Monday, January 01, 2007

"Web 2.0"...both feel-good and wicked

I want to pass on two articles on "Web 2.0", the first by Celeste Biever in the Dec. 23 Issue of New Scientist, and the second by David Pogue in the Dec. 31 issue of the New York Times.

First, Biever:

"USER participation is crucial to the survival of popular websites like YouTube and Flickr. But how do these sites ensure that new videos, photos and comments keep flooding in?

It all comes down to persuasion strategies, says B. J. Fogg at Stanford University in California, who is analysing the techniques employed by websites that rely on their users for content, known collectively as Web 2.0. The secret is to tie the acquisition of friends, compliments and status – spoils that humans will work hard for – to activities that enhance the site, such as inviting new users and contributing photos, he says. “You offer someone a context for gaining status, and they are going to work for that status.”

If you offer people a chance to gain status, they will work for it

Fogg and his colleagues analysed hundreds of such sites and identified three stages to their success, which they called discovery, superficial involvement and true commitment.

They found that the first two stages are easily achieved, for example by making it simple for existing users to email their friends with something they have posted online. In this way other people discover the site and become superficially involved through activities such as rating a posted video or photo. What separates successful from unsuccessful websites is the ability to get these people to create content of their own, involve yet more friends, and remain active and loyal (see “Watch yourself”).

By studying over 150 videos of people using successful sites, Fogg identified key strategies that persuade users to get involved. One incentive is to give people the opportunity to increase their status. For example, the photo-sharing website Flickr assigns images an “interestingness” score depending on how many people view them and whether they comment. This encourages users to email their friends with links to their photos. This is good for the site as it improves the quality of Flickr's search engine by ensuring the most interesting photos are ranked most highly.

Sites also keep people involved by giving them the chance to earn rewards. For bloggers these could come in the form of comments from other users, while on the business networking site Linked-In they might be endorsements that potential contacts can read. Again, these benefit the websites by engaging other users.

The effects of both status and rewards are increased because they are doled out unpredictably – new people joining your friendship group on MySpace say, or a new comment on your blog. This ensures users frequently return to the site to check for changes.

Fogg hopes that by studying how well these strategies work, he will be able to quantify them and discover new ways in which people are open to persuasion. “The web is a huge lab for studying human psychology,” he says. “I think what we are seeing with Web 2.0 is which persuasion technologies work and which do not.”

And the next article, by Pogue:

"IN 2006, the big Internet news was “Web 2.0” — that is, participatory Web sites, like YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, Digg and Flickr, which relied on material supplied by the audience itself. On these explosively popular sites, the Web is not so much a publication as a global conversation.

In 2007, the challenge may be keeping that conversation from descending into the muck.

As a Web 2.0 site or a blog becomes more popular, a growing percentage of its reader contributions devolve into vitriol, backstabbing and name-calling (not to mention Neanderthal spelling and grammar). Participants address each other as “idiot” and “moron” (and worse) the way correspondents of old might have used “sir” or “madam.”

The New Nastiness may be no different from the incivility people can show each other in everyday life. It may be inspired by the political insultfests on TV and radio. Or it may be that anonymity online removes whatever self-control they might have exhibited when confronting their subjects in person.

Internet veterans scoff at the notion that there’s any increase in hostility online. They point to similar “flame wars” dating back to the earliest days of the Internet, even before there was a Web.

Instead, these observers note that rudeness increases disproportionately with a site’s popularity. That is, the decline of comment quality on YouTube doesn’t reflect a decline on the Internet in general, only of YouTube’s wider appeal.

One thing is clear, however: the uncivil participants are driving away the civil ones. The result is an acceleration of the cycle, and an increasing proportion of hostile remarks.

Requiring commenters to use their real names might work to add some civility, but such a radical change might drive away a big chunk of the audience. It’s more likely that the citizens of the Internet will simply learn to accept the poison on the comment boards as an unfortunate side effect of free speech online, much the way they grumblingly tolerate spam in their e-mail in-box."

1 comment:

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