Friday, November 05, 2004

Catching up with Jenny Preece's work

I got the opportunity to meet Marc Smith a month ago at an Online Community Summit (where I also got to meet Lee LeFever face to face for the first time). Marc mentioned that Jenny Preece, who I already knew through her book, Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability, had been doing some work on evaluating communities. It took me this long to look up what she was currently up to and I now have about a months worth of reading. Papers on lurking(pdf), on empathy and trust(pdf) and examining a stalled online community(pdf). And much of her recent work have been in small communities that focus on health or technical self-support. So there is the potential this can have a direct impact on my daily work. Wow.

Wait, there is more! Dr. Preece mentored Diane Maloney-Krichmar whose disertation is an ethnographic study of mutual-aid health community. I haven't had a chance to find contact information for her to see if she has published that disertation yet. It's late on Friday and I have to wisk down to LA tonight to see the Body Worlds Exhibit. In the mean time, if this stuff tickles your fancy and you find some specific interesting things, please post them in comments or on your blog and I will link to you (damn blogspot and no trackback).

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Hello Kitty MMORPG

I recently read Richard Bartle's Soapbox: Why Virtual Worlds are Designed By Newbies - No, Really! wherein he argues that the pressure to appeal to newbies creates a downward spiraling cycle of Massively Multiplayer Online design. (Also reference Clay Shirky's A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy which I boil down to as "just because it's good and efficient for one member, does not mean it's good and efficient for the group as a whole".) But this post is not about that, at least, not directly.

No, this is about potentially the mother of all branded MMOs/virtual environments, the Hello Kitty World! Looking past the uber-cuteness, the worldwide brand recognition and the cute and fluffiness of it all, Richard's words seem like and an epitaph of a world that hasn't even been born. Even though I doubt there will be a direct connection between the newbies of Everquest II hoisting their expectations onto poor Hello Kitty and fluffy friends, the feature list is clearly influenced by the generations of MMORPGs (and their newbies):
  • "Special in-game telepathy". In other words, global shouts continue. I wonder if they will also have teleportation within a city or country. (An example from Richard's article.)
  • Players will be in one of three countries which are in competition with each other. That gives us shards (though players can travel between countries) and instanced in-world games (I'll bet money they are).
  • The economy play. Play games for in-world money, trade items, open shops. I'm guessing that running a brothel out of your in-world house might be frowned on. I'm personally more curious if they will try to squelch any emerging eBay market for in-world items.
This is not to say that Hello Kitty World isn't going to be huge and healthily line the pockets of Sanrio. It is to say that I highly doubt we are going to see much innovation advancing the art of virtual environment design. And with it's potential to give so many people their first impression of large scale multiplayer gaming, that's a shame.

(Original Hello Kitty World link from Tom Coate's plasticbag feed.)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Speaking to your in-group

Judith Meskill digs into the past and finds a gem, in Social Hindrance or Social Necessity? Her post focuses on the 14-point "Social computing checklist" from At what cost pervasive? A social computing view of mobile computing systems. I admit my eye was drawn toward this:
At a fundamental level, humans think about social groups in terms of "us" vs "them," or the groups that "I am in" (in-groups) and those that "I am not in" (out-groups). Members and markers of an in-group are often favored and those of an out-group are often disparaged. Individuals may resist adopting a technology if it is associated with an out-group, and the technology itself may be a powerful marker in identifying group membership.
This seems obvious, but it's worth keeping at the forefront when designing for or interacting with a particular group. Group markers can include the language, patterns of speech and writing, colloquialisms, world-perspectives (religion, politics) and all the artifacts that may be associated with the group (hair, music, transportation, technology devices). Getting too many wrong and you can isolate members of the group you are trying to reach.

Once, I misjudged the marker of a group by a long shot. I was fairly new to managing online groups of any size and I had a group of volunteers helping out. One night, I wanted to talk to two (they had just handled a pretty sticky conflict resolution issue and I was all hot to get a report), but blew past two others and asked to be left in private. I should mention at this point that this was in the WorldsAway virtual environment so there was a physical presence. The social marker that had developed among my volunteers was to always stop, take a moment to say hello and let each other know what they were currently doing. Because I sped past two without a word and asked for privacy without explaining why, I had behaved as an outsider and undermined some of the trust they had in me. Well, I wound up spending several hours late that night sorting things out, apologizing and immediately changed my behavior to include writing markers (which included a *lot* of smilies and gestures that I was not used to using).

Luckily, this lesson has stuck and now, working with parents, I've learned that formal language is the language of the school administrations, lawyers, and officials--definitely an out-group. I've dropped formal language in all my communications with parents on our boards. I make sure that I participate in group congatulations (births, school placements, child successes) because it's a behavior that marks the in-group. On the other hand, I use very formal (but not disparaging) language when I am writing to someone so blatantly advertising or antagonizing others to establish they are not welcome.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Updating my feed link

I just found out that my Atom site feed offered by blogger is some how stuck pointing to the previous name of this blog "halfpublichalprivate" which is what I was using when I was experimenting. No amount of resetting, republiching or reindexing seems to have actually done anything so I had to manually force the link to the right feed.

