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1999 ACM SIGCHI - Counting on Community in Cyberspace

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  • 1. CHI 9 9 15-20 MAY 1999 ACM ISBN: 1-58113-158-5 Panels Counting on Community in Cyberspace Marc A . S m i t h , S t e v e n M . D r u c k e r Microsoft Research, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, W A 98052 +1-425-936-6896 {masmith, sdrucker} @microsoft.corn Steven Drucker, Microsoft Research Robert Kraut, Carnegie Mellon University Marc S m i t h , M i c r o s o f t R e s e a r c h Barry W e l l m a n , U n i v e r s i t y o f T o r o n t o ABSTRACT community that are the glue that hold cyberspace In this panel, a group of researchers, each of whom has communities together. Second, to provide guidelines for either constructed tools for communicating and community the design of new tools for community construction by building in cyberspace or studied the process, present their providing a description of aspects of community known to own work and critically evaluate each other's work. Our be desirable. perspective explores the relationships between individual MEASURING COMMUNITIES IN CYBERSPACE usage of these tools and the formation of lasting social Each of the panelists has chosen some aspect of group relationships and groups. Each panelist presents a current membership or community activity in an existing online research project that documents the empirical patterns of community and gathered and studied the patterns of use and interaction with existing forms of social behavior and action that takes place with in it. cyberspaces. The panelists comment on the ways in which the their findings cast new perspective on each other's Netscan: Visualizing Usenet Structure findings and on the prospects for the formation of both Panelist Marc Smith (Microsoft Research) has built Netscan online communities and physical communities augmented (netscan.research.microsoft.com) a system for the dynamic by online interaction. construction of visualizations of one of the largest and most dynamic of the Ifiternet based communities: Usenet. This Keywords system is used as a research tool for exploring the structure Social cyberspaces, virtual communities, social issues, and dynamics of groups forming within social cyberspaces. metrics, World Wide Web (WWW), telecommunications Netscan allows users to visualize the relationships between COMMUNITIES IN CYBERSPACE Usenet newsgroups and between threads and posters within Cyberspace is the site of a burgeoning collection of social individual groups. Using Netscan users can track the daily relationships. Many of these relationships aggregate into changes in activity in specific groups or groups of groups. collections that take on the form of communities. But very What emerges is a picture of the landscape of activity little is known about the actual patterns of use and internal across the Usenet as a whole. behavior of individual participants or the ways their activity Smith's perspective on the emergence of communities in aggregates into larger structures and dynamics. cyberspace is sociological. He draws from the extensive What constitutes a "community" in cyberspace remains an research on communities and collective action to model open question. Our proposal is to address this question by behavior within Usenet. It is well established that the presenting empirical studies of existing examples of online interests of individuals do not always align with those of social aggregations. We wish to accomplish two goals: groups. When this happens a tragedy of the commons, a First, to gather a range of base-line measures of a range of situation when everyone is worse off than they would have forms of social cyberspaces and to discover the aspects of been if they had cooperated for the common good, can result. Usenet is widely viewed as having succumbed to this tragedy. Smith's research shows that, to the contrary, islands of cooperative behavior do exist in the Usenet. He proposes a range of changes to the interfaces used to access Usenet as a way to improve the quality of interaction and extend the scope of cooperative relationships. 87
  • 2. Panels ACM ISBN: 1-58113-158-5 CHI 99 15-20 MAY 1999 Graphical Chats psychological well being of average Americans. The Panelist Steven Drucker (Microsoft Research) studies the findings provide a consistent picture of the downside of behaviors of groups of people in graphical chat. Although using the Internet extensively as a source of inaformation or graphical chat systems have been around for a number of setting for friendship and or social support. years, there have been very few quantitative or even Even though people in the study heavily used electronic qualitative studies done on the use of them. mail and other communication services on the Internet, the Work will be presented that analyzes the usage of V-Chat, a research finds that spending time on ,the Internet was graphical chat system created over 2 years ago by the associated with later declines in talking among family Microsoft Virtual Worlds Group. Graphical systems like members, reductions in the number of friends and V-Chat model a familiar but often unnoticed aspect of acquaintances they kept up with, and increases in social interaction: physical distance. In all human societies depression and loneliness. the space between people conveys meaning about the nature HomeNet studied 169 personal computer users in of the relationship between participants. Pittsburgh, whose communications on the Internet were This research shows, among other results, that the graphical monitored during their first years online. A little over half portions of the system were used extensively even without the subjects are female users, a quarter of them belong to any direct affordances (i.e. there were no explicit reasons to minorities. The subject pool also represents a fairly wide use the graphical portions of the system). This work income range. The home computer users are fanailies with a addresses the question as to why people use the graphics wide range of demographic backgrounds whose common capabilities present in V-Chat in particular and how to bond was a high school age student or membership in a improve communication and community in general with community development group. innovative additions to conventional chat systems. Of the different demographic groups, teenagers seem the most vulnerable to potential negative effects. What's more, NetVille: The Wired Suburb teenagers used the Internet for more hours than did adults. Barry Wellman's team is doing a user study of home and The technology that has allowed people to keep in touch community use of network communication in a wired with distant family members and friends, to find suburb north of Toronto. This suburb is unique in that Bell information quickly and to develop friendships with people and Nortel have provided the homes with free high speed, around the world apparently is also replacing vital, wide bandwidth connectivity with (a) the Internet, (b) everyday human communication. Greater use of the Internet videophone, (c) value-added online services (such as health was associated with statistically significant declines in the information, downloadable music, shopping). The first 120 social involvement within a participant's families, the size residents have already moved in, with a total of 400 homes of a person's social networks and reports by participants of expected. increases in loneliness and depression, psychological states This project enables Wellman and his team to do a proper associated with reduced social involvement. analysis of how people use existing online services, what ACKNOWLEDGMENTS kinds of services they want in the future, and how using Marc Smith would like to thank the Microsoft Research these tools affects their home life. This community can be Virtual Worlds Group for their generous support of the seen as a natural laboratory and window on the future, Netscan project. providing now the sort of wired existence that will be more prevalent five to ten years from now. The research involves WEB SITES two surveys of residents, 1 and 2 years after they have http://netscan.research.microsoft.com moved in, as well as surveys of a control group of residents (Netscan Usenet Visualization System) moving into a similar (but unwired) suburb currently being http://vchat.microsoft.com built near-by. In addition to the surveys, a researcher on the ~Microsoft V-Chat) http://homenet.andrew.cmu.edu project, Keith Hampton, has moved into the development (HomeNet Study) and begun ethnographic participant-observation of life in Netville. Furthermore, logs of online use are being REFERENCES collected and analyzed. 1. Axelrod, Robert, 1984. The Emergence of Cooperation, New York: Basic Books HomeNet: Pittsburgh's Newly Wired 2. WilliamH. Whyte, 1971 City : Rediscoveringthe Center, New York: Anchor Books The Internet has the potential to make us socially isolated, lonely and depressed, according to the HomeNet study of 3. HerbertGans, 1982 The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Politics in a New Suburban Community, New York: ColumbiaUniversityPress home computer users performed by Robert Kraut and a research team part of Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer 4. Edward Twitchell Hall, 1990, The Hidden Dimension, New York: Anchor Books Interaction Institute. The study examines the impact the 5. Erving Goffman, 1976. Relations in Public, Internet is having on the social involvement and HarperColophon, New York. 88