Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Essay on Free-Riding and Google Groups

I have been observing a computer-mediated communication channel on the internet called Google Groups. It is part of what is considered to be the Usenet system. In observing Google Groups the “free-rider”(Kollock & Smith p.110) problem proved to be extremely immanent. As the web and the internet expand, "free-riding" is becoming more and more of a problem that needs to be addressed, and from what I have learned and observed so far I have a feeling this problem may be here to stay. It proves to be a difficult, if not, impossible task to keep a mass amount of anonymous people under control. In the process of trying to terminate the free rider problem, Google Groups and many other Usenet channels, have made adjustments that either help to diminish free-rider efforts, or at least cut through the clutter that is accumulated through their actions, but no one has figured out the solution.

The Usenet is one of the largest computer-mediated communication systems on the internet (Kollock & Smith p.111). Google Groups is just one of the channels that make up this system. Google Groups is basically an online bulletin board. People leave messages for other members in their group to read and comment on. These groups are separated by topic and the members are all supposed to interact, and contribute useful information to each other based on these topics. The point of this communication channel is to provide a way for a mass amount of people to share ideas, opinions, information, and even to just interact with each other about specific topics and issues. This is useful because many of these people would have probably never have had a chance to interact before, and this can provide an effective way for the spread of information to take place.

These Google Groups are effective in the spread of information, but there is an issue that is hindering what could be the maximum efficiency of Google Groups and the other channels involved in this Usenet system. I was first introduced to the idea of the free-rider problem in my Com430Z class recently. One of the readings that I was assigned was called “Managing the Virtual Commons”. It was written by Peter Kollock and Marc Smith, and was published in Computer-mediated communication: Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives, in 1996. The term “free-rider” (p.110) had a different meaning to me before I read this article. I previously believed that the term referred to people who were just looking for a free ride in the perspective that they would use other people’s information and ideas for their own benefit and not contribute anything back. This is a big part of what the term means, but from the reading I realized that people who try to disrupt the order of these communication channels, by veering away from the topic, advertising, or just posting comments that have no meaning or relevance, are also considered to be free-riders.

Since the beginning, the internet has been intended for the use of communication. Communication channels like Google Groups obviously fulfill this intention. From my observation of the channel I chose to research, I really got a chance to get a good look at this free-riding problem up close. I chose a Google Group labeled This group’s topic is basically food, and involves anything that has to do with it. Some examples would be recipes, cooking, and other food related issues. Right in the beginning of my observation I noticed that many people weren’t talking about anything even remotely close to this topic. People were posting inappropriate comments, advertisements, and engaging in conversation that could not be considered useful to the topic at hand. The problem with this is that the people who created this Google Group did it for a reason, and now there is so much clutter that the purpose is being diluted. For example, if I wanted to see what the latest recipe someone had posted was, I would have to sort through a significant amount of “junk” to try to find what I was looking for. Google has come up with ideas and features to try to help solve this problem. The group I observed has search tools to help narrow down what you are looking for by title. This really does help the situation, but people still post comments under titles that don’t match the content. This group also has a list of popular topic on the side of its page where the comments are posted. This also acts as a search tool. The next feature is that there is a way for profiles to be created. This could serve to be helpful when trying to determine the integrity of comments and information being posted. Another feature is that you can engage in a more direct chat with whomever you wanted to. Even though these all could be very useful, the fact that people can still lie and/or chose to be anonymous still hinders the efficacy of this channel and others like it. The two features that seemed like they could be most effective were the fact that you can’t post comments unless you were a member, and that you could report comments to be investigated. These would defiantly help cut down on clutter.

Free-riding affects everyone on the web using these communication channels, whether they realize it or not. It discourages people from using these communication channels; therefore information that could be very useful to others will not reach the vast audience that these channels provide. It also discourages people by taking away from their efforts and letting free-riders reap the benefits of their hard work. Maybe the reason for all of this is because people don’t stop and think about how this really affects us. One person may not realize how all this junk accumulates to form what I would call “Internet Pollution”. Another reason this may happen is because there are really no sound penalties or punishments for these actions. The only thing we can hope for is that the effort to stop this free-riding problem will continue, and maybe later on down the road we can find the solution.