If anyone is actually checking in, please use this link for your Atom feed.

I'll look into using feedburner for RSS at some point, but I admit it's not my highest priority.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Persuasion revisited

Funny, I just discovered Monkeymagic last week through some process I have utterly forgotten, but Piers Young's double-whammy posts of Sparklines and The Sting in the Tail made me add him to my "keep checking for good stuff" feed. Funny, I say because a few days later, he was kind enough to point to my first attempt at a worthwhile post and expanded my brief mention of Robert Cialdini's article.
We might need just-in-time relationship reminders too. It's not natural for us to see commonality, and as a result our reliance on neutral disinterested "facts" may rule out our noticing relationships.
This very accurately describes the dilemma that parents of children with learning problems face in every aspect of their lives. They are driven to find information to help their child (how does my child's brain work, what programs work best, what laws apply) to the point that sometimes they forget relationships with teachers, spouses and other parents. I already strive to inject a human touch in the work I do online because I think it has a positive influence on behavior. All too often have I seen the bad effects when people forget they are interacting with another person online. Once the other becomes an object, there is an expectation of control which will be frustrated and the reaction is usually an attempt to force control by virtually "killing" the other via flame wars, player killing, denial of service attacks or other stunts. Word by word, bit by bit, I'd like to mitigate as much of that as possible that before it happens.

To that end, Piers also points out that Cialdini wrote a Scientific American article on persuasion that calls out "six basic tendencies of human behavior [that] come into play in generating a positive response: reciprocation, consistency, social validation, liking, authority and scarcity." Piers applied these to blogs, and I am seeing ways to apply this to a variety of on and offline communites -- message boards, chat, virtual worlds, schools and civic engagement.

Blogging for kids under 13

Update Feb 2010: This blog post is really out of date and I have closed off the comments because this is not a topic I am following. I recommend folks check out the same question on | WikiAnswers: Are there blog sites for kids under 13? where anyone can add information and keep it up-to-date. Cheers, Scott

Original Post

One of the very cool projects supported by the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation is, a website for kids with learning and attention problems. One of the goals, to reduce the isolation this group of kids suffers by connecting them with kids going through similar problems. The rub is that the site is aimed at kids 8-12 making privacy and safety a constant concern.

I don't get to work directly on this uber cool site, but I get to be blessed with great conversations with the team about kids socializing online. Today, a break room chat came around the topic of kids, blogs and journals. We wondered if kids who are coming to would also blog. Then we immediately wondered if kids under 13 would be able to find a place to blog.

So I made a little survey of under 13 policies at blogging/journaling sites. My list of sites is by no means exhaustive, but I found enough variation that it seems worth posting. I was looking mainly for free services that allowed public viewing of entries. Only when I dug into the policies did I realize that I needed to call out the country where the domain is registered since US sites may fall under COPPA rules.

Domain registered in: US
Policy: under 13 not allowed to register
Policy Posted: At registration and in Terms of Service

If you enter an age under 13, they actually stop you from registering:

"Sorry, Xanga is intended for people who are at least 13 years old

Children under 13 are not permitted to join or participate in the Xanga Community. Sorry for any inconvenience... please feel free to come back on your thirteenth birthday :-)"

Live Journal
Domain registered in: US
Policy: under 13 not allowed to register
Policy Posted: At registration and in Terms of Service

"LiveJournal currently has a four-tier account structure. All accounts are available in accordance with local law including the Children's Online Protection Privacy Act (COPPA) which restricts children under the age of 13 from registering."

Journal Space
Domain registered in: US
Policy: Site "not intended" for children under 13
Policy Posted: Terms of Service

"This site is not intended for children under the age of 13." No means of enforcement is obvious.

Domain registered in: US
Policy: under 13 not allowed to register
Policy Posted: Terms of Service

Updated 06/26/07: "You must be at least thirteen (13) years of age to use the Service." I have not checked if this is enforced, yet.

Domain registered in: US
Policy: Not apparent
Policy Posted: No mention of an age policy found

Registration asks for name, location and year of birth, but it gave no notice to me when I signed up as a 10-year-old. I could not find anything in the terms of service or privacy policy about age restrictions.

Domain registered in: US (but through a European domain registrar)
Policy: Not apparent
Policy Posted: No mention of an age policy found

Registration required email and first name, but birthdate was optional. When I entered a date that put me at 10 yo, I got no special notice. I could not find anything in the terms of service or privacy policy about age restrictions.

Domain registered in: Belgium
Policy: Not apparent
Policy Posted: No mention of an age policy found

No mention of age in the Terms or Privacy Policy. It does ask for age, but I did not get any notice when I signed up as a 10 yr old.

