CS 6470:
The Design of Online Communities


Amy Bruckman


CCB 255




asb@cc.gatech.edu (Email is best way to reach me.)

Office hours:

Just drop by, or email for an appointment.


TTh 1:30-3


College of Computing 102

Teaching assistant:

Jose Zagal (jp@cc.gatech.edu)

TA Office hours:

Tuesday 11:00-12:00, CoC 270



This syllabus will definitely be revised over the course of the semester. Please check online regularly for the most current assignments.



  • Community Building on the Web, by Amy Jo Kim
  • Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, by Larry Lessig
  • Interviewing as Qualitative Research,by I.E. Seidman
  • Communities in Cyberspace, edited by Marc Smith and Peter Kollock
  • Life on the Screen, by Sherry Turkle


Currently out of print, but useful if you can find a copy:

  • Cyberspace, First Steps, edited by Michael Benedikt
  • Cyberville, by Stacy Horn


One good place to try to buy out of print books on the web is Powell's Bookstore.

Books are for sale at the Georgia Tech bookstore, or you can also buy them from my Amazon page. Profits from course books sold from this page will be used to buy pizza, etc. for class.

Online Sites

In addition to the required reading, there is at least one online community to examine for each class. You will be given access to the Intel cluster on the first floor of CCB. For Ultima Online, you need a CD. I encourage you to buy your own copy (it's only $19.99 or you can pick up older versions for less). However, you may also borrow the CD from the GVU office, CCB 244, during business hours. If you borrow it over night, please return it first thing the next morning.

Focus of the Course

Online communties are becoming an increasing part of how we work, play, and learn. But how are they designed? What are they really good for? Why are some communities more successful than others? What are the key issues in this field of research?

At the completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand important features of online interactions,
  • Analyze online interactions critically,
  • Design an online community, and
  • Understand the research issues in this field.

While students will not actually found a new community as part of this class, students whose designs are promising may be invited to do so either as an independent study or as sponsored research over the summer or next fall. However, please keep in mind that starting such a community implies an ongoing commitment to the real people who chose to become members.

This course counts for the HCI component of the graduate breadth requirement; however, if you have any real interest in HCI, I recommend that you take the graduate HCI class in addition to this class.

Assignments and Grading

Your grade is based on one short paper, two longer papers, two presentations, a final exam, and class participation:

  • Short paper (2-6 pages): What are your best and worst experiences in a virtual community? (10%)
  • Midterm paper (20 pages): Participate in a virtual community for a significant amount of time (at least 10 hours) and observe it. Interview at least 3 community members. Analyze how the community is designed and in what ways it is successful. (25%)
  • In-class presentation of midterm paper. (5%)
  • Final paper (20 pages): Design a virtual community for a particular purpose. Present a detailed rationale for your design decisions. (25%)
  • In-class presentation of design project. (5%)
  • Final exam. (25%)   ( 2001’s final exam)
  • Class participation. (5%)

Examples of previous classwork

Course Outline

(Some readings may change.)

  • (8/20) Introduction

  • (8/22) Community: Face to Face and Online


    • "Virtual Communites are Communites: Web Surfers Don't Ride Alone" by Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia (in Smith & Kollock)
    • "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital" by Robert Putnam (handout)



  • (8/27) Third Places




    • "The Rubberneckers" in Cyberville by Stacy Horn, pp. 17-46.

  • (8/29) Research Methods


    • Interviewing as Qualitative Research, by IE Seidman.


Short papers on best/worst experiences due.

  • (9/3) Research Ethics






Please wait to begin research on your midterm paper until you have attended this lecture, and you have completed the training course.

Please do not miss this class. If you do miss this lecture, you must meet with the instructor.