Kloolock, Peter & Smith, Marc. (1196). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in the computer communities. Is Susan C. Herring (Ed.), Computer-mediated communication: Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives (pp.109-128). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

5th day on Google Groups

This is my last day observing the Google Group that I have chosen. Today I wanted to see if I could find personal profiles on the people who subscribe to these Groups, or something that would indicate who these people where, so I could determine the source of the information that is being posted on these group bulletin boards. If I know where the information is coming from, then I can decide whether or not it is a dependable source. As far as I can see, one way to find out this type of information is to click on a link that says “view profile”. The problem with this is that not many people, from what I have seen, have created a profile; also if they did create one, they could easily lie. I am not a member so I may be limited to what resources are available to me, but from an outside prospective there are only a few ways to find out who is posting information on a personal level. There is a link that you can click on to find all of the postings a particular person has posted up to date. This is a good idea, because it provides a chance to look at someone’s history and examine their character. Another way to figure out the legitimacy of information would be to actually engage in conversation with the author. Of course they could still lie, but conversation could help a little.

I just wanted to mention a couple other features about this specific group that may play a part in cutting down on the clutter of information. The first feature is that if you are not a member of the group you cannot post comments. The next feature is that there is a link you can click on that allows you to report any message you feel is inappropriate, and Google sates that they will conduct an investigation on the issue. This could deter people from posting inappropriate comments, and could help remove them if they do get posted.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

4th day on Google group

This is my 4th day observing the Google group that I have chosen. I veered away from observing the actual content of the blogs today, and decided to look at how this Google group is set up. Yesterday I experimented with the search tool, and then today I used the headings on the side of the page to navigate around. Much like the search tool this is a good way to cut through clutter, and find the most popular topics. This is also a good way to find other related groups; maybe ones that stay on topic more, or just ones that have a more narrowed down topic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

3rd day Google Group

This is my 3rd day observing my Google Group chose. I was wondering if there was a way to search for specific information, and it turns out that they do offer a search tool. I was skeptical in using it, but it turned out to be pretty useful. I decided to look for recipes for cookies, and ended up finding a large amount of them. I then decided to look up a couple recipes for food and was also successful. Overall, this really cut down on the clutter and made this Google group more useful. I think that features like this can really help out the people involved and make groups like this more attractive.

Sept 22's Reading

September 22, 2008’s reading for com 430z was titled “Democratizing Democracy: Strong Democracy, US Political Campaigns and the Internet” by Jennifer Stromer-Galley, which was published in 2000 in Peter Ferdinand (Ed), The Internet, democracy and democratization.

This reading really brings to light an important issue; how democratic are we really? This is something that I worry about every time I think about the US and our government. The overall message in this reading is that the US is practicing something the author, citing Benjamin Barber, refers to as “thin democracy”(p. 36). This basically states that everyday people are not participating in politics. In fact, it is stating that the people who mostly participate in politics are people who are either pushed to for their own self-interest or people who make a career out of it. This is a problem because I know when I think of democracy, I think that it is a government ran by the people, and this doesn’t seem so true for us anymore.

The author then goes on to mention that the media is what is taking control of what the public is focusing on. Basically, whatever the top story of the day is what people focus on the most. So, there are gatekeepers that can control what is going to be the next big issue. The idea in this reading is that maybe the internet can change this. People are now able to focus on whatever they want to and veer away from main stream media. Basically, the internet creates more communication between the people and maybe issues that are being ignored can finally be brought to attention. Recent research shows from Barber that even though that this more involved democracy is now possible it is not the case, but maybe in the future we can find a way to use the internet to achieve a “strong democracy”(p.56)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

2nd day

This was my second day observing the Google group I chose. Today I looked around a little more and I found out that you can have what appears to be a private chat within with in the blog posts. I believe it's more like posts within a post, but I think this a good feature with these blogs. It allows you to cut through the clutter to speak directly with whoever you wanted to, instead of trying to contact someone through the regular posts. This way your post won't get lost within all of the other main ones, and like I mentioned before, there are many posts that are off topic. The funny thing is that most of the conversations within the posts weren’t related to food at all! Even know this seemed to happen a lot, I still do think this is a good idea because if it was used correctly it would be helpful.

