May 12, 2007

How aggregate displays change user behavior

Here's something that I thought might have valuable implications for teaching, particularly teaching using web2.0 tools (and particularly after reading Dan's post about being engaging).

Aggregate displays are everywhere, from the book ratings at Amazon.com to the most-emailed articles at the New York Times to the number of diggs at Digg.com. They’re a primary element of social design. They not only let people know how their actions relate to others, but they also alter the behavior of those who view them.


In other words, it was found that posting the ratings or download figures alongside the songs, influenced people in their choice of song rating or download.

Well, duh! you might say (or you might say bandwagon effect). Still, when I read this, I started thinking of possible ways to use the info to persuade students to make more use of their blogs or other social software/web2.0 tools that I'm waving in front of them (that's a figure of speech). Haven't worked out the details yet. I'm thinking, not of trying to sell music to students, but of possibly posting the visit counter numbers of my students' blogs, or perhaps the "highest number of hits this week" kind of popularity contest. To make things more fun.

Anyone already using this kind of info with students?

(The original article, by sociology professor Duncan Watts of Columbia Uni, is over here: despite the title, the article is not about Justin Timberlake, in fact he's not even mentioned. Go figure.) And the experiment's website is here.

The article also refers to another article which examines the Columbia experiment, and comes to a more cycnical conclusion. Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0 writes:
All of a sudden it’s crystal clear what Web 2.0 really is — the greatest platform ever for harnessing randomly imitative social behavior. Before Web 2.0, achieving utterly arbitrary results took time and effort. Now, with platforms like Digg, we can get nowhere in a fraction of the time it used to take.

WOW — I am humbled and awestruhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifck by the power of technology, and the power of randomly socialized human beings to snuff out each others’ critical faculties and personal tastes.


This reminds me of another article I read about Andrew Keen, bemoaning the "cacophony" the internet has spawned. That article (you'll need to register with the Guardian to read it) and Scott Karp's article are missing something: web2.0 is not a project designed to produce great art or great writing necessarily, but to break the idea that only a few elites can (and should) decide for the rest of us what we should read, listen to, watch and think; that a few should decide what is valuable and what is not. Of course there is a lot of dross out there, but there is also some excellent stuff, that would not exist if we had to wait for some "expert" to find it and tell us about it.

Update: I see , has a similar view.

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