Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Book - Cyberpl@y

Danet B. Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online. Berg Publishers; 2001:436.

Although a large chunk of this book is not relevant to the areas I'm looking at, it does have some nice descriptions and summaries of the ways that online communication differs from offline, and the ways that people have adapted their communication online to try and overcome some of these limitations.

 In the introduction she describes a continuum in online communication from 'speech-like' to 'writing like' (pg 16). While asynchronous communication like email is more like writing - allowing time to edit etc. - synchronous chat has more of the linguistic features of oral conversation - speed is of the essence, no editing.

Pages 17-19 provide 9 ways that users have adapted to digital writing:

  1. Multiple punctuation e.g. "Type back soon!!!!!!"
  2. Eccentric spelling e.g. "Type back sooooooooooooooooon."
  3. Capital letters e.g. "I'M REALLY ANGRY AT YOU!" 
  4. Asterisks for emphasis. 
  5. Written out laughter
  6. Descriptions of actions 
  7. Smileys
  8. Abbreviations
  9. All lower case
The last two are particularly aimed at speed, and the all lower case is interesting. It is not acceptable online to use all upper case, because it comes across as shouting. All lower case is more acceptable. Some of these conventions have been used in comics and graffiti - e.g. the all caps for shouting. 

Obviously one of the big differences between this an face-to-face communication is that the writer chooses specifically what they want to represent in the text, while the non-verbal clues in face-to-face communication tend to be involuntary to a degree. 

pg 11-12 online communication is "both doubly attenuated and doubly enhanced". Attenuated by the absence of non-verbal clues compared to speech, and by the 'loss of text as object' compared to writing. But enhanced by the ability to easily record/reexamine what you said (as compared to speech), and the increased sense of the conversational partner (interlocutor!) enhances it compared to writing. This is used to demonstrate that this truly is a different medium to both speech and writing, and therefore worthy of study!

Jumping on to the study of personal emails, pg 64 outlines some of the ethical issues of studying the emails which are intended to be private even if the content is not particularly personal. Danet worked around this by using anonymised versions of emails to her, and attempting to get permission where possible. I really need to read around the ethics of this, because looking at chat could be a mine-field. 

Paper - The Influence of the Avatar on Online Perceptions...

1. Nowak KL, Rauh C. The Influence of the Avatar on Online Perceptions of Anthropomorphism, Androgyny, Credibility, Homophily, and Attraction. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 2005;11(1):153-178. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.tb00308.x [Accessed May 26, 2011].

Paper represents 'static' avatars - that don't move or represent person in realtime. Not unlike ours should be.
URT - mentions a 1997 paper. Is that related to online use? (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997).

Woot! "Different types of avatars have different effects on person perception." (Koda 1996; Nowak, 2004; Nowak & Biocca, 2003; Taylor, 2002).

Credibility, attraction and homophily important in communication process (McCroskey, Hamilton, & Weiner, 1974). Credibility one of the primary predictors for things like attitude change and trust.

Their findings on androgeny are all well and good, but I'm not sure they designed any androgenous yet anthropomorphic avatars. Not to mention I find this disturbing: "Interface designers who wish to elicit attraction in users might consider anthropomorphic, non-androgynouse, feminine, child characters for their interfaces." They found evidence that people choose avatars that are of similar gender and type - which in this case just means human - so postulate that means that they might also tend to choose other characteristics that are similar to their own. I'm not convinced that holds true. In my experience, there is a definite variance between avatars and people's actual appearance that is greater than can be explained by the options available.

I think this is interesting in relation to GR, because in our game the avatar is indicitive of the class of character the player is playing (e.g. man or woman) rather than the underlying gender of the player. It provides more insight into the goals of that player than it would in (for example) world of warcraft where the gender is a choice and the class (warrior, healer, etc) is the clue to the player's motivation.

Again, my problem with her paper is that I would not want any of the avatars she is testing to represent me in any game. In fact, if that were the range of characters, there's a good chance I would be put off playing. I could just about cope with figure f3 in that list.

Paper - The Effect of the Agency and Anthropomorphism on Usersʼ Sense of Telepresence, Copresence, and Social Presence in Virtual Environments.

1. Nowak KL, Biocca F. The Effect of the Agency and Anthropomorphism on Usersʼ Sense of Telepresence, Copresence, and Social Presence in Virtual Environments. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. 2003;12(5):481-494. Available at: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/105474603322761289 [Accessed May 25, 2011].

Presence can be split into several dimensions including:
Telepresence - Feeling like you are 'there' in the media.
Copresence - Feeling that other people are there too.
Social presence - The extent to which you are able to 'access another's mind'.