  • (9/5) Design Factors



  • (9/10) Theory of Identity


    • The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, by Erving Goffman. Pages 1-58, intro & most of chapter 1. (handout)


  • (9/12) Identity Online



  • (9/17) Gender Online


    • "The Strange Case of the Lectronic Lover," by Lindsey Van Gelder (handout)
    • "Boyz and Gurlz" in Cyberville by Stacy Horn
    • "TinySex and Gender Trouble", in Life on the Screen by Sherry Turkle (chapter 8)
    • Gender Swapping on the Internet by Amy Bruckman




    • "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up," by Sandy Stone (In Cyberspace, First Steps - handout).
    • "Samantha, Among Others," (Chapter 4) in "My Tiny Life" by Julian Dibbell
    • "This Is the Chapter About Sex" in Cyberville by Stacy Horn

  • (9/19) Constructionism

Reading: Papers by Amy Bruckman:

Optional surfing:

Participating in MOOSE Crossing requires consenting to be part of an experimental study. I'll show the site in class. Trying it out on your own is optional.

  • (9/24) Virtual Architecture


    • "Cybrids" by Peter Anders (In Convergence 4:1, Spring 1998. Handout.)
    • Marcos Novak's website
    • "Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace" by Marcos Novak. (handout; in "Cyberspace First Steps")



    • "How did My Garden Grow" (Chapter 5) in "My Tiny Life" by Julian Dibbell

  • (9/26) The Social, the Technical, the Political


    • "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" by Langdon Winner. (In The Whale and The Reactor - handout).
    • Code by Lawrence Lessig. Parts one and two, pages 3-108.


  • (10/1) Deviant Behavior




    • "The Purple Guest" (Chapter 3) in "My Tiny Life" by Julian Dibbell

  • (10/3) Governance



  • (10/8) Social Roles, Leadership, & Hosting




  • (10/10) Case Study: Ultima Online



    • Ultima Online website
    • Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge Massively Multiplayer game (earlier version is fine too)

Please both explore their website and try the game. Both the website and game are PC, Windows 95/98/2000 only. Requires a CD, account, and password.

CDs are available in the GVU office, room CCB 244, during regular business hours. Please return the CD as soon as you are done with it. If you keep it over night, please return it first thing the next morning so others can use it. (It's not expensive; you may simply want to buy your own.)

Please participate for at least two hours. You may do so together with a classmate if you wish. Don't wait until the last minute to do this:

A short talk on how to give a talk will be delivered in class.

  • (10/15) Holiday: mid-semester break

  • (10/17) No Class

  • (10/22) Student Presentations: Community Analysis Papers

Midterm papers due.

  • (10/24)  Ebusiness


    • net.gain by John Hagel and Arthur Armstrong, pp. 2-40. (handout)


  • (10/29) Student Presentations: Community Analysis Papers (continued)

  • (10/31) Student Presentations: Community Analysis Papers (continued)

  • (11/5)  Student Presentations: Community Analysis Papers (continued)

  • (11/7) Children Accessing Controversial Information



    • Read carefully through the websites of two of (you do not need to install the software):

  • (11/12) CartoonNetwork.com

Guest lecture by Chris Waldron and Justin Williams from CartoonNetwork.com



·        (11/14) Participation and Lurking


o                    "Lurker demographics: counting the silent" by Blair Nonnecke and Jenny Preece. Proceedings of CHI 2000, April 1 - 6, 2000, The Hague, Netherlands, pp. 73-80.


o                    Google Groups (USENET Archive) (used to be DejaNews)
Read postings in at least one alt group, one moderated group, and one unmoderated group (not on alt). Many moderated groups have 'moderated' in the group name. Search group names for the word 'moderated' and pick one.

o                    Netscan (PC only)


  • (11/19)  Online Cooperation and The Open Source Movement



    • Slashdot. Make sure you figure out how the voting/rating system works.
    • Kuro5hin, a slashdot spinoff.

  • (11/21)  Privacy




    • Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

"Untraceable electronic mail, return addresses, and digital pseudonyms" by David Chaum. CACM 24(2):84-88, Feb '81.

  • (11/26) Student Presentations: Community Designs

Final papers due.

  • (11/28) No class (Happy Thanksgiving!)

  • (12/3) Student Presentations: Community Designs (continued)

  • (12/5) Student Presentations: Community Designs (continued)

Related Classes

Question welcome--email asb@cc.gatech.edu