Domain registered in: UK
Policy: Under 12 need parental/guardian permission
Policy Posted: Terms of Service

Registration required an email address, but nothing else. The service is based in the UK and, as such, is not held to COPPA. However, this line is in their Terms, "Members under the age of 12 years old must have permission from their parent or guardian before agreeing to these terms and conditions." though no means of enforcement is obvious.

It's important to point out that just because a site does not have a policy regarding children under 13 that it is not compliant with COPPA--see "How to Comply With The Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule". COPPA is concerned mainly with a business collecting personally identifiable information from children and not as much what happens if a child reveals such information as part of their journaling. The only conclusion that I am willing to draw based on what I found is that children under 13 can indeed find places to publicly post journal entries.

I should add that back in February 2004, Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText discussed kids and blogging, with mentions of Foe Romeo's Etech talk, Oracle's and his own 7yo daughter's enthusiasm for her (private) blog.

I need to see how much our kids team knows about which provides website, email, social networking and group collaboration tools and hosted space for free to primary and secondary schools with the aim of connecting students and classes across the country and the globe.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Internet demographics *not* from Pew Internet

FutureWire did a nice summary of the USC Annenberg School's Center for the Digital Future report trends associated with the Internet, "10 Years, 10 Trends". I haven't dug through the whole thing, but I really am interested in the new digital divides they see emerging and notice that there is a lack of mobile and IM data. But 10 years ago, whooda thunk?

Significant day

Ugh. What a day. Suffice to say that I will remember today as a turning point in some of my work.

On the upside, I had one of my moms write that she is applying for law school. She was asked to write an essay about her community work and wanted to include what she has been doing on our message board for several years, now. She was worried that she would sound like a flake spending all her time online. So I wrote back:
Some folks still consider using computers to communicate as "not real", but I think there are ways to present your work as very real.
  • You are serving the needs of parents who are otherwise isolated from local assistance
  • You have made local contacts and assisted parents via phone and in person based on initial connections developed online
  • You are able to spend time reading, comprehending and asking follow up questions before you craft carefully worded messages
  • Via the board, you are able to advocate for local and national actions across the country
The commonality of these is that you are bridging the online with the offline. What you do online has a very real and positive effect offline.
She was worried that she was imposing on me by asking, but it's really nice to take a moment to reflect on the good that is coming out of my work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Community doesn't sell

Last week, I got an mass email from a virtual environment I once contracted with while they were just starting. I haven't really dropped in since they went public so I really don't consider myself a part of their community. But I am still on their mailing list.
From: The There Fun Times
Subject: Community Building In There!

Dear Scott,

Help build a stronger community by becoming more involved in the daily happenings in There! Welcome new members to our world or just do your part by nominating someone for the Member Advisory Board. It's a small world and you are a big part of it!
Unfortunately, I think this message misses the intended mark on several points. My point is not to pick on There, but to voice some thoughts I have on communicating about online communities.

Don't market the word "community" - community is a term that is subjective to the people who are participating in that "community". It's not up to the host of any social space to declare that someone else is or is not a part of the community. My recommendation to organizations hosting community spaces is to ban the use of the word community in all communications. We've followed this edict at for the four years I have been there. It's forced us to be direct about what we offer and what value it can have for parents.

When you can, target your audience - There knows that I haven't logged into the system for at least six months. It's obvious that they are trying to drum up visits to the service, but why ask people who have not been in the world for a while to come in and start welcoming new people? And since I haven't been around, how do I find out about this mysterious (to me) Member Advisory Board. The message seems targeted for people who haven't been in the service for a couple of weeks, not months. It would not take much to tailor three messages: one for people who are there all the time, one for people who haven't been back in a few weeks, and one for people who have been gone a very long time. Pull the mailing lists based on the last sign in date and send out three batches. No complicated systems needed. Just a little more effort.

Use inclusive language - The newsletter is all about me. What about them? Are the There Fun Times editors part of the community? Why even allow the distinction to be raised? It sounds like a good idea, but I've recently come across the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini who studies influence and persuasion at Arizona State University. His recent article, What Lovers Tell Us About Persuasion is aimed at the use of inclusive language by people in negotiation, but an earlier work, Crafting normative messages to protect the environment examines persuasive language in signage at national parks. These are probably worth a separate post at another time. For now, I offer that "Come visit us daily", "Join us in nominating people to the Members Advisory Board" are a little more inviting.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Giving Blogger another spin

I've thought about blogging for a while. I'm not much of a writer and I don't have the energy to mess around with setting up databases, editing HTML and what not. And I sure as hell don't want to pay for that privilige.

But after two days getting a chance to meet folks such as Lee Lefever, Tom Coates and Ross Mayfield, and I started getting the itch again. Take note--I bow easily to peer pressure.

I'm also a cheap bastard. I'm not yet willing to fork over the money to TypePad, though they do have categories. So, I'll give this another whirl privately, get that "hello world" and "hi mom" out of my system, delete all these posts and try a little serious writing.

I'm still not a writer.