Week 9: Alone Together: Social Computing

This week’s session we prepared a set of short “micro-teaching” exercises on topics (very broadly) related to “social computing. Everyone had a different paper to read, relating to a sub-area of social computing research:

Crowdsourcing & Human Computation: Agata, Sami & Irina

Facebook: Hattie, Alexandra & Peter

Twitter: Colin, Jack & Vas

Vids & Pics: Andrew Bob, Adam & Mohaan

Everyone worked in their own group to develop a 6 minute “micro lecture”, which were delivered at the end of the session.

Crowdsourcing & Human Computation

I was particularly thrilled we featured discussion of the original Turk (above) – which I think very nicely encaptulates the idea of human computation – using human effort to performing computational tasks. A good example of this is ReCAPTCHA (talked about in Quinn & Benderson, 2011) which “takes advantage” of the need for ‘CAPTCHAs’ in preventing access by automated programmes. Users are asked to type letters from old books and newspapers, in turn providing human computation for transcription. There’s lots of examples of the ‘micro-tasks’ associated with human computation, as well as its relationship to social computing, in Quinn & Benderson 2011 – which was nicely touched upon in the presentation.

We talked about the nature of these micro-tasks, particularly in the Amazon Mechanical Turk, and associated ethical issues. Martin et al’s 2014 CSCW paper has a particularly nice discussion of this in ‘Being a Turker’ in their qualitative study of turkers.


Nicely described by Andrew as ‘the dinasaur’ of social computing! We touched on the problematic nature of studying Facebook, and how its status may be changing. Nevertheless, it remains a big and important topic in social computing – & we talked about lots of particularlities of this social network, including it’s status and legitimacy, how people self present and identify through this (prescribed) medium, & its influence on social interaction more broadly.


Also a very important social network, particularly noteworthy for the immediacy (and volume) of responses to topical issues. Coming with it’s own challenges, such as twitter-bots, this is a potentially very powerful tool for social research – which the ‘Poverty Porn’ paper gives a nice example of.

Pics & Vids

Increasingly important are the mediums of pictures and videos through social media, and what these achieve. As the group mentioned, the barriers to creating pictures and videos are now much lower, and make up a huge amount of the content on all forms of social media – yet these mediums are arguably much harder to analyse than traditional text. A great example we talked about is ‘Health Vlogs’ giving an emotional & human dimension to chronic health conditions. Celia & Jenny Kitzinger from the Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre have done this very effectively in their healthtalk online resource – which fed into an impact case study for the centre (a big deal in terms of the REF – so something to think about!)


Groups for Next Week: Physical & Embodied: Tangible Computing

There is no set reading, rather there is a set viewing, please watch Brigg Ullmer’s PhD defence on tangible user interfaces – whose work is foundation to the sub-field of tangible interaction (with his supervisor Hiroshi Ishii)

You will be co-chairs of a fictional one day conference called ‘Tangible Computing: The Past, Present and Future’ – & you’ll be asked to collectively come up with an interesting and engaging programme. You’ll be in three groups representing the three conference sessions: (1) Theory and Philosophy, (2) Awesome New Interfaces, and (3) Histories & Futures.

(1) Theory and Philosophy – Agata, Colin, Jack, Vas

(2) Awesome New Interfaces – Sami, Irina, Alexandra, Bob, Peter

(3) Histories & Futures – Andrew, Mohaan, Adam, Hattie

You’ll be asked to identify three papers you think would be interesting to have presented in your session, but you don’t need to read them in any great detail. Please see the Resources page on the Digital Civics Website for Tangibles as a starting point for this (& you can choose papers straight from these if you’d like). These are more to seed discussions, you don’t need to be in a position to do a critique of these papers.

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