Help us expand relationship-app study to NYC, Philadelphia, and beyond!

UPDATE:

We’re now in the process of expanding this study to include other relationship apps besides Couple, including: Avocado, Between, Duet, LoveByte, etc. If you use one or more of these apps, we’d love to connect!

 

Since our earlier call for participants, I’ve been scouring the Boston area looking for people to interview who use the relationship-app, Couple (formerly Pair). Those who have participated have found it thought provoking and fun experience. We’re now expanding the in-person interview component of our study to include participants in the NYC and Philadelphia areas. We’re looking for a range of experiences, and participants can be any kind of couple, not just romantic. And if you’re in a long-distance relationship, only one of you has to live in either Boston, NYC, or Philadelphia. As before, each participant will receive a $20 gift card.

Here’s a brief description of the project from our last post.

Couple is an innovative app designed to help couples stay in touch. It’s one among an increasing number of microsocial platforms that cater to small groups rather than large networks. In the case of Couple, it’s a social network of just two. While there is a ton of research on scalable social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, not much has been done to look at people’s experiences in these small microsocial platforms. We’re seeking to change that! Joshua McVeigh-Schultz and Nancy Baym are conducting a study of relational communication within Couple.

If you don’t live in the Boston, NYC, or Philadelphia metro areas, but are still interested in this study, please let me know. (There is a good chance we’ll be organizing some Skype interviews as well in the near future.)

Participation in the study involves a 1-hour interview in which you would be share parts of your Couple timeline with us. There will be options to control what and how you share. All participants will be anonymous and any images or quotes will have identifying information removed.

If you and your partner are interested in participating, please contact Joshua McVeigh-Schultz at t-josmc _at_ Microsoft _dot_ com.

Old Against New, or a Coming of Age? Rethinking Broadcasting in an Era of Electronic Media

In exciting news, Stacy Blasiola, R. Stuart Geiger and I are announcing a call for papers for a Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media Special Issue. Please pass on to your networks, or even better, send us an abstract.

Call for Papers

Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media Special Issue

Old Against New, or a Coming of Age? Rethinking Broadcasting in an Era of Electronic Media

In this special issue edited and authored by graduate students, JOBEM is calling on emerging scholars to redefine “broadcasting” and explore the relevance of this term in an age of electronic media. We believe that graduate students are uniquely situated to change the conversation around new and old media, rethinking both what it means for media to come of age and how to study such a phenomenon.

Special Issue Coordinating Editor-in-Chief

Stacy Blasiola (University of Illinois at Chicago, sblasi2@uic.edu)

Special Issue Guest Editors

R. Stuart Geiger (University of California, Berkeley)

Airi Lampinen(Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT & University of Helsinki)

 

Deadline for Extended Abstracts: August 19, 2013

Full Paper Invitation: September 22, 2013

Deadline for Full Papers: January 6, 2014

Final Decisions: May 6, 2014

Contact: JOBEMgradIssue@gmail.com

As guest editors for the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, we know that the term “broadcasting” certainly has the connotations of a rapidly-disappearing era. There is a strong temptation to sharply distinguish between old and new media, and “broadcasting” (and even “electronic”) is a term that is now often associated with the old. We are constantly told that we are in the midst of a digital/social media revolution that will make the unidirectional, mass communication model obsolete. Yet a cursory glance into either the history of media technology or the contemporary use of new media platforms complicates these dominant narratives. Do we need new terms to help us think about what it means for new media to come of age, or do we need to reappropriate old terms?

Do ideas about new media revolutions help us better understand the complicated relationships between radio and early television programming, telegraph networks and emerging telephone infrastructure, or musicians and the various shifts in the recording industry? Do notions of social media disruptions help us understand how participation takes place in sites like Wikipedia, reddit, or YouTube, or how these sites are situated in relation to more established news and media industries? What is the relevance of “old media” terms such as “broadcasting” for studying today’s social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and Pinterest? We call on graduate students to start a new thread in the conversation about what it means for media to be old and new. For us, rethinking “broadcasting” in an era of electronic media is to neither hastily disregard the legacy of these terms nor cling to them too rigidly.

