After nearly four years of trying to turn this idea into a reality, the pilot of CampusNeighbor finally came to a close on April 4th at 601 Tully: Center for Engaged Art and Practice (see press here and here). CampusNeighbor.org is a website designed to facilitate barters between students and residents in college communities. The goal is to bridge the traditional town and gown divide by encouraging bartering, a form of economic activity that can have a long term impact of creating social capital.
The website acts as a match maker between students and residents by matching skills with needs. The pilot ran from January 2014 to April, with the final event at 601 Tully acting as an opportunity for people who had been matched up on the site or were looking to be matched up to barter with each other.
In the four years that it took to get this project off the ground, CampusNeighbor went through a number of iterations, but it was the push back and input from a number of amazing people that helped take this project from an idea to a reality.
Socialization is a process where newcomers move from a state of uncertainty to a state of fluency in the practice, terminology, and behavior that define an organization. For settings where activities have a high degree of impact on the functionality and continued existence of the organization, socialization processes are particularly important (Van Maanen & Schein, 1979). While formal training models successfully integrate newcomers, crowdsourced projects like Wikipedia are unable to provide formal training due to the ad hoc assemblage of volunteers that participate. Studies on socialization in open online collaborative projects typically focus on information seeking, the impact of feedback, and the construction of social networks as newcomers make sense of their new environment. While such research is important, there is scant consideration for the material components of the online platforms and their role in the socialization process.
Yesterday I presented “Planet hunters and seafloor explorers: legitimate peripheral participation through practice proxies in online citizen science” a paper I wrote with my colleagues at Syracuse University as part of our ongoing research on newcomer learning in the Zooniverse suite of citizen science projects. The paper was presented at the Conference for Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. A copy can be found in the CSCW 2014 Proceedings. For a quick preview, check out the abstract below.
Making visible the process of user participation in online crowdsourced initiatives has been shown to help new users understand the norms of participation . However, in many settings, participants lack full access to others’ work. Merging the theory of legitimate peripheral participation  with Erickson and Kellogg’s theory of social translucence [10, 11, 16] we introduce the concept of practice proxies: traces of user participation in online environments that act as resources to orient newcomers towards the norms of practice. Through a combination of virtual  and trace ethnography  we explore how new users in two online citizen science projects engage with these traces of practice as a way of compensating for a lack of access to the process of the work itself. Our findings suggest that newcomers seek out practice proxies in the social features of the projects that highlight contextualized and specific characteristics of primary work practice.
There are a number of instantiations of peer-to-peer economic activity in which people leverage their latent skills or loan out latent capacity of tools they own. Each instantiation vary on a scale in terms of how much they tip in either direction of firm or market characteristics. For example, it can be argued that many of the sharing economy websites today like AirBnB or TaskRabbit are more akin to the market logic of prices signaling a relationship between supply and demand. While this is true, I argue that such platforms still fall under the umbrella of the peer-to-peer economy for two reasons: First, because they support disintermediated transactions; transactions where there is no middleman negotiating the terms of the transaction. In such transactions, individuals must come to such terms on their own, therefore, the relevance of social frameworks (shared social norms) is still a prominent and overarching component that mediates and determines the success of the transaction. Where we rely on such frameworks to be embedded and assumed in the relationship we have with resellers, this framework must be renegotiated in each peer-to-peer transaction, thus making such websites part of the peer-to-peer economic phenomenon. The second reason is the characteristic of utilizing latent capacity: Both platforms take assets like unused rooms in a home or the skills not being used during an individuals free time and create a platform that communicates such latent capacity to those who might want them.
San Francisco just announced a move to create a network of local sharing economy businesses that will act a resource for disaster response. The building of a network that leverages latent local resources in order to support resiliency is a great example of social infrastructure. A press release from the Mayor’s Office in San Francisco stated that the network was inspired by the work of the Airbnb community after Superstorm Sandy:
One immediate outcome of this new partnership is the launch of BayShare member Airbnb’s new tool to quickly deliver housing assistance to displaced residents following a disaster. Inspired by the Airbnb community’s work to donate housing to victims of Superstorm Sandy, the tool will help provide free emergency housing to families in need in cities in every part of the world.
The sharing economy describes an economic model where people sell, share, or barter their skills or owned assets directly to others. This economy is facilitated primarily by websites that act as hubs for the visibility and transactions of local assets. Yochai Benkler notes that such peer-to-peer transactions are mediated not by market prices or organizational hierarches, but by normative frameworks. How the normative frameworks are produced and perpetuated by transacting parties on the websites has yet to be studied by scholars. This paper proposes a practice perspective as a theoretical framework and Sense-Making as a method to explore how users interact with each other on the websites so as to produce and sustain the normative frameworks critical to the success of the sharing economy.
I recently completed a draft of my working paper on the socio-technical design characteristics of websites for the sharing economy. In the paper I analyze findings from a pilot study I conducted over the summer with users of both Ourgoods.org and Taskrabbit.com. Using Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice, I analyze the findings to understand the ways in which users engage both with each other and with features of the site to establish the norms that will frame their transaction.
This paper is inspired by the writings of Yochai Benkler and Cameron Tonkinwise who both acknowledge the critically important role social norms play as mediators of transaction in the sharing economy. For both Benkler and Tonkinwise, a range of norms must be shared between each transacting principle. The question then becomes one of how the transacting principles negotiate, identify, and understand what the shared normative framework will be.
If you would like a copy of the paper, please send me an email.
This video is of philosopher Roman Krznaric talking about how social change is contingent upon individuals being able to empathize with others. His premise ties in nicely with Beauregard’s belief that the political struggles of today are not about the recognition of power, but the recognition of peoples needs. Beauregard looks specifically at the role of proximity between actors and how this produces empathy and thus supports peoples ability to negotiate their interests and needs with those of others. In particular, he looks at the value of urban environments where people are constantly negotiating their interests given their close proximity to each other. So in short, taking what both Krznaric and Beauregard have to say, proximity between democratic actors is correlative to successful and viable democratic action (for more on this relationship take a look at my slidshow on the relationship between proximity and democracy). This of course should raise an interesting question for the role of place based information communication technology that supports interaction between neighbors. In what ways do such technology already promote this relationship between proximity and democracy? How might current design paradigms be altered so as to better support this relationship? The role of such technology in bringing people closer together is evident, how we might leverage it further to emphasize the importance of empathy or “outrospection” is a conversation worth pursuing.
*Special thanks to the blog, “Nudge, Push, Shove: Social Justice Dispatches” where I first came across this video.
Websites like Airbnb, taskrabbit, and Neighborgoods are typically featured in conversations about the peer-to-peer economy, collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy. The platforms are hailed for their role in boosting local economic activity by empowering people to leverage what they have (goods or skills) to sell, barter, or share with people doing business in their locale. Such platforms have also found their way into academic research, with most attention being paid to their design features that infuse trust into transaction between strangers. Despite all this attention in both popular and academic circles, there is one area of research where these platforms, or what I call peer-to-peer living sites, have not been discussed and in my opinion, deserve an introduction.
After firing up my browser on the free wifi at a Starbucks coffee shop, I was brought to the Starbucks Digital Network Home page. I assumed that this was just Starbucks foray into digital content aggregation and advertising however my assumption that their intentions where narrowly set on corporate profiteering were quickly changed when I noticed the a link titled “My Neighborhood.”