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Sociology of computer communications

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[23 Feb 2010|01:09pm]

I'm like a kid at Christmas right now. :)

You see there is a guy in my social circle who I openly admit falls into the category of me tolerating, as opposed to actually liking or actively disliking. We all follow the English football (soccer). He is a Liverpool supporter, as are a couple of other guys in the group, whereas I myself am a Chelsea fan.

It seems this guy is a moderator of a Liverpool blog (Not on LJ). He apparently spends hours a day on there, picking arguments with other Liverpool fans, stirring them up and making them more and more angry until they lose it. He then turns around and pretends that he is innocent and that they are overreacting and uses his role as moderator to claim that it would not be in the community's best interests for him to make it uncomfortable for members, so it is all on them. So basically he is a troll of sorts. The thing is English football fans do stir each other up, it's just part of it, but this person is taking it to the extreme and is unrelenting with it.

I'm excited because I have the opportunity to watch his "work" on the website, without his knowledge, observe him in a real life social setting and compare the two. Also, because I am ambivalent toward him, I am unlikely to taint my observations with my personal feelings.

I'm curious, have any of you been in a position to do something similar and if so, how did it go?
2 comments|post comment

[17 Feb 2010|02:33pm]

'Trolls" are one of the most stifling things in a community like this if they are not handled well. Now the first question is, what is a troll. A troll is a person who is looking to cause trouble. In the strictest psychological terms they are exhibiting psychopathic behavior. But that isn't always clear black or white but more a matter of degree. I have never met anyone who didn't break some rules or cause some trouble now and then. So I tend to be slow to label someone as a troll. I give them the benefit of the doubt.

And, to be perfectly honest, I do not necessarily see this behavior as willful. Some people are just like this. But some people are just child molesters and serial killers too. Personal responsibility or punishment doesn't enter into it. There are just certain behaviors that need to be removed from any community for the general health of the community.

The primary thing to watch for is fallacious arguments. Especially the straw man fallacy. The idea is that, instead of beating up your opponent, you set up a "straw man", beat that up, and claim to have beaten you opponent. In debate it generally takes the form of falsely attributing an argument to your opponent that they never made. Like I might say, "I really don't agree with your contention that we should kill babies."

Your automatic response is to say, "hey, wait a minute, I didn't say we should kill babies." and you are instantly on the defense. Suddenly you are spending all your time defending yourself against false accusations, usually worded just close enough to what you are actually saying to sound almost plausible. This is actually a very subtle form of ad hominem attack, meaning attacking the person instead of the point.

This is a verbal dirty fist fight. The object isn't to get to the truth but to wear down your opponent with trickery and emotional and mental traps until they either give up or melt down in frustration. Some people are extremely good at it and very subtle. You find yourself fighting against pretty much nothing, like boxing with a ghost. There was a community here years ago I used to watch where the whole point was to debate using fallacy. It was very educational.

Another is arguing without substance. Things like, "There are many fundamental flaws in what you are saying" without naming what those flaws are. You have been challenged and told you are wrong, but not how you are wrong. Or something like "statistics lie" to refute some statistical evidence without saying specifically how or why the specific statistics in question are wrong. Again, when they present a negative argument with no real substance that you can actually get hold of to debate against, then that is fallacious.

You just waste your time arguing with empty air because as soon as you answer one fallacious point they just present another. The advantage of fallacy over legitimate points is that there is an infinite supply of fallacious arguments in any debate. It becomes a never ending debate where you are always on the defense and no one can stand up to that.

The moderators of a community are particularly vulnerable to such attacks because of the added argument they can throw out that "you are just banning anyone who disagrees with you." But, I think most community moderators are even more hesitant to ban when they are personally involved. And I think most trolls know that and try to take advantage of it. I tend to look very hard and give the person every opportunity to actually make a legitimate point when I am personally involved.