Friday, September 19, 2008

1st Day on Google Groups

Today I observed a Usenet group called, which is on Google groups. The first thing I have to mention is that, exactly like I expected, not everything was about food or cooking. There actually wasn’t as much off topic things as I expected, but there was enough to be annoying. I am sick of advertisements everywhere. One of the posts was “china discount cheap air force ones 25 years af1 sneakers.” What is that doing on a Google group for food? After looking around for a little while and reading some of the posts, I really don’t think this would be a place where I would want to get recipes. Not that nothing sounded good it’s just that I don’t think I would want to filter out all of the other postings. My other concern would be that I don’t know where these people are getting these recipes, so I would be a little weary.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Web 1.0

September 17, 2008’s reading for com 430z was titled “New media and web production” by Jason Whitaker, which was published in 2002 in The Internet: The basics. This reading was very tough for me to stay interested in. To me it was basically a list of internet and computer technologies followed by a wordy explanation of each.

In the introduction Whitaker explains that new and old media can be viewed as being closely related. New media are just developments of the old ones. He then goes on to say there are two main differences between new and old media; the first being that digital formats, like CDs, are becoming way more popular than analog, like tapes and vinyl’s, which we can see for ourselves. The main difference in format between analog and digital is that “analog is a continuing stream of data and digital information is discrete with distinct breaks between one piece of data and the next (Whitaker pg.58)” I want to add that the author gives a good analogy to describe these two. He says, "analog can be compared to a rolling down a hill and digital would be like walking down steps" (Whitaker pg. 58). From the reading I see there are many advantages to this switch, like the fact that video and picture production and editing are much easier and efficient. Whitaker explains that this does not mean that people automatically think these are better (Whitaker pg.58). I noticed that many people who are professional photographers will not use digital cameras. There are also many people that say vinyls sound more authentic than CDs do today.

Now, after a brief mention of hypertext is where the reading gets though. The author goes on to mention and explain, digital imaging, audio and video, AV basics, Web Radio, webcasting and DVD, web production, HTML, Colour and images, Hyperlinks, and finally Scripting and Java. These are all hard to give a brief summary on so I would suggest to find which of these you think you would be interested in and do a little research. I think it can be interesting, just not all at once. Whitaker, Jason. (2002). The Internet: The basics (chapter 3). New York: Routledge

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I have recently read an article by Peter Kollock and Marc Smith. The name of the article was called “Managing the Virtual Commons” and it was published in 1996. The article spoke mostly about the idea of free-riding, and related this idea to a computer-mediated communication system called Usenet. This communication system is basically a way for a large amount of people with the same interests to be able to exchange information, without ever having to meet face to face. People who are involved post comments, questions, responses, reactions, and responses to responses on a sort of Internet bulletin-board for everyone who is involved to see. Well, the point of this system is for everyone who is evolved to supply productive and useful information to everyone else in the community. So, as Killock and Smith mention in the article, not everyone has the same agenda. Many people use the information on the on the sites for their own advantage and do not supply and thing useful to the community. In my eyes this is going to happen no matter what, but I can see where this is very unfair to people who actually put in the work to be a constructive member in a society. Kollock and Smith use a metaphor as an easier way to look at the problem by relating it to cow pastures. Some communities have to use the same pastures to feed all of the herders’ cows. Now, it would be beneficial to them as individuals to have as many of their own cows as possible on the pasture at once, but if they don’t limit themselves, and don’t hold up their end of the bargain, then the pastures will be ruined. The relation between the two is that it would be more beneficial for someone to use Usenet for their own information and not have to put their work in. This brings me to something that I learned about the term free-rider. For me it meant someone just looking to use someone else to make life easier for them, but that isn’t always the case. From what I have read a free-rider can be someone who just uses Usenet to spam, talk about unrelated topics, or to do whatever they want with it besides what it is meant for. At first this didn’t make sense to me, but I now see how people doing things like this is using up space and wasting time that would otherwise be important to the serious user. So, the term free-rider can be used to describe people who are not looking to gain anything really, but people who just want purposely disrupt the order these communities. Later Kollock and Smith go one to give a few brief resolutions to these problems, but in the end I believe what they are trying to say is that there is no simple answer to any of these problems and the best we can do is keep trying new ideas. The way they describe it is as being a “double edge: monitoring the behavior of others becomes easier while sanctioning undesirable behavior becomes more difficult”.

