Analysis and Design of Online Interaction Environments
Winter 2003

Syllabus (version of December 20, 2002 )

SI 684 (shadow course 884 for PhD students)

Professor Paul Resnick

Office hours winter 2002: alternating Tuesdays 10-11AM (1/21, 2/4, 2/18, 3/4, 3/18, 4/1, 4/15)
 and alternating Wednesdays 11AM-noon in 314 West Hall (1/29, 2/12, 3/12, 3/26, 4/9)
  by appointment otherwise at 3120 SI North-- send email

This course is intended to help students to analyze online interaction environments with an eye toward design.  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 psychology and sociology theories that provide 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. Students are also encouraged to elicit feedback on their short papers from members of the communities they are studying. A final paper will incorporate and tie together the four short papers and the feedback from other students. 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 required texts, which we’ll be reading from over the semester, are:

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

Course Pack

All the required readings except for the four books above are available in one coursepack, at Ulrich's. A copy of the coursepack will also available on reserve at the undergrad library, but it may take a couple weeks for it to get there.

All the supplemental readings are available in a second collection that Shirley Culliton keeps, in the SI Main Office, 304 West Hall. Feel free to borrow and Xerox whichever articles interest you.

January 7-- eCommunities

This session will provide an overview of the course and explore the metaphor of community as applied to on-line interactions.

Required Readings

  1. Sproull, Lee. Online Communities. Draft prepared for The Internet Encyclopedia, edited by Hossein Bidgoli, to be published by John Wiley and sons.

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

Additional Readings:

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

  2. 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. 

January 9-- Other metaphors: networks and places

This session will examine alternative metaphors for on-line interaction environments: networks and third places

Required Readings:

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

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

January 14-- Ethics of studying eCommunities

This session will examine distinctions between public and private communication, issues of informed consent, and other responsibilities of ethical investigators. We will also discuss procedures for external review of research plans, through the IRB.

Required Readings:  

  1. Frankel, M.S. and S. Siang, Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research on the Internet: A Report of a Workshop. 1999, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Additional Readings in different concentrations:

  1. Bassett, E.H. and K. O'Riordan, Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model. 2002.

  2. Walther, J.B., Research Ethics in Internet-Enabled Research: Human Subjects Issues and Methodological Myopia. 2002.

  3. Bruckman, A., Studying the Amateur Artist: A Perspective on Disguising Data Collected in Human Subjects Research on the Internet. 2002. 

January 16-- Community Purposes

This session will examine the variety of purposes that a community may fulfill, from the perspective of various stakeholders. 

Required Readings:

Additional Readings in different concentrations:


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


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

  2. Raymond, Eric. The Cathedral and the Bazaar.


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

Student papers from last year by Derek Hansen (Chess) and Jung-woo Sohn (StarCraft) pending permission from the students

Political and other Deliberation

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

See also, and 


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

Social Support

  1. Cummings, J., L. Sproull, and S. Kiesler, Beyond Hearing: Where real world and online support meet. Group Dynamics, 2002. 6: p. 78-88.

Political Action and Social Movements

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

See also and 


  1. Agre, P. Networking on the Net.


  1. Hampton, K. and B. Wellman, Examining Community in the Digital Neighbourhood: Early Results from Canada's Wired Suburb, in Digital Cities: Technologies, Experiences, and Future Perspectives, T. Ishida and K. Isbister, Editors. 2000, Springer-Verlag: Berlin. p. 475-492.


Final papers from last year's students: Hans Masing, and Jun Zhang (pending approval from those students).


Final paper from last year's students: Nathan Parham and Walter Mosley (pending approval from those students)

January 21-- Technologies and Affordances

What technologies are used in eCommunities, and what kinds of interactions patterns do they afford that would be difficult without the technology?

This session will be conducted on-line, in person. That is, we will meet physically, but use our "ElseWhere" technology to type our conversations. Location TBA.

Required Readings:

  1. 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.

Assignments Due:

Pick the e-community that you plan to study and set up and your research disclaimer. See research ethics and procedures document with details on how to do this. Submit drafts of your materials so they can be sent to the IRB by January 28.

January 23-- Activity: Places, Events and Rituals

This session 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:

January 28 – Roles: From Newcomer to Leader

This session 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:

Assignments Due:

IRB materials must be submitted to the IRB by this date.

January 30 – Practice: Negotiation of Meaning

Beginning with this session, 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:

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.)

February 4 – Practice: Communities and Learning

Required Readings:

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).

February 6 – Identifiers and Profiles

This session we will examine how people can tell who they’re interacting with online. 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:

February 11 –  Inter-Group Relations: Bridging, Bonding, and Fragmenting

How do communities (and sub-communities) interact with each other?  We will focus particularly on the ideas of bridging and bonding, splits and merges, fragmentation and unity.

Required Readings:

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

  2. Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. pp. 15-23

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

Additional Readings:

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

Professor Van Alstyne has a tool available for simulating his Cyberbalkanization model with various parameters. Ask him about it if you're interested.

Assignments Due:

Comments on a classmate’s community description.  

February 13-- Inter-Group Relations: Boundaries and Locality

This session looks at the issue of inter-group relations from the perspective of communities of practice.

Required Readings:

February 18-- Identities (part I)

The next three sessions 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 they may be unable to or uninterested in claiming in physical interactions.

Required Readings:

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

Assignments Due:

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

February 20-- Identities (part II)

Required Readings:

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

Feb 21 and 27: No class, winter break.

March 4-- Identities (part III)

Required Readings:

Wenger pps. 143-163 and 173-187

Assignments Due:

Comments on a classmate’s second short paper.

March 6-- Managing Public Goods

The next four sessions deal with social and technical means for governing behavior within an eCommunity.

Required Readings:

  1. 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

Additional Readings:

Ostrom, Elinor. Managing the Commons.

March 11 –  Conflict Management

Required Readings:

Additional Readings:

  1. Herring, Susan, Job-Sluer, Kirk, Scheckler, Riebecca, and Barab, Sasha (2002). Searching for Safety Online: Managing "Trolling" in a Feminist Forum. The Information Society. Volume 18, Number 5. 371-384.

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 13-- Recommender Systems

Required Readings:

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

  2. 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:

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

March 18-- Reputation Systems

Required Readings:

  1. Frauenfelder, Mark. Revenge of the Know-It-Alls: Inside the Web's free-advice revolution. Wired 8.07, July 2000.

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

Additional Readings:

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

  2. Resnick, Paul and Richard Zeckhauser (2002). Trust Among Strangers in Internet Transactions: Empirical Analysis of eBay's Reputation System. Working Paper available online at

See also the Reputations Research Network:

Assignments Due:

Comments on a classmate’s third short paper.  

March 20-- 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:

Additional Readings:

March 25 – Redux: Identities

Required Readings:

March 27-- Recap: Design Principles for e-communities

Required Readings:

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

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

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

Additional Readings:

Wenger Chapters 11 and 12.  

April 1 -- How To Give a Presentation

   Required Readings:

April 3, 8, 10, 15 – Student Presentations

These sessions are set aside for students to present to the class their analyses 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 17: 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.)