Network and Netplay:
Virtual Groups on the Internet

Edited by
Fay Sudweeks, Margaret McLaughlin and Sheizaf Rafaeli

ISBN 0-262-262-69206-6, 320pp, $35.00 (paper)
Available in January 1998 from The MIT Press .
Order book directly from MIT Press or from your local bookstore.

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Network and Netplay addresses the mutual influences between information technology and group formation and development, to assess the impact of computer-mediated communications on both work and play. Areas discussed include the growth and features of the Internet, network norms and experiences, and the essential nature of network communication. Many of the papers in this collection are a product of an electronic collaboration among more than one hundred scholars. The membership represents a dozen disciplines, and as many countries. Some of the papers are based on the jointly collected database, which contains more than 4,000 messages drawn from dozens of discussion groups.

Editors: Fay Sudweeks is Research Associate, Key Centre of Design Computing, University of Sydney. Margaret L. McLaughlin is Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. Sheizaf Rafaeli is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Information Systems area, School of Business Administration, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Contributors: Michael Berthold, Lee Chen, Richard Coyne, Brenda Danet, Patrick Doyle, Brian Gaines, Barbara Hayes-Roth, Steve Jones, Sandra Katzman, Joe Konstan, Edward Mabry, Richard MacKinnon, Margaret McLaughlin, Sid Newton, Kerry Osborne, Sheizaf Rafaeli, Yehudit Rosenbaum-Tamari, Lucia Ruedenberg, Christine Smith, Fay Sudweeks, Alexander Voiskounsky, Diane Witmer.


Foreword by Ronald Rice

Sheizaf Rafaeli, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Margaret McLaughlin, University of Southern California; Fay Sudweeks, University of Sydney, Australia

Smile When You Say That: Graphic Accents as Gender Markers in Computer-Mediated Communication
Diane Witmer, California State University at Fullerton, USA; Sandra Katzman, Interac Co, Japan

In the gender-bending world of computer-mediated communication (CMC), is it possible to determine the gender of a message sender from cues in the message? This study addresses the question by drawing on current literature to formulate and test three hypotheses: (i) women use more graphic accents than men do in their CMC, (ii) men use more challenging language in CMC than do women, and (iii) men write more inflammatory messages than do women. Results indicate that only the first hypothesis is partially supported and that women tend to challenge and flame more than do men in this sample group.

Frames and Flames: The Structure of Argumentative Messages on the Net
Edward A. Mabry, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA

This chapter assesses the use, in computer-mediated communication, of the strategic message structuring tactic known as framing. It is hypothesized that framing strategies are related to the emotional tenor of a disputant's message and that a speaker's emotional involvement with an issue should be curvilinearly related to the appropriation of framing as an argumentative discourse strategy. Results provided support for the primary hypothesised relationship.

Telelogue Speech
Alexander E. Voiskounsky, Moscow University, Russia

Mediation processes form the basis of human psychological development. Speech signs play a crucial role in the internalization of mediating means. In the computer-mediated communication (CMC) field, speech has its own peculiarity, thus modifying the possible directions of the internalization process. The analysis in this chapter shows the specifics of CMC speech, i.e. telelogue speech.

"Hmmm ... Where's That Smoke Coming From?" Writing, Play and Performance on Internet Relay Chat
Brenda Danet, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel and The Smithsonian Institution, USA; Lucia Ruedenberg, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel and New York University, USA; Yehudit Rosenbaum-Tamari, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ministry of Absorption of Immigrants, Israel

This chapter is a study of writing, play and performance on Internet Relay Chat, known for short as IRC, a network program that allows thousands of users all around the globe, at any hour of the day or night, to "talk" to each other in real time by typing lines of text. We adopt a textual, micro-sociolinguistic approach, informed by recent work in discourse analysis, the study of orality and literacy, and the anthropology of play and performance.

Media Use in an Electronic Community
Steve Jones, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA

This study examines one facet of the penetration of personal computers into everyday life. It seeks to discover how members of a Usenet newsgroup value and use news sources. Electronic news sources predominated. An important finding is that media use was not tied to the user's local geographic. The study raises several questions for future research: What are the rhetorical dimensions of media use in electronic communities? How might our understanding of readers and communities be affected by new patterns of media use in electronic communities?

From Terminal Ineptitude to Virtual Sociopathy: How Conduct is Regulated on Usenet
Christine B. Smith, Margaret L. McLaughlin and Kerry K. Osborne, University of Southern California, USA

This chapter explores standards of conduct across a representative sampling of Usenet newsgroups. Established newsgroups, those with a core cadre of regular posters, can be characterised as "common place" where group standards for acceptable and unacceptable behaviors regulate discourse. These standards differ from group to group and in many ways reflect the underlying goals and purposes of the group as well as its demographic makeup. This chapter raises and addresses several interesting behavioral questions and gender issues in the development of so-called "online communities". It highlights a critical research question that remains in this area: Are standards for conduct a symptom of or an inevitable consequence of community?