As graduate students, we feel a curious resonance with the contradictory expectations surrounding new media forms. We are called to be apprentices, learning to participate in a longstanding and well-established institution; yet at the same time we are called to be radical revolutionaries, disrupting old ways of thinking. Graduate students, like many new media services and platforms, face many anxieties about what it means to come of age in a landscape already filled with towering figures. Many of the issues we face are longstanding problems that every generation before us also confronted, but we also face many concerns that are unique to our current historical situation.

As emerging scholars, we believe that graduate students are uniquely situated to change the conversation around new and old media, rethinking both what it means for media to come of age and how to study such a phenomenon. In this special issue, we call on graduate students to redefine what “broadcasting” means and explore the relevance of this term in an age of electronic media. We intentionally leave this open to interpretation. We seek papers that will theoretically and empirically advance our understanding of the diverse array of practices, content, people, technologies, industries, and policies that collectively constitute our contemporary media ecology.

We call for papers from a wide variety of disciplines and interdisciplinary fields, recognizing that scholarship can take a variety of different forms. We invite authors to:

  • propose novel theoretical or methodological frameworks to the study of media and broadcasting

  • critically review and synthesize existing academic literatures about media and broadcasting

  • discursively analyze various rhetorics and narratives around/in media and broadcasting

  • document case studies about historical and/or contemporary media and broadcasting forms

  • relate ethnographic, qualitative, or quantitative studies about the role of media and broadcasting in various social contexts

  • contact us about any other paper forms, or if you are unsure if your paper is suitable for this special issue

 

Deadlines and Submission Instructions

Timeline

Deadline for Extended Abstracts: August 19, 2013

Invitations to Submit Full Papers: September 22, 2013

Deadline to Submit Full Papers: January 6, 2014

Final Decisions to Authors: May 6, 2014

Final Revisions for Full Papers: May 26, 2014

Publication of the Special Issue: September 2014

All submissions must be graduate student driven, meaning that the primary authors should be enrolled as graduate students (at least) at the time of submitting extended abstracts.  Although collaborative work with non-graduate students is acceptable, we seek papers that are primarily conceptualized and authored by graduate students. Collaborative work with other students is highly encouraged. Importantly, the corresponding, lead author–who will be responsible for the paper and interactions with the editors–must be a graduate student.

Because we anticipate a large number of submissions, we will not initially accept full papers for review. Interested authors must first send a proposal of their paper in an extended abstract format of 600-800 words, not including references. The extended abstract should clearly introduce and outline the paper, giving reviewers from a wide variety of academic fields enough context and detail to evaluate its feasibility as a full paper, intellectual merit, relevance to the special issue theme, and broader impacts. As the research for these papers may not yet be complete, we do not expect that extended abstracts will necessarily include all of the paper’s findings or conclusions. However, the extended abstracts should outline what kinds of findings or conclusions the authors expect to present in the final paper. Specifically, extended abstracts should include:

  • a title

  • a description of the paper’s core topic, case, problem, and/or argument

  • the methodological approach, theoretical background, and/or disciplinary field

  • the paper’s relevance to related academic literatures

  • expected findings or conclusions

  • expected contributions to the study of media

Extended abstracts must be mailed as an attachment to JOBEMgradIssue@gmail.com and must be sent in .rtf, .doc or .docx format. We cannot accept .pdf submissions.

Authors whose abstracts are accepted will be invited to submit a full paper of no more than 7,500 words (including references). Invited full papers will be subject to a formal peer review process, and papers will only be published if they pass JOBEM’s standard reviewing process. Authors must adhere to a strict schedule for submission and revisions. Authors whose manuscripts do not get accepted to the special issue are encouraged to consider submitting revised papers to JOBEM through the normal submission process.

All submissions must adhere to the formatting guidelines for Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. Manuscripts must adhere to APA style format. Complete submission guidelines can be accessed at http://www.beaweb.org/jobem-guidelines.htm.Full papers must be submitted online at: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/hbem (select “Special Issue: Grad Issue” as a manuscript type).

