January 2009

An abbreviated bibliography on social loafing, for those few who might be interested. Karau and Willams' meta-study has a very long bib. up to its publication, but this shorter list hits some of the oldies and some of the goodies:

Charbonnier, Emmanuelle, Pascal Huguet, Markus Brauer, and Jean-Marc Monteil. 1998. "Social Loafing and Self-Beliefs: People's Collective Effort Depends on the Extent to Which They Distinguish Themselves as Better Than Others." Social Behavior and Personality 26:329-340.

Harkins, S., and Kate Szymanski. 1989. "Social Loafing and Group Evaluation." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56:934-941.

Harkins, Stephen G. 1987. "Social Loafing and Social Facilitation." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 23:1-18.

Harkins, Stephen G., and Jeffrey M. Jackson. 1985. "The Role of Evaluation in Eliminating Social Loafing." Pers Soc Psychol Bull 11:457-465.

Harkins, Stephen G., and Richard E. Petty. 1982. "Effects of Task Difficulty and Task Uniqueness on Social Loafing." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 43:1214-1229.

Harkins, Stephen G., and Kate Szymanski. 1988. "Social loafing and self-evaluation with an objective standard." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 24:354-365.

Karau, S. J., and K. D Williams. 1993. "Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65:681-706.

Latané, B., K. D Williams, and S. Harkins. 1979. "Many Hands Make Light the Work: The Causes and Consequences of Social Loafing." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37:822-832.

Petty, Richard E., Stephen G. Harkins, Kipling D. Williams, and Bibb Latane. 1977. "The Effects of Group Size on Cognitive Effort and Evaluation." Pers Soc Psychol Bull 3:579-582.

Szymanski, Kate, and S. Harkins. 1987. "Social loafing and self-evaluation with a social standard." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53:891-897.

Williams, K. D, S. Harkins, and B. Latane. 1981. "Identifiability as a Detterent to Social Loafing: Two Cheering Experiments." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40:303-311.

The NYTimes has a front-page story today (with cameo from the great Robert Cialdini!) about power utilities using social psychology to encourage customers to save energy by comparing them to their neighbors:

Utilities Turn Their Customers Green, With Envy

The power company used smiley or frowny faces to let customers know how their power consumption compared to their neighbors. They found that giving customers positive feedback in the form of smileys encouraged them to do even better on average (2%). Frowny faces, on the other hand, made customers mad and write angry letters, so the utility quit giving out negative feedback.

The inefficacy of frownys is an interesting thing. On the face of it, we might expect competitive feedback like that to encourage people to improve, to catch up with their peers. Or, maybe it would invoke a fairness norm, or simply a power consumption norm, and encourage people to catch up with the average.

I'd guess that the problem isn't lower-than-average feedback, though… it's smileys. Granted, the NYTimes doesn't give us much on the specifics of the program, so it's hard to tell. But smileys are such an ambiguous vehicle… how does one interpret their significance? I have a feeling a frown from the power company doesn't convey the intended message, it just makes people feel scolded by the power company. And what right does the power company have to scold anyone? That's just not going to work.

This same problem dooms a recent CHI paper, which comes from the good tradition of research on MovieLens, but ends up being so ambiguous that the findings are impossible to interpret:

Al Mamunur, Rashid, Kimberly Ling, Regina D. Tassone, P. Resnick, R.E. Kraut., and John Riedl. 2006. "Motivating Participation by Displaying the Value of Contribution." in ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. Montreal, Canada.

Smiley, stars, etc… they're all efforts to encapsulate feedback in a way that people can quickly understand. But this is an example of how they can be counter-productive. Instead of giving blanket positive or negative feedback, the feedback should always give people something to hang their hat on. If you can find any category of power use that a given customer is doing better than average on – tell them that. Then point out the other categories where they can improve. Of course, that's a risk too. Your average consumer isn't going to spend much time looking at their feedback on the power bill.

Along with Dan Perkel and Christo Sims, I've just published a paper drawn from our work on the Digital Youth Project a few years back. I'd be interested in any and all comments:

Judd Antin, Dan Perkel, and Christo Sims, "Unexpected Collaborations: Kids' Appropriation of GarageBand as a Group Creative Tool" (December 1, 2008). School of Information. Paper 2008-027. http://repositories.cdlib.org/ischool/2008-027

Salganik, Matthew J., and Duncan J. Watts. 2008. "Leading the Herd Astray: An Experimental Study of Self-fulfilling Prophecies in an Artificial Cultural Market." Social Psychology Quarterly 71:338-355.

