Analysis and Design of Online Interaction Environments
Winter 2002

Syllabus (version of January 16, 2002)

SI 684 (shadow course 884 for PhD students)

Professor Paul Resnick


This course is intended to give students a background in theory and practice surrounding online interaction environments.  For the purpose of this course, a community is defined as a group of people who sustain interaction over time. The group may be held together by a common identity, a collective purpose, or merely by the individual utility gained from the interactions. An online interaction environment is an electronic forum, accessed through computers or other electronic devices, in which community members can conduct some or all of their interactions. We will use the term eCommunity as shorthand, both for communities that conduct all of their interactions online and for communities that use on-line interaction to supplement face-to-face interactions.


Two main threads will weave through the course, based on the two main texts.  One thread will be concerned with the practical issues of design and use of online tools to support communities, and how choices that must be made in design can impact the function and style of the resulting community.  The second thread will focus on the sociological theory that provides a frame to better understand communities in general.  These theoretical pieces will provide a lens for better understanding the implications of choices made on the more practical level. 

Course Objectives

At the end of this course, a student should be able to analyze, design, or moderate an on-line communication space that is intended to support a group of people who are coming together for some purpose.


Students will be asked early in the semester to pick an existing on-line community. All the assignments will involve observing, analyzing, and redesigning that community.


There will be four short writing assignments (5-7 pages each), analyzing the community from four perspectives:


Students will comment on each other’s short papers, and will be required to elicit feedback from the communities they are analyzing.


A final paper will incorporate and tie together the four short papers and the feedback from other students and the community being studied. Students will also present their findings in class.


Ph.D. students who take the “shadow” version of this course will do the assignment above and also be required to prepare a research proposal for how they would study some aspect of the community. This will require reading additional material from the research literature in order to develop a question and research plan that will produce knowledge that interests other researchers.


SI 501 and SI 504. 502 is a co-requisite, meaning that it can be taken at the same time as this course.

In particular, students need:


Students who convince themselves and the instructor that they have equivalent preparation on these two dimensions can waive the formal pre-requisites.


In addition, students need to know what kinds of tools are available to supported distributed, synchronous and asynchronous communication (e.g., chat, instant messaging, message boards, audio and video conferencing, live application sharing). Students who are unfamiliar with these but are comfortable learning new technologies on their own will have the opportunity to explore these at their own pace. This course will spend very little time explicitly teaching about technology, but will frequently assume it as background.


The main texts, which we’ll be reading from over the semester, are:

Kim, Amy Jo (2000) Community Building on the Web

Wenger, Etienne (1998) Communities of Practice


In week 10, we’ll be covering the following book:        

Hirschmann, A. O. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty


We’ll be reading excerpts from the following books, but the excerpts will be copied in the course pack.

Smith, Marc A and Peter Kollock, eds. Communities in Cyberspace

Minow, Martha, Not Only For Myself: Identity, Politics, and the Law

Sunstein, Cass,

Course Pack

All the required readings except for the four books above are available in one coursepack, at Excel. A copy of the coursepack is also available on reserve at the undergrad library.


All the supplemental readings are available in a second coursepack that is at Excel and on reserve at the undergrad library. Feel free to Xerox whichever articles interest you.

Week 1: Jan 10 – What is a Community?


This week will be focused on how community is or can be defined.  We will also examine some of the differences that are considered to exist between online and offline definitions.


Required Readings:

Oldenberg, R. The Great Good Place. Chapter 2, pages 20-42.

Wellman, Barry. Computer Networks as Social Networks. Science 293(14 Sept. 2001). Pp. 2031-2034.

Rheingold, Howard. Virtual Communities. Chapter 11 in The Community of the Future, edited by Hesselbeing, Goldsmith, Beckhard, and Schubert. 1998. pps. 115-122.

Galston, W. A. (1999). Does the Internet Strengthen Community?, [Web]. Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy. Available: [2000, 9/17/00].

Additional Readings:

Hafner, Katie. The Epic Saga of The Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL). Wired 5.05 May 1997. 

Week 2: Jan 17 – Purposes and Technologies of e-Communities


This week we will examine the variety of purposes that a community may fulfill, and how communities with different purposes take advantage of different structures and designs of tools. Each student will be responsible for the additional readings in at least one of the different areas.


Required Readings:

Kim, A. J. (2000) Chapter 1: Purpose. Pgs.1-26.

Resnick, P. (2000) Beyond Bowling Together: SocioTechnical Capital. Chapter 29 in "HCI in the New Millenium", edited by John M. Carroll. Addison-Wesley. 2001, pages 247-272.