Investigation of Relcom Network Users
Alexander E. Voiskounsky, Moscow University, Russia

Relcom is the most intensively used network available of the former Soviet Union, and its users form a sample of highly active and educated citizens of the newly-formed independent states. To describe this newly-formed sample, surveys of the users were conducted via the network. The results include data on demographic characteristics of users, their attitudes, motivations, and typical ways of network usage. Attitudes towards possible social monitoring service functioning in the network are also investigated, and the potential directions of its functioning are rated by the respondents.

Practicing Safe Computing: Why People Engage in Risky Computer-Mediated Communication
Diane Witmer, California State University at Fullerton, USA

This chapter defines the basic types of computer-mediated communication (CMC) and contextualizes them as electronic counterparts to other forms of communication. It then discusses the ways in which message privacy and security can be compromised in the electronic environment and reports a survey study of individuals who engage in potentially embarrassing forms of CMC via USENET newsgroups. The questionnaire asked respondents how risky they perceived their communications to be and why they felt secure enough to engage in "risky" communication. Survey results were equivocal on the question of user perceptions of privacy, but indicated that the perceived risk was low in the sample group. Finally, the chapter discusses implications and proposes an agenda for future research.

The Social Construction of Rape in Virtual Reality
Richard MacKinnon, University of Texas at Austin, USA

The current social construction of rape in virtual reality is not a worthwhile endeavor in that it forces theorists to adapt an undesirable concept in order to import it into virtual reality. Rape exists as such in "real life" because of the social construction of women relative to the social construction of men. The relationship of these constructions is not and does not have to be analogous in virtual reality because virtual reality presents an opportunity for social reordering. Among these opportunities is the exploration of the ramifications of bodies presented arbitrarily. Given these opportunities, theorists seeking to pursue positive constructionism ought to endeavor to develop virtual-reality specific constructions which empower rather than import real life constructions which victimize.

Interactivity on the Nets
Sheizaf Rafaeli, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; Fay Sudweeks, University of Sydney, Australia

This chapter proposes that one useful perspective for studying group computer-mediated communication (CMC) is interactivity. Results indicate that the content on the net is less confrontational than is popularly believed: conversations are more helpful and social than competitive. Interactive messages seem to be more humorous, contain more self-disclosure, display a higher preference for agreement and contain many more first-person plural pronouns. This indicates that interactivity plays a role in the social dynamics of group CMC, and sheds a light on comparing interactive messages with conversation. The focus should be on the glue - that which keeps message threads and their authors together - and what makes the groups and their interaction tick.

It Makes Sense: Using an Autoassociative Neural Network to Explore Typicality in Computer Mediated Discussions
Michael Berthold, University of Karlsruhe, Germany; Fay Sudweeks, University of Sydney, Australia; Sid Newton, University of Western Sydney, Nepean, Australia; Richard Coyne, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

ProjectH, a research group of a hundred researchers, produced a huge amount of data from computer mediated discussions. The data classified several thousand postings from over 30 newsgroups into 46 categories. One approach to extract typical examples from this database is presented in this paper. An autoassociative neural network is trained on all 3000 coded messages and then used to construct typical messages under certain specified conditions. With this method the neural network can be used to create "typical" messages for several scenarios. This paper illustrates the architecture of the neural network that was used and explains the necessary modifications to the coding scheme. In addition several "typicality sets" produced by the neural net are shown and their generation is explained. In conclusion, the autoassociative neural network is used to explore threads and the types of messages that typically initiate or contribute longer lasting threads.

Guided Exploration of Virtual Worlds
Patrick Doyle and Barbara Hayes-Roth, Stanford University, USA

This chapter provides an interactive, intelligent agent as a guide to help users understand, navigate, and learn from virtual worlds in an engaging and effective way. Specifically we explore entertaining virtual worlds that have an educational component for children.

Modeling and Supporting Virtual Cooperative Interaction Through the Web
Lee Li-Jen Chen and Brian R. Gaines, University of Calgary, Canada

With the growth of usage of List Servers and the World Wide Web the Internet has become a major resource for the acquisition of knowledge, and it has given new prominence to human discourse as a continuing source of knowledge. The society of distributed intelligent agents that is the Internet community at large provides an 'expert system' with a scope and scale well beyond that yet conceivable with computer-based systems alone. It is important to model and support the processes by which knowledge is acquired through the net. In developing new support tools is one asks "what is the starting point for the person seeking information, the existing information that is the basis for the search." A support tool is then one that takes that existing information and uses it to present further information that is likely to be relevant. Such information may include relevant concepts, text, existing documents, people, sites, list servers, news groups, and so on. The support system may provide links to further examples of all of these based on content, categorization or linguistic or logical inference. The outcome of the search may be access to a document but it may also be email to a person, a list or a news group. This chapter develops a model of virtual cooperative interaction through the web, describes various forms of support tool, and categorizes them in terms of the model.


Appendix: ProjectH: A Collaborative Quantitative Study of Computer-Mediated Communication

A large group of people from several countries and many universities collaborated for two years on a quantitative study of electronic discussions. Members of the group include researchers from several dozen universities, representing numerous academic disciplines, who used the net in order to study use of the net.  This chapter documents the design of the study and the methodology used to create the first, and possibly only, representative sample of international, public group computer-mediated communication.