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Finding Your Twenty-Eights: Why You Need to Talk to Your Users

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Here’s a user behavior puzzle for you: Why would you ban someone whose offense is not showing up?

Kurt Luther‘s Pipeline software is being used for some impressive projects lately. In November-December, a team of artists used it to create an interactive advent calendar which they called Holiday Flood.  Twenty-eight artists from twelve countries worked to create two pieces of art for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas song, and embed a hidden tag in each artwork that together formed a holiday greeting card for the newgrounds  community. Kurt and I have been observing their activity on Pipeline to try to understand online collaboration on creative projects.

As in any complicated collaboration, dropouts occur.  When someone drops out, the project leader typically needs to find a replacement.  One artist dropped out of Holiday Flood complaining he was too busy, but the next day joined a different project on newgrounds. Holiday Flood leader Renae banned him from the project, removing his access to discussions and work in progress.  This intrigued us: Why would someone ban a user who doesn’t show up anyway? My hunch was that Renae was annoyed with him. How could you quit our project saying you’re too busy, but then join another one the next day? The nerve!  So banning him was more an emotional act than a functional one.  A feature we implemented for practical reasons was used for a more symbolic purpose.

Well, that was my hunch. But when we interviewed Renae, she told a  different story.  Each Pipeline project has a count of total  number of participants. After Renae recruited a replacement artist,   she kept looking at the  count and it said 29 participants. But she knew it was  really supposed to be 28.  She banned Mr. Dropout to correct the counter to 28.

The morale of the story of course is Talk To Your Users.  I regularly get papers to review that do extensive data analysis on an online site and then speculate as to why people behave the way they do–but never ask a live person a single question.  In research on social computing, mixed methods are critical.  I speculated that our leader was angry at Mr. Dropout, but in truth she just wanted the counter to say 28.  There are twenty-eights lurking in your data set–explanations for user behavior that you can not guess.

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Why LinkedIn is Creepy: Asymmetry of Visibility

February 3, 2012 12 comments

A friend recently shared this story: he was having trouble finding contact information for an old friend, and it occurred to him that his ex-girlfriend would be in touch. So he looked at his ex’s LinkedIn page to search through her list of contacts.  It turns out, though, that his ex has a premium LinkedIn account, which gives you a list of everyone who has looked at your profile.  She contacted him, “I see you were looking me up….”  This was NOT what he wanted. I suppose if Shakespeare were writing today, this is would be prime material for a modern Comedy of Errors.

What is uncomfortable about this situation is the asymmetry of visibility and awareness. She has a premium account, and can see more. He does not, and was erstwhile unaware that anyone had the ability to track profile views. It’s like a hidden surveillance camera. Principles of social translucence suggest that mutual visibility facilitates successful cooperative behavior. One-way mirrors are creepy.

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