Category Archives: projects

What keeps people engaged?

If you study MMOs at all, you may have seen Tom Chatfield’s TED Talk in which he talks about what game designers have learned about what keeps people engaged in a game. He identifies the following:

  • problem solving –> ambition + delight
  • progress bars
  • multiple long and short-term aims
  • reward effort, don’t punish failure much
  • immediate feedback
  • uncertainty causes intense engagement
  • biggest turn on is other people

Now he was talking about how knowing this might help us to deal with other tasks and challenges, and that was very interesting.  But I am also thinking about how Clan Lord does in each of these areas, and it does most of these very well indeed.  Except for progress bars; it doesn’t have any!

As I’ve been doing research on CL, I’ve started interviewing players about what keeps them coming back, and in some cases, what has brought them back after being away for months or years.  In every single case so far (about 20 people to date) they cite the community as the strongest motivator. That seems in line with Chatfield’s last point, but it’s not just that they have friends in CL.  Many players specify that the community is mature and supportive. Though a wide range of ages is represented, the community as a whole is quite mature.  Griefing is minimal and when it occurs, other community members address it. Though the forums show the usual flamewars, the gameworld itself remains remarkably free of such conflict.

In terms of support, players are generally very helpful to each other.  Because the community is small and everyone is motivated to keep the population up and growing, most players will go out of their way to help newbies get started, supplying not only information, but donating gear, and taking them out to hunt or rescuing them if they get into trouble.  Even as players advance though, others will support them in achieving goals such as qualifying for a subclass, acquiring higher level gear, completing quests, and so on.  This has been designed into the game in the way that these goals really cannot be completed alone.  As everyone knows that they will sometimes need help themselves, they have good reason to help others. Doing so though, players often realize that helping this way is satisfying in itself.

As my character works on goals, I find myself intensely grateful that the game is designed this way, or Eirian would be sunk! 🙂

A younger generation of women using tech– the Gender Changers


Audrey Samson
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

OK, finally I’m on the last women I spoke with on this last trip, Audrey Samson and Nancy Mauro-Flude. This joint interview was less formal and in depth because we had trouble finding times when they could meet and eventually met altogether for just about and hour. They’ll be among the first with whom I follow up. I originally met Nancy and Audrey last summer when they were graduating from the Piet Zwart Media Design MA program. I had been impressed by both of their projects and was interested over the subsequent year to see that they were both involved with the Genderchangers as well as continuing with their own work.

Audrey grew up in Canada and got her pilot’s license before going to school for a BA in Art and Design. She didn’t do too much with computers at first, apart from learning skills that might make her more employable. One of her ongoing concerns is how people communicate and she’s interested now in how different technologies can shape and facilitate that. When I asked about what she had observed or experience around gender, she felt there were definite stereotypes. She felt she had to prove her tech savvy to men sometimes–for someone who can fly a plane, this seems especially tiresome. More than that, when she was learning to code, she felt that the men around her got impatient if she “slowed them down” by needing more or different explanation.

Now she is working with the Genderchangers and she has felt that Genderchangers is more comfortable as a place to learn than what she has experienced before. Though Audrey has had less experience and less time to reflect, I was interested to see that again time seems important, or in this case, speed. I’ll be speaking further with Audrey to see how things look to her as she continues teaching. ok, next time I’ll continue with Nancy.

Back in the Netherlands

So now I am again visiting the Netherlands for the research and talks I mentioned earlier. I have been at the University of Twente visiting the Information Systems and Change Management (IS & CM) department, which is where I gave my talk, yesterday. It is quite interesting because when Elfi invited me I at first wasn’t sure how my research on Facebook would be relevant to the work she and her colleagues are doing, but actually, there is a surprising amount of overlap in the questions we are investigating. So the talk went well and also helped me to further refine my thinking about how participation in Facebook is affecting professional, in this case specifically scholarly communities.