Tested agents vs avatars, and no image, hi-anthropomorphic image, low-anthropomorphic image. I don't like the 'high-anthropomorphic' heads - they look odd. The low ones are kind of friendlier looking, even though they are only eyes and mouth. Sounds like (in the discussion) the participants agreed with me, calling them 'not very attractive' and 'funny looking'.

They found any image is better for immersion in the environment than no image.

There are some consequences of the choice of image, although this paper found that users felt more copresence, social presence and telepresence when someone used a less anthropomorphic image. That apparently contrasts with other studies (Koda 1996; Wexelblat 1997).

They note that teh reaction to the high-anthropomorphic images wasn't bad, just not as good as the low-anthropomorphic image. The similarity to the results with no image suggests that the users may be putting in some default anthropomorphic mental image when no picture is supplied.

I think I'll give a brief overview of avatar research, but not focus on it. There's too much!

Paper - Avatar-Mediated Networking

Bente G, Rüggenberg S, Krämer NC, Eschenburg F. Avatar-Mediated Networking: Increasing Social Presence and Interpersonal Trust in Net-Based Collaborations. Human Communication Research. 2008;34(2):287-318. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2008.00322.x [Accessed May 25, 2011].

Mostly using this paper as a source for other papers to read. Lots of interesting stuff in the background bit at the top:

"Non-verbal channels account for major socioemotional variance in human communication. Media-dependent loss of this information comes at the expense of interpersonal uncertainty" (Bente et al. <- I can't find this reference online anywhere.)

Tanis and Postmes (2007 Two faces of anonymity: Paradoxical effects of cues to
identity in CMC. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, 955-970.) "The key point here is not that all these theories are the same, the point is that despite their differences they subscribe to the same metatheory that the social effects of communication technology are caused by the disembodiment of interpersonal communication. (p. 957)"

"Choice of concrete virtual representative might have specific consequesce on its own because its physical appearance can influence impression formation and activate social stereotypes" (look up Nowak!, suggest Nowak et al 2005 as most recent referenced in this paper).

Avatars in a shared online environment have been shown to be more effective than video for co-locating. That's really interesting. Shared space, rather than the image of the person you're talking to. (I wonder if a projected image of the person you're talking to in a shared space would be more effective? Or if you combined that tech with the individual cameras with a room?)

Social presence (Lee 2004 Presence, explicated. Communication Theory, 14, 27–50. for overview). Apparently closely related to interpersonal trust. (Cyr Hassanein, Head & Ivanov 2007).

Two forms of trust (leading on from Lewis & Weigert): cognitive based trust (CBT) based on rational judgement of knowledge, competence & dependability. Also Affect-based trust (ABT) emotional bond, confidence that they will protect us and care for our welfare. Some evidence that CBT is easier to establish in virtual environments (Kanawattanachai & Yoo 2002), but ABT is important.

This paper finds that all channels (audio, video and avatar) do equally well in producing interpersonal results - and all significantly better than text chat only.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Paper - Computer-mediated communication effects on disclosure, impressions and interpersonal evaluations

1. Tidwell LC, Walther JB. Computer-Mediated Communication Effects on Disclosure, Impressions, and Interpersonal Evaluations: Getting to Know One Another a Bit at a Time. Human Communication Research. 2002;28(3):317-348. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2002.tb00811.x.

Useful paper describing 3 different theories of how people interact and an experiment to try to find out which might be right!

Social information processing (SIP) theory (Walther 1992) suggests that people adapt to a lack of nonverbal cues to the remaining cues available such as content and linguistic strategies. Also related to a hyperpersonal perspective of computer-mediated communication, which argues that in the absence of nonverbal cues people form deeper (not broader) impressions of each other, suggesting that detailed information is shared on a smaller range of areas.

Social identity and deindividaution (SIDE) theory (Lea & Spears, 1992) suggest that rather than a hyperpersonal perspective, the absence of nonverbal cues means that the person is reduced to forming impressions based on social categories of the communicators. This reduces the individual aspect, and increases the group image.

Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) (Berger & Calabrese, 1975) sounds pretty interesting. This paper suggests that it hasn't really been evaluated for online (computer-mediated) stuff, but this paper was published in 2002 so worth following up on that. 7 strategies people employ to reduce uncertainty about the people you deal with. I think it's worth following up on this.

The methodology seems really pretty labour-intensive and hardcore, but could be useful to bear in mind. They use a panel of three judges to encode the text they get back - I think that would be outside the scope of my work but useful to note that the lack of separate judges may introduce bias. Also the difficulty of trying to get the same number of phrases in face-to-face and computer-mediated situations. They allowed 4 times as much time for the email conversation as for the face to face one, and still the number of utterances in the face-to-face experiments was twice that of the online conversation. I guess length of utterance would be worth looking at, plus they were using an email system which may have had a little lag. Also the interface may have encouraged longer messages, rather than the short ones people type in Skype (for example).

