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Sunday, January 30, 2011

ICS assignment #2 - Unanswered Question

My Burning Question: Do we have a social code (civility, manners etc…) we abide by in online communities?

After reading the Weeks article, I decided that I would use Twitter as the community to which I post my burning question. Surely, someone would respond. After all, my post may not be as dramatic or urgent sounding as the mama-about-to-strangle-her-kid tweet, but I have a few followers and some IRL friends who follow my tweets.

First post . . .no response, so I re-posted (clarifying, simplifying, and improving on the original . . .still no response.

I did not get a single response. Not one. Zero. This leads me to believe that there is truth to what Weeks said, “people will respond to people who sound like they are in trouble — online or off.” There wasn’t anything dramatic or urgent about my query. Perhaps if I posted something like “OMG!! I totally need help w this project! I’m like totally failing + its like due in 2 hours!!” But that is not my style; I don’t have the energy for all that drama. Besides, that post sounded a little too SoCal-Valley-Girl, circa 1983.

Back to the Weeks article, minutes after the tired mama’s tweet, her page blew up, the police even came to visit. Her followers and random tweeps were offering support, condemnation, help and all kinds of advice. The point is, people responded, her community showed up. Maybe because a child was involved, people checked their usual indifference at the door and spoke up. My experience with Twitter was more like the “flattening of relationships” Weeks describes early in the article.

My Twitter experience made me think about the Rosen Article. Specifically the quote, “the activities social networking sites promote are precisely the ones weak ties foster, like rumor-mongering, gossip, finding people, and tracking the ever-shifting movements of popular culture and fad.” My casual request for homework help was not about gossip or rumors or anything as exciting as people searching. If I followed Rosen’s theories on virtual friendship and narcissism, then perhaps I should have composed my tweet like so: “there’s this total beyotch who sits in front of me in class, WTF! She thinks she’s all that. I seriously can’t do my work & her cheap a** perfume is soooo distracting.” That hypothetical tweet would probably warrant some response, but again, not my style. Too much drama/gossip. This tweet sounds too SoCal-Clueless, circa 1995.

The Twitterverse is too big, and there is way cooler stuff going on. My quasi-academic tweet just got lost in the swamp of gossip, narcissism, and drama. So much for having “community” on Twitter.

So, I decided to post in another community. I am a frequent visitor to Corporette. This community bills itself as the “Fashion and Lifestyle Blog for Overachieving Chicks.” That is so me! I found Corporette last year when I was looking for advice on how to dress for OCIs - on campus interviews with law firms.

When I posted my “burning question” to Corporette - I was not ignored. People were posting within the hour. I felt like I was part of a community; like I was having lunch with girlfriends and we were just sharing stories and advice. This kind of “girlfriend – tell it like it is” attitude is the general tone of this site. Just read any of the “Open Threads” and you will see what I mean.

The vibe on the Corporette site is not like the vibe on Twitter. Nor does it seem like comments are “sociotechnical capital” as described in the Bigge article. In that article the author (citing to boyd) explains that the comments on a MySpace page serve as “currency” in that community. The poor, sad, awkward-looking kid sitting at the edge of a table all by himself in the high school cafeteria is the one with the fewest comments on his page. While the rich, popular, cheerleaders and football players in this metaphor are the ones with 100’s of comments a week. Corporette is less like the high school in the above metaphor, and more like a really small charter school where your Auntie is the principal.

I asked if we have “a set of social rules, a code of civility or just plain manners that we live by in our online communities.” I got 8 responses! Yay! That is way better than zero.

Check out the whole exchange here.

Here are the highlights of my conversation:

“I try not to say anything here that I wouldn’t at the very least be willing to say to a friend in an email in response to a similar comment.”

“While I enjoy the cloak of anonymity, I try to not say anything that I wouldn’t have my full name attached to. Sometimes it is tempting to post something that reflects what I’m thinking, but if it’s ruder or more judgmental than I think it should be, I try to, erm, contain myself.”

“This community seems to have a rule that you can disagree or criticize things that are under your control, like clothing or makeup, but not aspects that are more hard-wired, like body shape.”

“ Don’t push your own blog too much. Don’t ask for advice then argue with the answers you get. Don’t type too many WORDS all in capital letters or talk about how BALD your managing partner it, especially if his BREATH is bad, too.”
Comparing my experiences on Corporette and Twitter made me think of the Albrechtslund article, and the idea that an “[o]nline social networking can also be empowering for the user.” I did not feel empowered at all on Twitter, in fact, I felt a kind of mild, temporary deprersssion, like the kind mentioned in the Internet Paradox article. Then posting on Corporette decreased my depression, also like mentioned in the Internet Parodox article.

I have to admit the Internet Paradox article was a bit confusing and hard to follow, I feel like I have to read it a few more times to really get it. But what I did get is that there have been some studies that found that Internet use can lead to depression, and some studies found that Internet use could build relationships and communities. Interestingly, I experienced both of these.

