[Air-l] case studies of mailinglists

Ben Davidson bendavidson at totalise.co.uk
Wed May 22 23:55:17 PDT 2002


I'd like to read more.  Is the PhD online anywhere?

First, what are 'non-linear feedback loops' and what is 'asymptote'?



----- Original Message -----
From: "Quentin (Gad) Jones" <qgjones at acm.org>
To: <air-l at aoir.org>
Sent: Thursday, May 23, 2002 4:36 AM
Subject: Re: [Air-l] case studies of mailinglists

> geert lovink wrote:
> >
> > Dear Air-l,
> >
> > for my PhD at the University of Melbourne I have recently written a few
> > studies of mailinglist communities. Now I am winding up this project and
> > the introduction and conclusion I would like to refer to a few similar
> > studies, but I can't find all that many of them. Does anyone have a
> > suggestion? It could be studies about virtual communities but that's
> > a bit too broad. I am in particularly interested in internal dynamics
> > issues of sustainability. Any reference is most welcome.
> >
> > BTW. I do like the (new) afterword Howard Rheingold wrote for his
> > Community book which MIT Press reprinted recently. I am not sure how
> > welknown this text is. It's a good and honest reassessment of his
> My PhD was in this area but by large scale analysis of discourse
> dynamics and I was born in Sydney Australia.
> A couple of months ago I submitted a paper to Information Systems
> Research that compares usenet and listserv sustainablity patterns.
> The abstract is given below
> The Boundaries of Virtual Communities:
> From Virtual Settlements to the Discourse Dynamics of Virtual Publics
> By: Quentin (Gad) Jones
> This thesis argues that most examinations of the public online behavior
> of Internet users have been in terms of "virtual community", with
> researchers using social theory and generally adopting ethnomethodology
> or a social network approach.  Furthermore, that these approaches
> underplay the fact that builders of online interaction systems impact on
> the behavior of users through the architecture of the spaces they
> create.  As a result, there is a need for information system researchers
> to examine the nature of the relationship between the virtual spaces
> typically used for public online behavior, their technological
> platforms, and the behaviors such systems contain.  This alternate
> focus, which is adopted in this thesis, moves the emphasis away from
> notions of community, and its attention to people and their relations,
> to the nature of the containership of virtual spaces and the boundaries
> such places impose on online behavior.
> In both virtual and physical places, communication technologies can be
> seen as enablers of only a limited range of social interactions.
> However, prior to the writing of this thesis, recognition of this fact
> has not coincided with a research framework or clear methodology for
> exploring the relationship between online space and behavior. As a
> result, a new framework is proposed here to systematically investigate
> the enabling and constraining nature of virtual publics.  Virtual
> publics are defined as symbolically delineated computer mediated spaces
> such as email lists, newsgroups, IRC Channels etc., whose existence is
> relatively transparent and open, so groups of individuals are able to
> attend and contribute to a similar set of computer-mediated
> interpersonal interactions. Axiomatic to this new approach is the notion
> that limitations to virtual public behavior result not simply from the
> nature of the technologies under study, but also from the collective
> impact of innate human cognitive processing constraints. These
> constraints, when reached by users trying to process overloaded online
> discourse, are hypothesized to result in non-linear feedback loops
> acting on virtual public interaction dynamics. Such system effects are
> not easily identified by normative or experimental studies which have a
> tendency to cloud the range of possible behaviors.  For this reason, the
> methodology applied here is large-scale field studies of virtual public
> mass interaction dynamics.
> By a detailed analysis of 2.65 million USENET messages posted to 600
> newsgroups over a 6-month period, three effects of the hypothesized
> non-linear feedback loops are examined. These are: 1) that until
> asymptote, users are more likely to generate simpler responses as the
> overloading of mass-interaction increases; 2) that until asymptote,
> users are more likely to respond to simpler messages in overloaded mass
> interaction; and 3) that until asymptote, users are more likely to end
> active participation as the overloading of mass-interaction increases.
> The relationship between the hypothesized non-linear feedback loops and
> technology type is also examined empirically by comparing the Usenet
> data with that of 478,240 email messages sent to 487 email lists managed
> by Listserv software over a 5-month period.
> Statistical analysis of the Usenet data demonstrated the existence of
> the hypothesized effects and supports the assertion that individual
> 'information overload' coping strategies have an observable impact on
> mass interaction discourse dynamics. This thesis is the first empirical
> exploration of Usenet discourse for systems effects. The comparative
> analysis of the email and Usenet data also demonstrated the relationship
> between discourse dynamics and technology type.
> The thesis has a number of important implications for designers and
> managers of virtual publics including methods for understanding the
> viability of the discourse and user stability associated with various
> virtual public types.  It also provides a means for understanding the
> usability of various computer mediated communication technologies in
> group-level terms.   Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the
> theoretical work suggests a new research paradigm for the examination of
> online behavior that is progressive in nature and leads to the discovery
> of hitherto unknown novel facts.
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