Project II:
Look Who's Talking Now

To this point of the semester, you have learned about various ways to communicate with others on the internet, including e-mail and listservs, usenet, IRC, and MOOs. During this section I would like you to analyze one of the virtual communities based on one of these forms of on-line communication.

The Assignment:

Write a 5-7 page analysis of an electronic conference of your choosing. You may choose an IRC channel, a listserv, a usenet group, a moo, or a number of our InterChange sessions. Your analysis is an attempt to figure out the rules of the group (who talks, who "listens,ńs particular netiquette), the group's function (what is discussed, what is learned), and the group's dynamics (how many different people participate over a given period of time, what is the relationship between males and females, what different kinds of roles are played by different types of people).


Analysis. In general terms, to analyze something is the breaking up of any whole into its parts so as to find out their nature or function. In this assignment, you will your object of analysis will be all the messages or text-based interactions in a virtual community over a given period of time and looking for similarities, differences, and patterns among the various pieces of the whole to better understand that particular virtual community.


You are writing your analysis for readers with about as much experise as you have. You are not writing to computer scientists or to folks who have never been on the information superhighway before but rather for novices who have taken a cruise but have a deep desire to learn more.


Step One
First, you need to find a virtual community to join. As noted above, you can choose a listserv, IRC channel, Moo, usenet group, or a series of InterChange sessions.

Before you settle on a particular community on which to focus, you might begin by exploring several for a couple of days to determine if the community will generate enough traffic over a two-week period for you to collect some interesting data.

Be sure to choose a community in which you have some interest. I suggest an "academic" list, perhaps one in your major or one about the Internet itself, would be most useful for your future projects in this class. I'd prefer that you didn't analyze the hundreds of groups discussing hobbies, music, vacation spots, and so forth, but I want you to pursue your interests.

Below find a short list of hotlinks to other WWW sites that can offer useful information on how to find lists and other virtual communities.

Also, you can contact the following via e-mail to get some leads on various virtual communties:

Step Two
Second, subscribe to the list or otherwise join the virtual community you have joined and check in with it at least once a day for the next two weeks. It is crucial that you keep an archive of the traffic on the list. If, for example, you are studying a mail list, create a folder in your e-mail program so you can save all the messages of that list. If you are following a usenet group, set your preferences in such a way that you can save those articles. Whatever community you join, it is crucial that you collect your data in such a way you can go back and analyze it later.
Step Three
Third, keep extensive notes about your participation in the virtual community. Your notes must include information about the following (Note that this list is suggestive rather than exhaustive; the community you join will force you to ask different kinds of questions):

Step Four
Fourth, write your paper. As noted below, we will write this paper over several weeks. We will share our ideas for drafts and the drafts themselves with others within our class and perhaps even with others in cyberspace.

Due Dates

As I mentioned at the beginning of the course, we will work on a number of papers throughout the course but the final versions of them will not be handed in until the end of the course when you will submit an assessment portfolio. But you will be required to "hand in" drafts along the way. In this class we will "hand in" drafts by posting them as e-mail messages on I suspect we will quickly find 18 5-7 page papers will become a bit much for e-mail traffic, and as we learn more advanced techniques for text sharing (IFS, attached files in e-mail, and using the WWW) we will get away from the e-mail route. But the for first time around, we will follow the schedule below:

Draft 1: by midnight on Wednesday February 1
Draft 2: by midnight February 8

NOTE: By "draft" I mean more than loose notes or an outline but rather 5-7 pages. I don't mean to suggest, of course, that those 5-7 pages will be your final version. Indeed, much of the original draft might be cut, edited and otherwise abandoned, but you must have something substantive to work with when we conduct peer critique workshops.

To return to the Part Two page, click here.

Contact wbutler@umich
with comments or questions.

Modified: 3/4/95