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  1. 1. Cooperation Social Media – Dr. Giorgos Cheliotis ( Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore
  2. 2. Introduction  We examined several aspects of online social networks and online communities in previous classes  But people do much more than ‘friending’ and chatting online; they contribute ideas, work and other resources to user-initiated projects, and cooperate with other users to get things done e.g., organize an event, produce content or software that they and others can use, resolve disputes among users, etc.  This begs the question: why do online users contribute their work and time to common projects? Also…  How do they coordinate action with other users?  How do they balance private interest with working towards a common goal that may sometimes conflict with individual rationality? 2 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  3. 3. Human cooperation The subject of cooperation is of course not unique to the online experience. Sociologists, economists, anthropologists, communications scholars and others have long sought to explain why and how cooperative behavior emerges. Several explanations have been developed:  Cooperation is necessary for the organization of society and production, so it is cultivated through socialization, education, experience, and/or force (i.e. can be dictated by hierarchies or cultural and community norms)  Private interest need not conflict with the pursuit of a common goal; when the two are mutually supportive, cooperation becomes the natural choice  Even when the two are not clearly linked, or in conflict, we may still derive pleasure (social-psychological rewards) from exhibiting altruistic, pro-social behavior, e.g., by helping those who may need our support  Education and the wide availability of information afforded by ICT’s can increase our empathy for others, leading to concern for the broader implications of our actions 3 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  4. 4. The Internet as an ‘amplifier’ of human qualities “Online social networks can be powerful amplifiers of collective action precisely because they augment and extend the power of ever-complexifying human sociality. To be sure, gossip, conflict, slander, fraud, greed and bigotry are part of human sociality, and those parts of human behavior can be amplified, too. But altruism, fun, community and curiosity are also parts of human sociality−and I propose that the Web is an existence proof that these capabilities can be amplified, as well.” Howard Rheingold* The new affordances of ICT’s for cooperative behavior and the success of open source software, Wikipedia, and numerous other online communities, have generated new interest in the nature of human cooperation! •Source: 4 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  5. 5. Let’s take this one step at a time why do we sometimes cooperate, while other times we do not? 5 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  6. 6. Social dilemmas “Social dilemmas are situations in which individual rationality leads to collective irrationality.That is, individually responsible behavior leads to a situation where everyone is worse off than they might have been otherwise.” Peter Kollock, 1998 The study of such ‘social dilemmas’ is relevant for online cooperation because: a) It assumes that people are driven by individual rationality, i.e. the maximization of some personal reward, i.e. not making any assumptions on human nature other than the most simplistic one: that we try to do what is best for ourselves (and shows how this can lead to everyone being worse off) b) This reductionist view on human nature is more suitable for examining cooperative behavior online, where one may cooperate with complete strangers, than it would be in the context of a family or tightly knit local community, where cooperation may be mandated by other factors 6 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  7. 7. Strategies  The study of social dilemmas revolves around individual strategies that have outcomes that are relevant both to the individual and to others  An equilibrium is the final outcome after individuals have played out their strategies  A deficient equilibrium is said to occur when each individual’s rational decisions leave everyone worse off*  But this does not necessarily assume that people are shortsighted; they may be aware of the shortcomings but sometimes the best thing for an individual will simply not be the best for the group  A dominating strategy is one that yields the best outcome for the individual, irrespective of what everyone else does* (so even if others may be willing to cooperate, your best option may still be to defect) •Kollock, 1998 7 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  8. 8. Prisoner’s Dilemma: Description Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to a short jail sentence on a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives half the full sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation.* What will they do? * based on the description in the Wikipedia article on Prisoner’s Dilemma 8 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  9. 9. Prisoner’s Dilemma: Formulation as Game PLAYER 2 Defection is Cooperate (C) Defect (D) dominant strategy! 2 3 Cooperate (C) Only one, deficient PLAYER 1 2 0 equilibrium: they both defect, 0 1 receiving a much Defect (D) lower payoff as a group than they would 3 1 have received had they cooperated DC> CC>DD>CD practical application: online commercial transactions with no collaterals 9 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  10. 10. Two more games: Assurance and Chicken  In the assurance game mutual cooperation (CC) yields a better outcome for each player than unilateral defection (DC), i.e. CC>DC>DD>CD  If a player will do the same as what he/she thinks the other player will do (defection not dominant)  Two equilibria: CC (optimal) and DD (deficient)  In the chicken game mutual defection (DD) yields a worse outcome than unilateral cooperation (CD), i.e. DC>CC>CD>DD  Each player will do the opposite of what he/she thinks the other player will do (defection again not dominant)  Two equilibria: DC (optimal) and CD (deficient) C C DD D D 10 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  11. 