 

What do we know about microsocial network apps? Not enough! Help!

Couple  (previously Pair) is an innovative app designed to help couples stay in touch. It’s one among an increasing number of microsocial platforms that cater to small groups rather than large networks. In the case of Couple, it’s a social network of just two. While there is a ton of research on scalable social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, not much has been done to look at people’s experiences in these small microsocial platforms. We’re seeking to change that! Joshua McVeigh-Schultz and Nancy Baym are conducting a study of relational communication within Couple. 

If you use Couple/Pair, we’re looking for participants to take part in this study. We’re looking for a range of experiences, and participants can be any kind of couple – romantic, friends, parent-child, sibling, whatever!  Right now we’re looking for people who can come to Cambridge, MA in the next few weeks. That said, if one or both of you don’t live near Cambridge MA, but are still interested in this study, please let us know.

By participating in this study, participants would be sharing their Couple timeline with us, but there will be some options to control what and how you share. (We’ll leave it up to you which parts of the Couple timeline you’re willing to share.) All participants will be anonymous and any media we capture from the app will have identifying information removed. As a gesture of gratitude, each participant will receive a gift card of $20.

If you and your partner are interested in participating, please contact Joshua McVeigh-Schultz at t-josmc _at_ Microsoft _dot_ com.

And please feel free to forward this call to your respective networks!

Writing the Casual Games Syllabus

(or, “I don’t know how to skim a game.”)

Here’s my question: What is the ideal list of 16 games that, if you played them, would give you a picture of all that is possible in gaming? Oh, yeah, and they have to be fast, quick-to-learn, and mostly free (hence the “casual” in the title).

I’ll be teaching a course next Fall at the University of Michigan entitled “Play and Technology.” It’s an advanced seminar that surveys the social science and humanities literature on the idea of “play,” then applies that literature to computer-mediated communication, video games, and other kinds of what we’ll call “playful technologies.” It requires both a midterm and a final project that each require students to craft a conceptual design for a playful technology.  Hopefully we’ll learn something about people and something about designing play experiences.

If you’re still curious, here is a printable flyer for the course (PDF).

In the past I’ve taught a similar course. A serious problem with it has been that people come to the topic of play and new media from such a wide variety of practical perspectives. Since it is an elective, usually everyone who enrolls likes games or play or technology — likely all three. And people like particular games A LOT. But… everyone’s a fanatic about a different thing.

So student #1 will let loose in a class discussion with what is probably a brilliant analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics as applied to Escape from Rungistan which he/she plays religiously every evening on an Apple II emulator.  But after they’ve finished speaking, since no one else in the class has ever played Escape from Rungistan (or heard of it)* there is an awkward silence.

Escape From Rungistan Screenshot

Escape From Rungistan, c. 1982

 

(*Okay actually that’s not 100% true.  I’ve played Escape from Rungistan.)

Then after a long pause, Student #2 will try to explain Piaget using an example from Farm TownFarm Town is the game that FarmVille ripped off, by the way. So no one else — maybe no one else in this state — has ever played it except for student #2.*  But student #2 knows every nuance. Every vegetable.  And student #2 wants to get down and dirty in the details. Student #2 is talking about growing Chamomile vs. Quinoa and their implications for the ontological trajectory of developmental psychology, which is totally a level 112 kind of debate. Since no one else has any idea what he/she is talking about, there is an awkward silence.

Farm Town Screenshot

Farm Town, c. 2009

 

(*Okay actually that’s not 100% true.  I’ve played Farm Town.)

So what’s the solution? In the past I’ve asked students to try a specific game that we all play together.  It has often been a recognizable game (e.g., once, a long time ago, we played a version of Quake). That’s useful but it really does an injustice to the great diversity of kinds of play that are possible. We get stuck in one play mode (FPS, in this case). It also feels unfair because many students are already experts in any given mainstream title, and I find the novices resent it.

What students seem to need is a variety of ideas that they can use to template their own projects, not an in-depth, semester-long study of a mainstream title. And many mainstream games are LONG. I once required that an undergraduate class play Civilization IV. I thought it would be great (bestselling, award-winning game, right?), but a lot of students absolutely hated the fact that it was so involved.

