~ Archive for Social Networks ~

Why people play social network games…

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(cross-posted on Play As Life)

Why do people play games? A lot of scholars and market researchers have looked at game motivations and have pretty much come up with similar results. People play for several reasons, some of which include to be social, to engage in competition, to immerse in fantasy, etc. etc.

But why do people play games on Facebook? We would expect that a lot of motivations that apply to regular games would also apply to Facebook games. However, maybe Facebook games are different. Compared to MMOs, they are most definitely smaller in scale. Also, with Facebook games you are more likely to play with your existing friends (yes, you could play with your existing friends on MMOs and Xbox Live, but with those games you don’t necessarily need that friendship tie in order to play). The games are also mostly asynchronous, browser-based, and easier to learn/play.

So we set out to see why people were playing Facebook games– and especially, in the context of social network sites– if people were playing for social reasons.

A few colleagues and I did some empirical tests and turns out, yes and no. We focused on non-game-specific motivations (we didn’t look at competition or fantasy elements) and found four distinct motivations. People said they played games on Facebook because they:

-Wanted to achieve common ground (get topic of conversation to talk with other people)
-Wanted to engage in reciprocity (give gifts, get gifts, etc.)
-As a coping strategy (relieving stress, getting enjoyment, etc.)
-To relieve boredom

Because people could answer these from a 5-point scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, although we found these four factors, we saw that the first two reasons had pretty low means. Which means that more people DON’T play social network games to achieve common ground or engage in reciprocity.

So that is the bad news. People aren’t playing because they expect to get social outcomes. A isn’t playing Farmville with B in order to improve social relationships with B. A just wants to relieve boredom or play for his or her own enjoyment.

BUT that isn’t the end of the story. Just because you don’t expect something doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t get it. Our next step is to see if playing social network games actually generates some positive (or negative) social outcome. And we strongly believe that it does, because gift-giving and reciprocity are very strong elements of the game play. Even if people are only giving gifts because the game forces them to, they may get some unexpected social outcome. We have anecdotal cases that support this– in the coming months we will be trying to get some empirical evidence of whether or not this is true.

I will be presenting our preiminary findings of social network game motivation and uses at CHI next week. Stay tuned for more interesting research on social network games!

Getting news from your social networks

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About a week ago, I was telling my colleague about how we should do a study about how social network sites are increasingly becoming people’s initial (if not primary) news source. “Someone studying journalism has probably already done that,” she said. Not surprisingly, today Pew reported about how people receive news from people they follow on social network sites (the main report was about how the Internet is now an important platform for news). The three main points (3Ps) that Pew made were:

• Portable: 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.
• Personal: 28% of internet users have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.
• Participatory: 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

I’m working on a theory which I’ve named “crystallization theory” which is an adaptation of cultivation theory (hopefully no one will steal this idea; I’m always torn between getting my ideas out there and waiting for the long turnaround of academic publication since by the time it’s published, the idea will probably be stale). Cultivation theory says that TV, as the main media, shapes what individuals perceive as being reality and creates a “mainstream” perception of reality. My crystallization theory is that the Internet (mainly social networks) shapes what individuals perceive as being reality, but since everyone has different networks and preferences that create strong homophily effects, this will result in different clusters of “crystal” realities in which everyone thinks they are mainstream, but there is no true mainstream. I’m trying to think of research designs that would empirically prove this.

But going back to the idea of getting your news from your social networks…this isn’t so much of a new idea, since old studies have already shown that people get their news from their friends or work colleagues (although in those days, they were referring to offline word-of-mouth, not the Internet). Last year, I remember David Weinberger also saying something to this effect: he said the emails were how people were getting their news. So what with emails, RSS feeds, Twitter, and services like Google Reader already in existance, I was extremely annoyed that Facebook got a patent for its newsfeed. Hopefully it will not abuse the patent, like Worlds.com has been doing. Having said that, perhaps I too should file a very general patent about technology and human behavior and retire early.

Meanwhile, I’m working on refining my paper on Tweeting About TV, which presents a nice method (if I may say so myself) of analyzing social message streams, although the main focus is how people are engaging in social television-viewing behavior. I will be presenting this paper at ICA in June.  Email me at yvettewohn[at gmail.com if you would like to see a draft.

No longer Tweeting about (just) me

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When Twitter first started, the question was “What are you doing? (reply in 140 characters or less)”

Many took the question literally. So there were a lot of people writing short posts that were like short snippets of their diary. “Going to the movies” or “Meeting with bff” are examples of common Tweets that are literal answers to the question.

But like all tools, people began to see that Twitter could be more than a chronicle of one’s daily events. It was more than an outlet of raves and rants. Twitter users started to find innovative ways of communicating, even creating their own “utilities” such as hashtags and retweets. For many, Twitter became an important source of information, like a newsfeed where one could subscribe to a number of news providers. This prompted many legacy news organizations as well as bloggers, corporate PR and anyone who wanted their information out there to join Twitter.

Twitter also proved to be handy in crowdsourcing information, a live citizen news feed for the Mumbai terrorist attacks (although it also played a part in actually helping the terrorists) and also a place to publicly share emotions and opinions, like for the death of Michael Jackson.

Now, Twitter’s question reads: “What’s happening?” It is not specific to the user’s experience, and although one could certainly keep talking about personal things, this seems to signal a shift in micro-blogging culture– a shift from “me” to “us.” How will this affect status updates? Will we see a trend in less self-related Tweets? How much does the official question affect what people write? What new ways will we see users repurpose Twitter for yet another communicative purpose? The question posed in Facebook’s status update is “What’s on your mind?” reflecting Twitter’s initial question about the individual. If the microblogging trend is going towards collective information, then perhaps Facebook will soon change its question too.

Facebook is slow in developing microtransactions content

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Facebook announced that it is now selling music; a move that I believe took extremely long, given that music was a huge driving force for Myspace and Cyworld. I sometimes don’t understand why Facebook is slow in adopting business models that have already been proven in other markets. For instance, it kind of lost the virtual room model to Zynga (although I suppose if Facebook were to adopt its own virtual room thing it would squash Zynga) a business model fueled by micro transactions. I also don’t know why it hasn’t adopted the micro transactions model for customizable fonts and customizable skins. Since self-representation is such an important factor of social network sites, it only seems to make sense that such elements be hugely popular. Fonts and skins are extremely easy and cheap to produce; these elements may not be adopted by older users but younger users (and perhaps middle-aged women) will definitely be interested.

In a sense, Facebook has it easy because it can adopt business models that have been successful with Cyworld, which is a few years older and only popular in Korea and a couple other asian countries. If that is so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook adding more microtransaction content (like fonts, skins), and introducing services that make it a one-stop browser, which would include adding self-accounting services, subscribing to news, and becoming kind of like iGoogle.

It would also be super cool if Facebook could work with Amazon to put the universal wish list into Facebook so that you can send your friends gifts without having to know their addresses. FB is actually perfect for weddings if there was a wedding app that lets you invite your friends, put up your registry, share photos, etc. (There probably already is one) Would be nice if that could be in place before I get married, hehehe.

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