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Some highlights from CSCW 2010

cscw2010_logo CSCW 2010 - the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work - is the first CSCW I've missed since 1998. I tried following along remotely via the Twitter #cscw2010 hashtag, which may have been the next best thing to being there ... but it was a distant second. I was glad to read a few posts on BLOG@CACM (which, unfortunately, does not appear to support tags) and view some of the 400+ cscw2010 photos on Flickr, and am delighted that the entire CSCW 2010 Proceedings has been posted online. However, for a conference devoted to "the design and use of technologies that affect groups, organizations, and communities", I think there is room for improvement in the community's use of social media to more broadly disseminate the knowledge reported in Savannah, Georgia, last month.

As many people know, I am an irrepressible - perhaps even fanatical - promoter of SlideShare ("YouTube for Powerpoint") in any context where people are using slides to present their work. Shauna Causey recently tweeted about her pleasant surprise at the viral nature of SlideShare after posting her slides from a recent Social Media Club Seattle [motto: "If you get it, share it"] educational event on Location-Based Apps

Wow! Just got a note saying my overview of location based apps hit No. 1 on Slideshare. Thx, @gumption for pursuading me to upload it tday.

During the CSCW conference, I tweeted a couple of invitations to authors to post their CSCW 2010 slides on SlideShare. Unfortunately, only three authors have posted their slides (and tagged them with "cscw2010"). Fortunately, these presentations are associated with three of my favorite papers from the conference - in fact, I've already referenced them in comments I've posted on other blogs.

Over the years, I've posted blog entries with notes from CSCW 2004 (Chicago), CSCW 2006 (Banff) and CSCW 2008 (San Diego), and will continue this tradition in somewhat abbreviated form this year, focusing my highlighting on these three papers. Given that Eric, who first commented on my CSCW 2004 blog post, recently commented that he generally prefers to read shorter blog entries - and that more careful and concise editing may help me get more out of my own writing - it seems appropriate that I make this a relatively short post (by my standards).

Note that I do not mean to imply that the collection below represents the best papers from CSCW 2010 in any objective sense  - although one did win a Best Paper or Note award (top 1%) and another won an Honorable Mention (top 5%) - but they resonate with me, and given the extra effort expended by the authors to use social media to share the results of their work, I'm happy to help further promote their research.

Readers are Not Free-Riders: Reading as a Form of Participation on Wikipedia (Page 127)
Judd Antin (University of California - Berkeley)
Coye Cheshire (University of California - Berkeley)

Abstract: The success of Wikipedia as a large-scale collaborative effort has spurred researchers to examine the motivations and behaviors of Wikipedia’s participants. However, this research has tended to focus on active involvement rather than more common forms of participation such as reading. In this paper we argue that Wikipedia’s readers should not all be characterized as free-riders – individuals who knowingly choose to take advantage of others’ effort. Furthermore, we illustrate how readers provide a valuable service to Wikipedia. Finally, we use the notion of legitimate peripheral participation to argue that reading is a gateway activity through which newcomers learn about Wikipedia. We find support for our arguments in the results of a survey of Wikipedia usage and knowledge. Implications for future research and design are discussed.

Highlights: As I noted in a comment on Judd Antin's blog post about the paper, I'm always drawn to work that challenges long-held beliefs and conventional wisdom … especially when it shines a positive light on a previously scorned behavior. They cite numerous other studies that highlight the value of [just] reading: as an indicator of value, as contributing to the formation of an audience (motivating those who create / edit entries), and as a form of legitimate peripheral participation that may represent a gateway to more engaged forms of participation. The authors conducted a study of their own that shows many readers of Wikipedia have incomplete operational knowledge regarding the norms and affordances for contributing to Wikipedia in more involved ways, beyond reading - and linking to - articles.

Personally, I think the power law of participation that leads to only a small fraction of community members to create or edit content on Wikipedia - or any other online social media site - is more of a feature than a bug. For example, I suspect that one of the largest "mass contribution" episodes ever was Stephen Colbert's Wikipedia stunt, in which he urged viewers of his show to edit the Wikipedia entry for elephants to say that the population of elephants had tripled in the last 6 months.

Is it Really About Me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams (Page 189)
Mor Naaman (Rutgers University)
Jeffrey Boase (Rutgers University)
Chih-Hui Lai (Rutgers University)

Abstract: In this work we examine the characteristics of social activity and patterns of communication on Twitter, a prominent example of the emerging class of communication systems we call “social awareness streams.” We use system data and message content from over 350 Twitter users, applying human coding and quantitative analysis to provide a deeper understanding of the activity of individuals on the Twitter network. In particular, we develop a content-based categorization of the type of messages posted by Twitter users, based on which we examine users’ activity. Our analysis shows two common types of user behavior in terms of the content of the posted messages, and exposes differences between users in respect to these activities.