One student summed it up by saying: “If you assign a game instead of a reading, I don’t know how to skim a game.” It takes hours and hours of work to get anything out of Civ IV. Come to think of it, it takes hours and hours of work to finish a single game of Civ IV.

So here is my challenge to you, dear reader. I have sixteen weeks in the semester. Let’s say we assign a game a week. For the reasons specified above these games would have to be short (“casual”) or at least you should be able to get the idea in the first level (or in a demo). Honestly I think these games should ideally be obscure so that everyone starts on the same page. The set of games as a whole, as befits a syllabus, would emphasize the diversity of different kinds of games that are possible.

Being required to do something can completely drain the fun out for some people. So this isn’t supposed to be a list of super fun games, since as soon as I require them I will drain the fun out (at least for some students). Instead, each game should have something unique to say about the art and science of game design. Each should have something to say about human behavior. If the game isn’t particularly fun (hello, Ian Bogost’s brilliant Cow Clicker), so what? It’s required. It’s important. There’s something to learn from it. We can have a productive conversation about it.  This is not a “T0p 16 Cazual Games EVAR!!!1!!1!!” blog post.

The games would have to be free or cheap. Just as I try to keep assigned textbook costs down, I want to keep assigned game costs down. I would feel OK if a few weeks of the class required a game purchase — we can set the game up in a computer lab for those unwilling or unable to pay. But a console title per week? Impossible. That’s a $700 textbook budget for one class.

I have some key dimensions in mind that it would be great to explore with this list: e.g., social vs. not social, narrative vs. non-narrative, violent vs. non-violent, historical vs. contemporary, etc.  But I think rather than giving you an exhaustive list I’d rather hear what you are thinking and adapt this to my own purposes.

However, to get things started here is a draft of what I am thinking about. What are the areas that I’ve left off?  What are the games that are better exemplars in their category — however you define their category?

Example Syllabus (DRAFT)

  1. Passage. A free art game that defies simple explanation and takes just 5 minutes to play.
  2. World of Tanks.  Quick online team combat with strangers. Likely they’ll be some weird lobby talk (“Hetzer gonna Hetz!”). A standout in the freemium realm, it would helps people experience an FPS-like game even if you suck at shooting and running around — just pick a slow tank.
  3. Escape From Rungistan. (You saw that coming, right?) The text/graphics split screen adventure game has died out. Playing it via an emulator would be an interesting way to comment on history, genre, and technological limitations of a platform. Not a particularly fast game but we can play just the first few screens and get an idea of things.
  4. SpaceChem. We have to have a puzzle game, and I think it would be interesting to put in one game that is just terribly and intentionally hard for most people. It’s a great game but it’s an interesting design choice to make a game that most players will never be able to finish. Also there’s a free demo.
  5. (or 4.5?) Lego Junkbot. Another ingenious puzzler. Could be paired with SpaceChem so that there is a simple puzzle alternative to SpaceChem’s insanity. However I can’t find Lego Junkbot online anymore. Is it dead?
  6. Diner Dash. Classic. Quick to play and you get to experience the real time management genre.  I see that I’m on a bit of an Eric Zimmerman theme now but that’s only because he is brilliant. It looks like you can play it for free with a trial subscription.
  7. (or 6.5?) Atom Zombie Smasher. Also a real time management game but quite a different take on things. And so much style! It has a free demo, at least on Steam.
  8. Façade. Fast to play, free — and great way to talk about narrative. Can be paired with an article talking about the game.
  9. (or 8.5?) Thirty Flights of Loving. Oooh, this could be assigned along with Façade. Another interesting take on narrative. Another art-y, indie blast of freshness. Now I’m on a Brendon Chung roll here. But I may have to repeat some game designers due to their absolute brilliance. 
  10. Electro City. Simple and obscure city simulator that has a green power agenda. Free online, quick to learn, quick to play, and speaks to G4C and simulations.  Not a great game though — maybe there is something better?
  11. Some sort of children’s game that is supposed to teach you something? My gaming repertoire is too antiquated to know what to put here.  Lemonade Stand anyone? Not sure.
  12. Something from GWAP (Games With a Purpose)… maybe The ESP Game — a free online multiplayer anonymous guessing game that serves the strict master of human computation.
  13. Some kind of game of chance or gambling.  Hard to think of one that would be unfamiliar and not illegal, but this is such a big domain of human play it seems important to include.
  14. Some kind of multiplayer game with really simple rules that leads to very complex gameplay, so that we can talk about how to write rulesSiSSYFiGHT 2000 would be perfect if it is finished in time. But that would be my third Zimmerman.
  15. Habbo Hotel or another social environment without much gameplay per se. Hopefully class members will not be arrested as stalkers.
  16. Maybe another classic game included because it was historically significant in the development of games?  Hard to think of one right now.  A kind of “this was the first game to do X” kind of game. Not sure.  You can see I’m running out of ideas at #16!

