Appreciating the Non-duality of Social Computing due to Weak Project Design.

Prologue

This is an open-ended project in Social Computing. My aim was to compare at a very basic level, people’s participation in a student event that took place at the University of Kent in Canterbury, and it’s follow-up at the Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC) on a Ning platform.

Initially I planned to make a direct analysis of quantity of participation, and categorically what type of participation this was. Quantitatively this would be comparisons such as how many ‘hits’ the OAC content got in comparison to how many people attended the event in Canterbury. Qualitatively this would be what type of comments were people asking, and how people participated in different material. Finally I would round this off with a personal comparison of my experience as a participant in, and an architect of, both events.

Preliminary Results

University of Kent, Canterbury: 3rd– 4th March 2012

The event that took place in Canterbury was seemingly more of a shared enterprise in architecting and hosting it than the follow-up on the OAC. During the weekend event I noted a mean average of ~50, with numbers increasing and decreasing by a factor of ~20 at different times. The overall number of unique attendees was ~110. In addition to this, the average number of questions during Q&A discussions after each session was between 3 and 5.

Apart from that there was a stall of museum artifacts, a Doodle board, and other setups, which drew comparatively limited participation. People seemed to understandably split of into their prior friendship groups mostly. This was specifically evident during the evening meal, when people from different Universities could be easily defined by table. The relaxed nature of the evening session seemed to initially loosen these groupings. However the out-going nature of the evening’s main event, and/or not being ‘local’ to Canterbury, resulted in the majority of non-local participants leaving early.

Open Anthropology Cooperative, Ning Platform: 23rd April – 7th May 2012

The event that took place online on the OAC was designed and implemented by myself, for which the entry portal page can be found here. I gathered the statistics from each segment that collected them and have included the primary graphs of them here.

Graphs: Interactive Event Programme (Issuu)

Issuu Stats 1

Graph 1 – Overall User Statistics

Issuu Stats 2

Graph 2 – User persistence through content

Graphs: Videos (YouTube)

Graph 3 - Youtube Stats

Graph 3 – Overall User Stats

Youtube Stats

Graph 4 – Most popular Content

Youtube Stats

Graph 5 – Average example of user/audience retention through a video

Looking at these graphs we can see an overall trend of a larger number of people coming into contact with the content than attended the event in Canterbury. However this is not particularly significant as a much larger number of people came into contact with publicity for that event than attended as well. Instead, when looking at the persistence of users we see that the audience retention statistics drop to around 20-25% within the first quarter, but then are maintained.

In terms of explicit reciprocal participation (excluding myself), 4 people offered comments in the forum segment, 5 people ‘Liked’ the portal page, 7 instances on YouTube (2 people ‘Liked’ a video, 4 people ‘Shared’ a video, and 1 person ‘Favourited’ a video). This points to the fact then, that the proportion of people whose attention was retained after the first quarter, were ‘lurkers’, as direct participation was very low.

Actual result

In this initial analysis I realized that the premise of my comparative study reflected the assumption of an imposed duality between the offline and the online. From this flawed premise the rest of my project design suffered heavily. However in a reflexive process of working through this I have learnt and identified multiple factors that I would use in any future studies of a similar sort.

The Duality

The duality I am referring to is between offline and online, captured by definitions such as the ‘real world’ vs the ‘virtual world’. A clear distinction between two places, and the colloquial valuing that is applied to them. In looking at my preliminary results and taking them into consideration more holistic I immediately see a number of problems with this duality. This has meant that I have not been able to draw any worthy conclusion from this study, but some useful ones about this study.

Time

The major problem that many others are derived from is trying to impose an artificial temporal category on the comparison. In calling them ‘events’ and treating them as such, I had missed in my project design considering that they both are integrally not restricted to the timeframes I have given them. They can be conceptualized as such, however as I was planning on studying human participation, which did not conform to my time periods. Therefore it would be incorrect of me to study human participation in these events, as limited to these two time periods, as a simple approximation would show that the amount of participation in these events outside of the two time periods, is far greater than during them.

Space

In addition to an artificial imposition of time, I also misused my duality of offline and online in terms of space. The offline event was itself not distinctly offline. The whole process of planning, organizing, coordinating, and publicizing was primarily via email, facebook, and custom websites. Contrastingly the online events content was placed directly as a recorded mimicing of the offline event into an online space. In doing so I had treated online space as similar to offline space, without considering the temporal implications of a whole two day event ‘appearing’ instantly in time. I did try to overcome this with actions such as the ‘Highlight’ forum, but unsuccessfully. It should also be noted that I participated in more discussion f2f with people about the online content, than on the online platform itself, whilst also discovering that people had themselves continued participating in the event via email after their time in Canterbury.

Conclusion

“The online event feels like the dissemination of knowledge and information. The offline event was just a little bit more than that.” Commenter

This comment on one of the forums, essentially sums up the problematic result dealt with here. The online version was not an unloading of a lot of information into a Space, without temporal and spatial sensitivity. What can be seen is that the web is not a separate space or time from offline reality, as I have treated it very coarsely (one might say I have tackled a Web 2.5 scenario with a Web 1.0 attitude).

In fact the failures in my project design show that the web has multiple temporalities with respect to participation, and that they organically bleed together with our most pertinent temporality: ‘participation in-time’ in what would be called the ‘real-world’. As they bleed together they also pull in the spatial dimension, and the participation we engage in breaks down the dualistic nature of the definitions ‘real’ and ‘virtual’. However my immediate conceptualisation of this lags behind the actual experience of participation and activity, and took the failure of my project for me to appreciate it.

As I used the web in essence as an online storage space in my design, I did not engage the content very usefully as a means of communication and relationship creator. Such a use would require a more fluid design that interacts with people specifically and personally, rather than trying to rely on ‘appearance value’ as an attractor, and leaving people as lurkers or without a relationship formed.

Conclusively I would be more aware of imposing a comparative duality in the future, and think that this study suggests bounded separations of online and offline are not indigenously generated experiences but conceptually imposed frameworks.

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