Additional Readings in different concentrations:


Schlager, M.S. (1997).  TAPPED-IN: A new on-line teacher community concept for the next generation of Internet technology.


Finholt, Thomas A. Collaboratories. Chapter submitted for the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, B. Cronin, ed.

Raymond, Eric. The Cathedral and the Bazaar.


Rossney, Robert (1996). Metaworlds. Wired 4.06. June 1996.

Political Deliberation

Price, Vincent and Joseph N. Cappella. Online Deliberation and its Influence: The Electronic Dialogue Project in Campaign 2000. Paper presented to the annula meetings of the American Association of Public Opinion Research, Montreal, CA, May 2001.


Gibson, William. My Obsession. Wired 7.01 January 1999.

Social Support (medical support groups)

Not sure. Find a good article and I’ll add it to next year’s syllabus.

Political Action and Social Movements

Not sure. Find a good article and I’ll add it to next year’s syllabus.


Agre, P. Networking on the Net.


Week 3: January 24 – Activity: Places, Events and Rituals

This week we will explore the structure of activity in e-communities: the places where it occurs, its time structuring through events, and how repeated activities can be invested with meaning through rituals.


Required Readings:

Kim, chapters 2, 7, and part of 8 (pp. 277-298)


Assignments Due:

Pick the e-community that you plan to study and set up and your research disclaimer for submission to the IRB. See research ethics and procedures document with details on how to do this.


Week 4: January 31 – Roles: From Newcomer to Leader

This week we will examine the roles that participants play in online communities.  Who are the leaders and who are the followers?  What function does a moderator serve?  What are the different roles of old-timers and newcomers? What are the trajectories by which people move into different roles?


Required Readings:

Kim, Ch. 4 & 5

Hafner, Katie. Web Sites Begin to Self Organize. New York Times. January 18, 2001.

Resnick, Paul, Iacovou, Neophytos, Suchak, Mitesh, Bergstrom, Peter, and Riedl, John, "GroupLens: An Open Architecture for Collaborative Filtering of Netnews," In Proceedings of CSCW 94 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, New York: ACM. 175-186. (Available online at


Additional Readings:

Avery, Chris, Resnick, Paul, and Zeckhauser, Richard, The Market for Evaluations. American Economic Review 89(3): 564-584.


Assignments Due:

Week 5: Feb 7 – Communities of Practice and Practices of Communities

This week we will examine one theoretical perspective on community, the lens of communities of practice. The first chapter describes practices, what a community does, in terms of three basic concepts: negotiation of meaning, participation, and reification. The second chapter describes practices as the thing that binds a community together. The communal glue of practice has three dimensions: mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire of ways of doing things. While the community of practice theoretical lens is not the only one we’ll employ this semester, it is an important that we’ll build on.


[Note: This reading is hard to understand (at least it is for me). But I think it’s worth it. You’ll need to allocate a lot of time to it, over several sittings and, ideally, informal discussions with your classmates. If you haven’t done so already, I recommend that you read Paul Edwards’ advice on how to read a book, and follow it, especially for readings from this book.]


Required Readings:

Wenger Vignette 1 through Chapter 3 (pages 18-102)


Additional Readings:

Wenger Introduction (pp. 1-17). This may be of interest to students with a background in sociology, anthropology, or education. If that’s not you, I think you’ll find that this section is not the best way to get started on reading the book. (Ph.D. students are strongly encouraged to read this section, but I suggest that you wait until after reading the book rather than starting with it.)


Assignments Due:

Description of the e-community that you propose to analyze in terms of purpose(s), technologies used, and activities. (Bring 2 copies, one for the professor, one for a classmate).



Week 6: Feb 14 –  Identifiers and Reputations

This week we will examine how people can tell who they’re interacting with online. One issue is whether real names are used, persistent pseudonyms, or not-so-persistent pseudonyms, so that reputations can develop over time, based on behavior within the community. Member profiles can provide additional information about individuals, beyond their behavior within the community, but the information in these profiles may not be trustworthy.


Required Readings:

Kim, Chapter 3

Donath, J. Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community. Chapter 2 in Smith and Kollock.

Resnick, Paul, Zeckhauser, Richard, Friedman, Eric, and Kuwabara, Ko. Reputation Systems. Communications of the ACM, 43(12), December 2000, pages 45-48.


Additional Readings:

Friedman, Eric and Paul Resnick (2001). The Social Cost of Cheap Pseudonyms. Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 10(2): 173-199.