I pledge to you that the most useful response submitted will receive a prize of my choosing, entirely at my discretion. I will actually mail it to you. It will be a physical object. You are welcome to submit a thought, an idea, a criticism, a single game, or an entire syllabus.

If you’d like, please include your suggestions as a comment to this post. Or if you’d prefer to do this privately, email me at casual-games@umich.edu.  Let the syllabus writing begin!

This is a cross-post from Multicast.

Get Over IT! Social @Work is Smart (and Inevitable)

Practically everyone uses social media, and most workers use them at work. In fact, as a Microsoft study revealed this week, 84 percent of information workers use non-work social networks, and 60 percent of them use them from work at least once a day.

At the same time, the survey found that more than 30 percent of workers said their employers have policies or technologies in place to stop them from doing so. When at work, it seems, workers are expected to work.

Makes sense, right? What else should we be doing at work besides work? And surely social media distracts from work.

But look a little deeper and there are some real problems with this attitude. First of all, we’re starting to understand the very premise – that social media usage inhibits productivity – is a myth. A forthcoming, two-year longitudinal study titled Exploring social network interactions in enterprise systems: the role of virtual co-presence by Nandhakumar, Baptista, and Subramaniam, of Warwick Business School, found that using social media at work could actually enhance workers’ productivity.

It’s not just that the premise is wrong – we’re also learning that blocking and banning policies are ineffective, giving traditionalist supervisors a false sense of control that, in reality, has been slipping away for years. “You can’t stop people having this connectivity,” said Nandhakumar, “so we need to find out how we can manage it and how we can make it into something more positive.”

I am a voracious Twitter user. My profession is research. The old guard would have you believe the former impedes the latter. Not the case – the former enriches the latter. Many is the time I’ve turned to my followers for sources and ideas that have benefited my research. For example, when a colleague and I were formulating a survey about mobile phone norms, I used Twitter as an informal poll by asking what behaviors people hated – some became items in our survey.

Social networks can also build camaraderie, providing light touches that diminish the stress of difficult days, or building rapport between colleagues. In my research on friends on the music site, Last.fm, for instance, I found people who worked together using the site in order to learn more about each other’s musical taste and sometimes to provide fodder for good natured office teasing.

This all says nothing of the “work from anywhere” promise. Think of the many laptop ads you’ve seen showing happy workers with their laptops on the beach. Should bosses ban themselves from expecting any work from employees outside working hours?

In 2011, Right Management, a division of Manpower, found that 63 percent of workers surveyed said their bosses emailed them on weekends and expected a response either often or from time to time. Only 37 percent said that never happened. Another recent study by mobile-research firm Good Technology found that more than 80 percent of workers continued to work at home after leaving the office, adding more than a month of overtime work annually.

Given the ubiquity of mobile media, the fact that many find it useful to work outside of work hours, and the general breakdown of the 9-to-5 work day, perhaps letting workers use social media at work – whether consumer or enterprise-grade – is not so much a question of productivity, but of fairness. If work now has a place in our social time, why shouldn’t social time have a place at work? Fair’s fair.