[Air-l] Fwd: RE: Facebook Protest and other things you raised.

Nancy Baym nbaym at ku.edu
Sun Sep 10 07:53:07 PDT 2006

Sal Humphries was having trouble sending this to the list, so sent it 
to me. With his permission I pass it on to the list.

>Nancy Baym wrote:
>>What I find interesting, and frankly rather upsetting, and cannot yet
>>fully articulate (help fellow listers!) is that we (speaking here as
>>a user) get invested in these sites. We use them to build identities,
>>to create connections, to network, for whatever purposes. We spend a
>>lot of time there and we get invested through time, social
>>connections, and affect. And then the developers get a new idea and
>>suddenly we all have to live with it or leave. To use the front lawn
>>metaphor, it's as though they decide that actually the streets
>>shouldn't be on a grid pattern, they should all be cul-de-sacs and if
>>you didn't want to live on a cul-de-sac, well, move to a new town.
>>Who were you to think you had any say in city planning?
>>As these sites become more and more integral to everyday experience,
>>it seems the developers have more and more of an obligation to
>>understand and their users, and to incorporate their concerns into
>>the design before making big changes, and to give people options for
>>managing problematic elements of the changes they decide to make
>>anyhow (in the facebook case, turning off the minifeed for your own
>>There seems to be a real difference between the ethical and practical
>>obligations to users in these "web2" sites and the way that
>>businesses have related to their customers in the past. As I say,
>>this is not something I've worked through, but design and
>>development, customer service, public relations, and community
>>relations all seem to merge in new ways.
>>Does anyone have more thought-through ways to think about what I'm
>>trying to get at here?
>I think you raise some very interesting points about the ways we 
>lose control (to some extent) of our communities and identities 
>through conducting parts of our social life in proprietary spaces. 
>I've been thinking about this in relation to mulitplayer online 
>games and the relations between publishers and players. Most Terms 
>of Service agreements used by social softwares (including MMOGs) are 
>one-sided contracts which leave users with little recourse to 
>administrative justice should things go wrong. For instance if a 
>player is banned by the customer service team in a game, there is 
>often no mechanism of appeal, no system of accountability in place 
>which can constrain the publisher. And players of these games, like 
>the users you mention above, invest thousands of hours into games, 
>building content for the publishers (which the publishers then 
>usually lay claim to).
>The (market-based) argument is that as consumers we are able to 
>constrain the publisher through our 'exit power'. The thought that 
>if they (publishers) push too far, players will trash the game and 
>leave is the thing that will supposedly prevent inequitable 
>treatment of the users they provide the service to. But this 
>argument ignores the high switching costs to the users. Because in 
>social softwares, the affective and time investments are huge. The 
>cost of leaving, to the user, is often too high to contemplate and 
>they will put up with a good deal more than is fair. Exit power may 
>work for consumers, but actually users of games and social softwares 
>are more than consumers - they are very productive and that changes 
>The thing is that currently these service providers achieve their 
>success on the back of content created by their users, but there is 
>no attendant sense of obligation to their users. The irony is that, 
>in the MMOGs at least, players pay to make content for the 
>publishers, (and by content I include the idea that social networks 
>are affective content with a very real economic value to the 
>publisher)  who can then screw them every which way, and with 
>impunity. I think this is probably clearest in the case of bannings 
>- the denial of access to a persons own online identity and 
>community, but there are also implications for the ongoing design 
>I've published a paper canvassing aspects of this which you can find at:
>  http://eprints.qut.edu.au/archive/00004311/01/4311.pdf
>TL Taylor is publishing soon on more design oriented issues, and I 
>think you might find that interesting:
>"Beyond Management: Considering Participatory Design and Governance 
>in Player Culture," First Monday, forthcoming.
>She also published a rippingly good article back in 2002:
>"'Whose Game Is This Anyway?'": Negotiating Corporate Ownership in a 
>Virtual World" in F. Mayra (ed.), 
><http://granum.uta.fi/cgi-bin/book.cgi?6901>Computer Games and 
>Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings. Tampere: Tampere University 
>Press, 2002.
>Hope some of this might be useful in thinking through the issues you raise
>Dr Sal Humphreys
>Post Doctoral Fellow
>Faculty of Creative Industries
>Queensland University of Technology
>Brisbane, Australia
>Mob.  0414 456 078

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