Assignment Two:
Analysis of an Online Community

CS 6470: The Design of Online Communities
Professor Amy Bruckman
Due:Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
Format:Double spaced, numbered pages, 12 pt. font
Approximate Length:20-30 pages; one paper per team
Percentage of Grade:25% + 5% for presentation
Team size: 3 people (unless otherwise OK'd by the instructor or TA)

Each team will have to get explicit IRB permission. This involves adding you on as an investigator in the study after your proof of human subjects certification has been accepted, and also getting approval for the specific site you wish to study. You may not begin studying the site until you receive explicit notice from the instructor or TA that you have been approved. You also must attend the ethics lecture. Please do not miss this class. Make sure to follow the ethics summary.


Participate in an online community for a substantial amount of time (at least 10 hours for each team member; everyone must do this). Your primary research methodology will be participant observation. Take careful notes on your experiences each time you connect.

In addition to participant observation, you should each interview three people affiliated with the community. They may be community designers, leaders, or regular members. You don't need to stick to Seidman's three interview structure--one interview per participant will usually be sufficient. You must get informed consent before doing an interview; we'll discuss this in class. The interviews are better if they're in person, but telephone works too. You can buy a gizmo at Radio Shack to let you record conversations off of the phone. You must get permission to record the conversation. You may do online interviews of community members in addition to but not instead of doing interviews of at least three people face to face or on the phone. A team of three people should interview nine people total.

Analyze the community in terms of Amy Jo Kim's "Nine Principles for Community Design." How does the community address each of these issues? (Kim's book "Community Building on the Web" is out of print, but you buy a pdf online.)

In what ways is the community successful? Is it meeting the needs of its members? Compare and contrast the community to other similar ones. In what ways could the community be better designed? How would you change it?

In your paper, make sure to cite the course readings and include a detailed bibliography.

Include in your paper a "methods" section in which you describe how you did your research: how much time did you spend participating? In what ways did you participate? Who did you interview? (Present these portraits anonymized, as we discussed in the ethics lecture.)

Exact length doesn't matter--use the amount of space you need to tell your story well, whether that be longer or shorter. But please don't go over twice the suggested length. We stop reading at that length.

Please hand in a paper copy of your paper at the start of class on the day it's due.

You will be graded on (in order from least important to most):

It's a good idea to chose a site that is at least somewhat successful. You'll learn more by thinking in detail about something that works than by tearing apart something that doesn't work. And it's much easier to do a thoughtful analysis of a successful site. Your choice of site must be approved by the instructor or TA and added to our IRB protocol successfully before you may begin work.

At the end of your paper, include a short description of which team member did what. Which users each person interviewed, which part of the site each person focused on in their participant observation, etc.


Prepare a short talk (ten minutes maximum) about your findings.

The quality of your presentation and overheads counts towards your talk grade. A short talk on how to give a talk will be given in class approximately one week before talks are due.