14 – Interested in members appearance and relationship status are somewhat suspect

Figure 15 – It is evident that users have non-sport related motivations to join site.

This site is a clear example of online connections leading to offline meetings. It is clear that users intend to follow up with one another and either train, compete, negotiate, go on social outings or hook up by joining this site. There are social capital implications here too because of the exclusivity of the OC.

Williams describes in “On and Off the ‘Net: Scales for Social Capital in an Online Era” that social capital is “loosely understood to operate like financial capital in that using it creates more of it”. Ironically, I think users of this site can use their social capital for financial gain, too. Although they might be able to achieve strong ties (bonding level) with some of their fellow triathletes as they endure grueling conditions that would bring most humans to their knees in agony, they most certainly will benefit from the weak ties (bridging level) as evident in the wide range of Tri Interests (see Figure 15). Users can extend their social capital by tapping into other like-minded highly persistent personalities that engage in extreme sports, which implies a certain type of demographic, someone who has some disposable income to spend on race entry fees and possibly travel costs to participate in races in various locations, and purchase and maintain expensive equipment (such as specialized bikes, expensive nutritional supplements, and specialized clothing for to enhance performance).

Upon searching the member’s profiles as an anonymous user (since I was granted permission to enter the site by the administrator) I was somewhat relieved to see that not every user had a personal picture posted. Instead some of them opted out of uploading an image (they must have signed up to the site when it wasn’t yet required) and others shared images of objects (see the photo of flowers in the left hand corner) in Figure 16.

Figure 16 – Most of the members on this random page happen to be men.

Viewing member pages, many of the members tend to be male and they seem to have families, at least most of the profile I looked into. I found one member who seemed to be a prime example of a Discussion Person, that is according to Gleave et al “A Conceptual and Operational Definition of ‘Social Role’ in Online Community” someone who is “characterized by frequent reciprocal exchanges with a relatively high number of other participants”. He has greeted several newcomers and has offered his help with training tips (see Figure 17 and 18).

Figure 17 & 18 – Coach Dave’s webpage is full of recent comments by a variety of people.
His interaction and frequent contributions and sincerity evident as he welcomes newcomers is a sign that this site is a trustworthy OC not the sleazy site I had thought it was upon signing up. I would suggest that this OC would fare better if they remove the mandatory image upload and instead, like Runner’s lounge provided a few stock images (that represent different genders, ethnicities, settings and go a step further to include different ages) that newcomers can choose instead of uploading a personal photo. This seems unfair to demand newbies to post an image, when many of the existing members do not have images. When I tried to sign up with out the required image, I was kicked back to the questions and told that I had submitted an incomplete membership request form.

Another suggestion I would make for this iamTRI site would be to remove the relationship status descriptor and ask an open-ended question instead of featuring the Tri Interests options. These initial questions led me to doubt the purpose of this site from the beginning and if I hadn’t been reviewing this site for a class, I might have been turned off by the tone and personal (off-topic) questions that will be displayed in my profile.

Gleave, Eric, Howard T. Welser, Thomas M. Lento and Marc A. Smith (2009).  A Conceptual and Operational Definition of  ÔSocial RoleÕ in Online Community. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, HI, 5-8 January 2009.

Williams, D. (2006).  On and Off the 'Net: Scales for Social Capital in an Online Era. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), article 11.

Massa, Paolo (2006).  A Survey of Trust Use and Modeling in Current Real Systems. Trust in E-services: Technologies, Practices and Challenges. Idea Group.

Allen, Stuart M., Gualtiero Colombo, Roger M. Whitaker (2009).  Forming Social Networks of Trust to Incentivize Cooperation. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, HI, 5-8 January 2009.

Eryilmaz, Evren, Mitch Cochran and Sumonta Kasemvilas (2009).  Establishing Trust Management in an Open Source Collaborative Information Repository: An Emergency Response Information System Case Study. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, HI, 5-8 January 2009.

Ellison, N.B., C. Steinfield and C. Lampe (2007).  The Benefits of Facebook "Friends:" Social Capital and College Students' Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4).


Should teachers allow/apply information gleaned from their student’s social networking sites in class projects, classroom discipline/management?
For example, I know a teacher who is “Friends” with many of her students. She encourages them to ask questions via Facebook presumably because they feel more comfortable expressing their concerns in this format (as opposed to one on one teacher/student conferences on campus).
Also, I know a youth leader who checks up on her students via Facebook. She will ask them face to face if they are ready to talk to her about a problem they publically shared/posted on line.
Another example is when an instructor asked his students to poll their classmates about their behavior when it comes to conserving energy. One of the students created a survey and posted it on her Facebook account so she could gather data asynchronously and also have the data already digitized. What about the idea that this can only be done (theoretically) after school hours? What if students don’t have equitable access to computers?