A couple of points on that:

  • Communication on Facebook leads to a greater feeling of co-presence (basically the feeling of being with someone) and it assuges the discomfort of asence (the feeling that we exist only in the process of communication, so we are always flickering in and out of existance). So, when academics get to know each other via Facebook, they may connect more quickly and more solidly–though this of course depends on how they use it, which leads to the next point.
  • This increased connection seems linked to a more playful use of Facebook in which people allow the border between the personal/casual and the professional/formal to blur. Of course that makes sense; if we think someone is being more casual and personal, we feel we are seeing a more authentic self, that we know them better. In fact, slightly inappropriate behavior adds to this because we assume it is less calculated. I mean, who would behave in a way that was professionally inappropriate on purpose? (Of course this could be equally calculated, but I think most people don’t imagine others treat every online action as if it were a move in a game of chess).
  • But even if someone is not deliberately offering an image that is somehow distorted, distortion is inevitable because no one can put every detail that might be observed by somone physically proximal into a facebook page (or into a blog, or homepage, or what have you). So people always must choose what to include.
  • Possibly Facebook feel more authentic though (and maybe it actually is) because when someone is addressing several different audiences–close friends, family, colleagues, other communities to which she belongs, she cannot address all of them at once. So some actions or posts or status updates are aimed more at one group or another, but everyone may see them. So it may be that Facebook does offer a more rounded or more integrated picture. But as privacy controls improve and as more people use them to filter the content the present to each group, this complete picture maybe be fragmented–hard to predict.

So those are some of the ideas I am thinking about, and now the question is how to gather data on them, since most facebook profiles are closed to non-friends, but I can hardly make any claims based only on what I see my own friends doing.

So, back to the visit; I had two very nice dinners, first at De Kater, where I had some amazing salmon stuffed with shrimp, and the next night at Sam Sam, where I had duck breast that was quite good too. While at Sam Sam I also tried a drink that combined beer and Sprite, and that was a little weird, but ok.

Silly to mention the food in the middle, but it was very good…. Anyway, I met a lot of nice people in the IS & CM department who are all working on interesting stuff. I won’t put all the individual links in with the names; they can be found through the department page linked above. But I enjoyed speaking at length with Bjorn Kijl, Michel Ehrenhard, Romana Aziz, Roland Muller, and of course Elfi. Also I had a very interesting talk with the head of the department, Jos van Hillegersberg, and I spoke a lot with Celeste Wilderom who was also hosting me at her house. Everyone has statements about their research on their homepages, though I’m not sure it’s all up to date, but anyway, some of them are looking at social networks in ways that relate to my work with Facebook, and some lokk at organizational change and communication, among other things. That actually has some connections to my other project on the institutionalization of new media in the Netherlands. I am looking at new media groups rather than business, but many of the issues are similar, particularly because now ICTs have such a strong effect on everything.

Staying with Celeste was a treat–she has a very nice house! But also, it was my first time to stay in in a family house and so I went with her to drop off her daughters at school and got to see a bit of Dutch family life. This post has grown quite long now, so I will end it here. I about an hour I go to the train station to make my journey back to Rotterdam. Hopefully when I return I can get my stupid chipcard sorted out (I managed to foul it up again) and I will have a chance to upload some pictures. –So the posts here will get a bit out of sequence as I back up to add those.

New Media with Dutch Characteristics. Or Female. Or?

Right now I’m reading a book for which I will be writing a review any day now… Anyway, it’s called Cyberfeminism in Northern Lights, anthology that looks at how women use computer technology and ICTs in Scandinavian countries. The editors, Jenny Sunden (no website I could find?!) and Malin Sveningsson Elm argue that most books on ICTs, new media, etc, have been American/Anglo-centric in presenting the experiences and practices of users in the US and UK as universal, rather than framing those experiences and practices in a national context.

I absolutely agree with this, and in fact this belief is a reason for my own decision to focus on just one country for my own projects. And, now that this book has been published, I can now just refer to the very convincing argument they make about the need for research that considers national context, rather than assuming what is true in one Western country will be true in others. Thank you Drs. Sunden and Sveningsson Elm for so effectively constructing a step in the rhetorical ladder! 🙂

Award-winning Chaos


Award-winning Chaos
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

So my college (humanities and social sciences) had the end-of-term meeting and awards ceremony.

