Thursday, May 5, 2011

Practicum 7 - Eric

I think I had perfect timing with this last post because a few major things have happened in the real world and on Wikipeedia.

1) Osama bin Laden was killed, so as soon as I heard this news I went to Wikipedia and started following the page and its edits. Starting at 21:37 on May 1 there has been one edit to this page every 1-30 minutes, and we're still going strong days after this event. There have been at least 1500 edits to either the main page or the talk page. The most interesting thing to follow actually has been the talk page, because you can see how "civilized" a lot of the Wikipedians are. I would expect the average user to just post any new information on the "Article" tab and leave it at that, but I see a lot of discussion taking place about content before it is actually posted. Since this event, my WatchList has been almost all either Osama bin Laden or Barack Obama.

It's kind of neat that you can follow news in a way on Wikipedia. You can track the most edited articles recently, and we can see that there seems to be no stop to the talk about this global news. Within minutes of the announcement of bin Laden's death I can see that there were already a few requests to have this page Semi-protected to avoid vandalism, and eventually it will become fully protected (so nobody can ever edit it again). This seems like common practice among famous people who have died. The timing of everything on Wikipedia kind of makes me think that some people really do sit on the website looking to "first" edit some of the articles.

2) On a lighter note, Wikipedia now has an announcement about the "Wiknic" event. This is an attempt to bring Wikipedians together in real life and not just on this online community. The date for this event is the same nationally, and for any given city the local citizens are allowed to pick the spot and what sort of events are actually going on. It think it's an interesting plan to try to extend the Wiki community past just the internet and into our real lives with each other, but I can't see this working well unless you're good friends with other local Wikipedians. Personally, the last thing I would want to do is to go to a picnic with random people who all share the interest in editing online articles... The date and event was just recently announced so it's not super popular yet, but feel free to read more about it on its page:

Practicum#7- Yen

Reaching the end of the semester, I have to mark an end to my research on the support groups. It was a great experience to immerse myself into their communities and look at how the users interact with each other. Looking at the features in the sites like support point system, hugs, chats with support friends, videos and discussion forums, I was amazed in how much the support groups can provide to the users to make them feel better and understand their illnesses. They provide lots of resources for users to work in a self-help manner. By purely sitting in front of the computer, they can already make friends, get support from them and learn about different issues that different people suffering from. I feel like it works even better than having the patients stepping out home and don’t know where to seek for help. These sites create a hopeful atmosphere for people to grief and gain insights. Users can easily find similar others to talk about their issues comfortably and feel heard. It will be rewarding for them to receive comments when they are having a bad day as these can help cheering them up.

When comparing and DailyStrength, I found that they have a really different atmosphere and people engage differently in each of the sites. In DailyStrength, there are so many options offered for users to get help from and it is mainly user-oriented. It provides more constructive help to people since the users are discussing the issues seriously and truthfully. In DailyStrength, they have many interesting features like hugs and gifts to exchange with support friends. In terms of helpfulness and effectiveness, however, it seems to be weaker than that of Users in DailyStrength are less responsive to discussion forums and less involved in providing supportive materials for the group. Although the design and focus of the sites are different, they both work in similar way in providing support through social networking.

Overall, I found that social networking and privacy are two of the main concepts that I found these sites are relevant to our course materials. I had a great time in learning about this new form of social bonding and it definitely make me to reach out and discover a lot more about the internet world.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Practicum#6- Yen

Continuing with my previous blog post about discussion on the misuse on these support groups sites, I found that there are trolls in DailyStrength. I remember that one of you asked me a question about people who mess around with the site during my presentation. As I was looking around the site, I found a post by a CL in one of the groups’ discussion recently expressing their concerns on trolling. CLs in the site are referred to as Community Leaders who police a particular group and make sure users are playing nice. There is a new user who added lots of CLs on his friends list and managed to achieve an admin status in a group. He then invites people to talk to him through email instead of posting on the DailyStrength site and ban users who are reaching the admin status. This user took advantage of his status and played trust among the community. Apparently the whole group is affected by what this user did and it takes some effort for the other users to redevelop the groups. In the post, the CL mentioned about the trust issue and asked the other users to be alert about exchanging personal contact information to participate safely in the site.

Previously I didn’t expect this to happen as most of the users seem to be quite nice to each other and provide support to them when needed. I feel that it is a really crucial thing to manage the ethics of these online support groups. As people who participate in these groups are already fairly vulnerable to their issues, having these trolls around their discussion boards will add frustrations to them and they end up feeling less supportive and less comfortable to participate in these online communities. Playing around their trust seem to be very inappropriate and causing a lot of stress to users who depend on the site for supports and information. After all, it is interesting to know that online community users still have to be careful no matter where they participate in and maintain a good balance between bonding and safety.