They seem to find in favour of the hyperpersonal model for CMC - people asked more direct questions over email and found out more about each other, but on a comparatively limited range of subjects. It would be interesting to see if this finding has been ported to MMOGs yet, with their avatars and guilds and 3-d representations, or not.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Paper - From tree house to barracks

Williams D. From Tree House to Barracks: The Social Life of Guilds in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture. 2006;1(4):338-361. Available at: http://gac.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/1555412006292616 [Accessed March 25, 2011].

"However, the structure and rule set of the game world have a clear impact on what kinds of people play, what they do, and how and why they interact with one another."

Interesting paper on the social dynamics of guilds. The authors focussed on the player behaviour, attitudes and opinions to get at the meanings, social capital and networks that people formed in World of Warcraft.

There were two parts that I found extremely interesting (other than the above quote): methodology, and passing remarks to play style and guild behaviour.

The methodology used had three parts. They played the games, to understand what questions they needed to ask. They used bots to log data about who was online and for how long over a given period (which was necessary as they did not get any help from Blizzard) and surveys to try to understand teh different player and server types. They then did player interviews in-game to get opinions and explanations of behaviour. These were long interviews with an average time of 1 hour 39 minutes.

They used data gathered at each stage to inform the next stage in the methodology: an understanding of the game to know what to survey, then the results of the surveys to understand which players they wanted more information from. I think that is a useful approach to understand. The use of bots to gather log in duration and so on is also something I don't think I've seen in too many papers.

There is some kind of guild topography, explaining the difference between social, raid or pvp oriented guilds. They also give some size indicators, placing their boundaries between large, medium etc based on the surveying they did on group sizes within the game. I think there is soem correlation with business sizes, where they noted that larger guilds needed (by and large) more formal processes in place to keep the players happy.

"It is notable that people join, or in some cases, create guilds for their pragmatic or social needs. In some cases this is an issue of personal style; the player wanted to play with others of similar personality, real-life demographics or even sense of humor. Yet the most common reason to seek a particular guild type out was to accomplish game goals. This is a powerful case of the game mechanic influencing social decisions with unintended consequences."

They found that size of guild mattered, with smaller bonds focussed on social activities/bonds, and larger guilds focussed on game goals. That was not a hard rule, just an 'in general'. Large guilds are necessary for some game goals, so it may not be the player's individual preference to join a large guild, but important to access some of the game play.

(The treehouse to barracks relates to the group dynamic - informal like a group of kids in a treehouse or rigid hierarchy like a barracks.)

"Medium-sized guilds show the progression from the small, tightly knit groups to
the large, sometimes less personal ones. ... But with more members, there is a higher chance of a conflict in styles or ethics."

"While the purpose of guilds is to transcend the ephemeral nature of pick-up groups and questing parties, their longevity remains very much an issue. From earlier research (Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, & Moore, 2006), we know that about 21% of the guilds present on a WoW server at any given time disappear after a month. This high level of “churn” highlights the difficulties inherent in managing these entertainment communities: guilds appear to be fragile institutions.
Our interviews confirmed this fragility. For the vast majority of respondents, the guild they belonged to when we spoke with them was not their first guild. A lack of alignment between the player’s individual objectives and the guild’s objectives was often cited as an important reason for leaving a guild. As noted above, some merely used guilds as stepping stones and left, typically when the guild did not allow them to join the end- game raids. Other common sources of dissatisfaction were elitism, social distance, poor leadership, a lack of players at their level to play with, and the wrong level of seriousness (both too high and too low). Two players felt that women were a destructive influence on guilds because of their rarity and their potential to be sources of conflict. Pre-existing groups within guilds were often seen as problematic by newer members, especially if that group had played another game together beforehand."

Interesting things to investigate here about misalignment with original guilds. Also some interesting comments about what people didn't like about PUGs: different expectations with the other players about friendliness, sharing, leadership, roles.

Paper - Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks

1. Wenger E, Trayner B, Laat M de. Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. kennisversneller.nl. Available at: http://www.kennisversneller.nl/Docs/Expertise/RdMC/2011 Rapporten/WEB_Rapport 18_Assessment framework_DEF.pdf [Accessed May 16, 2011].

I don't think this would be directly relevant to me, but the definition of a community vs a network is quite interesting, and the questions to ask to get at the learning value are also potentially useful. Might be a good jumping off point to think about survey questions to get at information I do need.