The Social Web

This weeks readings, Chapter 5 in Clay Shirkey’s Book, Here Comes Everybody, and Michael Bauwen’s article, “The Social Web and its Social Contracts” both deal with how the social web has created a new kind of form of interaction that has been jointly agreed upon by those who use the web. These social contracts are implicit and for the most part not expressly written but they form a new way of interaction on the web and in our society as a whole. Each writer also talks about how user interaction creates this new form of communication or societal contracts.

In his article, “The Social Web and it’s Social Contracts”, Michael Bauwens talks about how the basis for the web and many of its uses, such as chatrooms and blogs, are built on a underlying social contract that according to him is actually quite stable, even if it is somewhat implied and there are not any real written rules per se. Bauwens believes that internet users allow themselves to have their “attention to be monetized through advertising” because we enjoy the facilities of the internet so much and understand that it is in a sense the fair trade that we must give to use the qualities of the internet that we so value. Bauwens also says though, that we will only permit this fair exchange if it does not stop the ease with which we use the facilities of the Internet that we so enjoy and if that exchange does interrupt our favorite qualities of the Internet we as a society of Internet users will revolt and move elsewhere.

In chapter 5 of “Here Comes Everybody”, Clay Shirkey talks also about social web and the contracts that are in a way inherent within the Internet. Shirky specifically talks about Wikipedia and how it affects the notion of social contracts on the web. Nupedia was the original idea for Wikipedia or behind Wikipedia, however Nupedia failed, paving the way for Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s success may be due to fixing part of the reason that Nupedia failed. Nupedia had an extremely long review process by the owners of the website before posts were approved. Wikipedia has extremely quick updates by users and very little review process, which has also been the subject of complaints as well as admiration. Complaints often stem from the notion that early on in Wikipedia’s popularity, it was often thought of as being extremely faulty because of the little amount of review that each post was submitted to. Wikipedia was orignally created by the inventors of Nupedia, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, wanted to create a free version of the higher end Nupedia. Wikipedia eventually became much more successful.

The name Wikipedia comes from the idea of Wiki’s which were small user-edited sites that were originally conceived and created in the mid 1990’s. The creator felt that users would want to have the control of editing and that they would innately trust others with the editing process. Namely one’s peers. After originally using wiki’s to work on rough drafts for Nupedia, Sanger and Wales gave wikipedia is own address and the site blew up, far surpassing the site visits and power of Nupedia. Wikipedia is completely user generated and controlled. A person can decide to create an entry for something, that is edited by peers of course, and then further entries are created off that. Thus the notion of a wikipedia race mentioned in other posts is created. According to Shirky, Wikipedia is able to “aggregate individual and often tiny contributions, hundreds of millions of them annually, made by millions of contributors, all performing different functions” (Shirkey 118). Wikipedia entries are a shared work. Everyone contributes on them and they are never fully done. Each person adds or edits it using what they know or what information they have links to. In this way it is a truly collaborative group project, which works because the users actually have to care about the “product” that is being turned out. For me, it would seem surprising that Wikipedia has been successful as it has been, maybe it is just the skeptic in me but, I would feel that there are enough people out there that don’t really care to make the information unreliable. But apparently, the participants are extremely committed to the outcomes, as Shirky would say.

5 responses to “The Social Web

  1. My immediate thought went to the millions of articles about what you should or should not do on facebook and twitter. Often these lists pop up on humor websites, probably because they are just new awkward social situations to be exploited for comic gain. (Also, the New York Times’s forays into the subject are really, really awkward.)

    A sample of such lists:

    Five People You Should Not Be Friends With On Facebook:

    Top 10 Most Hated People on Facebook:

    10 Things You Need to Stop Tweeting About:

    All of these have to deal with people who are friends with/following people who do this and are sick of it. One may ask, why don’t they just remove that person from their friend list/following list? It’s because they take the rules in the lists to be self-evident because facebook and twitter are public, and the things they are objecting to are often reapplied in real life terms, like the facebook relationship rule in the 2nd one, where he calls out the couple as showing inappropriate PDA.

  2. I too, am surprised (and delighted) at the success of Wikipedia. I think the idea is ingenious because the amount of information that can be shared is virtually limitless. I’m even more surprised by the credibility Wikipedia has. I know people often cite Wikipedia as a reference in their college papers despite the fact that it’s technically not a “credible” source.
    Also, I think Wikipedia is interesting because despite the fact that anyone can edit an article, the operators of Wikipedia have the power to omit anything users submit. For example, when David Rohde, a journalist from New York Times, was abducted, many news agencies chose not to report the incident because they were concerned about his safety. Wikipedia also chose to ignore the user-submitted updates even though technically, users should be able to add anything they want to an article. Though I can understand the rationale behind Wikipedia’s actions, I think it raises a whole boatload of ethical questions.

    You can read about the Wikipedia blackout on Wikipedia here:

  3. When thinking of The Social Web as a new form of interaction. To me it brings the question of: how is interacting on the internet ethically and morally different than interacting on say, the phone or in person. All different forms of communication bring about new rules of what is acceptable and what is not, and with the internet spiraling off, thinking of the web as a new form of interaction brings the concept of netiquette into my mind. I wonder how much of “netiquette” applies to a user-produced website like Wikipedia. Also, as in other forms of interaction, should their be consequences that exist through interaction on the web. This makes me instantly recall the cell-phone scenario we covered previously in the book. Overall, I’m just left wondering if eventually a third-party like the government will eventually step in to oversee communication over the web, similar to the radio or TV, and if so, would websites and users be punished by their content or say uploading false posts to Wikipedia?

  4. I think Tyler’s comment is an interesting one. I personally do not foresee (in the near future at least) a time when the government will step in to monitor the communication happening across the World Wide Web. “Netiquette” is definitely crucial for the survival of positive Internet-based communication. I think there is an underlying social bargain that one enters into when entering the world of the Internet. There are millions of places and ways in which to post your ideas–people obviously will and always will take advantage and abuse that privilege of having a space in which to freely express one’s ideas. But I think the simple enormity of the World Wide Web excludes it from being considered alongside traditional forms of communication such as the radio and TV where there are far fewer producers and creators in comparison to consumers. It is easier to police an institution such as television when we know who, what, when, where, how the content is being made. The mass amateurization of the Internet makes that impossible to a certain degrees. The internet is a mash up of the producer and consumer–this makes it more difficult to police because where does one role begin and the other end? I think the creative freedom that the Internet fosters makes it nearly impossible to be monitored along the same lines as traditional outlets.

  5. Coming off of tylo9876’s comment, online interaction should and currently does prompt consequences in the real world. The anonymity of interaction between users online warps the definitions of punishable actions, although they still exist. One example that comes to mind is the recent conviction of Alan Ralsky, a spammer who used junk emails to manipulate stock prices for personal gain and now is currently serving a 4 year sentence. Which brings us to the interesting point in this post about the “underlying social contract” that we accept when we go online. Regarding advertising, where do we draw the line for the cost of internet use? Ads, including spam, may interfere with the ease of internet usage, but it doesn’t mean Internet users will move elsewhere because there is nowhere else to move. As the advent of ad blockers and spam filters has begun to purge the internet of the tangible annoyances on the web, kjaffe makes a good point about the more unavoidable costs of having to deal with abuse of the anonymity of the net, as seen in “trolling” at the end of restopesto’s “Collaborative promises, tools and bargains” post.

    As for the regulation of the internet, I feel the government will never be able to monitor communications across the web. The scope is simply too large and users too savvy for this to be a feasible solution. Just take a look at China and all of the people who have Facebook accounts.

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