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Social Media Research

Communication technology and theory: Research into the interpersonal and social interface

Summary: We tend to view communication using social media, online tools and web sites, IM, chat, SMS, and so literally. Messages have authors, what they seem to be saying is what they in fact mean to say, and so on. The reader is the interpreter of what's communicated. But the medium not only transmits and enables talk by capturing communication on web pages, in chat and IMs, in emails, blog posts, and comments. It also produces the author: as an appearance or effect of the medium. This is enough to go on in most cases, but it does have implications. We do not "exist" online any more than a Second Life avatar exists in the real world. These are media of production. Presence, talk, intent, motive, character, personality.... all these are manufactured by the social media that are their means of production. HCI and human factors research has a deep field of study in social media.

Producing audience relations with technology

Even if we don't know the people we're speaking to, face to face situations allow us to make educated guesses concerning their relationships to one another. We can draw on their body language, facial expressions, dress, and other cues. Aware of it or not, we use that information during the course of own interaction. For a social interaction is as much about the relations between participants as it is about content of what is said.

This gets complicated when technology makes us invisible. And technology often conceals our relations with each other, too. Take email, and the ease with which we can "blind copy" and forward messages. Who's to say with certainty where a message may end up? Not knowing our audience with total certainty, do we self-censor our communication?

  • In what kinds of mediated encounters does the absence of information about relations between participants produce conversation designed to tease that information out?
  • What are participants' relations to one another?
  • How well do they know each other, if at all?
  • To what extent do relations among participants inform the kinds of exchanges they might have through the medium or application?
  • To what extent do existing relations among participants in a mediated exchange soften the effects of mediation, create opportunities for play with the medium, undermine the experience for newcomers, and so on?
  • How have participants been brought together (by each other or independently)?
  • What defines success in this encounter for each participant?
  • Does successful interaction depend upon participation of all participants, of most, or of a few?
  • Are the outcomes of the interaction shared by all those involved?
  • Are the outcomes dependent on a consensual form of communication?
  • Are outcomes obtained by strategic communication, that is manipulation, deceit, ruse, and so on?
  • Are normative positions (authority) compromised by use of mediation for interaction?
  • Can normative relations be maintained through mediation? Can they be extended through mediation?
  • Do existing audience relations generate certain kinds of side play among participants in the form of comments and remarks, directed in one to one exchanges?
  • What effects do these kinds of exchanges have on interactants? Do they reinforce relationships among participants? Do they undermine relationships among participants?
  • To what extent do media build relationships between individuals and companies?
  • How would we measure the strength and power of these relationships?
  • Do relations maintained through mediated marketing efforts, but not involving two-way communication, constitute relationships?

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