Turns out the 'herd' can be led astray, but only to a point. The real quality of digital media shows through. This is a great follow-up to Salganik's earlier experiments, published in Science.

On Marc Smith's recommendation:

Adamic, Lada A., Jun Zhang, Eytan Bakshy, and Mark S. Ackerman. 2008. "Knowledge sharing and yahoo answers: everyone knows something." in Proceeding of the 17th international conference on World Wide Web. Beijing, China: ACM.

Marc is a fan of the way the authors handle large network graphs, and so am I. But I'm less sympathetic to the kind of clustering techniques they use. It's all so arbitrary – they end up writing things like: "We find that clustering the categories into three groups yields a result we find the most intuitively meaningful." That's fine, but we're not let in on the authors' intuition, and there's no reason to believe it's meaningful in any broad sense.

I am not a religious person, but this moved me:

I've never been convinced that file sharing really has a negative influence on physical sales. As the RIAA and others advanced their war against file sharers, I thought it was pretty appalling that they never produced any compelling evidence that file sharing was the cause of reduced CD sales (for example).

Now, another nail in the coffin of that circumstantial argument. Slashdot is reporting about a Dutch studying finding the file sharing has positive economic consequences:

"In a study conducted by TNO for the Dutch government the economic effects of filesharing are found to be positive. According to the 146 page report (available for download, but in Dutch) filesharing is good for the prosperity of the Dutch: with filesharing more media are available, even though this costs the media industry some profit. One of the most noticeable conclusions is that downloading and buying are not mutually exclusive: downloaders on average buy just as much music as non-downloaders, but they buy more DVDs and games then people who don't download. They also tend to visit more concerts and buy more merchandise."

Unfortunately, it looks like the original news article and the report are only in Dutch. But, anecdotally, this makes a huge amount of sense to me for two reasons. First, these findings about media use are similar to findings about online sociality. For a long time, people thought that online social life was a replacement for offline social life, but evidence continues to mount that people who are more social offline are also more social online. Similarly, I think the most reasonable starting assumption is that people who use media more will use it more in both contexts.

Secondly, I think the hardest thing to measure about file-sharing is the degree to which sampling media via file sharing leads to more purchases. I, for one, can't count the times I've downloaded a song, an album, a movie, a TV episode from BitTorrent, and then later on purchased that same media or some other media in a legitimate form (CD, DVD, iTunes). Often it's because I'm not happy with the quality of the download, or I want the liner notes on the CD, or similar.

Recently I've had the chance to try two German Rauchbiers. Rauchbier is German for 'smoked beer.' If that seems odd to you, I'm with you. But try one, and you'll realize it's pretty fantastic.

Spezial Rauchbier Lager

Spezial RauchbierWith my brother-in-law Darren in Eugene, OR, I tried this beer on finding it at the local market. From Brauerei Spezial, one of the classic old breweries in Bamberg, this beer is a rich amber color and pours with a dense but not thick head. Spezial is unique among rauchbiers in that they make two things at the brewery: beer and ham. At the beginning of the brewing process, the brewers toast the grains in a large oven with a conveyor running through it. They use the same conveyor for the ham, so the grains pick up some of the quality of the pork. It's not overpowering, and if I didn't tell you, you might not notice. But when you're looking for it, you do get the sense that some salty, pungent pork flavor is back behind the earthy, nutty lager.

This is a great beer, with or without food, but especially without. I've only tried a few rauchbiers, but I would call the Spezial Lager a 'starter rauchbier', because the flavor of the smoke isn't overpowering at all. In fact, it's very smooth, with a nicely balanced smoke and toasted wood flavor. I could drink a case.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier MarzenI found this brew by Brauerei Heller, also in Bamberg, at my local Whole Foods. It gets top scores on Beer Advocate, where they extol its virtues as the classic example of rauchbier. It is very smoky. Taking a sip, you get the sense of having shoved your head inside a freshly toasted cask, and then banging it against the side. Hard.

Compared to the Spezial, this is a much more serious brew – the California Merlot of rauchbier. By itself, I found the smoky flavor to be somewhat overpowering, especially because I entered the experience expecting something more like Spezial, which I tried first. I'm sure I'm just calling attention to my lack of Distinction by complaining, but I would not reach for this beer while chatting at a party.

