This discussion will focus on issues primarily addressed in Chapters 3 and 9 of Preece (2001).here. It was discussed previously when discussing users in the section on usability. Basically there are the following 3 goals:
It is a place for people to write down 43 goals because:
- Clarifying existing goals, prioritizing goals, and discovering new goals can help people complete their goals (possibly goals that will change the world).
It is a place where users can view other users' goals because:
- This will facilitate the discovery of shared goals, inspire new goals, and give users help answering the question, "What do I want to do with my life?"
It is a place where users can share their progress in reaching their goals because:
- Sharing one's story with other people pursuing the same goal will help others to achieve the goal.
- Sharing that you have completed the task with someone pursuing the same goal will help them along.
This reviewer is unable to find a longer statement of purpose. As was mentioned in the user part of the usability section of this review, this is a limited statement of purpose. In fact, there are a number of other reasons why listing ones goals and sharing ones progress can be beneficial to oneself or another.
A stronger explanation of how users can interact with one another would make a big difference in how users viewed one another. The only mention of this in the statement of purpose is the idea that sharing one's progress and completion will help others. They also begin to address issues of sociability at the beginning of the FAQ where they mention that it is a way to connect with "other enthusiasts" on practically any topic. This is a good start, however, much more could be said. For example, the cheering system was designed as a type of social capitol. Cheers are given to others to acknowledge the value of their contributions to the site. Users are only given a limited number of cheers each day, so they appear to be designed to hold value and build social capitol.
As was noted in the critique of usability, there is no central location for information about the site. Consequently what limited policies exist are scattered around the site or unwritten. In other words, many of the policies are ambiguous or non-existent. This section will first address the written policies and second address the unwritten policies.
Visitors may post comments and other content; and submit suggestions, ideas, comments, questions, or other information, so long as the content is not illegal, obscene, threatening, defamatory, invasive of privacy, infringing of intellectual property rights, or otherwise injurious to third parties or objectionable and does not consist of or contain software viruses, political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, mass mailings, or any form of “spam.” You may not use a false e-mail address, impersonate any person or entity, or otherwise mislead as to the origin of your content. 43things.com reserves the right (but not the obligation) to remove or edit such content, but does not regularly review posted content.Some key points from this passage are that they can remove anything they deem obscene or objectionable, but they do not define these. They also are not responsible for any of these things that they fail to remove. From examining the site, one way that they seem to deal with this include electronic filtering of "mature content" from goals, but not from usernames or tags. From trying a variety of searches, "Mature Content" seems to mean sexually explicit, violent, or using vulgar words. When looking at controversial goals, such as "Commit Suicide", it was noticed that some comments were marked as removed. Presumably, these were some of the cases where the site owners felt it necessary to remove an entry. Surprisingly, there is no mention of medical or legal information as difficult subjects to have amateurs discuss. However, in the user license, it mentions "that you will indemnify 43things.com or its affiliates for all claims resulting from content you supply."
The user license also explains the following:
you grant 43things.com and its affiliates a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media. You grant 43things.com and its affiliates and sublicensees the right to use the name that you submit in connection with such content, if they choose.So if a user wants to maintain copyright control of their writings, it is best not to post them directly to 43 Things, but instead to a personal blog and then link to them.
Is discussed above.
The idea of teammates is barely discussed, but is an important functional policy for fostering sociability. The ability to ask people questions about how to complete a goal is another ability that fosters sociability even though it is not discussed or utilized much.
Registration is required to contribute content to the site. Apart from the above mentioned policies about illegal or offensive content, cheering, and teammates, there are no explicit guidelines for social interaction. However, the statement of purpose and FAQ encourage users to cooperate in their goals. The abilities to ask for help and state whether you would like to help someone complete a goal also foster an environment of cooperation. These are relatively minimal cues to users. After inspection, interaction between users seems to be minimal.
While some entries produce a substantial number of comments, this is far from the norm. Cheering is more popular; however the act of cheering seems to be primarily a one way activity.
There are a number of usability issues that hamper meaningful social interaction. One problem is that all of the interactions are asynchronous. Even with the ability to monitor a conversation through RSS, the lack of synchronicity makes it difficult to establish a feeling of social presence between users (Preece, p. 272). If it were simply possible to know who that shares goals with you is online when you are, it would make a big difference towards fostering a feeling of social presence. If you were then able to establish a chat with those users, that would make a huge difference. Another limitation is the lack of common ways to express empathy with others. Noticebly lacking is the lack of support for emoticons (Preece, p. 272).
It is possible that high levels of sociability exist in certain goals and that this has created unspoken behaviour norms there, however it was hard to determine this because there was no way to view popular threads. In other words, one can only view the newest content without scrolling through many pages because entries are presented in reverse chronological order. In this way popular threads are lost very quickly. Furthermore, this rapid change makes it difficult for conversations to develop. It might help if it were possible to sort comments and entries in different ways. Another approach that might work would be the ability to tag entries and comments as well as goals. This is already done in blogs as a way to distinguish different threads and could possibly have the same effect in 43 Things.
One last issue that seemed limiting was the inability to perform a keyword search on entries or comments. As this is where most of the content is, this limitation is surprising. Adding this ability could make it easier for people to find conversations of interest to them.
If the cheering system were spruced up a bit, and were to carry more meaning, it would become easier for individuals to build reputations.
Given the above limitations, 43 Things seems to be a site that primarily fosters weak and very weak ties (Granovetter, 1973) based on shared goals. However, this site proves to be an incredibly efficient way to establish weak ties. Because weak ties are excellent for information sharing, these numerous weak ties have enormous potential if users can be encouraged to take advantage of the ability to ask and answer each others questions. One obvious way to encourage use of this option would be to increase feelings of social presence between users. For example, people might be more likely to pose a question in a chat forum, or if they new other users who want to help are online. Furthermore, if users are able to search past entries and comments, the ability to share information over time and between more people will be greatly enhanced.
While some goals are related to 43 Things or elsewhere on-line, most goals will be carried out in a users offline life. Consequently, many of the entries are about progress in a users everyday life. It would then follow, that suggestions and ideas gained from other users of 43 Things are primarily being utilized off-line. This makes 43 Things a wonderful example of how weak ties and social networking online can be integrated into one's everyday life. This backs up the ideas presented in "The Internet and Everyday Life" (ed. Wellman and Haythornthwaite, 2002). Future studies could analyze this phenomenon in 43 Things. A qualitative study interviewing power users is one possible way this might be looked at. A textual analysis of references to activities in the off-line world might also prove interesting.
Now that sociability issues have been discussed, we will examine whether community exists in 43 Things.