Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

Motivation and social networks

The following is an assignment for my class in Interaction and Interface Design at the University of Baltimore. The basic parameters were to find and summarize two articles from the ACM Digital Library on the topic of MobileHCI as an initial step in a larger research project connected to group projects we are working on. My group is working on a mobile application that would incorporate an element of sharing personal progress through a user’s social network. As I have taken on the User Research Lead role in my group, I was particularly looking for articles that dealt with this social component. it's clear that the growth of mobile computing and online social networks have gone hand in hand, and a prominent activity in this domain is the sharing of personal progress of all sorts, from the infamous ‘what I had for lunch’ tweet to games that broadcast players' achievements to publicly tracking one's progress toward personal fitness goals. I am especially interested in the motivations behind this behavior. While the particular search for this exercise may not have been optimal for finding research on this topic, I did turn up a couple of interesting papers touching on it. Here, then, are the summaries:

Leitner et al., How Online Communities Support Human Values (2008)

Leitner, Michael, Wolkerstorfer. Peter and Tschegli, Manfred. How Online Communities Support Human Values. NordiCHI 2008: Using Bridges, 18-22 October 2008, Lund, Sweden (ACM, 2008).

The stated aim of this study was to understand the ‘why’ of online communities: to show which human values and underlying behavior motives refer to online communities. It is grounded in a body of previous research on value-sensitive and value-centered design, which assert that the worth of products is tied to their ability to deliver values to the user. To ascertain the values that are served by online communities, the authors used the technique of Laddering Interviews (itself grounded in Gutman's Means-Ends Theory). In these interviews, participants were prompted to explain their participation in online communities in progressively more abstract terms, moving from attributes of the community itself to consequences of those attributes and finally to the values that made those consequences desirable. The results of these interviews were then aggregated and analyzed to discover recurrent patterns of connection.

From their results, the authors identified "three thematic pillars of online communication": a communications chain (People want to be informed and to communicate upon certain topics); a friendship chain (People want to overcome certain space limitations to maintain and strengthen relationships); and a self-reflective chain (People want to learn from other people for self-reflecting reasons). It was this last set of connections that the authors found most significant. They speculate that participants use online communities to establish benchmarks for measuring their own status and position in society. They note that this would explain the wide-spread practice of ‘lurking’ in online communities. This self-reflective component of online communities would also seem to provide an explanation for the practice of broadcasting personal progress through social networks. One caveat, however, for this study is its relatively small sample size (only 26 subjects were interviewed). Although the authors are confident that their findings would be supported by broader studies, it would be premature to conclude that their three pillars are either universal or exhaustive.

McNally et al., The Effects of a Wireless Online Community Network on Social Capital (2005)

McNally, Mark, Bannon, Majella, Greaney, John, Hickey, Aisling, Mc Donnell, Marian, and Riordan, Mark. The Effects of a Wireless Online Community Network on Social Capital. MobileHCI'05, 19–22 September 2005, Salzburg, Austria (ACM, 2005).

This study concerned the interaction between online social networking and real-life social capital, which the authors define (following Cunningham) as a resource which allows individuals to co-operate with each other and co-ordinate their actions. They site a number of previous studies showing the possibility of using electronic communications to encourage face-to-face social interaction, in particular Resnick's concept of Socio Technical Capital: the ability of technology to facilitate social interaction by removing constraints of time and place.

The study itself was conducted among student government representatives at a ‘third-level’ educational institution, half of whom were given access to wireless PDAs and an online network for discussing issues outside the body's regular face-to-face meetings. The effects of the mobile devices on the students’ ‘Social Capital’ was measured both through a survey instrument and by direct observation of meetings. While the survey showed a moderate correlation between the use of the network and increased social capital, the authors felt the observational findings were even more conclusive. As they state: ^