The recent (and ongoing) stress of budget cuts, and the just-this-week-resolved stress of the Retention/Promotion/Tenure (RPT) process has left people pretty punchy, so while most of the awards were quite serious, a few were NOT. –And really everyone was giggling through almost the whole event, without having had even one “adult beverage.”

I was honored to have my efforts recognized in winning the Desktop Structural Achievement Award, conferred every year on the faculty member who, well, I think the picture says it all. –Taken immediately after the ceremony and, I must say, after earlier this week cleaning up a little. (seriously).

Of course I’s prefer it to be neater, but I find that when I am working really hard, I naturally generate some kind of chaotic field. At least that’s my story. And honestly I may agree that neat people are just too lazy to look for things. 😉

I will reassure any future hosts that I never treat other people’s spaces this way! As soon as I can I will post the text of the speech honoring my achievement, and a picture of the trophy, which is enormous!

Fun with NEH online submission forms

Submission is the right word for it, that’s for sure! You must fill in these pdfs exactly the right way, with attachments in exactly the right order, without going over the unspecified-but-definitely-there character count in the text boxes, you must get lucky while uploading to grants.gov, and of course you must save everything every 2 minutes because Adobe will crash over and over and lose the unsaved form contents.

But in the end I got it in…would you believe the total time estimate for preparing the application was 15 hours? Who are they kidding.

Anyway, this is most of the narrative:


Institutionalization of New Media: Analysis of the Dutch Context

Research and Contribution

With the introduction of the Internet and WWW in the 1990s, scholars, artists and activists began a critical engagement with technology. These early adopters were a loose collection of individuals that came out of more traditional fields including philosophy, literature, film studies, sociology, computer science. Some also came from outside of the academy; journalists, politicians, artists, activists and business people and have participated in the evolving discourse community as well. This diverse group was united by their shared observation of and concern with the effects of technology on their respective fields and their work has shaped the field we now know as new media. Now what began as a very open area of study is becoming institutionalized; a canon of critical theory is being established, and gate-keeping mechanisms are beginning to appear, along with the other apparatus typical of an academic discipline such as journals, conferences, degree programs and so on. Increasingly, questions are being raised about this institutionalization process and how it will affect our understanding of new media and its impact on our culture (Lovink, Rossiter, Zielinski).

While early scholarship on new media came from the aforementioned traditional disciplines, recently institutionalization has been driven by former members of the early adopter networks entering academia. This is to say that rather than only following a traditional scholarly route through the academy before becoming professors themselves, many people who first work and create with new media are now entering the academy, with or without formal credentials, and are shaping the discourse about the cultural effects of new media. What began as almost a folk practice now has been recognized by the academy. The line between creator and scholar/critic has been in some ways blurred and in others sharpened, but the process of these changes remains unexamined.

Through this project I expect to answer the following questions: 1) What is the relation between institutionalization and the people, physical things, and symbols in the networks that gave rise to new media? 2) How are institutions constructed that critically reflect on emerging technologies? 3) How are the social networks of participants reflected in and shaping institutional networks? 4) How is the fluid knowledge shared between participants becoming crystallized, being canonized, such that some groups are included or excluded? 5) And finally, what do we gain and lose in knowledge production through this process? I propose exploring the human archive embodied in the actor-network of individuals and groups currently working on new media.

The Netherlands is the best starting point as it is where some of the first university programs in new media began, and thanks to early and extensive government funding, a wide array of other cultural institutions have developed simultaneously. The Dutch context was originally characterized by heterogonous networks of people, things and symbols that were ad hoc and informal, but now all of these disparate elements contribute to the establishment of formal knowledge, specialization, and the construction of a canon. These activities are a clear sign of institutionalization, which also inevitably involves the development of gate-keeping processes. However, while institutionalization is taking place, the Dutch cooperative polder model still shapes socio-economic relations and allows for the continued emergence of new voices and new groups. Thus the whole spectrum of development is available for study.

