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Gratitude and Its Dangers in Social Technologies
"How do our designs change when we start emphasizing people and community and not just the things they do for us? Over the next year of my research, I'm exploring acknowledgment and gratitude, basic parts of online relationships that designers often set aside to focus on the tasks people do online.

In May of last year, Wikipedia added a "thanks" feature to its history page, enabling readers to thank contributors for helpful edits on a topic:

[image]

The Wikipedia thanks button signals a profound change that's been in the making for years: After designing elaborate social practices and mechanisms to delete spam and maintain high quality content, Wikipedia noticed that they, like other wikis, were becoming oligarchic (pdf) and that their defense systems were turning people away. Realizing, this Wikipedia has been changing how they work, adding systems like "thanks" to welcome participation and encourage belonging in their community.

Thanks is just one small example of community-building at Wikimedia, who know that you can't create a welcoming culture simply by adding a "thanks" button. Some forms of appreciation can even foster very unhealthy relationships. In this post, I consider the role of gratitude in communities. I also describe social technologies designed for gratitude. This post is part of my ongoing research on designing acknowledgment for the web, acknowledging people's contributions in collaborations and creating media to support community and learning.

Why does Gratitude Matter?

People who invest time in others and support their communities describe their lives through a lens of gratitude. Dan McAdams at Northwestern University studies "generativity," the prosocial tendency of some people to see themselves as a person who supports their community: donating money, making something, fixing something, caring for the environment, writing a letter to the editor, donating blood, or mentoring someone. After asking them to take a survey, McAdams asks them to tell the story of their lives. Highly generative people often describe their lives through a lens of gratitude. People who give back to their community or pay it forward often think of things in exactly those terms: talking about the people, institutions, or religious figures who gave them advantages and helped them turn difficult times into positive experiences (read one of McAdams's studies in this pdf).

Gratitude that becomes part of our life story builds up over time. It's the kind of general gratitude we might direct toward a deity, an institution, or a supportive community. McAdams argues that this gratitude is an important part of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are: the person who loses his job and reimagines this tragedy positively as more time for family. A thankful perspective has also been linked to higher well being, mental health, and post-traumatic resilience (Wood, Froh, Geraghty, 2010 PDF)

Can we cultivate gratitude? Aside from my personal religious practice, I'm most often reminded to be grateful by Facebook posts from Liz Lawley, a professor at RIT who participates in the #365grateful movement. Every day in 2014, Liz has posted a photo of something she's grateful for. It's part of a larger participatory movement started by Hailey Bartholomew in 2011 to foster gratitude on social media:

[video: "365grateful.com" https://vimeo.com/22100389 ]



The Economy of Thanks

… signals an understanding …

Expressions of gratitude can dramatically increase the recipient's pro-social behaviour…

Expressions of gratitude are a significant factor in successful long-term, collaborative relationships.…

…the link between reciprocity and thanks…

…commercial employee recognition technology for managers…

… expressions of thanks are signals of exchange within a relationship…



The Dark Side of Thanks

Gratitude or its absence can influence relationships in harmful ways by encouraging paternalism, supporting favoritism, or papering over structural injustices. Since the focus of my thesis is cooperation across diversity, I'm paying close attention to these dark patterns:

Presumption of thanks misguides us into paternalism…

… gratitude can support favoritism. …

Gratitude sometimes offers a moral facade to injustice.…



Mechanisms of Gratitude and Acknowledgment

In design, gratitude and thanks are often painted over systems for reputation, reward, and exchange. The Kudos system offers a perfect example of these overlaps, showing how a simple "thank you" can become freighted with implications for someone's job security, promotion, and financial future. As I study further, here are my working definitions for acts in the economy of gratitude:

Appreciation: when you praise someone for something they have done, even if their work wasn't directed personally to you. This could be a "like" on Facebook, the "thanks" button on Wikipedia, or the private "thanks" message on the content platform hi.co

[image]

Thanks: when you thank another person for something they have done for you personally. This is the core interaction on the Kudos system, as well as the system I'm studying with Emma and Andrés.

Acknowledgment: when you make a person visible for things they've done. This is closely connected to Attribution, when you acknowledge a person's role in something they helped create. I've already written about acknowledgment and designed new interfaces for displaying acknowledgment and attribution. I see acknowledgment as something focused on relationships and community, while attribution is more focused on a person's moral rights and legal relationships with the things they create, as they are discussed and shared.

Credit: when you attribute someone with the possibility or expectation of reward. Most research on acknowledgment focuses on credit, either its role in shaping careers or its implications in copyright law.

Reward: when you give a person something for what they have done. For example, the Wikipedia Barnstars program offers rewards of social status for especially notable contributions to Wikipedia. Peer bonus and micro-bonus systems such as Bonus.ly add financial rewards to expressions of thanks, inviting people to add even more bonuses toward the most popular recipients.

[video: "Bonus.ly: Peer-to-peer employee recognition made easy" https://vimeo.com/87399314 ]

Review: when you describe a person, hoping to influence other people's decisions about that person. Reviews on "reputation economy" sites like Couchsurfing are often expressed in the language of thanks, even though they have two audiences: the person reviewed as well as others who might interact with the subject of your review. In 2011, I blogged about research by Lada Adamic on reviews in the Couchsurfing community.

Designing for Gratitude, Thanks, and Acknowledgment

Gratitude is a basic part of any strong community. Thanks are the visible signal of a rich economy of favors and obligations, a building block in relationship formation and maintenance. Gratitude is common in the life stories of people who give back to their community, and it's the hallmark of the most successful long-term collaborative relationships. Despite the importance of gratitude, processes for collaboration and crowdsourcing much more frequently focus on rewards, reviews, and other short-term incentives for participation. Gratitude does have a dark side when it overrules consent, fosters favoritism, and even hides systemic injustices.

If we're going to design for community (civic technologies, I'm looking at you), we need to focus on relationships, not just the faceless outputs we want from "human computation." Across the academic year, I'll be posting more about the role of acknowledgment in cooperation, civic life, learning, and creativity, accompanied by more in-depth data analysis. I'll also write more about Wikipedia's initiatives for online collaboration that aim for greater inclusivivity."

[Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:TymwLDcrpYYJ:civic.mit.edu/blog/natematias/gratitude-and-its-dangers-in-social-technologies+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us ]
natematias  gratitude  socialmedia  wikipedia  learning  community  communities  communitymanagement  wikimedia  2014  thanks  appreciation  hi.co  nathanmatias  visualization  journalism  kudos  lizlawley  socialnetworks  socialnetworking  civics  rewards  attribution  paternalism  peerbonus  acknowledgement  prosocial  cooperation  creativity  favoritism  injustice  presumption  facebook  365grateful  haileybartholomew  twitter  seneca  relationships  communication  generativity 
august 2014 by robertogreco

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