A user study of Dodgeball

The last issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is devoted to social networks. Among all the papers they have about this topic, there is one that is closer to my own research about location-based applications and services: Mobile Social Networks and Social Practice: A Case Study of Dodgeball by Lee Humphreys. It interestingly investigate the nature of interactions that develop around a mobile social network site such as Dodgeball and how these interactions might change the way users think about and experience urban public spaces.

The interesting thing in taking Dodgeball as a location-based application is that it's based on self-disclosure of one's whereabouts. Looking at the findings from this year-long qualitative field study is very informative. As the conclusion summarizes:

"The messages exchanged through Dodgeball did help my informants to coordinate face-to-face meetings among groups of friends. In addition to this functional purpose, Dodgeball messages also served a performative function by allowing informants to associate their identity with the branding of a particular venue. Sometimes a Dodgeball message could be interpreted as a member demonstrating a kind of social elitism. At other times, sending check-in messages with one's location to Dodgeball was a means of social and spatial cataloguing. In this way, Dodgeball can serve as a social diary or map. (...) Some of the social connections and congregations facilitated by Dodgeball are similar to those found in third places, but Dodgeball congregations are itinerant spaces for urban sociality. In contrast to place-based acquaintanceships, third spaces allow for habitual, dynamic, and technologically-enabled face-to-face interaction among loosely tied groups of friends. (...) A related implication of Dodgeball use was social molecularization. By communicating about locations in the city, my informants could cognitively map urban public space. In addition, Dodgeball users can move through the city differently, based on the social-location information available to them. If they know friends are at a bar, they can go join them. In fact, the more friends who check in to a bar, the greater the pull to meet up with them. In this way, Dodgeball use contributes to a collective experience and movement of social groups through urban public space."

Why do I blog this? being interested in my research in the role and affordances of location-awareness, this study is important as it unveil some usage of that information. It complements some of the other affordances described in HCI (I am currently writing two journal papers about this).

Furthermore, since I am interested in how such features may affect urban environment and cities, the last result is quite interesting. It's actually very close to other writings about micro-coordination. See for example “Nobody sits at home and waits for the telephone to ring:” Micro and hyper-coordination through the use of the mobile telephone by Rich Ling and Birgitte Yttri.

Humphreys, L. (2007). Mobile social networks and social practice: A case study of Dodgeball. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 17.