Preliminary insight into the institutionalization of new media have been studied in isolation by pioneers such as Geert Lovink (Dark Fiber, Zero Comments), but no comprehensive studies have yet appeared. I intend a rhetorical analysis of the cultural discourse on new media in Europe which I will approach as a dispositif. While Foucault applied this concept to historical archives, I will engage with current participants through interviews and observations.
Methods and Work Plan

I am requesting support to complete the necessary observations and interviews which I aim to carry out during 2009-2010, making visits each year during the summer and winter. During a sabbatical I expect to begin in 2011, I will complete the compilation, authoring a book and website.

Methods and Work Plan

For this study I have already begun observing a variety of groups and interviewing their staff, including:

De Waag Society for Old and New Media
V2_Institute for the Unstable Media
Worm Rotterdam
De Geuzen Foundation for Multi-visual Research
The Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo/Time Based Arts

Further visits to these institutions have been arranged for the award period, along with observations I have arranged at other cultural institutions and at numerous Dutch MA and PhD programs in New Media. Based on a survey of which programs have been actively publishing, seeking PhD candidates, participating in and holding conferences, I have established a list of schools hosting well-regarded programs studying and educating about new media, including:

Delft University of Technology Eindhoven University of Technology
Leiden University Piet Zwart Institute Radboud University Nijmegen
University of Amsterdam University of Maastricht
University of Twente University of Utrecht

This project will combine analysis of institutional documents with interviews and observations. At cultural institutions I will interview curators, project managers, directors and when possible artists/authors. At academic institutions I will interview faculty, administrators, and students. In particular, I will examine the basic degree structures, course content, reading lists, and assignments. When possible, sample student work will be studied as well. These interviews and observations will reveal informants’ history in the field and the interconnections between various factors such as experience, age, gender, ethnicity, location, education and so forth. At both cultural and academic institutions, I will observe events organized around new media which often reveal places where institutional and social networks are parallel and where they are unaligned.

That is all–at least all the plugged in activities. Except finishing a Sequential Tart interview with Paweł and the teaching assignments for next Fall and Spring. And just about finishing an article. I have one more to write by the end of June!

More about Facebook

Since I am speaking at two different conferences about the way people participate in Facebook, I have been (believe it or not) reading about Facebook, about relationships online, about what motivates participation, and so on.

here are a few things I’ve noticed:

  1. Though it was noted at least 5 months ago that many faculty are now using social networks and that 25-34 year-olds is the fastest growing segment of users, no one seems to be looking at how or why they use FB. Some articles have been written about faculty disclosing too much online, but so far I have found nothing else.
  2. Almost every academic study (and there are many) concentrates on either how kids/teens use FB, class, racial or ethnic differences in who uses FB, how to use FB to teach, or how to use it to make money.
  3. There are lots of non-academic slideshows and articles comparing FB and MySpace about how to make money or seduce women with FB. –I mention this because my search efforts are hampered by these kinds of documents cluttering the web.

But I have found some very interesting stuff about online relationships from Jonathan Marshall who has published about a concept he calls ‘asence’ including this one in Fibreculture. In brief, he argues that particpants in online communities experience asence, which he explains:

In offline societies, it is generally possible to tell whether a person is present or not. Presence and status are acknowledged by others making, at the least, eye contact or grunts in a person’s direction, or by their pointedly ignoring that person. Identity is reinforced by reaction. People are generally aware of who is listening to the conversation and of their reactions to each other. Online this is usually not the case. It is possible for a person to be present without others being aware of them: there is no marker of existence beyond the act of communication itself. “Asence” is the term I have coined to express this almost ontological uncertainty, or suspension of being between presence and absence.

Marshall goes on to argue that in an effort to overcome asence, participants will exaggerate gender characteristics and may also use romance and even netsex to reinforce intimacy. He developed these ideas from studying the Cybermind mailing list, but I think asence could explain certain behaviors I’ve noticed on Facebook. –more details on that soon.

Two other useful possibilities involved Fluxus and the theory that humans have evolved to be ‘infovores’ –love that term! But I’ll save those for the next entries…

And by the way, apparently Twitter addicts are 61.3% more likely to visit Barcamp.org than the average internet user. –Not directly related to anything, but it caught my eye. 😉

Research news, conferences, etc.