Part of this assignment was to ponder “What did this experience allow you to do that you couldn't have done offline?” Based on my Corporette experience, I don’t think there was much difference between what the responses online and what I would have gotten offline in the real world. However, based on my Twitter experience, I would say that the difference is that I probably would not have been ignored in real life. After all, it is rude, bad manners, and against our code of civility as human beings to ignore people when they ask you a question. Which circles us back to my burning question. It is ironic that good manners dictate that one does not ignore someone when asked a question, yet that is precisely what happened to me when I first posted my question on Twitter.


  1. You have very interesting insights into tweeting! I was wondering if you tweet regularly and if your community “actively” follows your tweets by tweeting back. Do your followers follow passively? In this sense, if they are not used to responding via tweets, I can see where responses may not be common, as I know several people who follow on Twitter, but never tweet. I would guess that you are definitely correct that if you had a post that was more dramatic, one of your followers would have been more inclined to respond. However, I would venture to guess that the woman that posted about her child may have had more active followers. Overall, following may be a general culture for Twitter.

    Interestingly, you got a wealth of information from Corporette! Since you received responses so quickly, I was wondering if this is the type of community that is small and intimate, which promotes active participation, as opposed to large communities (like Twitter) that have less participation. I am always amazed at the difference of cultures available on the Internet. Based on these experiences, do you think that Corporette will grow too large? Or, is it specialized enough to maintain a focused user population that can maintain its participatory culture?

  2. I tried Twitter once, and found responses to be lackluster and often made me feel perceived as boring and friendless- but then again, I barely ever responded, too! I think some people are either into twitter or not.. I cant even remember my log on information.

    Did not feel empowered at all.. although on sites such as Facebook, I once put out a post that went something like "men suck" and got an overwhelming amount of responses- I suppose the topic matters greatly and social code did not garner much interest.

    As for the Corporette site, this sounds like a more intimate setting- whereas the girls on the site want to support eachother.. I will be checking out that site- thanks Mernie!

  3. It surprised me when you are getting more responds from Corporette, a community that supposed to discuss more about fashion! I read mbco's comment, and I agree with him that maybe it's the small and intimacy characters of Corporette made it a more "lively" one? Another assumption is that maybe it's because Corporette is a relatively not-so-famous community comparing to Twitter, and hence made the users feeling more responsible to devote themselves and to be closer to each other.

    And your feeling about Twitter, I agree gossips and dramas are more likely to spread through there. I think this can be a instance of people take online social networking as a complementary to their offline social networking, and will talk more about things they couldn't and wouldn't in real world.

  4. You post made me wonder if online communities will go through the same shift pop culture communities did. To explain the comparison I am making, back in the 80s and early to mid-90s most people listened to bands that were on major labels. Someone around the end of the 90s many people began to shift their listening style to groups on small labels. Band like Deathcab for Cutie became very popular in a way independent groups never have before. I believe that part of this was the intimacy felt by the fans, knowing they were part of a smaller community of listeners. Movies went through a similar shift as well.

    Maybe this will be the movement of SNSs. I have found so much "noise" in large SNSs like Facebook that it is almost worthless to even log on anymore. None of the status updates are really that interesting and no one really responds to my posts any way.

    Maybe these smaller communities, like Corporette, are the SNS wave of the future. A place where people can truly find their voice and meaningful diolouge.

    Sorry about the long introduction to this point but I think there is a social trend that happened in both the music and movie industries that we might now see happening in SNSs.

  5. I think that Twitter is used more as a broadcast tool, which is different than a site like Corporette. Twitter is more about "me, me, me!", which unless you are someone who is of some interest to someone else, you will likely get ignored. I find this in my experiences as well. I have my real life friends on Twitter and commenting or replying is something that is much more rare when compared to a site like Facebook.

    I found your experience with Corporette very interesting. The answers you received to your question are expected of a site which users are able to hide behind a handle rather than their real name, but it seems like the community seems like it would take it more seriously than the set of guidelines that you would find in most forums for instance. I wonder what the cause of this is. Maybe they are just a more close knit community than others I have experienced.

  6. In my experience, Twitter has a large community with various interest. For me, because I follow the Tweet from people who I really know, usually from the blogger in educational or communication technology, mostly my tweeter will be run quickly with most information that I need. I, myself rarely tweet, but I benefit from following the Tweeters.

    Besides that, I also have several friends in higher education that used Tweeter as one of their classroom media. These teachers used Tweeter as a place for their students to exchange comments, posting pop-quizzes, and short discussion. I was so exiting when they show me how they run some of their classroom activities with Tweeter.

  7. Nice that you described your non-linear experience with this assignment as well as the assignment itself. Most online communities have an unwritten contract or code of behavior that most people, consciously or not, subscribe to. For example, on Twitter the contract may be "if I follow you, you're supposed to update and entertain me, not ask me to do stuff." Never having visited Corporette, the community that's been established there clearly has a different and much more hospitable "contract."