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2.3 Features of Everything that foster community

2.3.1 Chatterbox

The developers note that in the original version of the test Everything community there was no chat function, and initially not even a finger ability to check if other users on the system. When the chat function was added, server statistics indicated that use went up significantly. One of the main functions of the Chatterbox is to provide direct clues that work on the site is currently happening. In combination with a list of newly written nodes, the scrolling of the Chatterbox messages creates an impression of site dynamism important for achieving a sense of critical mass.

The interviews and web surveys seem to indicate that the message function within the chat is more important in many ways than the actual Chatterbox itself. Being able to communicate directly and privately with another user allows direct communication that is necessary to create shared meaning. Also, it acts as a more subtle form of shaping others' behavior than does voting. If one has a piece of writing downvoted, there is not a lot of meta-information about why that writing was deemed unacceptable. Messaging allows users to elaborate on feedback. Also, receiving a message praising some content was cited as a powerful means of positive reinforcement by respondents.

2.3.2 Presence awareness

Our tests of naïve users seemed to indicate that they did not immediately grasp that the list of other users meant people currently logged in to the site, but when it did become apparent it immediately created an interest in the users. Since users in the "Other Users" list are ordered roughly by level within the system, it creates an easy way for users to know who is available to help them, and whether people they particularly like on the site are available to talk to.

One important feature of Other Users is the ability to be cloaked if one is a high level user of the site. This protects prominent members of the community from being harassed as they attempt to operate within the site. A common complaint of listserves and other types of online communities is that people of prominence are harassed by those seeking prominence, so the social interaction becomes burdensome rather than supportive. Since higher level users on Everything are able to avoid this, they may feel more inclined to participate. Another advantage of having invisible super-users is that lower level users can be rebuked without them knowing the source, making it so the punishment is not attributed to personal characteristics of the editor or god, but rather more generally by the site. Since users have no idea who may be watching, they may also avoid unacceptable behaviors at the outset.

2.3.3 Homenodes

When a user creates an account, that user is assigned a homenode, which is a space that describes the user in as much detail as the user desires. The only information that is required is the "nick" of the user, and their writeup/experience ratio. Clicking on the number of writeups will bring the browser to a list of everything the user has written in the system, ordered in various ways.

At higher levels, users also have the option of posting a picture, though it is rarely of oneself. Instead, users use their homenodes as a means of self expression, often listing favorite writeups by other users, writings they are particularly proud of, and contact information. One of the research team messaged a user in the Chatterbox. Before she replied, she reported that she had looked at his homenode, checked out the two most recent things he had written, and went to the website listed at the homenode before proceeding to return the message. This would be difficult to do at a conference table.

The homenode is important for creating a set of persistent identities within the Everything2 and Perlmonks communities. In some ways it serves the same purpose as analyzing the cost of one's suit, or the firmness of a handshake in a face to face meeting. It allows two people unfamiliar with each other to get a sense of each other, and make an initial impression where cues in a test message do not afford other types of clues.

2.3.4 Voting/XP

The experience points system is an important driving factor within the Everything system. When the voting system was first introduced on Everything2, the hits on the site went from 10,000 hits per day to 25,000 hits per day in one week. Besides changing the amount of time people spent on the site, the XP system also seemed to change the tenor of the submissions. Since people received points for things that were well written, or humorous, or well researched, longer submissions and more work on submissions became the norm.

Fifty-four percent say it helps quite a bit, and 14.7% say it helps extremely much. These figures seem to indicate that the XP system is viewed as important to the system. It also is perceived as affecting behavior of the users, however less drastically than it does the system. Asked how much the rating system affects their behavior, only 4.1% said extremely much and 36.3% said quite a bit. In their interviews, about half of the editors and gods mentioned that the XP system initially helped draw them into Everything2, but that as they progressed in levels they came to care less about it. It could be that the XP system serves to attract new users long enough to get them attached to other aspects of the community, raising the bar for entry into the community. This allows time for the enculturation process that will guarantee shared meaning between the users.

2.3.5 Central authority

Another surge in hits on Everything2 occurred when the Everything Development Company hired a full time site administrator. This person then chose the other gods and editors, with some exceptions. Initially, the editors would delete between 10-15 nodes per day, but at this point, it is up to around a 100 deletions per day. When a submission is deleted, it is not destroyed, but rather moved to a special area called "node heaven" where the original poster may fix it and repost, though reposting is actually rare.

There were two changes in design philosophy that led to the current system of handpicking editors. Originally, the plan had been to delete nodes algorithmically based on downvotes, but this proved too clumsy for real use. Editors were going to be initially picked using the XP system, but people were able to "game" the system and create high experience points while not necessarily advancing the goals of the site. The site administrators decided to hand pick editors because this ensures that the editor will reflect those stated community goals. Characteristics of what makes a good editor have been expressed by current editors and gods.

"A good editor tries to teach by example, and to guide new users into enriching E2 rather than the opposite. A good editor encourages with praise, cools, and votes. A good editor never kills a writeup by an active user without explanation, unless the user has clearly violated the sensibilities of E2. In that case a good editors consults with other editors about the problematic user."

Some users have objected to this system, claiming that it invites abuses, and that views unpopular to this homogenous group will not be able to survive. Currently, concern over editorial abuse is a major concern in the community and reflected in many submissions. Even some editors have shown concern about the role of editorial powers.

"A good editor is someone who knows what NOT to remove. In my opinion, too many editors are sucking the personality out of this site by removing writeups for questionable reasons and by trying to shape the behaviour of E2 user base in inappropriate ways (e.g. I witnessed a god change the title of someone's writeup because it contained profanity, and /msg sic message another user to chide them for the same "offense". Powertrips like this are a major factor in the E2 userbase's general distrust of those with "Editorial Powers" not to mention my personal disillusionment and present inactivity on the site)…"

Another interesting feature of the central authority structure on Everything2 is the existence of a group of gods who have their power by association with each other rather than through merit on the site. Perhaps a third of the gods were close friends before Everything2 was created, and it could be the ease of their interaction causes an effect in the interaction of other users. Because this core group, which also happens to be active and powerful within the community, are carrying trust from offline relationships it is carrying a momentum into the interactions of the people on the site. Perlmonks does not have a similar group, but is a more focused site. This core of friends could have an unspoken, yet strong influence on how Everything2 evolved in the first place.

  • 2.1 Definitions of community

  • 2.2 Everything2 as a community

  • 2.3 Features of Everything that foster community

  • 2.4 Everything sites as community

  • 2.5 How community relates to "work"

  • 2.6 Everything and the Grudin Problems

    Return to School of Information Analysis of Everything

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