So let’s see; I just got accepted to IFIP WG 9.5 International Working Conference on Virtuality and Society: Massive Virtual Communities, which is the 1st and 2nd of July, 2008 at Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany. I’m glad of that; I hear the group and the people involved are well regarded and there is a book planned, so that may guarantee me another chapter by the time my tenure review rolls around. I guess the nearest big city is Hamburg–I’ve never been anywhere in Germany yet, so actually anywhere will be interesting! I think it’s within reach, by train, of Rotterdam, so I can fit it into my other research pretty easily.

This summer I plan to interview Florian, Mirko, Brenno; some museum folk, and see if I can volunteer at Worm, make a site visit to U. Utrecht, U. Twente, and follow up on the email interviews I’m conducting already. –Of course I talk about new media and tech stuff with Florian, Mirko and Brenno anyway, but I need to do formal interviews to make sure that I get some comparable answers among all of them. Oh yeah, I also want to talk to the women at Gender Changers.

And, if my panel proposals get since at least one panel proposal has been accepted to IR 9.0, I need to work on that some. And there’s the SFRA Europe plan…..oy veh. Overbooked again.

Mikhail Alexseev speaking on "Russia: Challenges to the Post-Imperial Migration State"

Finally things seem to have settled into some kind of groove. We have had dinner, we have had drinks, and now our first plenary has begun. I’ve had some time to speak with Mikhail over dinner–very pleasant fellow, and very sharp on these issues.

Some highlights– that as the Russian empire expanded, it’s diversity expanded as well, because the empire absorbed many non-Russian groups. At the time, it was not perceived as threatening because power increased with that expansion. But now, Russia is very diverse, and the empire is no longer so powerful. Finally, right now Russian birth and death rates are such that even in the best case, the need to attract and absorb about 35,000,000 immigrants to maintain the existing population levels of about 140,000,000.

Ok, that wasn’t final–also, the ratio of ethnic Russians to other ethnicities inside Russia is shrinking already. Migrants are now coming from former Soviet Republics, and Russia has to deal with the spread of Islam and territorial vulnerability. And, most people when surveyed, would overwhelmingly prefer that the migrant populations were reduced.

Pictorial ethnic cleansing–kids, here is is the house of a Cossack; find the alien objects in the house and cross them out. This is a contemporary textbook aimed ad elementary school kids. (Cossacks were border guards, not quite, but almost vigilantes).

So the current context leads to quite serious tensions between ethnic Russians and other populations inside Russia, and Putin has made it very difficult for any immigrants to enter Russia, other than those from former Soviet Republics. Further, extremely high levels f latent xenophobia–well over 50% think all immigrants, legal or illegal, and their children, should be deported.

In sum:

  • Post-Soviet Russia changed rapidly from an empire to a global migration state, but institutions have lagged behind.
  • The Russian Imperial legacy, changing demographics, and migration challenge Russian identity and raise the threat of communal violence
  • Short-term restrictionist policies responding to these challenges have deep roots in the imperial identity and legacy, but they undermine Russia’s current and future status as a great power.

Great talk!

And a settled panel schedule becomes a moving target

Ok, I know people have personal situations that come up, but this week we have received cancellations from about five people who just last week were saying how much they looked forward to meeting us. Grrr. But it’s ok, we juggled everything, the show has gone on. But now we are having issues over the alcohol and I really don’t see how we can have dinner without drinks…I mean come on, we are all grown ups, we’ve traveled far, worked hard to present good papers. Anyway, I will not be sad to shed the hat of conference co-chair.

And because I’ve been running round like a maniac trying, along with Betsy, the other chair, to settle this stuff, I’ve hardly had a chance to hear any of the talks. So that’s a bit disappointing, though I have at least gotten to meet and chat with many of our speakers. The worst aspect is the finances–the school just doesn’t have much funding to support this kind of thing; they want us to raise our profile, but that costs money!

So yeah, lots of fun…