11.  Each of these models of social dilemmas is a highly simplified representation of choices and their outcomes  But which one is more ‘realistic’, i.e. more representative of real life situations? Think for example about your participation in teams, e.g. as a student: how would you choose whether to contribute to a team project or not? 11 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  12. 12. Relevant considerations  Assume that the project will always succeed if everyone cooperates  Can a subset of team members also complete the project, even while some are defecting or does it require the cooperation of everyone?  What do you think others will do – cooperate or defect?  What is the personal outcome if it fails?  What if it fails because you defected (private cost, i.e. low grade and social cost, i.e. discontent by peers and reputation loss)?  What if it succeeds while you defected or fails while you cooperated (because others defected)? 12 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  13. 13. Expectation of other’s move Imagine a two-person team Your move Type of game Yes C C Requires all C/D C/D Success contributors No Assurance D D Failure C C or D C/D C/D Success Prisoner’s Dilemma, D C Assurance or C/D Chicken depends on how you With larger teams it becomes D value different outcomes more complex and depends on shape of production function (how Failure many contributors are needed) 13 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  14. 14. Common multiple-person dilemmas  Social fence: each individual is faced with a cost A social trap is the mirror that generates a benefit that can be shared by all image of a social fence: they both relate to public goods Example: public good provision (city parks, television, that are content freely available on social media platforms) • non-excludable, i.e. everyone Relates to the production of a public good can benefit from their use • non-rivalrous, i.e. my use does not directly impact  Social trap: each individual can reap an immediate your use benefit, which produces a cost for all • subtractable or depletable*, i.e. my use does impact the Example: tragedy of the commons (pollution, overgrazing, total available stock and free-riding on social media platforms) with no replenishment can Relates to the consumption of a public good lead to depletion * Sometimes in the literature depletable goods will be deemed rivalrous, because there is some rivalry involved, even if it is indirect and its consequences may only be felt after a long time (think about pollution, or overgrazing) 14 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  15. 15. Aspects of multiple-person dilemmas  Anonymity (in large groups): one’s actions may not be revealed, directly or indirectly, to the rest of the group (i.e. one may not know with certainty whether someone else has defected) – opposite: identifiability  Diffusion of costs: the costs generated by social traps are diffused to everyone in the group, thus making them seem smaller; also any single contribution to the cost appears insignificant  Less control: with two persons, one can directly influence the other person’s decision and hence also the outcome; in larger groups there is less control and thus more uncertainty  Diffusion of responsibility: not knowing whether others will defect or cooperate (anonymity and less control) and given that one’s actions may incur only a very small amount of the total cost to the group, one does not feel so responsible for one’s actions and their outcome 15 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  16. 16. Motivational solutions  Social value orientations (competitive, cooperative, altruistic, or individualistic) influence choices, but how to cultivate them unclear  Communication may help increase cooperative orientation (through information gathering, making commitments, and attempts at moral suasion)  Group identity also increases cooperation among people identifying with a particular group because of increased interest in well-being of group; but also inter-group competition 16 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  17. 17. Strategic solutions (often require identifiability: individual actions observable)  Reciprocity: an iterative tit-for-tat strategy can transform a prisoner’s dilemma game into an assurance game (mutual cooperation or mutual defection) – but to lean more towards cooperation, must also forgive and give the benefit of a doubt  Group/Generalized Reciprocity: expectation that one’s actions will be reciprocated now or in the future, by some other member in the group increases cooperative or even altruistic behavior  Strategic Exit: an out-for-tat strategy that is cooperative until the first clear sign of defection, at which point, the ‘cheated’ party exits the relationship  Grim triggers: agreeing to cooperate only if everyone else does so as well. This leads to assurance game, but is risky because it can easily lead to mass defection  Social learning: inducing cooperative behavior through socialization and imitation of desirable behavior 17 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  18. 18. Structural solutions (usually require identifiability; assume ability to change the game)  Increasing duration of relationships (stronger ties) and information about individuals’ actions  Altering payoff structure: making cooperation more attractive through rewards or defection less attractive through sanctions (tread carefully here, implementing sanctions can be costly and harsh sanctions may be counterproductive)  Increasing the efficacy of individual contributions: making each contribution matter more  Group size: traditional wisdom is that smaller is better, but CMC making larger groups more effective, plus they can reach more easily critical mass of contributors, so more tolerant to free-riding  Imposing restrictions on use: regulation by external authority, privatization, or collective management by group that uses the public good 18 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  19. 19. How are online social dilemmas different?  