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

Sarah Brooke Robbins intellagirl at gmail.com
Sun Sep 10 08:09:34 PDT 2006

Sal: I'm SO glad you made the connection from social networks on
Facebook-like sites and MMOGs. I've been pining to do it here but sat back
to watch the arguments first.
Your comparison is especially insightful to me because it stresses the point
that in MMORPGs and networking sites alike, the real commodity is a user
base. Whether that user number is used to justify advertising investment or
monthly subscription costs, the number of people using the site/network is
what attracts money into the system. Thus, as the main commodity of a site,
users tend to begin to feel some sense of ownership in that community (as
the sites encourage them to do). One of the most interesting ideas to me
regarding the Facebook situation is that the students I've spoken to felt
that the site was "for students" in a way that made it feel like a closed
community which I think made them feel safer. They trusted that their
profiles would only be viewed by people "like them." I think this sense of a
membership went a long way in causing the feelings of violation and
creepiness that contributed to the protests.
On another tack, your ideas about what the users have contributed to the
community in their "one way" relationship makes me think about SecondLife
where the stakes seem even higher. Users hold the copyright on anything they
create in the environment and can make real money from their creations
(search for Slingo to see an example) thus when the creators of SecondLife
make a system change people feel not only their comfort threatened but also
their money-making potential and we all know that money makes the world go
round :)

Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins

On 9/10/06, Nancy Baym <nbaym at ku.edu> wrote:
> 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
> >>profile).
> >>
> >>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
> >things.
> >
> >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
> >processes.
> >
> >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
> >Sal
> >
> >Dr Sal Humphreys
> >Post Doctoral Fellow
> >Faculty of Creative Industries
> >Queensland University of Technology
> >Brisbane, Australia
> >Mob.  0414 456 078
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Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins
Yahoo: Intellagirl
Skype: Intellagirl
SecondLife: Intellagirl Tully

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