Will the world really change?

December 17th, 2006 by Martin

For the “digital natives”, living and learning in the web is nothing exceptional, the existence of all this (web2.0) technology is totally self-evident. And now even the TIME magazine has decided:


“The Person of the Year is You! Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.”

The web2.0 finally arrived in the mainstream. Will all these developments lead to a completely new society, with all of us being connected and open-minded, with less control and more democracy? I would love to see that, but I doubt it will happen in the near future.

In Danah Boyd’s recent article on being virtual, she states that

“That’s the big joke about the social media explosion. 1980s and 1990s researchers argued that the Internet would make race, class, gender, etc. extinct. There was a huge assumption that geography and language would no longer matter, that social organization would be based on some higher function. Guess what? When the masses adopted social media, they replicated the same social structures present in the offline world.”

Most people don’t want to change. Especially when it’s about opinions and attitudes. They tend to consume only what they know they like and what supports their opinion. They want to feel confirmed in what they think. And the more the web and other media offers, the greater are the chances that they will stay in their niche. This will become even worse when we’ll sometimes have real good recommendation services and adaptive systems. As Götz Hamann wrote in the German ZEIT magazine in this article:

“Jeder bekommt die Weltsicht, die ihm passt.”
(Everyone gets the world outlike he likes)

I’m not a misanthrope, but I have the strong feeling that all the postive effects we expect from living and learning in the web mostly concern the people that wouldn’t have needed technology to act and think autonomous, to be open-minded and to widen their horizon. The web is not good or bad per se, it’s just a medium.

Encouraging Participation in Online Communities

December 5th, 2006 by Martin

This was the title of the very inspiring talk given by Julita Vassileva from the MADMUC Lab yesterday in the DFKI in Saarbrücken.

20061205 SB_Vassileva

If you want to reach a critical mass of participation (thus hoping that the community will become self-sustained), you have to find a way to attract and keep users. The talk focused on rewarding users, e.g., with virtual currency, status or power in the community. There were some nice ideas like presenting users in the shape of a star, whose color, shape and brightness depends on a user’s status in the community and the number and quality of his/her contributions. And to tease my Semantic Web friends and colleagues: I enjoyed the statement “Using a predefined taxonomy or ontology is not a good idea”. Of course it is not ;-)

But reward mechanisms are just one part of the solution: In the Alertbox from October 9th (Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute), Jacob Nielsen is giving some very helpful additional advices:

  • Make it easier to contribute
  • Make participation a side effect (this is a great example)
  • Edit, don’t create
  • Promote quality contributors

And to avoid depressions, one should possibly keep in mind the following quotation from Nielsen:

“How to Overcome Participation Inequality?” - “You Can’t!”

Last but not least, it’s also a good idea to Build Your Critical Mass around Early Adopters.

Let’s see how succesful I will be in my attempts to reach a critical mass of participation in ALOE