Practicum #3 - Patrick

Browsing the various communications channels I found for Anonymous, especially for OpLibya, was enlightening to say the least. Here is a network that is far from what most people would ever interact with, a combination of activists and trolls joined together to fight for...well, who knows? Some are there because they want to save lives, while others are there fighting for "the rights of people everywhere", while others admit they're only there to poke a bear in its eye and for the resulting lulz (which can be essentially be defined as schadenfreude).

The conglomeration never tries to make sense of itself as a whole. The idea of philosophical unity seems to be hilarious no matter how much some activists wanted otherwise. Regardless, there were general agreements amongst those I talked with and from what I observed. First, security was paramount. Regardless of whether someone wanted to just talk, to help with getting communications through, or take down the Libyan government, self-protection came before anything else. You needed to expect your online activities to be tracked, observed, and even attacked, no matter your role. What I learned on security will be talked about in the next forum post.

The second agreement was that if you were there, you were doing something or you were worthless. You needed to use whatever expertise you had to teach people on the other side of the world (often through Google Translate or the like) or to attack the tools of the Libyan government, such as websites, networks, or propaganda.

I went into this hoping to be involved non-aggressively. That is, I didn't want to be involved in any denial of service actions, or to otherwise hack Libyan websites. A combination of worry about legal implications and of drawing attention back to myself made that decision for me. From reading about my options, I decided I would help by setting up a Tor Relay, a way for encrypted traffic to use the internet connections I had available to get through censorship software and avoid eavesdropping.

Practicum #4 - Patrick

Securing oneself when working with online activists and against governments is of paramount concern. In fact, in every place where I found ways to work with Anonymous, the first information given is how to hide what you do and protect yourself. I intended to set up Tor relays for my first assistance, but before I set up Tor on my machines, I set up other protections.

First, I logged into my router and prevented any traffic on certain ports to get into my computers. In this way, there was a basic level of protection that I could further tighten. Then on the server I run at home I set up far stronger protections. On it, I installed a strong firewall. This locked down my system heavily, so that only traffic I know about will be traveling to or from the server. Secondly, I installed antivirus and rootkit detectors. Even though I run a linux-based server, I have seen it compromised before and given that I could be dealing with governments or skilled hackers trying to prevent me from sending the aid I was intending to, I wanted to leave nothing insecure.

The last few things I did are more intricate than are required by this post, but included full-disk encryption, memory and swap-space encryption, user-right restrictions, and more. Most of these were suggested either in AnonOps IRC channels or forums, but some came from Tor's website. In my next post, I will describe what Tor is and why it was useful assistance to run it.

Practicum #7- Michael

Note: I realized in my last blog I referred to the virtual communities I’ve been tracking as social networks. I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to do that, but nonetheless I apologize for the error and have edited accordingly.

In my final post of the Practicum Assignment, I’d like to talk a bit about some general thoughts I have on the websites I’ve been following and their potential futures.

All three of these sites (’s Knicks Message Forum, Facebook’s Knicks Fan Page, and have been a ton of fun to follow throughout the semester. When I started off, I was really only familiar with RealGM and TKB. And though, I was familiar with TKB, I was definitely not familiar with the comments section of the blog. So while I still consistently interact with users on RealGM, my main goals have been to try to concentrate on interacting and exploring on Facebook and TKB.

What I found with Facebook’s Knicks Fan Page is that it’s nearly impossible to become a member of the “community” due to the disorganization of the comments section and the lack of prominence of the discussion tab. Just a quick look at the discussion section, and one can see that out of the thirty discussion topics being displayed, only ten of them have more than one post in the topic. Not surprisingly (as it relates to my last post), the topic with the overwhelming majority of posts is titled “why the knicks suck at everything”. That activity is likely a result of an intense back and forth debate, plus various people being linked in to help defend the team. That’s the thing about this website: the number one time you’ll find a sense of community is when someone tries to attack the team. Everyone then has the same cause and sometimes even interacts with one another to show support. Outside of that, however, there isn’t much content.