Digital public goods are non-rivalrous and non-depletable  The tragedy of the commons becomes almost irrelevant  The negative effects of free-riding are less pronounced  CMC, especially social media tools, make it much easier to communicate online  Lower cost of coordination in larger groups  By tapping into large numbers of online users, online communities can reach critical mass even in the presence of free-riding  Low cost of contributing encourages cooperative behavior  The electronic traces of CMC make identifiability much easier and sanctions for defection (when/if necessary) less costly  Cooperative action directly observable by entire community, encouraging social learning and group reciprocity  Easier to reward cooperative behavior and promote top contributors  Easier to spot defection and even destructive behavior (e.g., vandalism) can be rectified quickly, protecting community and its work 19 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  20. 20. Thoughts on Design What are the most effective strategies that an online community can use to encourage cooperation and discourage defection or trolling/vandalism? Which strategies would be less costly to enforce (both in terms of cost of implementation and social costs, e.g., creating undue discontent among users)? How can one engage users of an online platform to jointly come up with ‘fair’ policies? (fairness being a relatively subjective and culturally contingent concept) Think about online To what extent should such strategies be embedded in the platforms you know and mechanics (software) of the platform and thus force users into why some people make acting according to community norms? Or should one rely contributions while others more on the users to learn from each other? Wherein lies an (perhaps also you) do not; optimal balance? when would you be motivated to contribute? 20 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  21. 21. What about monetary incentives?  The social dilemmas we examined, when formulated as games with different payoffs, are rather abstract  E.g., what does a payoff of “3” mean? Is that $3 or a number that is meant to capture tangible and intangible (social-psychological) rewards?  The structural solution that involves altering the ‘payoff structure’ can be executed simply by providing monetary rewards for cooperation (where funds are available)  But there are some problems with publicly offering ‘prizes’  Common conceptions of fairness suggest that prizes should be awarded to top-performing individuals or groups; this inevitably leads to both cooperation and competition  Money especially is known to alter the way people play out social dilemmas (turning them into calculated exchanges)  Divisibility and well-defined value of money also potential issue; in-kind rewards may be more acceptable to many communities, doing away with the issue of how much would be fair to allocate to different (potentially competing) individuals or teams 21 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  22. 22. Is competition bad?  It may appear from the previous discussions that competition is generally undesirable and cooperation should always be the preferred route  This is not necessarily the case: promoting competition between members of an online community can be beneficial (top-raking member lists are a common way of doing this)  In fact, most real-world online platforms can be said to be driven by ‘coopetition’, i.e. a combination of cooperative and competitive behavior  Competition towards a monetary (or in-kind) prize more effective in motivating one-time contributions to a well-defined task  Understanding the norms and social value orientations of members of a community is essential before encouraging competition, especially when involving tangible rewards in the form of prizes  In practice, similarly to how corporate strategies are mostly aimed at avoiding competition where possible, online communities also try to avoid it because it can be damaging to their internal cohesion and limit the value that they can generate by themselves 22 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  23. 23. The online organization of production Assuming that an online platform has attracted a critical mass of contributors, who are willing to cooperate towards the production of a public good…  How does one organize the production of public goods in online communities?  What does this depend on? Is there a one-size-fits-all solution? 23 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  24. 24. Open-source software Software that is freely available for use, study and reuse and usually written by teams of online volunteers  Some OSS projects have been extremely successful and rival commercial offerings in the marketplace  Firefox for example is one of the most popular web browsers, and it is was written for the most part by teams of volunteers  The Apache Web Server is used by many popular websites to serve web pages to visiting users  MySQL is a very popular software package for building and managing small or large databases  Drupal is a ‘content management system’ that is used by many popular websites to store, retrieve and present online their own and user-generated content  The success of OSS has led to many studies on the motivations of OSS contributors and their organization! 24 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  25. 25. OSS motivations and organization  The private-collective model (von Hippel): cooperators working on a collective project reap significantly higher private rewards than free-riders (defectors who may use the product that cooperators produced, but were not involved in its production)  Build the software according to their needs first  Learn more about the production process  Hone their skills  Learn about working in teams  Receive public recognition for their efforts  Contributors also reap other rewards from participating in OSS projects (what Yochai Benkler calls social-psychological rewards) that free-riders do not  Free revealing (von Hippel): contributors are often better off revealing their innovations rather than using them for themselves only; people are thus more willing to share than traditional theory on innovation would predict  Peer-production, i.e. the production of (virtually) anything by peers working outside of organizational hierarchies has proven more successful than expected by industrial organization theory, although some degree of self-organization is required for more complex projects (OSS open to new contributions, but not necessarily ‘democratic’) 25 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  26. 