Home > conferences, social computing > Which Social Computing Papers are the New Classics?

Which Social Computing Papers are the New Classics?

I first started teaching the Georgia Tech graduate class Design of Virtual Communities in 1998 as a special topics class. A couple years later, I applied to make it (now dubbed ‘Design of Online Communities’) a regular class. I made a presentation about why it was worthy of being a class to a faculty meeting, and before voting to approve it, my colleagues asked a few questions. I particularly remember them asking: This is such a new area. Are the readings changing from year to year? Or is there a stable body of knowledge?

At the time, I could say with confidence: the papers worth reading have stayed quite stable! We start off with Wellman and Gulia “Net Surfers Don’t Ride Alone,” then we read Ray Oldenburg’s “The Great Good Place”…. There is a core set of readings here that is stable. (You can browse through all the syllabi over the years.)

The online sites have changed quite a bit–almost continually. In 1998, I asked students to check out this site called “ebay,” because most of them hadn’t seen it. We looked at WorldsAway and The Palace. And I had them check out the cool new book recommendation feature on barnesandnoble.com, which used an algorithm developed by a Media Lab spin-off company called Firefly. It’s funny to think that a simple recommendation feature was ever “new”!

But while the sites worth discussing have always changed, the readings mostly haven’t. That is, until now. Slowly, slowly, a few readings that have always seemed fundamental have begun to look crufty and irrelevant. Not all the readings by any means–we will always read Oldenburg and Goffman. But it’s an eye-opener to find yourself in front of class trying to lead a discussion about a paper you’ve always loved and leave yourself a note “remove next year.”

And in their place… well, there are too many candidates, aren’t there? It seems like we’ve taken over not just the ACM CSCW conference, but CHI as well. And that’s not to mention work coming out of Group, WikiSym, and five other high-quality venues. But the fascinating question to ask for any given paper is: will this still be on the syllabus in 2020? How can we tell now which papers are the new big contributions–the new classics?

Of course this is always how science works–you can’t tell what’s important til you have a few years’ perspective. But I think we’re in an unusual time in this field now. Maybe not a real paradigm shift, but certainly not a slow period of “normal science” either.

What are the new classics? Which ones would you bet on? Leave me a comment!

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  1. March 24, 2010 at 12:08 am

    I might be biased but I think Coase’s Penguin is key to understand social computing.

  2. March 24, 2010 at 7:30 am

    Since I’ve seen in the syllabi that you can also accept books, here you are a couple of my favourite ones. The first is already a classic for understanding networks, and in turn the basics to build online commuities and sites.
    The second is very new, but I’m sure it’ll become a classic in no time.

    “Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means” by A.L. Barabasi, Plume (2003).

    “The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation” by Jono Bacon (from Ubuntu), O’Reilly Media (2009).

  3. May 7, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I been teaching an Online Communities course here at DePaul modeled on the one you teach at GaTech. I’m curious to see what papers you’ve decided to drop (and which ones you’ve replaced them with) since I’ve been dealing with the same issues! It’s tough to get rid of some “classics” that, while still good, may not resonate as powerfully with students as they once did.

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