What I found with TKB is that while it is certainly possible to become a member of the “community”, it is still a very difficult and lengthy process. This is because the comments section works very similar to Facebook’s. The only difference, which gives it a major leg up on Facebook in my opinon, is that you can respond to specific comments. This makes it easier to facilitate various discussions between community members within one comment section. But until you can create a subject to your posts, it will still remain somewhat disorganized and therefore won’t fully realize its potential as a virtual community.

I won’t get into RealGM, because I believe I’ve covered that enough here and made my case for why it is a near perfect embodiment of a virtual community.

As for the future of these sites, I believe that they are all fairly bright. In Facebook’s case, this is because Facebook is a very well-funded and well-run website that will continue to update its functions. I think it is only a matter of time until they begin to make it so that Fan Pages have fully functioning discussion boards that are promoted, as well as a better system of replying to specific comments in the future. That being said, it will always be plagued by the fact that there are simply too many users on Facebook and fans of the page for there to ever be an established community with known posters. In TKB’s case, I believe they just recently started using the Disqus comment service, which means that they are constantly looking to improve their site’s functionality. Furthermore, another similarly-related blog that I follow that uses a similar format recently switched its comments section to a format that allowed users to title their comments. This is a crucial aspect of TKB taking that next step to become a fully realized virtual community in my opinion, as it will create much more organization in the comments section. I don’t however, foresee a discussion board coming about from here, being that it would be too much for the website to host on its own. As for RealGM, it will continue to make periodic updates to various specific features. Some things that could use work in the future are updates to the search engine for old posts, ability to private message posters, and better archiving methods in general.

All in all, however, all three are doing very well for themselves in terms of activity and functionality. While only one is a fully realized virtual community in my opinion, the other two have great potential to become the same in the future. It’s been a joy following them all semester, and I believe I will continue to follow them all, probably until their extinction or mine (whichever comes first). Thanks to everyone for coming along for this ride with me. I’ve surely enjoyed keeping up with all of you. Have a great summer, and for one last time...Go Knicks!

Practicum #7-Nicole

I can't believe this is my final practicum post for the Kongregate site. I now have such a routine to play on the site during work I don't think I will stop playing anytime soon especially with finals week coming up I have a feeling I will be wanting to take multiple study breaks and I would recommend this site to anyone who needs a break. In my last post I said how I wanted to try to do a quest. I have started a quest but have not been as successful as I had hoped. I started playing "Elephant Quest" which takes you through a series of levels to complete and as you do so you earn more badges and points to add to your overall point total. While it is exciting to earn more points I quickly lost interest in playing the same games over and over again so I quickly learned quests aren't the thing for me. However, I did venture over to the achievements tab and went under the badges section. Here they lay out various badges one can earn which also earns you overall points. I thought I would give earning badges a chance and started dabbling in the beginner badges. I have now played many games that normally I would have never came across if I had been going about picking games the way I previously was. This just reminded me all over again how many games there really are on Kongregate and how there is something for everyone.

First I attempted a badge for a game that is similar to Red Remover where you level up but if you die you don’t have to start over. They don’t call it the “frustration badge” for nothing. I got through the first few levels but I finally got stuck on one and I got way too frustrated I couldn’t complete the task. Next, I found a game where you launch a turtle out of a cannon called “Toss the Turtle.” The goal is to basically make the turtle goes as far as he can before he dies and earn “money” in the process. After a few tries at this it was just way too gory for my taste so it was on to the next badge.

Finally I cam across my new obsession called “Music Catch 2.” At first I didn’t know what to expect from the game but I thought I would give it a chance because I so badly wanted to earn another badge. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who wants to relax because the classical music that plays and the notes come out to the tune is so peaceful. Having high anxiety with all my final papers and exams this game hit the spot. There is no clicking of the mouse but rather just running the mouse of certain color notes to earn points to as I said before the most relaxing music I’ve heard in awhile. I was so into the came and beyond calm that I lost track of time and was late to my next class. In the process of playing the game I earned another badge called “Flying Purple Power Eater.” I wasn’t even aware that I won the badge until I signed on again now and saw that my total points increased. Looking into the game some more it appears that there are even more badges that one can win while playing so I know what I will be doing now in between studying.

While I never finished a quest or got past level 2 I feel like I thoroughly immersed myself in this website. Even though I had reservations at first as to if I would find a game that I am interested in I now have at least five solid games that are all of a different nature that I go to when I am bored. I would highly recommend this site to anyone who wants to casually play games because there is something for everyone. For me I had more fun just finding more games to get addicted to rather than to earn points but if you want a competitive atmosphere you can also find that here. In the end Kongregate is what you make of it and for me it was all about fun games to pass the time!