26. Of course people produce a lot more than software on online platforms! How can we distinguish between different types of products and understand how to transfer lessons from OSS into other domains? 26 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  27. 27. Functional, cultural, and educational goods  Functional goods perform a (series of) well-defined task(s) and are thus engineered to perform these as well as possible, according to a set of requirements and a specification of how the requirements are to be satisfied; their value derives from their use in accomplishing tasks Example: software Public good example: open-source software  Cultural goods are the products of individual expression and their value derives from their critical, aesthetic or entertainment qualities Example: music* Public good example: freely accessible online music  Educational goods are a special category that shares some of the characteristics of both cultural and functional goods, because they may not be as rigidly specified as functional goods often are, but do need to serve a very specific function that is culturally contingent but not as subjective as that of cultural goods Example: a textbook Public good example: a freely available online encyclopedia * Interactive content, e.g., computer games, also includes functional components and thus transcends the distinction functional/cultural 27 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  28. 28. Drivers of supply and demand  It is nearly impossible for anyone to possess all of the skills needed for the optimal production of a complex software product Distribution of  For cultural goods, their diverse forms and wide breadth of skill sets required skills also guarantee that the distribution of skills in the population will be quite broad  The production of functional goods is often driven by demand for functionality (needs), and the producers are also often ‘lead users’ with varying needs and Distribution of hence driven to create their own software, which can also benefit others needs and tastes  For cultural goods, it’s the distribution of tastes in the population that perhaps matters more, and it is arguably wider than the distribution of needs  The more users use a piece of software, the more attractive it becomes for many other users with similar needs*, for very practical reasons (e.g., better Network effects support)  Are there network effects in cultural goods? There are , but skeptics argue that they are not as strong * This is another form of preferential attachment 28 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  29. 29. Transient utility  Functional goods exhibit a learning curve, but their use and value can extend over long periods of time before it starts to slope downwards  A user can make full use of a cultural good immediately, but its utility will decrease more quickly (actual decrease will depend on user preferences and medium/genre of content) Source: Cheliotis, 2009 29 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  30. 30. Organization OSS projects usually centered around the maintenance and improvement of a project ‘trunk’, where all valuable contributions feed into; this helps ensure coordination and a functional product! Forking is the initiation of a new, parallel trunk, often due to differences in opinion, and is not always welcome because it leads to duplication of effort Source: Cheliotis, 2009 30 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  31. 31. Ad-hoc and other models of organization The maintenance of a project ‘trunk’ is not the only option, especially not in the diverse field of cultural production! Diversity and the facilitation of serendipity take higher priority in cultural production Source: Cheliotis, 2009 31 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  32. 32. The role of licensing models  Collaborative projects need to decide under what terms and conditions the contributions of individuals are to be made available to the rest of the community and the world at large  Copyright law protects literary and artistic works, as well as software, granting authors exclusive rights to their creations  This exclusivity can hinder cooperation with others on collective, public projects, but it also empowers online communities to use copyright licenses to govern who can do what with the products they create  Due to the more diverse character of producers, content and users in cultural production, the licensing issue is more complex (at least in the sense that it is difficult to converge on one or two standard licenses that would be suitable for most projects)  Another important distinction is that cultural goods can usually be consumed as-is, whereas a lot of open-source software may need constant improvements and customizations to be truly useful in the long run, or to work with other software 32 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  33. 33. Case study on online coordination: Wikipedia  User coordination via Talk pages essential part of Wikipedia community  Dispute resolution is only one aspect of coordination  Developing, interpreting and enforcing community policies is another  As communities grow larger, they spend an increasing amount of time and effort in coordination activities  As members become more senior, they take on more administrative tasks and exhibit greater sense of responsibility for entire community  However, this may not be true of all communities, it would also depend on their aims, products, and model of organization 33 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  34. 34. Credits and licensing  Front page photo by three letters above space (license: CC BY-NC-ND)  Floating network graphic by WebWizzard (license: CC BY)  Photo with two arrows by Julia Manzerova (license: CC BY-ND)  Prison cell photo by Still Burning (license: CC BY-NC) Original content in this presentation is licensed under the Creative Commons Singapore Attribution 3.0 license unless stated otherwise (see above) 34 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (