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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.

Asynchronous technology and group dynamics

Insofar as we all mirror others (we're a social lot), group dynamics inform social interaction at a fundamental level. Psychologists point to the manner in which this "socializes" us, leading us to conform to social and cultural norms and expectations, and reflecting one another through interaction and communication. Communication, in fact, is an engine of sorts by which we maintain interpersonal relations and social convention at the same time. Though there are many different kinds of online community and group interaction, asynchronously-mediated communication mitigates, if not frustrates, the transmission of cultural codes. This should interest those involved in communication technologies that not only serve to pass along information, but to reproduce any kind of organizational or social structure. At stake might be whether or not asynchronous communication technologies undermine social structure and context, or simply de-emphasize it. And in situations in which social or organizational hierarchy is critical to the effectiveness of communication, are asynchronous technologies up to the task?

  • How does the bracketing of physical presence create particular challenges for group interactions?
  • What cues can interactants use to help structure interaction?
  • What benefits are moderators, and how effectively can they steer conversation and interaction?
  • Are there still codes governing turn-taking in mediated group encounters?
  • If not, what are some of the alternatives?
  • How do participants take the floor? What amount of approval do they require in order to take the floor? And how do they keep it?
  • How do private channels, private chat rooms, and instant messaging create new kinds of group interaction?
  • How do they change the possibilities for interaction in group situations?
  • What terms most accurately describe the phenomena of mediated group interaction? Are they gatherings? Meetings? Discussions?
  • How does the particular challenge of orchestrating and directing the flow of attention among participants in a group interaction affect the kinds of statements people make?
  • How does the competition for attention in a mediated environment like a chat room require use of different skills than those used in real life situations?
  • Is there a tendency to act out in mediated group encounters?
  • What kinds of sanctions and threats can be used against a participant to discourage him or her from getting attention at the expense of the group's collective experience?
  • How is giving and getting attention structured in online group interactions?
  • How much of the ways in which participants get attention depend on how well they know each other?
  • How much depends on the medium itself? and on practices among a group of users with that medium?
  • Do mediated group encounters tend to be more inclusive or exclusive of newcomers?
  • What impact does having a "place" online to discuss affect conversation?

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