But in the end, I have to make a call one way or the other. And I will always make that call based on what I think is best for the overall long term health of the community. That isn't always easy. I may not always be right. None of us can guarantee that. But I have to make the call. And if I think someone is arguing just for the sake of arguing, they are out.
6 comments|post comment

[16 Feb 2010|07:12am]

The profit motive.

Any time you get a bunch of people together doing anything, someone will find a way to profit from it. I'm not going to delve into the pros and cons of that here except to show how it appears to be effecting online communities.

One of the most important factors in the equation is finite resources. Things like bandwidth, storage, software and server power can be very expensive on a large scale, not to mention the cost of support personnel. Yeah, you can debate how much all this really costs on a site like LJ but the bottom line is the bottom line. Every penny more in costs is a penny less in profits. In modern business, companies take every penny they can.

This is even more extreme on resource intensive services like second life. They can only handle so many people online at once. Two years ago the online population at any one time was between 50,000 and 80,000. The numbers are the same today. They have had almost zero growth over two years. At the same time, there has been a constant flood of new accounts. That indicates a constant turn over of almost 100%. People are leaving as fast as they are coming in.

Members tend to complain that Linden Labs, the company who runs second life, isn't doing the right things to retain membership. But retaining membership is not in the best interest of profit. It is usually the new members who spend the most when everything is still new and interesting and exciting. It doesn't take long for members to fill up their inventory with junk and stop buying so much.

So the best way for Linden to profit from SL is to get people in the door, get what money they can out of them, and shove them out the door again. This is not a good formula for building community. But is it really smart to think about the future on a platform that could, and likely will, be made obsolete quickly?

I was recently looking at a post I did in January 2003 showing some of the stats from LJ at that time. 832,563 total users and 307,692 of those had posted in the previous 30 days. Compare that with the current stats of 25,078,440 total users and 906,963 posting in the past 30 days.

This again shows an extremely high turn over with very slow real growth. Good for the bottom line but not for community stability. I am seeing this happen all over the computer communications industry. Give people some exciting new toy to interact with, get them into it, harvest money, and send them packing. This isn't what the membership wants, of course, so they think the company is doing everything wrong. But the company just has a different agenda.
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[15 Feb 2010|07:18am]

One of the first posters in this community brought up the subject of dead communities. You can read the comments here. There were a couple interesting statements:

"it seems like a lot of people view communities kinda like watching a show on television. Somebody else is the producer, and they are the consumer, as opposed to the way in which a real life "community" is supposed to work out, where everyone is a consumer and producer."

"about those users that want to join a "alive community", I guess they can't imagine themselves giving life, animating this community. Which is sad because they could bring a new dynamism to it."

I followed up on this a few days later with this post asking what makes a community active and suggesting it is often just one or two active people. That really is pretty much it. I could make this community very active very quickly. I have done it many times in many places. All it would take is 100% of my time and effort. I get a kick out of people who sit back and make great suggestions of things I could do to make this active. Is there something wrong with you, some disability, that is preventing you from doing what you are suggesting I do?

I really don't want to go there. It is like taking on a full time job for free. I've been there and done that. It becomes a one person show and that isn't a "community". That is more a blog. I have made a couple efforts now to get this community interested in itself. I'm still the only one posting. I have my own blog for that where I am not restricted to one topic and I don't have to be nice to everyone :) I'm not looking for fame or a following. Been there done that too.

It seems like there are a lot of people who would post here, if they had more confidence it their own thoughts. All I can say is that the best way to gain confidence is to put them out there where they can be challenged and discussed and you can learn. If you really don't know, pose it as a question and find out. In the end no one or two people can keep a community alive. I personally don't think it is right for thousands of people to just sit back and wait for someone to come along and entertain them for free. Yeah...that is a direct challenge. :D
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[14 Feb 2010|07:10am]

I have just changed the info page of the community to better reflect my own thoughts which seem to be supported by those still interested in this community, that it should be more a place of open discussion rather than heavy academic study. While academic views and links are welcome, the focus on academics has stifled the free flow of thought that made this community fun and interesting in the beginning.

I have also removed most of the “do not do” list of rules. I have a personal philosophy about that which has been very successful. Rules of behavior are not needed for the type of people who make up a good community. If someone can't be polite I simply remove them quietly without explanation. I am not here to teach anyone manners and I even feel it is in bad form to try to do so in the community information. It makes the forum seem an unwelcome place right off the bat to cater so to the negative element.

I also nicked a new term from aeonvolupz who seems to be great with buzzwords like cyber-sociology :) So this community is now for the discussion of the sociology of computer mediated communication.

I have not yet decided the eventual fate of this community but, as several have pointed out, deletion is not the only, or even the best option and is now off the table. My main concern was to prevent a situation such as described by khristomophelle where an unwatched community becomes overrun by spam and is eventually killed by higher powers. I think that could be prevented simply by closing membership while still allowing current members to post. But I won't take that action yet.

Thanks to all for the input. There were some very good ideas for discussion in the comments to my last post that would be great as posts in themselves.
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[12 Feb 2010|09:21am]

When I started this forum it was the first of its kind, an online community to discuss and study the psychological and sociological aspects of online communities. I started it because it was something that interested me so I began writing about it in my own journal. There were so many people who took an interest in those posts that I began looking around for a community or forum on the subject. I found nothing anywhere on the web. So I started this community.

The community quickly grew, thanx in part to a few good controversies that I kinda nudged along. I wasn't exactly a neophite to such things. I have a background in crisis intervention with extensive studies in neurobiology and its place in human behavior. I have been managing online communities since before the internet went public back in 1994. I have built and managed several large online communities as well as managing staff on several major online services. (yes, I know...nice call to authority argument :D)

I moved on to other things, leaving this community in competent hands. But in spite of growing membership, the discussion waned. I recently stepped back in because those handling the community needed to focus their energies on important issues in their own lives. I cleaned out some nasty comments and booted a few people who were more argumentative than scholarly in their discussion, to put it nicely. I have never booted anyone because I disagree with them. But...well...the last person I booted is a good example.

Someone posted a study of friend relationships in twitter. I posted a comment comparing that with my own blog experiences. Then someone claiming worldly intelligence made the comment “well fuck me! Twitter matters?”

Well...the info on this community states

“blog_sociology exists as a forum for the academic study of sociology within the context of internet communities and personal publishing. We are here to explore all aspects of interpersonal communication within the blog format, be they good, bad or neutral.”

People are twittering. A LOT of people are twittering. If that is not of interest to you then you do not belong in a community geared to the study of such forms of personal communication. I have never twittered myself. But it is a form of human interaction and communication and that interests me deeply.

So I challenged that person to explain their view. I got no response so I removed them from the community. Not because I disagreed with their view, but because it was anti-productive to the basic purpose of this community. I booted several for such comments because they tend to make the more intelligent posters hesitant to comment.

I have also, several times, attempted to spur conversations with posts about new studies and interesting concepts. The response, at best, has been underwhelming. In spite of this community having over 1400 members, interesting discussions of online sociology attract just one or two participants. Other than that there is only the occasional student wanting input on some assignment or thesis, then never posting the results of their study.

So, basically, this community has become a dead carcass of no real value to anyone. I have been strongly considering closing it. I have decided to just throw the idea out for discussion, if anyone is interested in discussing. What happened, why do communities like this die? The person who managed it for me in my absence felt everything had been discussed and that all the serious people had moved to facebook. I personally don't feel that. Almost every time I bring up the same old subjects, someone introduces a new aspect I had never seen. I always come away with new understandings. Has everyone in this community decided to stop learning? Do we have 1400 dead accounts attached to the community?

So what is your take on it? Should I keep this open? Why? Why not?
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[24 Oct 2009|11:04pm]

I've just come across an epic case of the internet, LJ in particular, changing a person's behaviour and enforcing social/moral standards.

Many of you may have seen a reference to this post, as it appears to be spreading across LJ like wildfire. I'm not going to name the original poster, or provide a link to the post, however it was in one of the more popular LJ communities.

It begins with a question, complete with a chip on the shoulder:

"a classmate has propositioned me- she wants me to write two papers for her african american history class. one is a 2-3 pager, the other 4 pages. i've never performed such a service before, can anyone tell me the going rate for solid academic writing? she said i would be well compensated but we haven't discussed an amount yet.

any comments condemning my (or her) actions will be ignored or ridiculed. ty.

The original poster is then berated for cheating.

Then certain community members do online research on the poster, both on LJ, Google and MySpace and get the poster's name, the school, the teacher's name etc.

The poster denies this, saying they have the wrong person. Then they claim they have the wrong school etc.

Then, after receiving 200 plus comments on the post, most of which were negative, though a few claimed not to see what all the fuss was about, the original poster admits "defeat" and in reaction to people saying they will personally report them, edits the post to read:

"alright- you win. no seriously. you've scared the motherf*cking shit out of me and now i'm going to turn the offer down as well as delete this account or do... something. please don't turn me in- i haven't done anything wrong yet, and i actually have never cheated (some of you say i am dumb, and perhaps i am, but i am a very good student) before.

if your intentions were to get me to go the right thing, bravo. if they were to scare me, congratulations, if they are to f*ck up my life-i hope karma gets you."

To me it was an amazing example of the power of society to make a person alter their actions and society in this case being the cyberspace community.
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A word in the blog field [12 Oct 2009|12:48am]

Hello everybody!
Does anybody know, how we call bloggers, that have very many friends (1000 an more)? Some of them are famous, some just add many people, hoping that than that people will add them and they would have many friends. In Russian that is called "Тысячник" . But, I believe, there should exist also English word! Help me, please! This is for our investigation of Russian LJ:))))))
Thanks a lot!
4 comments|post comment

[27 Aug 2009|06:01am]

Please make posts here in English only. Sorry for my limited language skills but I can only moderate the forum in my own language. If you post in Russian I have no way of knowing if it is a fine, intellectual post or spam selling cocaine to school children.

Thank you
the management
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Sampling via internet communities??? [02 Apr 2009|07:20pm]

Hi all, I am new here and have a question. For my dissertation I plan to recruit participants (for interviews) via the internet. The group I am studying is diffuse and there are rarely local groups but tons of online activity--blogs, listservs, LiveJournal, etc. So the internet is the best way to access my population, but then the systematic nature of sampling becomes a problem.

Anyway, I am looking for examples of sociological studies where people sampled via the internet through LiveJournal, blogs, or listservs. I have found some literature, but I am not satisfied and a lot of the stuff I'm finding is outside of sociology. I figured if I'm looking for sociologists who employ LJ I'll log into my LJ and ask. Any references you have would be tremendously appreciated. Thanks!
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"Friends" vs. friends [03 Feb 2009|12:16pm]

From First Monday, the Internet journal of Internet studies, Social networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope.

Researchers found that Twitter users don't post more based on how many followers they have/how many people they follow, but based on how many people they actually interact with on a regular basis, a number that isn't strongly correlated with followers/followees. Self-evident to anyone who's been involved in the discussion over whether LJ should really call it a "friends list," I think.

What I'm interested in is this idea they have that it's the people you interact with among your followers/followees (or friends list) who really matter. True, I regularly exchange comments with probably less than 10% of my friends list, but I have people on my flist who regularly post things that make me think, whose posts I look forward to eagerly, and who definitely have an impact on me even though I rarely comment on their entries and they never comment on mine. I suppose the relationship I have with those people isn't strictly social networking, even though we're using a social networking tool to have it.
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[06 Jan 2009|01:23pm]

The buzzword of the day is 'sexting'.