With dinner, though, it was a whole other story. We grilled a mix of wonderful sausages – lamb mergueza, pork bratwurst and a chicken garlic, and basil – with green beans and roasted sweet potato. The Schlenkerla beer was amazing with sausages, adding a wonderful character to the lamb and pork in particular. The smoke combined with the sticky earthiness of sweet potatoes was also fantastic. I would absolutely drink this again, and I'd do it with dinner.

News is making the rounds about the untimely death of Peter Kollock in a motorcycle accident. I never met him, but I gained so much from his insightful scholarship around trust and public goods. More importantly, people who knew him thought the world of him, and can't say enough about his intelligence and generosity as a friend and scholar. These thoughts from Marc Smith:

I share the loss of Peter Kollock with the many people who knew him. Peter died Saturday after a motorcycle accident near his home. Many people in the social sciences and beyond have been influenced by Peter’s works of scholarship, teaching, mentorship, entreprenurship and friendship.

Peter had a big impact on his many students at UCLA and the larger academic community that built on his scholarship. A lecture from Peter was a great thing that left his audiences feeling both smarter and challenged with a whole new landscape of choices. Peter brought many people to a better appreciation of the issues of cooperation and conflict, collective action and common goods, of trust and deception in risky transactions. He made it clear how most of our biggest challenges on this planet are cooperation dilemmas. He gave many of his students the inspiration to think that conflicts could be resolved and cooperation sustained by leveraging insights from studies of these situations. His was the only class I ever took that proved mathematically that it paid to be good to other people, even if there were short term costs. He saw early on the importance of communication networks to change the landscape of cooperation and collective action. His scholarship extended to the very real world of high tech entrepreneurship- building tools for markets on the Internet.

My thoughts are with his family and friends who appreciate the great presence Peter had.

I am shocked by his loss and will miss him deeply.

The New York Times published a short article today in anticipation of tomorrow's report by a task-force of 49 attorney's general on the danger of online sexual solicitation of minors. They find that, more or less, we've all been worrying about nothing this whole time, and that sexual predators are not a problem on MySpace, Facebook, etc. This is great, because the task force that wrote the report was championed by a bunch of people who were sure it would support fears about online solicitation. Oops!

I love this quote:

This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet,” said John Cardillo, chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding, which maintains a sex offender database and was a member of the task force. “Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons.

I think people like to invent the threats that they can't see. So many older people – parents, teachers, policy makers – aren't tech. savvy enough to realize that the internet isn't some brave new world, it's pretty much like any other social environment. Kids face lots of dangers and hassles in the real world. Ridicule, harassment, bullies… those were certainly part of my young life in the 80s and early 90s, and it's no different today, it's just taken a different form.

Update: And here's the text of the report, which was released today: Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies
Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States

The biggest problem with the new Green-fad is its focus on carbon footprint. First of all, there are lots of metrics to measure the environmental impact of a product or an activity. Looking only at carbon misses other important issues like sustainable materials, toxic manufacturing processes, and local social and ecosystems. Even more than that, though, is the fact that everything we do has a carbon footprint, so talking about the footprint of any one thing is meaningless without a relative comparison.

Driving to the store releases a given amount of carbon, but so does walking. The average person contributes about 800g of carbon to the atmosphere each day just by walking around. Go for a run and you're hurting the environment. Don't go for a run and you get fat. Obesity is linked to a whole variety of diet-related chronic diseases, so you'll be visiting the doctor more often. Hopefully they're close, so you can walk. If you can't walk, then maybe you don't go, so eventually you die. Personally, I want to be cremated, but I bet that incinerator puts out some serious CO2. Burial? Gotta dig a hole (lots of breathing there). Shit. Maybe I should just go running.

So, here's Alex Wissner-Gross, the smart-as-hell physicist of the hour who chooses to delve into other issues, estimating that each Google search releases 5g of carbon. News flash, Alex. Being smart at one thing doesn't necessarily make you smart at other things.

I can't speak to how correct the estimate is – I'm sure Alex is very good with numbers. And I'm sure Google will come out right away and say he's wrong. The point is, 5g for a Google search is meaningless. The only question is whether 5g is more or less than our alternative. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Google, Yahoo!, MS, Ask all start competing for the title of the world's greenest search engine. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and predict that this very thing will happen in 2009, further distracting people from real environmental problems, real environmentally-friendly decisions.

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