Today researcher Sanna Malinen defended her PhD thesis in the University of Tampere. The opponent in the public defence was professor Pekka Räsänen from the University of Turku, professor Frans Mäyrä acted as the custos. The abstract and download link to the full, PDF version of the dissertation, titled Sociability and Sense of Community among Users of Online Services, are below:
The dissertation explores a current and popular phenomenon referred to as ‘online communities’ from both theoretical and empirical viewpoints. Online communities are discussed in the context of a wider development in social life from small geography-based units to large and dispersed social networks, which can be mediated by technology. In this study, online communities are understood as fluid objects that are created and maintained through users’ social interactions and actual social practices. Therefore, they are not stable and fixed groups but, instead, a social process that transforms over time.
The empirical portion of this work illustrates the multifaceted nature of the research subject and consists of five case studies exploring the usage of software intended for various purposes: an online photo-sharing service, an online exercise diary, online auctions, and social-media applications for smartphones. In addition, there is a research article consisting of a literature review that synthesise research into online community participation conducted over the past 12 years. The findings from the empirical sub-studies show that community-evocative feelings and behaviors can emerge within various online settings, including dispersed networks and content-oriented sites focusing on artefacts that users produce, such as photographs. However, users can have very different orientations with respect to their interest in social networking and community-building within the context of the same site. The literature review shows that the majority of previous research on user participation has focused on the quantity of their activity. Instead of dividing users into active and passive on the basis of the amount of content they produce, research should acknowledge that there is greater variety in the ways of participating and belonging to an online community.
The dissertation vividly illustrates that online communities are a constantly changing and developing phenomenon. In recent years, the most notable technological changes have been the surge in popularity of large-scale social network sites and increased usage of the Internet via mobile devices. In order for the concept of community to be applied in description of online sociability within current technological settings, the meaning of this term and the criteria for community needs to be rethought.
This is a pretty massive reference book (three volumes, 1296 pages) and it should include wealth of materials that is helpful if you study e.g. online gaming, social media, hate speech, or any other of the dozens of its interesting topics. The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society has been edited and written by some of the leading experts in Internet and game studies, and I am happy today to put online my small contribution – a short article titled “Mobile Games”: http://people.uta.fi/~frans.mayra/Mobile_Games.pdf. You can also access the regularly updated online version, and sample some of its contents free through this link.
Continuing to troubleshoot our persistent home networking problems: while we have got a high pile of various routers, last several years the heart of the network has been Asus RT-N56U dual-band model, which was awarded as the fastest router available in 2011. It was a slim device, and after I updated the firmware to the Padawan version, there was also more than enough room for tweaking. However, the constant connection failures and speed dropping finally pointed towards the life-cycle of our router coming to an end. The router has been located in very narrow space, without cooling, so it should not have come as a surprise that its components have started failing after a few years.
The selection of a router for a home where there are a fair number of connected devices (smartphones, tablets and computers are just one part of them) is a tricky business. I wanted to have a 802.11ac model, but otherwise I kept on reading and comparing various options. According to specs, speed and configuration options, the current top model of Asus, RT-AC87U, was for a long time my number one choice. However, the actual user reports were a rather mixed bag: there seems to have been various bugs and issues with both the software and hardware of this, 4×4 antenna configuration, dual band ac model. And I have come to learn that I have less and less time and patience for tweaking tech — or at least, I want the router and network infrastructure to “just work”, so that I can use the Internet while tweaking, testing and playing with something more interesting.
The conclusion was to get yet another Apple product, this time AirPort Time Capsule (2 TB model). It does not reach quite as extreme speeds as the RT-AC87U, but then again, there is limited support for hardware that is capable of reaching its theoretical 1,3 Gbps top speeds. I am increasingly relying on my Macbook Pro Retina also when at home, and we are actively using several iPads and other Apple devices, so having the full Apple compatibility, while not a “must”, was a nice bonus. The user reports about the new AirPort Time Capsule have been overwhelmingly positive, emphasising its robust reliability, so I am interested to see whether this router lives up to its reputation also as the backbone of our household. So far, so good. All our devices have succesfully got online, and the speeds are close to the 100/10 Mbps maximum, also in Wifi, when close to the AirPort. And the Macbook is now making its automatic backups in the background, which is nice.
I was delighted by the recent publication of Jill Walker Rettberg’s book Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves. This is partly due to the interesting discussion of phenomena like use of filters in Instagram photos, diaries that write themselves automatically for us, and affective ties to other data, quantified and used to organise and make sense of our “gamified lifes”. But another part stems from the fact that this was a book, a monograph, and also one that was made available under Creative Commons as a digital download.
For us educated in the Humanities, book-lenght studies carry intrinsic value that is hard to explain and measure. Books are works of sustained scholarship, and their hard-copy form is designed for permanence. While I was still actively working in literary and textual studies fields, I was routinely making references to studies in Poetics or Rhetorics, authored originally over two thousand years ago. Making that historical treasure trove to relate and connect with in dialogue with the more recent phenomena from digital culture was a source or enormous thrill and pride. Contemporary papers and articles published only in various, semi-permanent digital archives simply do not fulfill similar function in long-term historical and intellectual perspective.
There has been talk about the “death of the monograph” for several decades already, but somehow the book still survives. The imprints are small, university libraries carry smaller numbers of physical copies, and there are increasing “productivity” and “impact” pressures to publish and read shorter texts online. However, there is also actual research into how a monograph is doing, like “The Role and Future of the Monograph in Arts and Humanities Research” by Peter Williams & co, or Alesia Zuccala’s recent paper on evaluation of Humanities in Research Trends, which point that monographs continue to be essential for Humanities scholarship. The hybrid forms of publishing both a (typically small-print or print-on-demand) hard copy, alongside a searchable and freely available digital version, appear as the most prominent ways towards the future.