This is nothing new. It is the same old phone-sex people, young and old, have been engaging in almost since the invention of the telephone. But now you can send pictures of the action. In fact a recent study shows that one in five kids have used their phones to send sexy or nude pictures of themselves.

This new twist can have consequences including charges of distributing child pornography as in the recent case of a 15-year-old girl in Ohio

There have been cases of this here on LJ as well. Teen girls can get a friend list of hundreds before the journal is discovered and deleted. But aside from such short term consequences, those pictures will outlast the Internet.

I don't think the Internet itself is causing this behavior. There is, of course, the element of peer validation as I have mentioned before. But for the most part it just seems that the Internet has made private lives a LOT more public. Another recent study shows more than half of teens reveal risky behavior online
4 comments|post comment

[03 Jan 2009|01:33pm]

Journalism vs. Blogging

"It reflects a fundamental shift from mass media to niche media. Within journalism, this means that instead of everyone being forced to watch a narrow number of news sources for a narrow selection of stories deemed significant. People can now seek out the news that they want to hear, from the sources they want to hear from. This leads to a much more Balkanised public sphere as people seek out what they want to hear, and blogger/journalists increasingly preach to the converted. For example, right wing nationalist bloggers comb the Internet for any stories related to certain ethnic minorities (not always the case, but as a generalisation) and feed them to a specific audience who are deliberately looking to confirm their prejudices. Similarly, anti-EU bloggers will publish any anti-EU story or rumour to support their cause without any desire for verification, explicitly for the purposes of motivating their political audience."
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[03 Jan 2009|01:06pm]

Long tail theory fails the test of online reality
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[01 Jan 2009|12:39pm]

Throughout much of my life there has been a problem of 'trial by media', where 'news' reports basically convicted people before the blood was dry. I believe it was the case of a gentleman wrongly accused of being the green river killer that lead to the widespread use of the word 'alleged' in the news. Not that such a mild change really made much difference.

So it is not surprising that the same issue is now popping up on the Internet. Trial by Facebook could silence witnesses. Here is an interesting case...


Will this be harder to control than mainstream media? Is the entire Internet going to become a jury of your peers?

Here are a couple more cases that question blogging in the courtroom



This last case differentiates between descriptive and evaluative. Many news sources now are more evaluative than descriptive and it is often subtle and hard to spot. Take for example the use of the term "scud" as a label for the Russian made rockets in the first Iraq war. That was not their actual name but a negative nickname NATO gave them. So even in the simple reporting of a "scud" missile attack there was a strong evaluative element. In the minds of many people, that became a war between the scuds and the Patriots. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scud_missile

This issue, trial by blog, is really a bit larger than just court cases in the respect of influencing public opinion. Israel recently launched a large online propaganda campaign to promote their attack on Palestine. They used both Twitter and Youtube. Although their videos were removed from Youtube.


This is clearly trial by online media.
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The web as an alternative news source [30 Dec 2008|09:24pm]

I grew up in the Vietnam era. Every day we heard the news on radio and TV, and read in the papers about the atrocities of the communist intruders in North Vietnam. I was pretty geeky even then, messing with phone computers and old electronics gear I dug up here and there. One day I got my hands on an old ham radio receiver. After replacing a few tubes and stretching a wire from my room to a tree in the back yard for an antenna I was surfing the static filled airwaves for anything of interest.

continued...Collapse )
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[30 Dec 2008|01:35am]

An interesting new study to investigate how the Internet effects developing morals and norms:


“We have a theory that there are processes for building norms on the internet which look different than those which take place in traditional society and that they are moving in a different direction than where the majority of society and legislation are headed,”

A lot will depend on the methodology on this one. Could be quite controversial. Could also be very interesting and useful if done well. What do you think they will find? Is there a different morality online than in 'traditional society'? Will people develop a different morality when raised with the Internet? Did television also make such a change and did we fail to notice?