Resnick, Paul and Richard Zeckhauser (2001). Trust Among Strangers in Internet Transactions: Empirical Analysis of eBay's Reputation System. Working Paper available online at


Assignments Due:

Comments on a classmate’s community description.


Week 7: Feb 21 Inter-Group Relations

This week we look at how communities interact with each other.  We will focus particularly on the ideas of bridging and bonding, splits and merges, fragmentation and unity.


Required Readings:

The Natural Life Cycle of Mailing Lists (author unknown-- online)

Kim, Ch. 9

Wenger Chapters 4 and 5

Sunstein, Cass., chapters 3 and 4. Pages 51-104.


Additional Readings:

Van Alstyne, M. and Brynjolfsson, E. Electronic Communities: Global Village or Cyberbalkanization?

Professor Van Alstyne has tool available for simulating his Cyberbalkanization model with various parameters.


Assignments Due:

Description of your community in terms of roles, practices, and identifiers. (5-7 pages). (Bring 2 copies, one for the professor, one for a classmate).


Feb 28: No class, winter break.

Week 8: March 7 – Identities

This week we will discuss who people are when they interact in on-line communities, as inherited from socially constructed groupings. One perspective (Wenger) defines a person by the groups in which they are able to act appropriately. Other authors (Burkhalter, Minow) stress that group identities depend in part on our self-identification but also on whether others, both group members and non-members, claim us as members of those groups. Turkle explores the ways in which individuals can experiment with identities that may be unable to or uninterested in claiming in physical interactions.

Required Readings:

Wenger pps. 143-163 and 173-187

Burkhalter, Byron. Reading Race Online: Discovering Racial Identity in Usenet Discussions. Chapter 3 in Smith and Kollock.

Minow, Martha.  Not only for Myself: Identity, Politics and the Law.  Pp. 9-58.

Turkle, S. Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 1( 3), Summer 1994.


Additional Readings:

Assignments Due:

Comments on a classmate’s second short paper.


Week 9: March 14 –  Norms & Etiquette: Managing the Community’s Commons

How can a community elicit behavior from members that benefits the community as a whole? How does the community handle destructive actions?


Required Readings:

Kim, chapter 6

Kollock, Peter., & Smith, Marc. Managing the Virtual Commons. In Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social, and Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Susan Herring. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 1996. pp. 109-128. Available online at

Reid, Elizabeth. Hierarchy and Power: Social Control in Cyberspace. Chapter 5 in Smith and Kollock

Smith, Anna Duval. Problems of Conflict Management in Virtual Communities. Chapter 6 in Smith and Kollock


Additional Readings:

Ostrom, Elinor. Managing the Commons.


Assignments Due:

Description of your community in terms of identities and inter-group relations. (Bring 2 copies, one for the professor, one for a classmate).

March 21: Instructor out of town—no class, makeup date April 18

Week 10: March 28 – Governance: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Who decides how a community’s practices will evolve? What does the degree of  ease of entry and exit from e-community imply for power relations and the long-term sustainability of a community?

Required Readings:

Wenger pp. 164-172 and 188-213

Hirschman, A. O. (1970) Exit, Voice, and Loyalty : Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States


Additional Readings:

Wenger pp. 214-222


Assignments Due:

Comments on a classmate’s third writing assignment.


Week 11: April 4 – Recap: Design Principles for e-communities

Required Readings:

Wenger pps 223-240.

Coate, John. Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community. 1998. Available online at

Kollock, Peter. Design Principles for Online Communities. PC Update 15(5): 58-60. Jun e1998.

Godwin, Mike. Nine Principles for Making Virtual Communities Work. Wired 2.06, June 1994.


Additional Readings:

Wenger Chapters 11 and 12.


Assignments Due:                                                                 

Analysis of your community in terms of norms and governance. (Bring 2 copies, one for the professor, one for a classmate).

Week 12 and 13 – Student Presentations April 11, 18

These weeks are set aside for students to present to the class their analysis of the community of their choice, and the recommendations they have to improve the community they have studied.  Students will also present any feedback they have received from the community regarding the suggestions they have made. Your final presentation should integrate all the prior pieces as well as an analysis of norms and governance in your community and any feedback you received from your community in regard to your prior analysis.


Assignments Due:

April 11: Comments on a classmate’s fourth writing assignment.

April 20: Final paper, integrating and incorporating revisions of the four shorter papers, together with recommendations for changes in the community. (For Ph.D. students, these analyses will form the background section for a research proposal. In addition, you will need to propose some future research, including a literature review that will presumably not be limited to the required readings for this class, and substantively responding to the “10 questions” by adequately motivating the question and specifying the research methods that would be applied.)