Monday, September 8, 2008

T.V. and the Internet

I believe the Internet is very different from television. Sure, you can use your computer as a television if you wanted to, but the internet can be so much more involved than that. If you stop and think about it the only thing you can really do with a television is watch it. Yes, there are many different channels to watch, and they did make it so you can so you can stop, rewind, fast forward, and record, but there are many things that set the T.V. and the Internet apart.

The first thing would be that the internet can be considered a meta-medium, which explained by Adams and Clark, means that it is a medium for medium. It acts as a sort of channel for many different mediums like telephone, print, and broadcasting (Adams & Clark Pg. 29). The television is really only considered to be one medium. Another big aspect of this is that we can now not only receive information from the internet, but we can also send it out. This is something you cannot do right from your home on your T.V. So, now not only are everyday people the receivers of information, we can be the creators.

This leads me to the next important difference between the television and the internet. The internet is interactive. You can be in the driver’s seat. For example, you can change the channel on you T.V. but you are always going to have to watch whatever show it is you are watching the way they people who made it wanted it to be seen. You can’t interact with it and tell it you want to read an article about the show, or hear the director talk about it. With the internet you can do these things. You can start reading something and, then thanks to something called hypertext you can in one click start reading about something else that caught your attention in what you were reading before. When you are all done you can go right back to where you left off. For example, say you were reading something about the Beatles, and John Lennon’s name was in hypertext, you could click on it and start reading about his life, or see a picture of him, or even listen to his music. Then in that reading you see the man’s name who shot him in hypertext, you could click on that and start reading about him, then when you are satisfied you can go right back to where you left off with reading about the Beatles. I think this give you so much more power than just watching a T.V. Another way the internet is interactive is that Web sites can interact with you. So, for example, Amazon is a book store over the internet. It can give you suggestion on you next readings based on what books you have order and from preferences you put in to their system. As far as I know your T.V doesn’t give you suggestions on what you should watch next based on what shows you normally watch.

The Internet is also used to communicate. You can do this with E-mail, Instant Messaging, and even call people and speak to them while you are looking at them through you computer screen. It is very rare and expensive to your to use your television as a communication device. According to an article from Lancaster University It is a very complicated process that requires a large amount of equipment and money, especially for the newer video conferencing techniques (Lancaster 2008). Incorporated into the use of communication on the internet it also gives you a choice whether you want it to be synchronously or asynchronously (Adams & Clark Pg. 40). If you don’t want to speak directly to someone and have to give a comment back as so as you get one, you can use E-mail, which will give you time to answer back without it being instantaneous.

Another important aspect about the internet is that it is packet based (Adams & Clark Pg.41). This is something that the television lacks. Say if cable was running through 5 cities from one major distributor, and one of the towns in the middle was taken out, then there would be no way for the cable to reach the other cities, the internet conquered this problem by sending out information in packet based form. The information is actually sent out in packets so that in one of the points in the middle where taken out then the other locations would make up for it because they all received many other packets contain the information.

©Lancaster University. ( August 12, 2008) How The Video Conferencing System Works. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from

Adams & Clark The Internet as a communication medium

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Response, Reading 2

The internet is something that takes a pretty good amount of thought to explain. I’m not sure if it was always like this, it seems the more advanced it becomes; the harder it is to define. I honestly don’t even remember the first time I used the internet. I think for me I started using the computer and then I was introduced to the internet as part of the computer. So, now unless I stop and think about it I don’t even see them as two separate things. Take for example this blog, I am writing it in Microsoft word and then I am going to go to the internet, which I am already connected to, then copy and paste it to the blog webpage. It is that easy. A couple of clicks and then I’m done and millions of people could read what I have to say. What I am trying to say is that I believe not only is the internet taken for granted by most, not even really thought about for what it really is. There is so much power and information right at our figure tips.
The idea of convergence mentioned in the Adams article. This I think is one of the most important parts of the internet. Your computer is turned in to a radio, a newspaper, a television, a telephone, and even other mediums. The internet has become the ultimate medium, and thanks to something called hypertext we are now in the “driver’s seat”. We get to direct wherever we want to go next on the internet. Before, if we were reading a book and it mentioned another book we wanted to glance at or read for ourselves, we would have to stop reading the one we had in our hand and try to find the other text for ourselves. Now we can skip around however we want and in the matter of seconds be right back where we left off. I believe in a way this sets us free.