Love that 'traditional society'...is that the new buzz word for the offline world? I need to log into traditional society for a bit so my RL av can get some sleep. :)
11 comments|post comment

[29 Dec 2008|03:16pm]

Next month will mark six years since I created this community. At that time I was talking about this subject a lot in my personal LJ and the posts were getting a lot of interest. I wanted to move the discussion out of my personal journal so I looked around for forums on this issue. I found nothing either within LJ or anywhere else on the web. Seeing a need, I filled it by creating blog_sociology and began posting my thoughts here.

Within a very short time the membership shot up to 1500, we had controversies and there were spin off groups who started their own versions. People began discussing research projects involving the issues here. This was all brand new stuff to discuss. It was the hot topic of the day. Within a month after I started this there were four more LJ communities created on the subject.

At that time, one hot topic was the emergence of pro-anorexia communities. Six years later a book has been published examining this issue in depth - The Medicalization of Cyberspace. This community was the catalyst but the discussion has expanded to eclipse this modest forum. It now permeates mainstream media.

While I have diverse interests including a background in crisis and suicide intervention as well as extensive studies in the mechanics and effects of neurochemistry on behavior, one of my main interests in starting this community was the management and building of such communities. Most online communities are started and run by people who have zero knowledge or experience in people management or community building. They manage mostly by kneejerk and often make a mess of it.

However, there are clear things you can do to create an environment that nurtures and encourages useful discussion. In fact there are now companies that professionally manage online communities. I have watched the growth of this with interest over the 20+ years I have been building and managing online communities.

I know there are other community managers and owners in this group. What do you think of the growth of online communities, big and small, as an industry? What issues do you think are most important in community management. What methods work best in growing a community membership? It seems as though FaceBook is dominating this media at the moment. What are they doing right and what is everyone else doing wrong?
17 comments|post comment

The other side of the coin [28 Dec 2008|11:19am]

When I was a kid we had this big contraption with a 50,000 volt transformer and buzzing neon-like tubes that generated ozone. It was a 'medical' device touted to cure everything from hangnails to cancer. Fortunately I didn't spend too much time with this newfangled gadget so I still have my original lungs. I don't want to appear like some 'neo-Luddite', but I can say from long experience that it is wise to look closely at new technology before diving in head first.

That said...here are a couple interesting looks at the good side of online communication

Study says social networking sites increase productivity...with the usual cautions of course :)

Facebook as a serious communications tool...
"In fact, she and others noticed attendance at Sociology Club meetings was down, but once the Facebook groups were posted, membership and involvement increased."

The article also refers to the advantage of a certain amount of leniency in the workplace, like casual Fridays. The sort of thing that makes people feel 'this is a good place to work'. In my HR management studies a few decades ago I remember coming across a study that showed the same thing with mild employee pilfering. Allowing someone to walk off with a box of pencils now and then can actually pay off for a company.

This article suggests there might be an equal advantage to allowing a certain amount of on the job private Internet access. But it also mentions the problem of abuse. Such things are always a delicate balance and it isn't always easy to see where to draw the line. I have known a number of people who have encountered problems with Internet use in the workplace.

And here is an article which states that, instead of isolating people, the Internet is putting us in touch.


"Wellman said almost all relationships people have online are with those they already know. In fact, he says, it's generally more social people who are greater Internet users."

I have been accused recently of not understanding what REAL people are like because I spend so much time in the make believe world of the internet.
9 comments|post comment

[27 Dec 2008|04:19pm]

I am curious what people think of the recent suicide web broadcast of Abraham Biggs. Kieth Whitworth of business week wrote "For all this connectivity, the quality and depth of communication has decreased for many young people"


But is this really an accurate assessment of what is happening or simply kneejerk "blame it on the web" reaction to an unfortunate case? Aside from the fact it was broadcast on the web, did this suicide really have any relation to the web? Were people really acting different than they would have in the "real world"? Are the communications of present day kids really any more superficial than they were 40 years ago?
4 comments|post comment

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