Highlights: This paper has already received well-deserved attention by prominent social media sites and gurus, such as Mashable, one of the most popular social media aggregator sites, and Steve Rubel, SVP and Director of Insights for Edelman, the world's largest PR firm... as well as some not-so-prominent sites, such as my blog post on Power Laws and Pyramids: Participation, Gratification, and Distraction in Social Media. (which also mentions the Antin & Cheshire paper). Mor and his colleagues looked at a collection of public tweets by 125,593 Twitter users, and randomly selected a sample of 350 users who had at least 10 "friends" (for which I would prefer to substitute "followees"), 10 followers, and had posted at least 10 messages. Interestingly, Twitter statistics recently reported by RJMetrics reveal some interesting power law properties, showing that approximately 25% of Twitter users (or accounts) have no followers, 40% have 1-5 followers and 12% have 6-10 followers - although as I noted in a blog post on The Commoditization of Followers, there are a number of innovative ways to artificially inflate follower counts - and fewer than 25% have posted 10 or more tweets.

The 3,379 messages were coded into one of 9 categories. The authors distinguish between Meformers - users whose messages were predominantly in the "Me now" category, e.g., "tired and upset" - and Informers - users whose messages were predominantly in the "Information sharing" category, e.g., messages with links to [more] information. They found that "Informers have more friends (Median1=131) and followers (Median2=112) than Meformers (Median1=61, Median2= 42)" and that "Informers also have a higher proportion of mentions of other users in their messages (M=54% vs. M=41%)". This suggests that shining a bright light on others may attract more attention than shining a bright light one oneself ... and as I suggested in a blog post on Co-Promotion Reconsidered: The Recursive Attraction of Attention, there are a variety of techniques Twitter users can use to increase the probability that some of the light they shine will reflect back on them.

Understanding Deja Reviewers (Page 225)
Eric Gilbert (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Karrie Karahalios (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Abstract: People who review products on the web invest considerable time and energy in what they write. So why would someone write a review that restates earlier reviews? Our work looks to answer this question. In this paper, we present a mixed- method study of deja reviewers, latecomers who echo what other people said. We analyze nearly 100,000 reviews for signs of repetition and find that roughly 10– 15% of reviews substantially resemble previous ones. Using these algorithmically-identified reviews as centerpieces for discussion, we interviewed reviewers to understand their motives. An overwhelming number of reviews partially explains deja reviews, but deeper factors revolving around an individual’s status in the community are also at work. The paper concludes by introducing a new idea inspired by our findings: a self-aware community that nudges members toward community-wide goals.

Highlights: This is one of my favorite CSCW papers ever - and it's only 4 pages! Eric and Karrie provide some fascinating qualitative results that complement earlier, more quantitative results about reviewing behavior, e.g., a paper by Talwar, et al., on Understanding user behavior in online feedback reporting, in the ACM EC 2007 conference on electronic commerce. The personality and social psychology behind rating and reviewing is also receiving increasing attention in non-academic circles, e.g., a recent post on Adina Levin's blog about Learning about Web Rating Systems and a Wall Street Journal article last October, On the Internet, Everyone's a Critic But They're Not Very Critical, reporting that the average online review is 4.3 out of 5 stars.

Amazon suffers from a "curse of success" when it comes to online community participation: tens of millions of reviews, so many that the reviews for popular products are overwhelming for many users. Using computational linguistic analysis, they found that approximately 10-15% of reviews are deja reviews: effectively echoing earlier reviews. In their interviews with 20 reviewers of the most popular products, they discovered two general classes of reviewers operating under very different motivations. Amateur reviewers (9 of 20) have posted fewer than 30 reviews and have very few "this was helpful" votes on their reviews; Pro reviewers (11 of 20) have posted hundreds of reviews, have received many "helpful" votes and even have a following on Amazon. Amateur reviewers are motivated by an intrinsic, "almost visceral reaction" to the products; Pro reviewers are motivated by extrinsic goals of building "a brand or identity" within the reviewing community. Pro reviewers include authors of other books who create more links back their own books with every review they post, as well as those who are eager to reach the Top 100 status (or higher) among Amazon reviewers.

While a number of approaches have been invented for helping users wade through the seas of online reviews, the authors propose an interesting idea, based on their work. Invite amateur reviewers to rate deja reviews (those that are similar to their own)since they may see value in similar sentiments expressed in [more] compelling ways. Pro reviewers may be extrinsically motivated to rate any other reviews as low, and so should be excluded. Secondly, noting that the Amazon reviewers constitute "a self-aware community that knows what it wants", the computational linguistic techniques that were used to identify similarities among reviews might also be used to identify features that have not yet been thoroughly addressed, and amateur reviewers could be invited to effectively fill in the gaps.

And speaking of gaps, there are clearly significant gaps in my review of CSCW 2010. In checking the tweetstream for #cscw2010, I see that Mimi Ito has posted her closing keynote on Amateur Media Production in a Networked Ecology, complete with embedded videos that I presume she used in her talk. While the talk looks great - and very relevant to issues of social belonging, identity, and participation that are addressed in the papers I reviewed above - I'm going to end this amateur media production here and now, and take a little time to enjoy some natural ecology on an unseasonably sunny and warm winter afternoon in Seattle.

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